Category Archives: BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement)

Humanity Denied: What Is Missing from the Omar, Tlaib Story

Israel’s decision to bar two United States Democratic Representatives, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, from entering Israel and visiting Palestine has further exposed the belligerent, racist nature of the Israeli government.

But our understanding of the Israeli decision, and the massive controversy and discussion it generated, should not stop there. Palestinians, who have been at the receiving end of racist Israeli laws, will continue to endure separation, isolation and travel restrictions long after the two Congresswomen’s story dies down.

A news feature published by the British Guardian newspaper last June told the story of Palestinian children from Gaza who die alone in Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem.

Ever since Israel imposed near-complete isolation on the Gaza Strip in 2007, thousands of Palestinian patients requiring urgent medical care which is available in Palestinian East Jerusalem or elsewhere in the West Bank faced options, all of them painful. As a result, many died at home, while others waited for months, if not years, to be granted permission to leave the besieged Strip.

The Guardian reported on 56 Gaza babies who were brought to the Makassed Hospital, alas without any family accompanying them. Six of these babies died alone.

The Israeli rights group, Gisha, puts this sad reality in numbers. When the Beit Hanoun (Erez) Crossing between Gaza and Israel is not completely shut down, only 100 Gazans are allowed to cross into Israel (mostly on their way to the West Bank) per day. Before the breakout of the Second Palestinian Intifada, the Uprising of 2000, “the monthly average number of entries to Israel from Gaza by Palestinians was more than half a million.”

One can only imagine the impact of such a massive reduction on the Palestinian community in the Strip in terms of work, health, education and social life.

This goes well beyond Gaza. Indeed, if there is one consistent policy that has governed Israel’s relationship with Palestinians since the establishment of Israel on the ruins of Palestinian towns and villages in 1948, it is that of separation, siege and physical restrictions.

While the establishment of Israel resulted in the massive influx of Palestinian refugees who are now numbered in the millions and are still denied the right to even visit their own homeland, those who remained in Palestine were detained in small, cut off spaces, governed by an inhumane matrix of control that only grows more sophisticated with time.

Immediately after the establishment of Israel, Palestinian Christian and Muslim communities that were not ethnically cleansed by Zionist militias during the war endured years of isolation under the so-called Defense (Emergency) Regulations. The movement of Palestinians in these areas were governed by military law and the permit system.

Following the 1967 occupation of the remaining 22 percent of historic Palestine, the emergency law was also applied to East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. In fact, in the period between 1967 and 1972, all of the occupied territories were declared a “closed military area” by the Israeli army.

In the period between 1972 and 1991, Palestinian laborers were allowed entry to Israeli only to serve as Israel’s cheap workforce. Hundreds of thousands of impoverished, desperate, though often well-educated Palestinians, faced the inevitable option of enduring humiliating work conditions in Israel in order to sustain their families. But even that route was closed following the First Intifada of 1987 particularly after the Iraq war in 1991. Total closure was once more imposed on all Palestinians throughout the country.

The Oslo Agreement, which was put into effect in 1994, formalized the military permit system. Oslo also divided the West Bank into three Zones, A, B, C and with the latter two (comprising nearly 83 percent of the total size of the West Bank) falling largely under total Israeli control. This ushered in yet another horrific reality as it isolated Palestinians within the West Bank from one another.

Occupied East Jerusalem also fell into the same matrix of Israeli control. After 1967, Palestinian Jerusalemites were classified into those living in area J1 – Palestinians with blue cards living in areas annexed by Israel after the war and incorporated into the boundaries of the Israeli Jerusalem municipality; and J2- Palestinians residing outside the municipality area. Regardless, both communities were denied “fundamental residency rights to adequate housing and freedom of movement and their rights to health, work, (and) education,” wrote Fadwa Allabadi and Tareq Hardan in the Institute for Palestinian Studies.

The so-called ‘Separation Wall’, which Israel began building in June 2002, did not separate between Palestinians and Israel, for that has already been realized through numerous laws and restrictions that are as old as the Israeli state itself. Instead, the wall created yet more restrictions for Palestinians, who are now left isolated in Apartheid South Africa-style ‘Bantustans’. With hundreds of permanent and “flying” military checkpoints dotting the West Bank, Israel’s separation strategy was transformed from isolating all Palestinians at once, into individualized confinement that is aimed at destroying any sense of Palestinian socio-economic cohesion and continuity.

Moreover, the Israeli military “installed iron gates at the entrances to the vast majority of West Bank villages, allowing it to isolate them within minutes and with minimal personnel,” according to Israeli rights group, B’Tselem research.

It does not end here, of course. In March 2017, the Israeli parliament (Knesset) approved an amendment to the law that would deny entry to foreign nationals who “knowingly issued a public call to boycott the state of Israel.” The “Boycott law” was rooted in a 2011 bill and an Israeli Supreme Court decision (upholding the legal argument in the bill) in 2015.

According to the Israeli website, Globes, in 2018, almost 19,000 visitors to Israel were turned away at the country’s various entry points, compared to only 1,870 in 2011. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib will now be added to that dismal statistic.

Every Palestinian, anywhere, is subjected to these restrictions. While some are denied the right to visit their families, others are dying in isolation in besieged areas, in “closed military zones”, while separated from one another by massive walls and numerous military checkpoints.

This is the story of Palestinian isolation by Israel that we must not allow to die out, long after the news cycle covering the two Congresswomen’s story move on beyond Omar, Tlaib and Israeli transgressions.

