Category Archives: Apartheid

Rebuffed Parliamentary Bills Foil Efforts to End Israeli Apartheid

For most of the seven decades after its establishment, Israel went to extraordinary lengths to craft an image of itself as a “light unto the nations”.

It claimed to have “made the desert bloom” by planting forests over the razed houses of 750,000 Palestinians it exiled in 1948. Soldiers in the “most moral army in the world” reputedly cried as they were compelled to shoot Palestinian “infiltrators” trying to return home. And all this occurred in what Israelis claimed was the Middle East’s “only democracy”.

An industry known as hasbara – a euphemism for propaganda – recruited Jews in Israel and abroad to a campaign to persuade the world that the Palestinians’ dispossession was for the good of mankind. Israel’s achievements in science, agriculture and medicine were extolled.

But in a more interconnected world, that propaganda campaign is swiftly unravelling. Phone cameras now record “moral” soldiers executing unarmed Palestinians in Gaza or beating up children in Hebron.

The backlash, including a growing international boycott movement, has driven Israel’s right wing into even greater defiance and self-righteousness. It no longer conceals its goal to aggressively realise a longed-for “Greater Israel”.

A parallel process is overtaking Israel’s traditional left but has been far less noticed. It too is stubbornly committed to its ideological legacy – the creation of a supposed “Jewish and democratic state” after 1948.

And just as the immorality of Israel’s belligerent rule in the occupied territories is under ever greater scrutiny, so too is its claim to be a democracy conferring equal rights on all citizens.

Israel includes a large minority of 1.8 million Palestinian citizens, the remnants of those who survived the expulsions required for its creation. Although Palestinian citizens have the vote, it was an easy generosity after Israel gerrymandered the electoral constituency in 1948 to ensure Palestinians remained a permanent and decisive minority.

In a system of residential apartheid, Palestinian citizens have been confined to ghettos on a tiny fraction of land while Israel has “nationalised” 93 per cent of its territory for Jews around the world.

But after decades of repression, including an initial 20 years living under military rule, the Palestinian minority has gradually grown more confident in highlighting Israel’s political deficiencies.

In recent days, Palestinian legislators have submitted three legislative measures before parliament to explode the illusion that Israel is a western-style liberal democracy.

None stood the faintest chance of being passed in a system rigged to keep Palestinian lawmakers out of any of Israel’s complex but entirely Zionist coalition governments.

The first measure sought to revoke the quasi-governmental status of major international Zionist organisations like the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and the Jewish Agency.

Although they are treated like state bodies, these organisations are obligated through their charters to discriminate in allocating state resources and rights to Jews around the world rather than to Israelis. The aim is to exclude Palestinian citizens from major state benefits.

The JNF bans access for non-Jews to most land in Israel and develops new communities exclusively for Jews, while the Jewish Agency restricts immigration and associated perks to Jews alone.

The bill – designed to end decades of explicit discrimination against one fifth of Israel’s citizenry – was defeated when all the Jewish parties voted against it. Zuheir Bahloul, the sole Palestinian legislator in Zionist Union, the centre-left party once called Labour, was furiously denounced by Jewish colleagues for breaking ranks and voting for the bill.

That was no surprise. The party’s previous leader, Isaac Herzog, is the frontrunner to become the next chair of the Jewish Agency. Israel’s left still venerates these organisations that promote ethnic privileges – for Jews – of a sort once familiar from apartheid South Africa.

Mr Bahloul also found himself in the firing line after he submitted a separate bill requiring that for the first time the principle of equality be enshrined in all 11 Basic Laws, Israel’s equivalent of a constitution. The proposal was roundly defeated, including by his own party.

The third measure was a bill demanding that Israel be reformed from a Jewish state into a state of all its citizens, representing all equally. In a highly irregular move, a committee dominated by Jewish legislators voted to disqualify the bill last week from even being allowed a hearing on the parliament floor.

The parliament’s legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, warned that the measure would alter Israel’s character by giving Jewish and Palestinian citizens “equal status”. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein called the bill “preposterous”. “Any intelligent individual can see it must be blocked immediately,” he said.

Law professor Mordechai Kremnitzer, meanwhile, conceded that the bill exposed Israeli democracy as “fundamentally flawed”.

These three bills from Palestinian legislators might have redressed some of the inequities contained in nearly 70 Israeli laws that, according to Adalah, a legal rights group, explicitly discriminate based on ethnicity.

Paradoxically, the number of such laws has grown prolifically in recent years as Adalah and others have challenged Jewish privileges in the courts.

The Israeli left and right have joined forces to shore up these threatened racist practices through new legislation – secure that an intimidated supreme court will not dare revoke the will of parliament.

The reality is that left-wing Israelis – shown beyond doubt that their state is not the liberal democracy they imagined – have hurried to join the right in silencing critics and implementing harsher repression.

Palestinian citizens who peacefully protested against the massacre of demonstrators in Gaza by army snipers were assaulted in police custody last month. One arrested civil society leader had his knee broken. There have been barely any objections, even on the left.

Today, Israelis are hunkering down. Boycott activists from abroad are denied entry. Unarmed Palestinian demonstrators have been gunned down in Gaza. And critics inside Israel are silenced or beaten up.

All these responses have the same end in mind: to block anything that might burst the bubble of illusions and threaten Israelis’ sense of moral superiority.

First published in The National

Palestinian Courage Should Spur International Action

After 70 years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still unresolved. The conflict simmers for a few years, then erupts again with new massacres and violence. This article describes recent events, the failure of the “two state solution” and need for a different approach.

In the past couple months, Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers have killed 118 Palestinian protesters and seriously wounded many thousands more. The protesters were unarmed and no threat to the soldiers. Gaza hospitals overflow with victims.

In the wake of this violence, human rights groups filed a legal petition to make it unlawful for Israeli soldiers to fire on unarmed protesters. Last week the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the petition.

Israeli violence is usually portrayed as a “response” to Palestinian violence, but the reality is the opposite. The sequence of recent events is as follows:

– From the end of March til May 25, Palestinians in Gaza protested against their oppression as close as they could get to the border fences. About 118 were killed and many thousands seriously injured by Israeli snipers. They were all shot inside Gaza.

– On May 27 – 28, the Israeli military launched tank mortars at Palestinian military outposts inside Gaza, killing four.

– Next day, on May 29, Palestinian militants launched unguided mortars into nearby Israel. Most of them fell harmlessly and there were no Israeli casualties.

– Next day, on May 30, Israeli jets and helicopters launched guided missiles and bombs on 65 different locations within Gaza.

Clearly, the violence started with Israelis killing protesters and then militants inside Gaza, but it’s not portrayed that way. Time magazine began its article with, “Palestinian militants bombarded southern Israel….”

Pro Israel advocates wish to prevent people from seeing what is really happening. They know the potential damage if people see video such as Israeli snipers celebrating the shooting of unarmed protesters. To prevent this, a proposed law will make it illegal to photograph or video record Israeli soldiers. Palestinian journalists have condemned this attempt to criminalize journalism.

The Reality of the Israeli Occupation

Israel calls itself the “Startup Nation” because of the economic and technological achievements. But in Gaza and the West Bank, Israeli policies and actions strangle the economies and worsen living conditions.

Palestinians in Gaza are kept separate from Palestinians in the West Bank. There is no trade, travel or inter-family visitation. This is in violation of international agreements including the Oslo Accords.

The claim that Israel “departed” Gaza is false. Israel controls the borders, sky and waters around Gaza, a coastal strip just 5 miles wide by 25 miles in length. Unemployment in Gaza is approaching 50%, the highest unemployment in the world. Fisherman are prevented from going out into deeper waters and shot at when they go beyond Israel’s imposed zone. Gazan farmers cannot export independently. Israel frequently blocks the import and export of crops and products. It is almost impossible to leave Gaza. Even outstanding students winning international scholarships may have their exit denied. The electrical and water treatment facilities have been bombed and destroyed by Israel. Nearly all the drinking water is contaminated. Israel restricts the amount of food permitted to enter Gaza so there is continual shortage leading to nutritional deprivation, stunted growth and anemia.