Sur Baher Home Demolitions illustrate a Vicious Spiral of Oppression in Palestine

Recent events have shone a spotlight not only on how Israel is intensifying its abuse of Palestinians under its rule, but the utterly depraved complicity of western governments in its actions.

The arrival of Donald Trump in the White House two-and-a-half years ago has emboldened Israel as never before, leaving it free to unleash new waves of brutality in the occupied territories.

Western states have not only turned a blind eye to these outrages, but are actively assisting in silencing anyone who dares to speak out.

It is rapidly creating a vicious spiral: the more Israel violates international law, the more the West represses criticism, the more Israel luxuriates in its impunity.

This shameless descent was starkly illustrated last week when hundreds of heavily armed Israeli soldiers, many of them masked, raided a neighbourhood of Sur Baher, on the edges of Jerusalem. Explosives and bulldozers destroyed dozens of homes, leaving many hundreds of Palestinians without a roof over their heads.

During the operation, extreme force was used against residents, as well as international volunteers there in the forlorn hope that their presence would deter violence. Videos showed the soldiers cheering and celebrating as they razed the neighbourhood.

House destructions have long been an ugly staple of Israel’s belligerent occupation, but there were grounds for extra alarm on this occasion.

Traditionally, demolitions occur on the two-thirds of the West Bank placed by the Oslo accords temporarily under Israeli control. That is bad enough: Israel should have handed over what is called “Area C” to the Palestinian Authority 20 years ago. Instead, it has hounded Palestinians off these areas to free them up for illegal Jewish settlement.

But the Sur Baher demolitions took place in “Area A”, land assigned by Oslo to the Palestinians’ government-in-waiting – as a prelude to Palestinian statehood. Israel is supposed to have zero planning or security jurisdiction there.

Palestinians rightly fear that Israel has established a dangerous precedent, further reversing the Oslo Accords, which can one day be used to justify driving many thousands more Palestinians off land under PA control.

Most western governments barely raised their voices. Even the United Nations offered a mealy-mouthed expression of “sadness” at what took place.

A few kilometres north, in Issawiya, another East Jerusalem suburb, Israeli soldiers have been terrorising 20,000 Palestinian residents for weeks. They have set up checkpoints, carried out dozens of random night-time arrests, imposed arbitrary fines and traffic tickets, and shot live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets into residential areas.

Ir Amim, an Israeli human rights group, calls Issawiya’s treatment a “perpetual state of collective punishment” – that is, a war crime.

Over in Gaza, not only are the 2 million inhabitants being slowly starved by Israel’s 12-year blockade, but a weekly shooting spree against Palestinians who protest at the fence imprisoning them has become so routine it barely attracts attention any more.

On Friday, Israeli snipers killed one protester and seriously injured 56, including 22 children.

That followed new revelations that Israeli’s policy of shooting unarmed protesters in the upper leg to injure them – another war crime – continued long after it became clear a significant proportion of Palestinians were dying from their wounds.

Belatedly – after more than 200 deaths and the severe disabling of many thousands of Palestinians – snipers have been advised to “ease up” by shooting protesters in the ankle.

B’Tselem, another Israeli rights organisation, called the army’s open-fire regulation a “criminal policy”, one that “consciously chose not to regard those standing on the other side of the fence as humans”.

Rather than end such criminal practices, Israel prefers to conceal them. It has effectively sealed Palestinian areas off to avoid scrutiny.

Omar Shakir, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, is facing imminent deportation, yet more evidence of Israel’s growing crackdown on the human rights community.

A report by the Palestinian Right to Enter campaign last week warned that Israel is systematically denying foreign nationals permits to live and work in the occupied territories, including areas supposedly under PA control.

That affects both foreign-born Palestinians, often those marrying local Palestinians, and internationals. According to recent reports, Israel is actively forcing out academics teaching at the West Bank’s leading university, Bir Zeit, in a severe blow to Palestinian academic freedom.

Palestinian journalists highlighting Israeli crimes are in Israel’s sights too. Last week, Israel stripped one – Mustafa Al Haruf – of his Jerusalem residency, tearing him from his wife and young child. Because it is illegal to leave someone stateless, Israel is now bullying Jordan to accept him.

Another exclusion policy – denying entry to Israel’s fiercest critics, those who back the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement – is facing its first challenge.

Two US congresswomen who support BDS – Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who has family in the West Bank – have announced plans to visit.

Israeli officials have indicated they will exempt them both, apparently fearful of drawing wider attention to Israel’s draconian entry restrictions, which also cover the occupied territories.

Israel is probably being overly cautious. The BDS movement, which alone argues for the imposition of penalties on Israel until it halts its abuse of Palestinians, is being bludgeoned by western governments.

In the US and Europe, strong criticism of Israel, even from Jews – let alone demands for meaningful action – is being conflated with antisemitism. Much of this furore seems intended to ease the path towards silencing Israel’s critics.

More than two dozen US states, as well as the Senate, have passed laws – drafted by pro-Israel lobby groups – to limit the rights of the American public to support boycotts of Israel.

Anti-BDS legislation has also been passed by the German and French parliaments.

And last week the US House of Representatives joined them, overwhelmingly passing a resolution condemning the BDS movement. Only 17 legislators demurred.

It was a slap in the face to Ms Omar, who has been promoting a bill designed to uphold the First Amendment rights of boycott supporters.

It seems absurd that these curbs on free speech have emerged just as Israel makes clear it has no interest in peace, will never concede Palestinian statehood and is entrenching a permanent system of apartheid in the occupied territories.

But there should be no surprise. The clampdown is further evidence that western support for Israel is indeed based on shared values – those that treat the Palestinians as lesser beings, whose rights can be trampled at will.

The Ongoing Dread in Gaza: So Many Names, So Many Lives

I felt shaky and uneasy all day, preparing for this talk.

— Jehad Abusalim, a Palestinian from the territory of Gaza

Jehad Abusalim, a Palestinian now living in the United States, grew up Gaza. In Chicago last week, addressing activists committed to breaking the siege of Gaza,  he held up a stack of 31 papers. On each page were names of 1,254 Palestinians living in Gaza who had been killed in just one month of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” attacks five years ago.

“I felt shaky and uneasy all day preparing for this talk,” he told the group. He described his dismay when, looking through the list of names, he recognized one of a young man from his small town.

“He was always friendly to me,” Abusalim said. “I remember how he would greet me on the way to the mosque. His family and friends loved him, respected him.”

Abusalim recalled the intensity of losing loved ones and homes; of seeing livelihoods and infrastructure destroyed by aerial attacks; of being unable to protect the most vulnerable. He said it often takes ten years or more before Palestinian families traumatized by Israeli attacks can begin talking about what happened. Noting Israel’s major aerial attacks in 2009, 2013, and 2014, along with more recent attacks killing participants in the “Great March of Return,” he spoke of ongoing dread about what might befall Gaza’s children the next time an attack happens.

Eighty people gathered to hear Abusalim and Retired Colonel Ann Wright, of US Boat to Gaza, as they helped launch the “Free Gaza Chicago River Flotilla,” three days of action culminating on July 20 with a spirited demonstration by “kayactivists” and boaters, along with onshore protesters, calling for an end to the siege of Gaza. Wright resigned from her post as a U.S. diplomat when the United States launched the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing of Iraq. Having participated in four previous internationals flotillas aiming to defy Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza’s shoreline, Wright is devoting her energies preparing for a fifth in 2020.

Another organizer and member of US Boat to Gaza, Elizabeth Murray, who like Wright formerly worked for the U.S. government, recalled being in a seminar sponsored by a prestigious think tank in Washington, D.C., when a panel member compared Israeli attacks against Palestinians with routine efforts to “mow the lawn.” She recounted hearing a light tittering as the D.C. audience members expressed amusement. But, Murray said, “Not a single person objected to the panelist’s remark.” This was in 2010, following Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead, which killed 1,383 Palestinians, 333 of whom were children.

Abusalim’s colleague at the American Friends Service Committee, Jennifer Bing, had cautioned Chicago flotilla planners to carefully consider the tone of their actions. A colorful and lively event during a busy weekend morning along Chicago’s popular riverfront could be exciting and, yes, fun.

But Palestinians in Gaza cope with constant tension, she noted. Denied freedom of movement, they live in the world’s largest open-air prison, under conditions the United Nations has predicted will render their land uninhabitable by 2020. Households get four to six hours of electricity per day. According to UNICEF, “sewage treatment plants can’t operate fully and the equivalent of forty-three Olympic-sized swimming pools of raw or partly treated sewage is pumped into the sea every day.”

Facing cruel human rights violations on a daily basis, the organizers urge solidarity in the form of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. U.S. residents bear particular responsibility for Israel’s military attacks against civilians, they note, as the United States has supplied Israel with billions of dollars for military buildup.

U.S. companies profit hugely from selling weapons to Israel. For example, Boeing, with headquarters in Chicago, sells Israel Apache helicopters, Hellfire and Harpoon missiles, JDAM guiding systems and Small Diameter Bombs that deliver Dense Inert Metal Explosive munitions. All of these weapons have been used repeatedly in Israeli attacks on densely populated civilian areas.

During the 2009 Operation Cast Lead, I was in Rafah, Gaza, listening to children explaining the difference between explosions caused by F-16 fighter jets dropping 500-pound bombs and Apache helicopters firing Hellfire missiles.

Israel continues using those weapons, and Israeli purchases fatten Boeing’s financial portfolios.

At Boeing Company, Names of people killed in Israel’s Operation Protective Edge are read aloud; Elizabeth Murray sounds a gong after each name.  (Photo credit: Barbara Briggs Letson)

On July 19, young Palestinians outside of the Israeli consulate read aloud the names of people who had, five years ago, been killed in Gaza. We listened solemnly and then proceeded to Boeing’s Chicago headquarters, again listening as youngsters read more names, punctuated by a solemn gong after each victim was remembered. Ultimately, 2,104 Palestinians, more than two-thirds of whom were civilians, including 495 children, were killed during the seven-week attack on the Gaza Strip in 2014.

Banner dropping over a bridge crossing the Chicago River: Israel, Stop Killing Palestinians (Photo Credit: Barbara Briggs Letson)

During the Free Gaza Chicago River flotilla on July 20, Husam Marajda, from the Arab American Action Network, sat in a small boat next to his grandfather, who was visiting from Palestine. His chant, “From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go!” echoed from the water to the shore. Banners were dropped from bridges above, the largest reading, “Israel, Stop Killing Palestinians.”

Kayakers on the Chicago River display Free Gaza sign (Photo Credit: Barbara Briggs Letson)

Kayakers wore red T-shirts announcing the “Gaza Unlocked” campaign and managed to display flags, connected by string, spelling out “Free Gaza.” Passengers on other boats flashed encouraging peace signs and thumbs up signals. Those processing along the shore line, carrying banners and signs, walked the entirety of our planned route before a sergeant from the Chicago Police Department arrived to say we needed a permit.