This situation is not new. Eighteen years ago, Israeli journalist Amira Hass described the history, the facts and statistics as well as her personal experience living in Gaza in the profound book Drinking the Seat at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege. The situation was extremely grim then but keeps getting worse.

At the northern Gaza border, Israel is now building a sea barrier extending far out into the Mediterranean. It will be above and below the water line. A major reason for this expensive project is to block sewage and pollution from the waters in front of Gaza. Because of Israeli attacks on sewage treatment and electrical infrastructure, sewage flows into the sea. Last summer, Zikim Beach in southern Israel had to be closed due to the inflow of sewage from Gaza. The ‘sea barrier’ now in construction will block the sea currents. This will keep the Israeli beach clean and greatly compound the problem in Gaza.

The strangulation, impoverishment and oppression is not confined to Gaza. In the West Bank, Israeli settlements continue to expand. This increases the number of check points, restrictions and repression. Travel from Bethlehem to Jerusalem is impossible for most Palestinians. The majority of West Bank water from the aquifers is transferred to Israel or provided cheaply to settlers while Palestinians must buy water and store it in tanks on their rooftops. In the last few years, Israel has made it increasingly difficult or impossible for humanitarian groups to provide medical support including breast cancer screening. A compelling new book titled The Other Side of the Wall describes the daily struggle in the West Bank where Palestinians and international allies protest against the theft of land, abuses, random killings and imprisonments.

Defiant Courage

There seems to be a trend toward greater Palestinian unity and strategic agreement. The tens of thousands of Palestinians protesting in Gaza were unarmed and united behind the Palestinian flag rather than separate party or movement flags of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP, DFLP, etc..    

The Palestinian protesters in Gaza show remarkable courage. Beginning on Friday March 30, they have returned week after week despite seeing thousands of their fellows shot and wounded or killed.

In an article titled “The Gaza Fence that Separates the Brave from the Cowardly“, Amira Hass wrote:

The desperate courage demonstrated by tens of thousands of citizens of Gaza over the past few weeks in general and on Monday in particular hints at the energies, the talents, the dreams, the creativity and the vitality of the inhabitants of this strip of land – who have been subjected to a 27 year policy of closure and siege aimed at suffocating and crushing them.

Steadfast and Persistent

Palestinian resistance continues despite Israeli violence and bloodshed. Seven years ago Palestinian refugees in Syria and Lebanon held “March of Return” protests at the northern borders. Israeli soldiers killed 13 and wounded many more.

In recent days, Gazans have again challenged the Israeli port blockade which prevents ships from departing or arriving. International solidarity with the Palestinian cause is also persistent. Three ships (two Swedish and one Norwegian) recently departed Scandinavia heading for the Mediterranean Sea and Gaza. Named the 2018 Freedom Flotilla, the ships are carrying dozens of international citizens to again demand that Israel stop its blockade of Gaza.

Despite the huge imbalance today, time may be on the side of the Palestinian cause. Systemic apartheid in South Africa existed for a long time and seemed strong. But ultimately it collapsed quickly. The same may unfold in Israel/Palestine.

Today, South Africa is an important supporter of the Palestinian cause. South Africa was the first nation to recall its ambassador to protest the “indiscriminate and grave Israeli attack” in Gaza.

Israel has the military might but Palestinian resistance and courage persists. The Palestinian population is steadfast, persistent and growing. They have increasing number of allies who support their cause. Young American Jews are unlike their parents and increasingly critical of Israeli policies. Some courageous Israelis, such as Miko Peled, speak out unequivocally that Israeli apartheid must end and be replaced by one state with democracy and equality for all. A million registered Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon and Syria, patiently waiting. They have not forgotten their legal claim and right to return.

The recent bloodshed and massacres underscore the fact that there is no solution on the current path. It only leads to increasingly unlivable conditions in Gaza plus more illegal settlements and oppression in the West Bank. The so-called “two state solution” has been dead for many years and should be forgotten. As happened in South Africa, the international community can and should help. It is time to increase international pressure and expand BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel to help bring a peaceful end to this conflict with its constant oppression and recurring massacres.

The alternative is very grim. As described by Israeli journalist Gideon Levy:

The truth is that Israel is well prepared to massacre hundreds and thousands, and to expel tens of thousands. Nothing will stop it. This is the end of conscience, the show of morality is over. The last few days’ events have proved it decisively. The tracks have been laid, the infrastructure for the horror has been cast. Dozens of years of brainwashing, demonization and dehumanization have borne fruit. The alliance between the politicians and the media to suppress reality and deny it has succeeded. Israel is set to commit horrors. Nobody will stand in its way any longer. Not from within or from without.

Palestinian courage should spur international action.

Hamas and Fatah: Why the Two Groups are Failing

The Palestinian national movement, which has led the decades-long struggle against Israel’s takeover of the Palestinians’ homeland, has reached the lowest ebb in its history, according to analysts.

But as Palestinians mark this week the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the “Catastrophe” that followed the dispossession of their homeland and the creation of Israel in its place, there are signs of possible change.

For more than a quarter of a century, the Palestinian movement has been split into two increasingly irreconcilable ideological factions, Fatah and Hamas – now reflected in a profound geographical division between their respective strongholds of the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Both camps have not only failed to bring about any significant achievements, say analysts, but illegal Jewish settlements have steadily entrenched across the West Bank and a 12-year blockade, bolstered by Israeli military attacks, has choked Gaza into a humanitarian disaster.

There is no tangible regional or international support for the Palestinian cause, and the Trump administration barely bothers to conceal its role now as cheerleader for Israel.

That includes a decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem this week, effectively recognising Israel’s claim on a city Palestinians regard as their future capital.

Ideological ‘bankruptcy’

“The Palestinian national movement has moved beyond crisis to the point of bankruptcy,” said Ghassan Khatib, a former cabinet minister in the Palestinian Authority (PA), and now a lecturer at Bir Zeit University, near Ramallah.

“Neither the armed resistance of Hamas nor the diplomacy of Fatah has made any gains,” he told Al Jazeera. “They are failed governments, and the public is deeply dissatisfied.”

The dire situation has left observers wondering whether the Palestinian national movement can reinvent itself and find more successful strategies over the coming years and decades.

Both Fatah and Hamas are preparing for major demonstrations, hoping to bring attention to decades of oppressive Israeli rule.

But the events are also likely to underscore how much ground they have lost to Israel – and how the pressure for new thinking is coming from the ground up, not from the leadership.

‘No need for fear’

Recent weeks have seen regular protests at Gaza’s perimeter fence attracting tens of thousands of Palestinians, and dominated by young people. The emphasis has been on direct, non-violent mass action, spurning the high-level diplomacy of Fatah and Hamas’ traditional commitment to armed resistance.

Although the Gaza protests – under the banner of the Great March of Return – were not initiated by Hamas, it had shown a willingness to support them, noted Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

“Hamas has recognised the utility of the marches,” she told Al Jazeera. “It adopted them rather than crushed them. The hope must be that Fatah will soon realise this too – that they understand there is utility to people resisting.”

Ahmed Al-Naouq, a youth activist in Gaza, pointed out that the focus of the protests was the demand that the refugees – a large majority of Gaza’s population – be allowed to return to the lands, now in Israel, they were expelled from in 1948.

“In Gaza we are more creative and flexible in our thinking because we have no other choice. We want to break out of this prison,” he told Al Jazeera.

“My father worked for many years inside Israel. We are ready to live alongside Israeli Jews in peace – they need to set aside their fears.”

Return to conflict’s roots

Nathan Thrall, a local analyst with the International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution organisation based in Washington and Brussels, pointed out that the Gaza protests were returning the Palestinian struggle to its historic roots.