We can’t permit ourselves to remain silent. Following the energetic flotilla activity, I sat with several friends in a quiet spot. “So many names,” said one friend, thinking of the list Abusalim had held up. “So many lives,” said another.

• A version of this article was published July 23rd, 2019 at The Progressive

Canada’s Justin Trudeau’s Anti-Palestinism

Is Justin Trudeau a racist? He and his government certainly accept and promote anti-Palestinianism. Two recent moves reaffirm his government’s pattern of blaming Palestinians for their dispossession and subjugation.

Last week the government released its updated terrorist list. An eighth Palestinian organization was added and the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy (IRFAN) was re-designated. The first ever Canadian-based group designated a terrorist organization, IRFAN was listed by the Stephen Harper government for engaging in the ghastly act of supporting orphans and a hospital in the Gaza Strip through official (Hamas controlled) channels.

Recently, the Liberals also announced they were formally adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism as part of its anti-racism strategy. The explicit aim of those pushing the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism is to silence or marginalize those who criticize Palestinian dispossession and support the Palestinian civil society led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. The PM has repeatedly equated supporting Palestinian rights with hatred towards Jews and participated in a unprecedented smear against prominent Palestinian solidarity activist Dimitri Lascaris last summer.

Alongside efforts to demonize and delegitimize those advocating for a people under occupation, the Trudeau government has repeatedly justified violence against Palestinians. Last month Global Affairs Canada tweeted, “Canada condemns the barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel by Hamas and other terrorist groups, which have killed and injured civilians. This indiscriminate targeting of civilians is not acceptable. We call for an immediate end to this violence.” The statement was a response to an Israeli killed by rockets fired from Gaza and seven Palestinians killed in the open-air prison by the Israeli military. In the year before 200 Palestinians were killed and another 5,000 injured by live fire in peaceful March of Return protests in Gaza. Not a single Israeli died during these protests.

The Trudeau government has repeatedly isolated Canada from world opinion on Palestinian rights. Canada has joined the US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Micronesia and Palau in opposing UN resolutions in favour of Palestinian rights that nearly every other country supported. In fact, the Trudeau Liberals may have the most anti-Palestinian voting record of any recent Canadian government. In August Liberal MP Anthony Housefather boasted in a Canadian Jewish News article: “We have voted against 87% of the resolutions singling out Israel for condemnation at the General Assembly versus 61% for the Harper government, 19% for the Martin and Mulroney governments and 3% for the Chrétien government. We have also supported 0% of these resolutions, compared to 23% support under Harper, 52% under Mulroney, 71% under Martin and 79% under Chretien.”

Further legitimating its illegal occupation, the Liberals “modernized” Canada’s two-decade-old Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Israel that allows West Bank settlement products to enter Canada duty-free. To promote an accord that recently received royal assent, International Trade Minister Jim Carr traveled to Israel and touted its benefits to Israel lobby organizations in Toronto and Winnipeg. “Minister Carr strengthens bilateral ties between Canada and Israel”, explained a June 20 press release.

In mid-2017 the federal government said its FTA with Israel trumps Canada’s Food and Drugs Act after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency called for accurate labelling of wines produced in the occupied West Bank. After David Kattenburg repeatedly complained about inaccurate labels on two wines sold in Ontario, the CFIA notified the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) that it “would not be acceptable and would be considered misleading” to declare Israel as the country of origin for wines produced in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Quoting from longstanding official Canadian policy, CFIA noted that “the government of Canada does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied in 1967.” In response to pressure from the Israeli embassy, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and B’nai Brith, CFIA quickly reversed its decision. “We did not fully consider the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement,” a terse CFIA statement explained. “These wines adhere to the Agreement and therefore we can confirm that the products in question can be sold as currently labelled.”

Each year Canadian taxpayers subsidize hundreds of millions of dollars in charitable donations to Israel despite that country having a GDP per capita only slightly below Canada’s. (How many Canadian charities funnel money to Sweden or Japan?) Millions of dollars are also channeled to projects supporting West Bank settlements, explicitly racist institutions and Israel’s powerful military, which may all contravene Canadian charitable law. In response to a formal complaint submitted by four Palestine solidarity activists and Independent Jewish Voices Canada in fall 2017, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) began an audit of the Jewish National Fund for contravening Canadian charitable law. Despite the JNF openly supporting the Israeli military in explicit contravention of charitable law, the audit has been going on for a year and a half. The CRA is undoubtedly facing significant behind-the-scenes pressure to let the JNF off with little more than a slap on the wrist. In 2013 Trudeau attended a JNF gala and other Liberal cabinet ministers have participated in more recent events put on by an explicitly racist organization Liberal MP Michael Leavitt used to oversee. (In a positive step, the Beth Oloth Charitable Organization, which had $60 million in revenue in 2017, had its charitable status revoked in January for supporting the Israeli military.)

Of course, the Trudeau government would deny its racism towards Palestinians. They will point to their “aid” given to the Palestinian Authority. But, in fact, much of that money is used in an explicit bid to advance Israel’s interests by building a security apparatus to protect the corrupt PA from popular disgust over its compliance in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement building. The Canadian military’s Operation Proteus, which contributes to the Office of the United States Security Coordinator, trains Palestinian security forces to suppress “popular protest” against the PA, the “subcontractor of the Occupation”.

In a recently published assessment of 80 donor reports from nine countries/institutions titled “Donor Perceptions of Palestine: Limits to Aid Effectiveness” Jeremy Wildeman concludes that Canada, the US and International Monetary Fund employed the most anti-Palestinian language. “Canada and the US,” the academic writes, “were preoccupied with providing security for Israel from Palestinian violence, but not Palestinians from Israeli violence, effectively inverting the relationship of occupier and occupied.”

At a recent meeting, BDS-Québec decided to launch a campaign targeting Justin Trudeau in the upcoming federal election campaign. The plan is to swamp his Papineau ridding with leaflets and posters highlighting the Prime Minister’s anti-Palestinianism. It’s time politicians pay a political price for their active support of Israel’s racism.

Annexation: How Israel Already controls More than Half of the West Bank

A state of de facto annexation already exists on the ground in most of the occupied West Bank.

Almost two-thirds of the Palestinian territory, including most of its most fertile and resource-rich land, is under full Israeli control. About 400,000 Jewish settlers living there enjoy the full rights and privileges of Israeli citizens.

At least 60 pieces of legislation were drafted by right-wing members of the Knesset during the last parliament to move Israel from a state of de facto to de jure annexation, according to a database by Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group.

Yesh Din points out that the very fact that some of these bills have passed as laws constitutes a form of annexation: “The Israel Knesset [now] regards itself as the legislative authority in the West Bank and the sovereign there.”

Paradoxically, many of those bills were opposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even though they were drafted from within his own ruling coalition.

Netanyahu argued that it would be wrong to pre-empt US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, implying that annexation is high on the agenda.

Leaked details suggest that Washington is now preparing to green-light the formal annexation of at least some of that territory as part of its deal-making, though Netanyahu’s political difficulties and his decision to call another election in September could mean putting details on ice once again.

The Golan precedent

Three recent developments have also brought the idea of Israel annexing parts or all of the West Bank onto the agenda.

In March, US President Donald Trump recognised Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, seized from Syria during the 1967 war and annexed by Israel in 1981 in violation of international law. The US decision suggested a precedent whereby it might similarly approve a move by Israel to annex the West Bank.

In April, in the run-up to Israel’s general election, Netanyahu said he would use the next parliament to “extend sovereignty” to all illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, using a phrase preferred by Israeli politicians to “annexation”.

About 400,000 settlers live in the West Bank in 150 official settlements and another 120 so-called “unauthorised” outposts that have been covertly sponsored by the Israeli state since the 1990s. These settlements have jurisdiction over 42 percent of West Bank territory.

In early June, the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a stalwart supporter of the settlements and one of the architects of Trump’s supposed “deal of the century”, told the New York Times that he believed Israel was “on the side of God” and said: “Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”

Support in Israel growing

Support in Israel for annexation is growing, with 42 percent backing one of several variants in a recent poll, as opposed to 34 percent who were behind a two-state solution. Only 28 percent of Israelis explicitly rejected annexation.

Behind the scenes, debates about formally annexing the Palestinian territories have been rife in Israel since it occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza in 1967.

Successive Israeli governments, however, have demurred out of concern both that there would be strong international objections (most UN member states would be opposed to the annexation of territory recognised as illegally occupied in international law) and that Israel would be under pressure to give Palestinians in annexed areas citizenship, including the right to vote, that would undermine its Jewish majority.

Senior government ministers such as Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon were among the early proponents of annexing parts of the West Bank. They drew up maps for a permanent settlement programme that would allow Israel to hold on to swathes of the West Bank, especially the most fertile land and the aquifers.

Through the late 1970s and 1980s, a justice ministry official, Plia Albeck, declared large areas of the West Bank “state land”, allowing the government to treat it as effectively part of Israel and build settlements.

Speeding tickets and police stations

Israel has applied its laws to the settler population and dozens of Israeli police stations located in the West Bank operate as if the territory has been annexed, issuing speeding tickets and enforcing other infractions on Palestinians. Palestinians’ ultimate recourse to adjudication on legal matters is Israel’s Supreme Court.

In 2011, that court decided that Israel was allowed to exploit more than a dozen quarries, one of the Palestinians’ key resources, because the occupation had become “prolonged” – a ruling that treated the West Bank as if it had been de facto annexed.

Since the Olso accords, Israeli leaders have tended to pay lip service to Palestinian statehood, at some distant future point. But in practice, they have encouraged the rapid expansion of the settlements. This policy is sometimes referred to as “creeping annexation”.

A number of variants have been advanced by the Israeli right, ranging from the annexation of all Palestinian territories, including Gaza, to annexation limited to certain areas of the West Bank.

How Oslo gave Israel control

The main framework for the Israeli debate about annexation is the Oslo process which temporarily carved up the occupied West Bank into Areas A, B and C as a prelude, it was assumed, to eventually transferring sovereignty to the Palestinian Authority.

Area C, 62 per cent of the West Bank, is under full Israeli control and where the settlements are located. It is also where most of the water, agricultural and mineral resources are to be found.

Area B, 20 percent, is under Israeli security control and Palestinian civil control. And Area A – mainly Palestinian built-up areas on 18 percent of the West Bank – is nominally under full Palestinian control.

The option favoured by most of Netanyahu’s Likud party involves the annexation of areas populated with settlers, or about 40 percent of the West Bank mostly located in Area C.

This option would keep West Bank Palestinians outside the annexed areas and make it easier to avoid conferring any residency or citizenship rights on them. The Palestinian Authority would be given “limited autonomy” – a kind of glorified municipal role – over the remaining fragments of the West Bank.

To the right of Likud, opinions range from annexing all of Area C to annexing the entire West Bank and Gaza, and the creation of Palestinian “Bantustans” modelled on South Africa’s racist apartheid system. Some propose a “salami” method, with Israel gradually slicing off more of the West Bank.