“Even before the founding of the PLO, the central issue in Palestinian nationalism was the refugees – more so than the 1967 issue [of the occupation],” he told Al Jazeera.

The right of the 750,000 Palestinians made refugees by the 1948 war and their descendants to return to their ancestral lands originally lay at the heart of the platforms of all the political parties, he said.

“The national movement slowly compromised on that.”

Under the Oslo process launched in 1993, it was widely assumed that the refugees, if they returned at all, would move to a separate and minimal Palestinian state rather than their former towns and villages.

“There was an intentional ambiguity: the leadership talked about the right of return at the same time as it promoted the two-state solution, even though the two principles appear contradictory,” said Thrall.

Support for one state

But the Palestinians’ historic compromise had turned into a dead-end.

“The two-state idea was never seen as ideal. No one marches for it or is prepared to sacrifice their life for it,” he said. “But that pragmatism has yielded no results, and has led to great popular disenchantment. Now ordinary people are going back to the roots of the Palestinian issue.”

That appears to return Palestinian nationalism to its original vision of a single state, as long propounded by the PLO under its leader Yasser Arafat. He only accepted partition of historic Palestine in the late 1980s, faced with overwhelming western pressure.

“It is significant that there has been a steady increase in support for one state among the Palestinian public, now at around 30 per cent,” Buttu said.

“That is surprising, given that today not one Palestinian party, in the West Bank and Gaza or the 48 areas [of Israel], publicly supports it.”

Even Hamas, she said, had effectively followed Fatah. It had abandoned its traditional goal of Palestinian-Islamic rule over all of historic Palestine.

“Gradually Hamas has adopted the two-state formula, plus, in its case, a long-term truce with Israel,” Buttu said.

‘Critical gap’

In an indication of Hamas’ growing desire to compromise, the Israeli media reported this month that “unprecedented strategic distress” had led the movement to offer Israel a truce in return for easing the blockade and allowing it to rebuild Gaza’s infrastructure.

What was evident, said Khatib, was a “critical gap” between the national leaderships and Palestinian public opinion, especially among the youth.

The latter was increasingly interested in popular, non-violent struggle as a way to break out of the Palestinians’ isolation.

“But there are strong vested interests that will try to maintain the current situation,” he said, pointing to the Palestinians’ dependence on foreign donors, Israel’s control over the transfer of income to the PA, and in turn the vast number of families relying on PA salaries.

“Neither Fatah nor Hamas are in a position to advance popular struggle. They are bureaucratic governments, with structures, leaders and ideologies that militate against non-violence as a tactic.”

Waiting for Abbas to leave

But Khatib and others admit that change is likely to happen – some think rapidly – once 82-year-old Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas departs the scene.

Asad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University, said ending the factionalism, between Fatah and Hamas, was a precondition for turning the different parties into an effective vehicle of national struggle.

“There must be a unified national movement,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The PA has to stop being the security contractor for Israel. Then we can solve the real problems. We must demand an elected and unified leadership with a single platform.”

The biggest problem currently facing the Palestinian national movement, said Buttu, was that, despite its various institutions, it was dominated by one person in the figure of Abbas.

“Abbas has made all these institutions irrelevant, and they have allowed themselves to become irrelevant,” she said. “That has entirely marginalised other approaches, like boycotts and the one-state solution. It has ensured the alternatives can’t be effective.”

Hunger strike ignored

She noted that Abbas had all but ignored imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti during the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike last summer.

Barghouti is widely reported to be a student of non-violent strategies of resistance like those of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He is said to have found support among the jailed leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

“Look at the difference between the way the ANC [in South Africa] kept attention on Nelson Mandela while he was in jail,” said Buttu.

“They made sure people knew who he was. But Abbas has done his best to extinguish Barghouti, so young people barely know who he is after so many years behind bars.

“The prisoners are a hugely powerful and symbolic issue for Palestinians, and yet Abbas has preferred not to capitalise on it.”

More Ahed Tamimis

With Abbas gone, Thrall thinks Fatah and Hamas may be capable of adapting to new thinking. “But they will do so only if there is a groundswell of popular sentiment that forces them to,” he said.

He pointed to the decisions in January of the PLO’s Central Council to demand the ending of security cooperation with Israel, which Abbas has previously termed “sacred”, and to adopt the anti-apartheid-like struggle of the boycott (BDS) movement, even though it conflicts with Abbas’s strategy.

Thrall said the moves reflected pressure, in the case of security cooperation, from the Palestinian public and, in the case of BDS, from civil society organisations in the West Bank and Gaza.

Buttu noted that Palestinians were still conducting popular forms of struggle, despite the lack of institutional support.

“Look to the Ahed Tamimis,” she said, referring to the 17-year-old girl arrested and jailed for slapping an Israeli soldier who invaded her home.

“She isn’t choosing to be a teenager like her peers around the world. She chooses to resist, she is defiant like the rest of her village of Nabi Saleh. The same is true of those marching in Gaza.

“At the moment they have to operate as one-offs, because of the failure of the bigger political structures.”

Change could be rapid

Thrall observed that what happens in occupied East Jerusalem could prove decisive. Israel, he noted, was extremely concerned about large numbers of Palestinians there seeking Israeli citizenship and voting in city elections.

“If a majority starts applying for citizenship that could prove to be a deadly blow to a two-state solution, and it could happen very rapidly,” he said.

“Then the PA would no longer speak on behalf of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, which is supposed to be the future Palestinian capital.”

That might be the point at which other Palestinians were driven into mass protests for equal rights in a single state, along the lines of a civil rights or anti-apartheid struggle.

Buttu agreed that Israel could be gravely mistaken in thinking it has crushed Palestinian nationalism.

“I often wonder what it looked like in Algeria in the 1930s or 40s, or in South Africa in the early 1980s,” she said.

“The French in Algeria and apartheid’s leaders in South Africa thought they had the situation wrapped up, with a pretty ribbon on the package. They did not realise that in a few years everything would utterly change.”

• First published in Al-Jazeera

An Affront to History: Giro d’Italia’s ‘Sport-Washing’ of Israeli Apartheid

For the first time since its inception in 1909, the legendary Italian cycling race, Giro d’Italia kicked off outside Europe and, strangely enough, from the city of Jerusalem on May 4.

The inherent contradictions in that decision are inescapable. Italy is a country that has experienced a ruthless forging occupation and was ravaged by fascism and war. To be a party in Israel’s constant attempts at whitewashing or, in this case, “sport-washing’ its military occupation and daily violence against the Palestinian people is appalling.

Every attempt aimed at dissuading the race organizers from being part of Israel’s political propaganda has failed. The millions of dollars paid to the Giro d’Italia organizers, the RCS Sport, seemed far more compelling than shared cultural experiences, solidarity, human rights and international law.

Legendary Italian novelist, Dino Buzzati wrote various accounts in Italian newspapers in the 1940s, describing the symbolism of the race in the context of a battered nation resurrecting from the ashes of untold destruction.

Just after WWII had ended, Giro d’Italia organizers found themselves contending with the seemingly impossible task of organizing a race with a few bicycles and even fewer athletes. The roads were disfigured and destroyed in the war, but the determination to triumph was stronger.

The 1946 Giro D’Italia, especially the legendary competition between Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, became a metaphor of a country rising from the horrors of war, reanimating its national identity, symbolized in the final struggle between heroic athletes pedaling through the torturous mountainous roads to reach the finish line.

Understanding this history, Israel exploited it in every possible way. In fact, the Israeli government recently gave the late Gino Bartali an honorary Israeli citizenship. The decision was made as an acknowledgment of the Italian athlete’s anti-Nazi legacy. The irony, of course, is that the Israeli practices against Palestinians – military Occupation, racism, Apartheid and abhorring violence –  is reminiscent of the very reality that Bartali and millions of Italians fought against for years.

When Israeli officials announced last September that Giro D’Italia would start in Jerusalem, they labored to link the decision with Israel’s celebration of 70 years of independence.

Also, 70 years ago, Palestinians were dispossessed from their homeland by Zionist militias, leading to the Nakba, the catastrophic destruction of Palestine and the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state. It was then that West Jerusalem became part of Israel, and the rest of the Holy City, East Jerusalem, was also conquered through war in 1967, before it was officially, but illegally, annexed in 1981, in defiance of international law.

RCS Sport cannot claim ignorance regarding how their decision to engage and validate Israeli Apartheid will forever scar the history of the race. When their website announced that the race would kick off from ‘West Jerusalem’, the Israeli response was swift and furious. Israeli Sports Minister, Miri Regev and Tourism Minister, Yariv Levi, threatened to end their partnership with the race, claiming that “in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, there is no East or West. There is one unified Jerusalem.”

Alas, Giro d’Italia organizers publicly apologized before removing the word ‘West’ from their website and press releases.

According to international law, East Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian city. This fact has been stated time and again through United Nations resolutions, including the most recent Resolution 2334, adopted on December 23, 2016. It condemns Israel’s illegal settlement constructions in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem.

This reality stands as a stark contradiction to the claims made by Giro d’Italia organizers that their race is a celebration of peace. In truth, it is an endorsement of Apartheid, violence and war crimes.

The fact that the race was held according to plan, despite the ongoing killing of Palestinian protesters in Gaza, also underlines the degree of moral corruption by those behind the effort. Over 50 unarmed Palestinians have been killed since the start of the peaceful protests at the Gaza border, known as the ‘Great March of Return’ on March 30. Over 7,000 were wounded, among them 30 athletes, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Youth and Sports.

One of those wounded is Alaa al-Dali, a 21-years-old cyclist whose leg was amputated after being shot on the first day of protests.

‘Canadian-Jewish philanthropist’, Sylvan Adams, one of the biggest funders of the race, claimed that his contribution is motivated by his desire to promote Israel and to support cycling as a ‘bridge between nations.’

Palestinians, like Alaa, whose cycling career is over, are, of course, excluded from that lofty, and selective definition. Was the 12 million dollars received by the organizers from Israel and its supporters a worthy price to ignore the suffering of Palestinians and to help normalize Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people?

Sadly, for the RSC Sport, the answer is ‘yes’.

Many Italians, and more around the world, of course, disagree. Despite Italian media’s partaking in Israel’s ‘sport-washing’, hundreds of Italians protested at various stages of the race.

The fourth stage of Giro d’Italia, which was held in Catania, Sicily, was delayed by a protest, against a race which is “stained with the blood of Palestinians”, in the words of activist, Simone Di Stefano.

Renzo Ulivieri, the head of the Italian Football Managers Association, was one of prominent Italian voices that objected to the decision to hold the race in Israel. “I could have remained indifferent, but I fear I would have been despised by the people I respect. Viva the Palestinian people, free in their land,” he wrote in Facebook post.

The RCS Sport has done the ‘Giro’ race, sport cycling and the Italian people an unforgivable disservice for the sake of a few million dollars. By agreeing to start the race in a country that is guilty of apartheid practices and a protracted military occupation, they will stain the race forever.

However, the general wave of indignation caused by this reckless decision seems to indicate that Israel’s efforts at normalizing its crimes against Palestinians are failing to alter public opinion and perception of Israel as an occupying power – that deserves to be boycotted, not embraced.

• Romana Rubeo, an Italian writer, contributed to this article.

Eclipsing Factionalism: The Missing Story from the Gaza Protests

The Gaza border protests must be understood in the context of the Israeli Occupation, the siege and the long-delayed ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees. However, they should also be appreciated in a parallel context: Palestine’s own factionalism and infighting.

Factionalism in Palestinian society is a deep-rooted ailment that has, for decades, thwarted any unified effort at ending the Israeli military Occupation and Apartheid.

The Fatah and Hamas political rivalry has been catastrophic, for it takes place at a time that the Israel colonial project and land theft in the West Bank are occurring at an accelerated rate.

In Gaza, the siege continues to be as suffocating and deadly. Israel’s decade-long blockade, combined with regional neglect and a prolonged feud between factions have all served to drive Gazans to the brink of starvation and political despair.

The mass protests in Gaza, which began on March 30 and are expected to end on May 15 are the people’s response to this despondent reality. It is not just about underscoring the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. The protests are also about reclaiming the agenda, transcending political infighting and giving voice back to the people.

Inexcusable actions become tolerable with the passing of time. So has been the case with Israel’s Occupation that, year after year, swallows up more Palestinian land. Today, the Occupation is, more or less, the status quo.

The Palestinian leadership suffers the same imprisonment as its people, and geographic and ideological differences have compromised the integrity of Fatah as much as Hamas, deeming them irrelevant at home and on the world stage.

But never before has this internal division been weaponized so effectively so as to delegitimize an entire people’s claim for basic human rights. ‘The Palestinians are divided, so they must stay imprisoned.’

The strong bond between US President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is being accompanied by a political discourse that has no sympathy for Palestinians whatsoever. According to this narrative, even families protesting peacefully at the Gaza the border is termed as a ‘state of war’, as the Israeli army declared in a recent statement.

Commenting on the Israeli killing of scores and wounding of hundreds in Gaza, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, repeated a familiar mantra while on a visit to the region: “We do believe the Israelis have a right to defend themselves.”

Thus, Palestinians are now trapped – West Bankers are under Occupation, surrounded by walls, checkpoints and Jewish settlements, while Gazans are under a hermetic siege that has lasted a decade. Yet, despite this painful reality, Fatah and Hamas seem to have their focus and priorities elsewhere.

Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, following the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords, Fatah dominated Palestinian politics, marginalized its rivals and cracked down on any opposition. While it operated under the Israeli military Occupation in the West Bank, it still thrived financially as billions of dollars of aid money poured in.

More, the PA has used its financial leverage to maintain its control over Palestinians, thus compounding the oppressive Israeli Occupation and various forms of military control.

Since then, money has corrupted the Palestinian cause. ‘Donors’ money’, billions of dollars received by the PA in Ramallah has turned a revolution and a national liberation project into a massive financial racket with many benefactors and beneficiaries. Most Palestinians, however, remain poor. Unemployment today is skyrocketing.

Throughout his conflict with Hamas, Abbas never hesitated to collectively punish Palestinians to score political points. Starting last year, he took a series of punitive financial measures against Gaza, including the suspicious PA payments to Israel for electricity supplies to Gaza, while cutting off salaries to tens of thousands of Gaza’s employees who had continued to receive their paycheck from the West Bank authority.

This tragic political theater has been taking place for over ten years without the parties finding common ground to move beyond their scuffles.

Various attempts at reconciliations were thwarted, if not by the parties themselves, then by external factors. The last of such agreements was signed in Cairo last October. Although initially promising, the agreement soon faltered.

Last March, an apparent assassination attempt to kill PA Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, had both parties accuse one another of responsibility. Hamas contends that the culprits are PA agents, bent on destroying the unity deal, while Abbas readily accused Hamas of trying to kill the head of his government.

Hamas is desperate for a lifeline to end the siege on Gaza and killing Hamdallah would have been political suicide. Much of Gaza’s infrastructure stands in ruins, thanks to successive Israeli wars that killed thousands. The tight siege is making it impossible for Gaza to be rebuilt, or for the ailing infrastructure to be repaired.

Even as tens of thousands of Palestinians protested at the Gaza border, both Fatah and Hamas offered their own narratives, trying to use the protests to underscore, or hype, their own popularity amongst Palestinians.

Frustrated by the attention the protests have provided Hamas, Fatah attempted to hold counter rallies in support of Abbas throughout the West Bank. The outcome was predictably embarrassing as only small crowds of Fatah loyalists gathered.