The Israeli centre-left fears formal annexation not only violates international law but will damage Israel’s image abroad by encouraging comparisons with apartheid-era South Africa. In the absence of a Palestinian state, a minority of Jews might soon be ruling over a majority of Palestinians.

The centre-left is also concerned about the costs of annexation. Commanders for Israel’s Security, a group of retired security officials, argue that annexation will lead to the inevitable collapse of the Palestinian Authority.

As a result, they believe Israel would incur annual costs of between $2.3bn and $14.5bn, depending on the extent of the West Bank area annexed. There would also be a loss of $2.5bn in foreign investments. Palestinian uprisings could cost Israel’s economy as much as $21bn.

Right-wing economists like Amatzia Samkai of the Caucus for Eretz Israel say Israel will benefit economically. If Area C is annexed, only a small number of Palestinians will be entitled to Israeli welfare payments, he says. Such costs, he adds, can be more than offset by an expanded labour force and a drop in real-estate prices after West Bank land is freed up for house building by Israelis.

Knesset ‘sovereign’ in West Bank already

Of the 60 pieces of draft annexation legislation brought before the Knesset, eight have passed into law.

The main laws that have been passed include:

  • annulling a special council overseeing higher education in West Bank settlements and transferring its powers to the main Israel Council for Higher Education.
  • approving retroactively the theft of private Palestinian land used to build settlements. The previous official position was that settlements should be built only on land Israel had declared state land because it was not owned by Palestinians.
  • extending benefits available in Israel – from tax exemptions and egg production quotas to renewable energy investments – to West Bank settlements.
  • unifying the criminal register used by police in Israel and the West Bank.
  • transferring powers to adjudicate matters involving the West Bank to lower courts in Israel.
  • prohibiting businesses from refusing to supply services to West Bank settlements.

In addition, Yesh Din notes, Israel has recently shifted its diplomatic position and legal arguments to the courts in relation to the West Bank.

It has rejected the West Bank’s status as being under occupation, asserted Israel’s authority to operate there and eroded the obligation to protect the rights and property of the Palestinian population.

Another significant piece of legislation Netanyahu is known to favour – chiefly for personal reasons because it could be used to protect him from corruption indictments – is an Override Law.

The measure is being aggressively promoted by settler groups because it would strip Israel’s Supreme Court of judicial review powers to block legislation annexing the West Bank.

Palestinian support?

On the Palestinian side, a tiny number, mostly business leaders, have backed annexation of the West Bank. They have been cultivated by the Trump administration as a potential alternative leadership to the Palestinian Authority. Most Palestinians consider them traitors or collaborators.

Hebron businessman Ashraf Jabari, for example, has entered into a partnership with settler counterparts in the “Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce”, using the settlers’ Biblical name for the West Bank.

The chamber promotes joint ventures such as shopping centres along West Bank main roads, tourism initiatives and infrastructure projects.

Jabari and others have consciously sought to package annexation on Israeli terms as similar to the one-state agenda of a growing section of the Palestinian population, especially those supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS).

“We have to think about this area as one entity, not two entities and two realities,” he told journalists recently.

Certainly, there are Palestinians who consider annexation and Israel’s direct re-occupation of the West Bank, unmediated by the PA, as a necessary condition for Palestinians launching a civil rights or anti-apartheid struggle to realise a genuine one-state solution.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Canadian Green Leader Supports Same Old Pro-Imperialist Foreign Policies

Does Elizabeth May hate Palestinians? Does the Green Party leader want the Trump administration to attack Iran? Does she support efforts to overthrow Venezuela’s government?

I’ve been asking myself these questions since reading a Canadian Jewish News story about Paul Manly’s recent victory in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith bi-election. In a story titled “Concerns raised over new Green MP’s views on BDS” May strongly implies that the Palestinian civil society led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement is racist. “We have nothing to do with BDS,” May is quoted as saying. “We repealed it. We are not a party that condones BDS. We would never tolerate anybody in our party who violates our core values, who are anti-Semitic.”

May is seeking to downplay the significance of Manly’s election to anti-Palestinian forces, particularly within the NDP. Only the second MP ever elected under the Green banner, Manly was blocked from running for the NDP in the 2015 federal election because he defended his father (a former NDP MP) after Israel detained him as he sought to break the illegal blockade of Gaza.

In the CJN interview May also appears to boast that she forced the party to spend $100,000 to overturn an August 2016 convention resolution in which members voted for “the use of divestment, boycott and sanctions (BDS) that are targeted to those sectors of Israel’s economy and society which profit from the ongoing occupation of the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories].” In response to the clearly stated will of party members, May threatened to resign if the party didn’t revisit the issue and then announced that a special general meeting would be held four months later to discuss the party’s stance on Palestine. She then fired three members of her shadow cabinet for defending the party’s new Palestine policy from attacks by the head of the British Columbia Greens. Before what was shaping up to be an embarrassing defeat, May endorsed a compromise resolution at the special convention that dropped the BDS formulation in favour of support for “economic measures such as government sanctions, consumer boycotts, institutional divestment, economic sanctions and arms embargoes” while simultaneously endorsing all three (versus just one in the initial resolution) goals of the BDS movement (“Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall”; Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.”)

As May besmirched Palestinian civil society’s call for international solidarity, the Green leader stood with those pushing for war on Iran. Last week May attended a press conference organized by Irwin Cotler calling on Canada to impose sanctions on 19 Iranian officials and to follow the Trump administration in listing the country’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. May’s support for ramping up Canadian hostility towards Tehran takes place amidst increasingly bellicose moves by Washington that could lead to a war on Iran.