Later, Abbas chaired a meeting of the defunct Palestinian National Council (PNC) in Ramallah to tout his supposed achievements in the Palestinian national struggle.

The PNC is considered the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Like the PLO, it has been relegated for many years in favor of the Fatah-dominated PA. The PA leader handpicked new members to join the PNC, only to ensure the future of all political institutions conforms to his will.

In the backdrop of such dismaying reality, thousands more continue to flock to the Gaza border.

Palestinians, disenchanted with factional division, are laboring to create a new political space, independent from the whims of factions; because, for them, the real fight is that against Israeli Occupation, for Palestinian freedom and nothing else.

The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago

Albert Einstein, along with other Jewish luminaries, including Hannah Arendt, published a letter in the New York Times on December 4, 1948. That was only a few months after Israel had declared its independence and as hundreds of Palestinian villages were being actively demolished after their inhabitants were expelled.

The letter denounced Israel’s newly-founded Herut party and its young leader, Menachem Begin.

Herut was carved out of the Irgun terrorist gang, famous for its many massacres against Palestinian Arab communities leading up to the Nakba, the catastrophic ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people from their historic homeland in 1947-48.

In the letter, Einstein, and others, described Herut (Freedom) party as a “political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to Nazi and Fascist parties.”

For a letter of this nature to appear a mere few years after the end of World War II and the devastation of the Holocaust is a profound indication of the clear chasm that existed among Jewish intellectuals at the time: the Zionists who supported Israel and its violent birth, and those who took the high moral ground and objected to it.

Sadly, the latter group – although still in existence – had lost the battle.

Herut later merged with other groups to form the Likud Party. Begin received the Nobel Peace Prize and the Likud is now the leading party in Israel’s most right-wing government coalition. The ‘Nazi and Fascist’-like philosophy of Herut have prevailed, and it now engulfs and defines mainstream society in Israel.

This right-wing tendency is even more pronounced among young Israelis than previous generations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the leader of Begin’s party, the Likud. His current coalition includes Russian-born Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, founder of the ultra-nationalist party, Yisrael Beiteinu.

In response to ongoing popular protests by besieged Palestinians in Gaza, and in justification of the high number of deaths and injuries inflicted on the unarmed protesters by the Israeli army, Lieberman argued that “there are no innocent people in Gaza.”

When the Defense Minister of a country espouses this kind of belief, one can hardly be shocked that Israeli snipers are shooting Palestinian youngsters, while cheering on camera as they hit their target.

This kind of discourse – Fascist par excellence – is by no means a fringe narrative within Israeli society.

Netanyahu’s coalition is rife with such morally-objectional characters.

Israeli politician, Ayelet Shaked, has often called for the genocide against Palestinians.

Palestinians “are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads,” she wrote in a Facebook post in 2015. “Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs  … They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”

A few months after the publication of the statement, Netanyahu, in December 2015, appointed her as the country’s Justice Minister.

Shaked belongs to the Jewish Home Party, headed by Naftali Bennett. The latter is Israel’s Minister of Education and known for similarly violent statements. He was one of the first politicians who came out in defense of Israeli soldiers accused of violating human rights at the Gaza border. Other top Israeli politicians followed suit.

On April 19, Israel celebrated its independence. “The Nazi and Fascist” mentality that defined Herut in 1948 now defines the most powerful ruling class in Israel. Israel’s leaders speak openly of genocide and murder, yet they celebrate and promote Israel as if an icon of civilization, democracy and human rights.

Even cultural Zionists of old would have been terribly horrified at the creature that their beloved Israeli has become, seven decades after its birth.

Certainly, the Palestinian people are still fighting for their land, identity, dignity and freedom. But the truth is that Israel’s biggest enemy is Israel itself. The country has failed to part ways with its violent politics and ideology of yesteryears. On the contrary, Israel’s ideological debate has been settled in favor of perpetual violence, racism and apartheid.

In the supposed ‘only democracy in the Middle East’, the margin of critique has grown very limited.

It is the likes of Netanyahu, Lieberman, Bennett and Shaked who now represent modern Israel and, behind them, a massive constituency of right-wing religious and ultra-nationalists, who have little regard for Palestinians, for human rights, international law and such seemingly frivolous values as peace and justice.

In 1938, Einstein had contended with the very idea behind the creation of Israel. It runs counter to “the essential nature of Judaism,” he said.

A few years later, in 1946, he argued before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on the Palestinian issue: “I cannot understand why it (meaning Israel) is needed … I believe it is bad.”

Needless to say, if Einstein was alive today, he would have joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, which aims at holding Israel accountable for its violent and illegal practices against Palestinians.

Equally true, he would have surely been branded anti-Semitic or a ‘self-hating Jew’ by Israeli leaders and their supporters. Today’s Zionists are, indeed, unfazed.

But this painful paradigm must be overturned. Palestinian children are not terrorists and cannot be treated as such. They are not ‘little snakes’, either. Palestinian mothers should not be killed. The Palestinian people are not ‘enemy combatants’ to be eradicated. Genocide must not be normalized.

70 years after Israel’s independence and Einstein’s letter, the country’s legacy is still marred with blood and violence. Despite the ongoing party in Tel Aviv, there is no reason to celebrate and every reason to mourn.

Yet, hope is kept alive because the Palestinian people are still resisting; and they need the world to stand in solidarity with them. It is the only way for the ghost of Herut to quit haunting the Palestinians, and for the ‘Nazi and Fascist’ philosophies to be forever defeated.

Winnie Mandela and Apartheid’s Hidden History

A new documentary on Winne Mandela – called simply Winnie – is fascinating both for what it reveals about the hidden history of South Africa’s transition away from apartheid and for its relevance to other, current struggles. I highly recommend that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn get his hands on a copy as soon as possible.

As someone who grew up vaguely aware of the apartheid story unfolding nightly on the UK news, I was shocked to see how different those events looked decades later, seen through more critical eyes. The new perspective is long overdue: Winnie Mandela died at the beginning of this month.

For those who bewail the “fake news” of the corporate media as if its mendacity was some kind of recent development, Winnie is a useful corrective, reminding us that the modern media’s primary role has always been to maintain a political, social and economic environment conducive to the accumulation of wealth by the rich and powerful.

Although the film briefly recounts the history of apartheid, its strength lies in its emphasis on Winnie Mandela as the embodiment of the liberation struggle after much of the ANC leadership, including her husband, had been locked away on Robben Island. She became the ANC’s centre of gravity and its spokeswoman, both locally and internationally, the flickering light that the apartheid regime dared not snuff out for fear of provoking a popular uprising. She became “the Mother of the Nation”.

The film’s focus is very much on the transition years, and the Mandelas’ increasingly strained relationship. The documentary leaves little doubt that long years of confinement had left Nelson Mandela a largely broken man. Interviews with apartheid’s security officials show that, sensing this, the South African government began a campaign to reshape Mandela’s worldview and prepare him for a release in which he would be repurposed to serve as the figurehead of a new South Africa. It would look more inclusive but change little in terms of the concentration of wealth and property in white hands. A new black elite based on the ANC leadership would legitimise the continuing economic oppression of the black majority.

Winnie was the fly in the ointment. She had helped to keep the revolutionary spirit of the ANC alive and relevant to South Africa’s disenfranchised black population, and she was not prepared to jettison class politics for a western-friendly identity politics.

From that moment on, the apartheid government was determined to create a personal, as well as ideological, rift between her and Nelson Mandela. They used smears to discredit her with the international community and accentuate divisions within South Africa’s black population. The vilification would reach its peak with efforts to tie her to the murder of a 14-year-old boy, Stompie Moeketsi.

Doubtless, if these events were current, rather than some 30 years old, those doubting the official narrative would be accused of spreading “fake news” and of being “conspiracy theorists”. But apartheid officials are clear in the documentary that they were prepared to go to great lengths to damage Winnie Mandela. In fact, while the official story persists that she ordered one of her bodyguards, Jerry Richardson, to kill Stompie because the boy was a police informer, Richardson later confessed that he killed Stompie after the boy found out that he was the informer.

There are two especially revealing moments in the documentary.

Vic McPherson, head of a smears unit in apartheid South Africa’s security services, admits that, as part of Operation Romulus, he had some 40 journalists working for him spreading disinformation in the South African media. He proudly declares that he could get government smears about Winnie Mandela on to the front page of South African papers as news, which was then relayed to international audiences through repetition by the foreign media.

He was also able to vilify Winnie Mandela with the help of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which allowed him to make a documentary about her. Even though it was government propaganda made by South Africa’s version of Josef Goebbels, it was shown on 40 US channels and led to the US declaring her an international terrorist.

The other revealing moment is at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Most of us get moist-eyed about the inquiry, but its agenda was again hijacked by apartheid’s leaders as a way to further damage Winnie Mandela and prevent her from being appointed deputy president of the ANC.

In fact, she was the only ANC official brought before the commission. Criminal suspicions about Stompie’s murder were again raised against her as if proven. Desmond Tutu does not emerge from this episode well, using his platform there to publicly demand an apology from her, when there was no more than unreliable hearsay connecting her to the murder.

It is hard not to conclude, after watching this documentary, that Winnie, not Nelson, was the greater hero, the true conscience of the anti-apartheid struggle, and that the apartheid leadership and the western media conspired to ensure she would become little more than a sour footnote in history books about that era.

Nelson Mandela was preferred over Winnie Mandela because his conciliation with – even appeasement of – apartheid’s racists appealed to western consciences more than her demands for a reordering of society and for tangible, not symbolic, justice for the victims of apartheid.

This fight continues in many places beyond South Africa.

The struggles of our time are to reform western societies to stop the pillage of the Earth’s resources, to reverse climate breakdown, and to expose the self-destructive logic of western economies based on the myth of endless growth. Those leading these struggles will face implacable opposition, just as Winnie Mandela did. The vested interests that control our societies are deeply entrenched after more than a century in power. They have the politicians, the media, the courts on their side. And their fight will be as dirty as the one waged by the apartheid regime.

We must develop the critical intelligence to prevent ourselves being manipulated and set one against the other. Otherwise, those who seek to challenge the current order will either be tamed, like Nelson Mandela, or destroyed, like Winnie Mandela.

Anti-Semitism and the Silencing of Debate on Palestinian Human Rights

While militarily strong and facing no existential threats, Zionism and Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians has been taking a beating in world opinion.1

The UN passed six new resolutions against the Jewish state, including one denying Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem 151-6.

The United Nations General Assembly in New York passed six resolutions on [November 30, 2017] affirming Palestinian rights and condemning Israeli violations of international law, Middle East Monitor reported.

According to one resolution (‘Jerusalem’), “the Assembly reiterated that any actions by Israel, the occupying Power, to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem were illegal and therefore null and void.”

This resolution was adopted by 151 votes in favor to 6 against (Canada, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, United States), with 9 abstentions (Australia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Honduras, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, South Sudan, Togo), the Monitor said.

Israel’s delegate condemned the resolutions, claiming that the UN “continued to annually adopt biased resolutions and devote precious resources…to politicized bodies whose sole purpose was to attack and denounce Israel”. The US representative “echoed that opposition.”2

Even in North American public opinion, both Jewish and non-Jewish, Israel is losing support.3 For example, here is a quote from an article in Jewish Forward magazine: “Where Zionism used to be a given among American Jews, it is increasingly being viewed with skepticism by Jews who see where the political ideology has led us. Startlingly only 40% of American Jews age 18-34 said they were ‘comfortable with the idea of a Jewish State.’”4

Israel has been resorting to lawfare in an attempt to hold back the tide of negative opinion building against the “Jewish State” for its treatment of the Palestinians and its 50 year illegal Occupation of the West Bank.

An Israeli legal group is suing two New Zealanders, one Jewish and one Palestinian, for allegedly convincing the pop singer Lorde to cancel her performance in Israel. This appears to be the first lawsuit filed under a contentious 2011 Israeli anti-boycott law. The Israeli law opens the door to civil lawsuits against anyone calling for a boycott against Israel, including of lands it has occupied, if that call could knowingly lead to a boycott. The law, which is part of Israel’s fight against a global movement calling for boycotts against the “Jewish State,” allows for courts to impose damages against defendants. Critics said the law would stifle free expression.5

Amnesty International has condemned the law in unequivocal terms:

Despite proponents’ claims to the contrary, this law is a blatant attempt to stifle peaceful dissent and campaigning by attacking the right to freedom of expression, which all governments must uphold,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The broad definition of boycott could apply to anyone seeking to use this non-violent means of dissent to criticize any individual or institution involved in human rights violations or violations of international law in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, he added.6

 
The Israeli anti-BDS law has not yet been tested in court. Even the Shurat Hadin leader Darshan-Leitner has said that the law poses a challenge, “because proving a link between a boycott and a call for one is difficult”. She said in this case the connection is clear, claiming that the first time Lorde brought up her reservations on the Tel Aviv performance was after the Sachs and Abu-Shanab’s open letter, and that the two women “took credit” for Lorde’s decision to cancel the concert on social media and elsewhere.6

Israel is now proposing to enforce its anti-BDS law against Amnesty International, after the human rights organization embarked on a campaign calling for a boycott of products from Judea and Samaria and a weapons embargo on Israel. Amnesty International has also accused Israel of committing war crimes.

Under its “Israel’s Occupation: 50 Years of Dispossession” campaign, Amnesty calls for “governments to stop enabling the economy that keeps these illegal settlements growing and fuels the suffering of Palestinians … and help put an end to the cycle of violations suffered by Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation.”

Israel Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan have proposed amendments to the anti-BDS law to enable the sanctions. They are going to have a public hearing at which Israeli citizens can voice their objections.

Before imposing sanctions on Amnesty International, Kahlon is expected to invite senior officials from the organization to a hearing. Amnesty International could also be sued for damages for violating the anti-BDS law.7

In what was described as “an unprecedented victory” for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a federal judge has blocked Kansas from enforcing a state law which punishes those who express support or engage in the boycott of Israel. The anti-BDS law, required that all Kansas state employees sign a certification guaranteeing they do not participate in the boycott of Israel.
The Federal Judge, issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing the law until resolution of a lawsuit filed in October 2017 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of Esther Koontz, a public school teacher. The lawsuit is based on Koontz’s adherence to the Palestinian call for BDS. Following her fellow members of the Mennonite Church USA and in solidarity with Palestinians, she decided to boycott all consumer products from both Israeli companies and those that operate in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

In a statement, Micah Kubic, director of the ACLU of Kansas, called the judge’s ruling a “notable victory for the First Amendment” and protected speech. The ACLU Director said, “The government has no right telling people what they can and can’t support, and this preliminary injunction will protect other Kansans from enduring the First Amendment violation that Ms. Koontz has endured.” The ruling was the first of its kind on the judicial level to counter an escalation of anti-BDS measures passed by state lawmakers in twenty-four states with bipartisan support. Activists in several states have stopped similarly proposed legislation from becoming law. However, there are several federal anti-BDS bills that are before Congress.8

Another defeat for the Israeli anti-Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) campaign occurred where an attempt to force state contractors in Massachusetts to prove that they were not boycotting Israel. To quote the Palestine Legal press release on this topic, “Though not on its face an anti-BDS bill, as the coalition stated, “a substantial public paper trail shows that its actual target was the Palestinian civil society movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). As such, it was intended to inhibit the first amendment right to free speech through boycott action, a peaceful expression of dissent.” 9

There also is a recent judgement of the Ontario Court of Appeal that approved a libel decision against Canadian journalist Ezra Levant for calling a young Muslim law student a terrorist and an anti-Semite. The award of $80,000 against Levant was upheld.10