The press conference in Ottawa was part of parliament’s Iran Accountability Week, which Cotler established in 2012. May has participated in previous Iran Accountability Weeks alongside individuals such as Mark Dubowitz who Ynet, Israel’s largest English language news site, dubbed “The Man Who Fights Iran”. But, when current and former Green Party candidates organized a 2010 conference on a “just and sustainable peace” in Iran May told Postmedia it should be “canceled” because it was “unbalanced”.

May is a regular at events led by Cotler who has devoted much of his career to defending Israeli human rights violations. (His wife, Ariela Zeevi, was a “close confidant” of Likud founder Menachem Begin when the arch anti-Palestinian party was established to counter Labour’s dominance of Israeli politics. His daughters were part of the Israeli military and one of them ran in Israel’s recent election.) The Green leader is part of the Cotler-led Raoul Wallenberg All-Party Parliamentary Caucus for Human Rights and in 2014 she tweeted, “honouring Irwin Cotler, with Raoul Wallenberg Award. Tributes from John Baird, Justin Trudeau, Murray Rankin and me.”

May has participated in at least three press conferences organized by Cotler to call for the release of leading Venezuelan coup plotter Leopoldo López. The Harvard-educated Lopez endorsed the military’s 2002 coup against President Hugo Chavez and the leader of the hardline Voluntad Popular party was convicted of inciting violence during the 2014 “guarimbas” protests that sought to oust President Nicolas Maduro (Cotler later joined López’ legal team). According to a series of reports, Lopez was the key Venezuelan organizer of the recent plan to anoint Juan Guaidó interim president of Venezuela and on April 30 he escaped house arrest to join Guaidó in a failed coup bid.

In 2014 May met López’s wife Lilian Tintori who, reports The Guardian, met Donald Trump and other international players to build international support for the recent coup efforts. According to Cotler’s website, “MPs Irwin Cotler (Liberal) and Elizabeth May (Green) joined today with Lilian Tintori – international human rights campaigner and wife of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition Leader Leopoldo Lopez – and their international legal counsel, Jared Genser, to call on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to release Mr. López immediately.”

Four months later May and Cotler met Carlos Vecchio, who Guaidó recently appointed as his phantom government’s “ambassador” to the US. Afterwards, the Green leader joined Cotler at a press conference to denounce the “deterioration of the human rights situation” in Venezuela.

While she’s criticized some Canadian foreign policy decisions, May rarely strays far from the liberal establishment worldview. In laying out her party’s 2015 election position in Esprit de Corps magazine May wrote, “the world needs more Canada” and argued, “we should also support the United Nations’ ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) doctrine”, which was used to justify bombing Libya in 2011 and ousting Haiti’s elected government in 2004. In her article May also bemoaned that “defence expenditures are headed to an unprecedented low”, which is a bizarre criticism for an environmental minded politician to make. Previously, she backed the Conservative government’s National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, a $60 billion effort to expand the combat fleet over three decades.

How to explain May’s positions? The Green leader represents a riding near a naval base and until a few years ago was studying to become a priest in a church with a history of theological Zionism. May clearly fears Jewish Zionist groups’ accusations of anti-Semitism and dabbles in philo-Semitism. (In 2015 May responded to a CJN request to make her pitch to Canadian Jewish voters by saying “you have been the heart and soul and conscience of Canada on many issues for a very long time… I would urge you to look at the Green party’s policies and platform and see if you don’t see yourself there. If you don’t, let me know, I certainly would apologize if we are not meeting the aspirations of Canadians who have done so much for this country.”) More generally, May is absorbed into the foreign policy swamp in Ottawa and has shown little willingness to defy the dominant media’s depiction of international affairs.

But if the Green Party wants to be seen as different from the tired, old, mainstream parties, it needs to move beyond the double-standard, cynical, anti-democratic, anti-human, pro-imperialist claptrap that our elites insist on selling us.

The Two Narratives of Palestine: The People Are United, the Factions Are Not

The International Conference on Palestine held in Istanbul between April 27-29 brought together many speakers and hundreds of academics, journalists, activists and students from Turkey and all over the world.

The Conference was a rare opportunity aimed at articulating a discourse of international solidarity that is both inclusive and forward thinking.

There was near consensus that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement must be supported, that Donald Trump’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ must be defeated and that normalization must be shunned.

When it came to articulating the objectives of the Palestinian struggle, however, the narrative became indecisive and unclear. Although none of the speakers made a case for a two-state solution, our call for a one democratic state from Istanbul – or any other place outside Palestine – seemed partially irrelevant. For the one state solution to become the overriding objective of the pro-Palestine movement worldwide, the call has to come from a Palestinian leadership that reflects the true aspirations of the Palestinian people.

One speaker after the other called for Palestinian unity, imploring Palestinians for guidance and for articulating a national discourse. Many in the audience concurred with that assessment as well. One audience member even blurted out the cliched question: “Where is the Palestinian Mandela?” Luckily, the grandson of Nelson Mandela, Zwelivelile “Mandla” Mandela, was himself a speaker. He answered forcefully that Mandela was only the face of the movement, which encompassed millions of ordinary men and women, whose struggles and sacrifices ultimately defeated apartheid.

Following my speech at the Conference, I met with several freed Palestinian prisoners as part of my research for my forthcoming book on the subject.

Some of the freed prisoners identified as Hamas and others as Fatah. Their narrative seemed largely free from the disgraced factional language we are bombarded with in the media, but also liberated from the dry and detached narratives of politics and academia.