Another public relations setback for Israel’s campaign against BDS is the nomination of the BDS Campaign for the Nobel Peace Prize.11

  1. See, for example, “Israel accuses U.N. rights forum of bias over Palestinians,” by Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters, January 19, 2018. See also “Israel gets flak over human rights record in Geneva,” by Barbara Bibbo, Aljazeera, January 23, 2018. The South African representative said “Israel is the only state in the world that can be called an apartheid state.”
  2. UN votes 151-6 against Israel, an ‘occupying power’ with no rights to Jerusalem,” United With Israel, 1 December 2017.
  3. Vast Numbers of Progressive California Jews Are Disengaging From Israel, Survey Finds: Only a minority of young Jews in San Francisco’s Bay Area believe a Jewish state is important and only a third sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians,” by Judy Maltz, Haaretz, 14 February 2018. See also “Realization Is Growing That American Jews and Israel No Longer Share a Moral and Ethical Worldview,” by Allan C. Brownfeld, Issues, Spring-Summer 2017; See also “Netanyahu does not speak for all American Jews (COMMENTARY),” by Rebecca Vilkomerson, Washington Post, 25 February 2015.
  4. American Jews Have Never Needed Israel,” by Michael Robin, Forward, 21 February 2018.
  5. Israelis sue New Zealanders over Lorde boycott,” by Tia Goldenberg, Associated Press, 31 January 2018.
  6. Israel anti-boycott law an attack on freedom of expression,” Amnesty International Release, 12 July 2011.
  7. Israel to apply anti-BDS law to Amnesty International,” by Sean Savage JNS, Cleveland Jewish News, 16 February 2018​.
  8. Federal judge blocks Kansas law punishing BDS supporters,” by Jesse Rubin, Mondoweiss, January 30, 2018. Link downloaded on February 12, 2018.
  9. Palestine Legal Press Release, 8 February 2018, Victory! Anti-Boycott Measure Defeated in Massachusetts.
  10. Ontario Court of Appeal confirms $80,000 libel judgment against Ezra Levant: Saskatchewan lawyer brought suit in response to blog posts,” by Alex Robinson, Canadian Lawyer, January 6, 2017.
  11. BDS movement nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.” On February 8, 2018. Norwegian parliamentarian Bjørnar Moxnes officially nominated the BDS movement for Palestinian rights for a Nobel Peace Prize. He did so with the support of his party, the progressive Rødt (Red) Party, explaining why BDS “should be supported without reservation by all democratically-minded people and states.” Mondoweiss, 8 February, 2018.

Anti-Semitism and the Silencing of Debate on Palestinian Human Rights

While militarily strong and facing no existential threats, Zionism and Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians has been taking a beating in world opinion.1

The UN passed six new resolutions against the Jewish state, including one denying Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem 151-6.

The United Nations General Assembly in New York passed six resolutions on [November 30, 2017] affirming Palestinian rights and condemning Israeli violations of international law, Middle East Monitor reported.

According to one resolution (‘Jerusalem’), “the Assembly reiterated that any actions by Israel, the occupying Power, to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem were illegal and therefore null and void.”

This resolution was adopted by 151 votes in favor to 6 against (Canada, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, United States), with 9 abstentions (Australia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Honduras, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, South Sudan, Togo), the Monitor said.

Israel’s delegate condemned the resolutions, claiming that the UN “continued to annually adopt biased resolutions and devote precious resources…to politicized bodies whose sole purpose was to attack and denounce Israel”. The US representative “echoed that opposition.”2

Even in North American public opinion, both Jewish and non-Jewish, Israel is losing support.3 For example, here is a quote from an article in Jewish Forward magazine: “Where Zionism used to be a given among American Jews, it is increasingly being viewed with skepticism by Jews who see where the political ideology has led us. Startlingly only 40% of American Jews age 18-34 said they were ‘comfortable with the idea of a Jewish State.’”4

Israel has been resorting to lawfare in an attempt to hold back the tide of negative opinion building against the “Jewish State” for its treatment of the Palestinians and its 50 year illegal Occupation of the West Bank.

An Israeli legal group is suing two New Zealanders, one Jewish and one Palestinian, for allegedly convincing the pop singer Lorde to cancel her performance in Israel. This appears to be the first lawsuit filed under a contentious 2011 Israeli anti-boycott law. The Israeli law opens the door to civil lawsuits against anyone calling for a boycott against Israel, including of lands it has occupied, if that call could knowingly lead to a boycott. The law, which is part of Israel’s fight against a global movement calling for boycotts against the “Jewish State,” allows for courts to impose damages against defendants. Critics said the law would stifle free expression.5

Amnesty International has condemned the law in unequivocal terms:

Despite proponents’ claims to the contrary, this law is a blatant attempt to stifle peaceful dissent and campaigning by attacking the right to freedom of expression, which all governments must uphold,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The broad definition of boycott could apply to anyone seeking to use this non-violent means of dissent to criticize any individual or institution involved in human rights violations or violations of international law in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, he added.6

 
The Israeli anti-BDS law has not yet been tested in court. Even the Shurat Hadin leader Darshan-Leitner has said that the law poses a challenge, “because proving a link between a boycott and a call for one is difficult”. She said in this case the connection is clear, claiming that the first time Lorde brought up her reservations on the Tel Aviv performance was after the Sachs and Abu-Shanab’s open letter, and that the two women “took credit” for Lorde’s decision to cancel the concert on social media and elsewhere.6

Israel is now proposing to enforce its anti-BDS law against Amnesty International, after the human rights organization embarked on a campaign calling for a boycott of products from Judea and Samaria and a weapons embargo on Israel. Amnesty International has also accused Israel of committing war crimes.

Under its “Israel’s Occupation: 50 Years of Dispossession” campaign, Amnesty calls for “governments to stop enabling the economy that keeps these illegal settlements growing and fuels the suffering of Palestinians … and help put an end to the cycle of violations suffered by Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation.”

Israel Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan have proposed amendments to the anti-BDS law to enable the sanctions. They are going to have a public hearing at which Israeli citizens can voice their objections.

Before imposing sanctions on Amnesty International, Kahlon is expected to invite senior officials from the organization to a hearing. Amnesty International could also be sued for damages for violating the anti-BDS law.7

In what was described as “an unprecedented victory” for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a federal judge has blocked Kansas from enforcing a state law which punishes those who express support or engage in the boycott of Israel. The anti-BDS law, required that all Kansas state employees sign a certification guaranteeing they do not participate in the boycott of Israel.
The Federal Judge, issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing the law until resolution of a lawsuit filed in October 2017 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of Esther Koontz, a public school teacher. The lawsuit is based on Koontz’s adherence to the Palestinian call for BDS. Following her fellow members of the Mennonite Church USA and in solidarity with Palestinians, she decided to boycott all consumer products from both Israeli companies and those that operate in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

In a statement, Micah Kubic, director of the ACLU of Kansas, called the judge’s ruling a “notable victory for the First Amendment” and protected speech. The ACLU Director said, “The government has no right telling people what they can and can’t support, and this preliminary injunction will protect other Kansans from enduring the First Amendment violation that Ms. Koontz has endured.” The ruling was the first of its kind on the judicial level to counter an escalation of anti-BDS measures passed by state lawmakers in twenty-four states with bipartisan support. Activists in several states have stopped similarly proposed legislation from becoming law. However, there are several federal anti-BDS bills that are before Congress.8

Another defeat for the Israeli anti-Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) campaign occurred where an attempt to force state contractors in Massachusetts to prove that they were not boycotting Israel. To quote the Palestine Legal press release on this topic, “Though not on its face an anti-BDS bill, as the coalition stated, “a substantial public paper trail shows that its actual target was the Palestinian civil society movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). As such, it was intended to inhibit the first amendment right to free speech through boycott action, a peaceful expression of dissent.” 9

There also is a recent judgement of the Ontario Court of Appeal that approved a libel decision against Canadian journalist Ezra Levant for calling a young Muslim law student a terrorist and an anti-Semite. The award of $80,000 against Levant was upheld.10

Another public relations setback for Israel’s campaign against BDS is the nomination of the BDS Campaign for the Nobel Peace Prize.11

  1. See, for example, “Israel accuses U.N. rights forum of bias over Palestinians,” by Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters, January 19, 2018. See also “Israel gets flak over human rights record in Geneva,” by Barbara Bibbo, Aljazeera, January 23, 2018. The South African representative said “Israel is the only state in the world that can be called an apartheid state.”
  2. UN votes 151-6 against Israel, an ‘occupying power’ with no rights to Jerusalem,” United With Israel, 1 December 2017.
  3. Vast Numbers of Progressive California Jews Are Disengaging From Israel, Survey Finds: Only a minority of young Jews in San Francisco’s Bay Area believe a Jewish state is important and only a third sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians,” by Judy Maltz, Haaretz, 14 February 2018. See also “Realization Is Growing That American Jews and Israel No Longer Share a Moral and Ethical Worldview,” by Allan C. Brownfeld, Issues, Spring-Summer 2017; See also “Netanyahu does not speak for all American Jews (COMMENTARY),” by Rebecca Vilkomerson, Washington Post, 25 February 2015.
  4. American Jews Have Never Needed Israel,” by Michael Robin, Forward, 21 February 2018.
  5. Israelis sue New Zealanders over Lorde boycott,” by Tia Goldenberg, Associated Press, 31 January 2018.
  6. Israel anti-boycott law an attack on freedom of expression,” Amnesty International Release, 12 July 2011.
  7. Israel to apply anti-BDS law to Amnesty International,” by Sean Savage JNS, Cleveland Jewish News, 16 February 2018​.
  8. Federal judge blocks Kansas law punishing BDS supporters,” by Jesse Rubin, Mondoweiss, January 30, 2018. Link downloaded on February 12, 2018.
  9. Palestine Legal Press Release, 8 February 2018, Victory! Anti-Boycott Measure Defeated in Massachusetts.
  10. Ontario Court of Appeal confirms $80,000 libel judgment against Ezra Levant: Saskatchewan lawyer brought suit in response to blog posts,” by Alex Robinson, Canadian Lawyer, January 6, 2017.
  11. BDS movement nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.” On February 8, 2018. Norwegian parliamentarian Bjørnar Moxnes officially nominated the BDS movement for Palestinian rights for a Nobel Peace Prize. He did so with the support of his party, the progressive Rødt (Red) Party, explaining why BDS “should be supported without reservation by all democratically-minded people and states.” Mondoweiss, 8 February, 2018.

Indulgent Violence: The Legacy of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

There was nothing of the Siddhartha about her.  Modest and sombre middle ways are not the stuff of revolutionary ardour.  Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s mark on history was always going to render the violent normal, the blood stain a perceived, even psychopathic necessity.  If society itself was prone to sanguinary realisations, she would oblige and flourish within its confines.

Everyone has their take on the Madikizela-Mandela legacy, and a few are compiled in the publication The Penguin Dictionary of South African Quotations (1999).  These observations point to a terrifyingly colourful variety, a figure part saint and part gargoyle.  She was “a political figure of almost Shakespearean tragic proportions,” opined Judge Dennis Davis.  Her hands dripped with the blood of South Africa’s people, went a reflective Xoliswa Falati, who formerly knew her and claimed to have gone to prison for her.

As for those defenders of the apartheid state?  “Whenever her name was mentioned in security circles,” came that rueful assassin and former commander of the Vlakpaas counterinsurgency unit, Eugene de Kock, “a shudder went through the ranks.”

The problem with such assessments of ecstatic violence, if it be a problem, is its circular hopelessness. Is the circle ever broken to enable an escape to be forged for the peace makers?  To place her in dramatic pose and see her as Shakespearean leaves the mistaken sense that she is more dramatic than volitional, bound by destiny and text rather than consciousness and will.  It ignores another point she could be charged with: indulgence.

The biography by Anne Marie du Preez Bezdrob focuses on that staple view of “women’s ability to face difficulties and misfortune with grace, tenacity and humour, and still embrace life with delight”.  Du Preez Bezdrob engages in a tendency typical in one strand of Madikizela-Mandela hagiography.  Her politics are considered secondary, even if her status is not.  Her claim, made in 2003, was that “her community involvement was not an extension of her role as a politician, but a result of the fact that she still saw herself primarily as a social worker and mother.”  Winnie, suggests du Preez Bezdrob, can be counted among “the millions of nameless women who chose to confront oppression and injustice when it is safer to turn and look the other way.”

With her passing, various South African figures insisted that she be remembered as a monumental female role model.  Consider the words of South African Airways CEO Vuyani Jarana: “She would have loved to see young women being at the forefront of that struggle for development, building the country, building the economy.”

In the ethical spring cleaning and catharsis that was the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, Madikizela-Mandela did not fare well.  Members concluded in 1998 that she was “politically and morally responsible” for various “gross violations of human rights” committed by her fashioned weapons in the form of the Mandela United Football Club.  These youthful, often brutal supporters were not averse to inflicting appalling cruelties.  In the words of the TRC, she was “implicated directly in a range of incidents – including assaults, abduction and the murder and attempted murder of at least a dozen individuals.”

Activists and campaigners against the apartheid regime also found her methods hard to stomach.  Paul Trewhela, a veteran underground journalist, communist and former political prisoner in Pretoria and the Johannesburg Fort, acknowledged the crushing difficulties she faced, even as her husband of growing legend remained confined on Robben Island.

She worked with activists in Soweto prior to the school student uprising of June 16, 1976.  For eighteen months, she was a resident of Pretoria Central Prison, where she suffered spells of torture.  Then came those eight years of exile in the “little Siberia” of Brandfort. “There is no question,” he writes sympathetically, “that she provided inspiration across those decades under the apartheid regime.  All praise to Winnie Mandela for her outstanding, exceptional courage and daring, her unrelenting defiance.”

All that said, prison, confinement and surveillance transformed her.  In Trewhela’s words, courage and defiance are never enough – even those inclined to brutality can have them.  On her return to Soweto in 1985, she busied herself with terrorising “an already terrorised people. She returned as a psychopath.”

Her exploits came back to haunt her, though she proved dismissive of them.  The child figure of Stompie Moeketsi Seipei, kidnapped along with three other youths from the Soweto Methodist Manse, featured in all its gore in the Rand Supreme Court in 1991.

Winnie’s vicious charges certainly loved their work, though some would suggest that part of their dedication was inspired by raw fear.  Stompie was murdered; Katiza Cebukhulu, another victim of abduction, was scalded by boiling water and rendered to Zambia three days prior to the trial and held for two years in Lusaka.  Cebukhulu suggested that Stompie was finished “off with a sharp, tiny object”, the coup de grace administered by Madikizela-Mandela herself.  Jerry Richardson, the “coach” of the Mandela United Football Club, supplied a different account, claiming in 1997 before the TRC that he had “slaughtered [Seipei] like a goat” under the instructions of “Mami” with shears.

Her reading of post-apartheid South Africa was a repudiation of Nelson Mandela’s softly-softly approach.  Much of this was evident in her London Evening Standard interview in 2010.  The Truth and Reconciliation Committee, designed to neutralise vengefulness in the post-apartheid trauma, was a “charade”; Mandela erred in going to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 with his “jailer” De Klerk. “He agreed to a bad deal for the blacks. Economically, we are still on the outside.  The economy is very much ‘white’.”

To remember Madikizela-Mandela, then, is to remember the blight of cruelty in South Africa, the hideous distortions of a system marked by race, the barbarism of an order that feeds trauma rather than abates it.  It is also to note those jottings of courage and defiance.  It will be a difficult reckoning, for with her came a vision less of reconciliation than revenge, the spirit of which still persists with tenacity.