“When Israel placed Gaza under siege and denied us family visitations, our Fatah brothers always came to our help,” a freed Hamas prisoner told me. “And whenever Israeli prison authorities mistreated any of our brothers from any factions, including Fatah, we all resisted together.”

A freed Fatah prisoner told me that when Hamas and Fatah fought in Gaza in the summer of 2007, the prisoners suffered most. “We suffered because we felt that the people who should be fighting for our freedom, were fighting each other. We felt betrayed by everyone.”

To effectuate disunity, Israeli authorities relocated Hamas and Fatah prisoners into separate wards and prisons. They wanted to sever any communication between the prisoners’ leadership and to block any attempts at finding common ground for national unity.

The Israeli decision was not random. A year earlier, in May 2006, the leadership of the prisoners met in a prison cell to discuss the conflict between Hamas, which had won the legislative elections in the Occupied Territories, and the PA’s main party, Fatah.

These leaders included Marwan Barghouthi of Fatah, Abdel Khaleq al-Natshe from Hamas and representatives from other major Palestinian groups. The outcome was the National Conciliation Document, arguably the most important Palestinian initiative in decades.

What became known as the Prisoner’s Document was significant because it was not some self-serving political compromise achieved in a luxurious hotel in some Arab capital, but a genuine articulation of national Palestinian priorities, presented by the most respected and honored sector in Palestinian society.

Israel immediately denounced the document.

Instead of engaging all factions in a national dialogue around the document, PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, gave rival factions an ultimatum to either accept or reject the document in full. The spirit of the unity in the prisoners’ initiative was betrayed by Abbas and the warring factions. Eventually, Fatah and Hamas fought their own tragic war in Gaza the following year.

On speaking to the prisoners after listening to the discourse of academics, politicians and activists, I was able to decipher a disconnection between the Palestinian narrative on the ground and our own perception of this narrative from outside.

The prisoners display unity in their narrative, a clear sense of purpose, and determination to carry on with their resistance. While it is true that they all identified as members in one political group or another, I am yet to interview a single prisoner who placed factional interests above national interest. This should not come as a surprise. Indeed, these men and women have been detained, tortured and have endured many years in prison for being Palestinian resisters, regardless of their ideological and factional leanings.

The myth of the disunited and dysfunctional Palestinian is very much an Israeli invention that precedes the inception of Hamas, and even Fatah. This Zionist notion, which has been embraced by the current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, argues that ‘Israel has no peace partner‘. Despite the hemorrhaging concessions by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, this claim has remained a fixture in Israeli politics to this day.

Political unity aside, the Palestinian people perceive ‘unity’ in a whole different political context than that of Israel and, frankly, many of us outside Palestine.

‘Al-Wihda al-Wataniya’ or national unity is a generational quest around a set of principles, including resistance, as a strategy for the liberation of Palestine, Right of Return for refugees, and self-determination for the Palestinian people as the ultimate goals. It is around this idea of unity that the leadership of Palestinian prisoners drafted their document in 2006, in the hope of averting a factional clash and keeping the struggle centered on resistance against Israeli occupation.

The ongoing Great March of Return in Gaza is another daily example of the kind of unity the Palestinian people are striving for. Despite heavy losses, thousands of protesters insist on their unity while demanding their freedom, Right of Return and an end to the Israeli siege.

For us to claim that Palestinians are not united because Fatah and Hamas cannot find common ground is simply unjustified. National unity and political unity between factions are two different issues.

It is important that we do not make the mistake of confusing the Palestinian people with factions, national unity around resistance and rights with political arrangements between political groups.

As far as vision and strategy are concerned, perhaps it is time to read the prisoners’ National Conciliation Document’. It was written by the Nelson Mandelas of Palestine, thousands of whom remain in Israeli prisons to this day.

As the Israel Lobby in the US Weakens, its UK Counterpart Grows More Fearsome

For decades it was all but taboo to suggest that pro-Israel lobbies in the United States like AIPAC used their money and influence to keep lawmakers firmly in check on Israel-related issues – even if one had to be blind not to notice that that was exactly what they were up to.

When back in February Ilhan Omar pointed out the obvious – that US Representatives like her were routinely expected to submit to the lobby’s dictates on Israel, a foreign country – her colleagues clamoured to distance themselves from her, just as one might have expected were the pro-Israel lobby to wield the very power Omar claimed.

But surprisingly Omar did not – at least immediately – suffer the crushing fate of those who previously tried to raise this issue. Although she was pressured into apologising, she was not battered into complete submission for her honesty.

She received support on social media, as well as a wavering, muted defence from a Democratic grandee like Nancy Pelosi, and even a relatively sympathetic hearing from a few prominent figures in the US Jewish community.

The Benjamins do matter

Omar’s comments have confronted – and started to expose – one of the most enduring absurdities in debates about US politics. Traditionally it has been treated as anti-semitic to argue that the pro-Israel lobby actually lobbies for its chosen cause – exactly as other major lobbies do, from the financial services industries to the health and gun lobbies – and that, as with other lobbies enjoying significant financial clout, it usually gets its way.

Omar found herself in the firing line in February when she noted that what mattered in US politics was “It’s all about the Benjamins” – an apparent reference to the 1997 Puff Daddy song of the same name – later clarifying that AIPAC leverages funds over Congressional and presidential candidates.

The claim that the pro-Israel lobby isn’t really in the persuasion business can only be sustained on the preposterous basis that Israeli and US interests are so in tune that AIPAC and other organisations serve as little more than cheerleaders for the two countries’ “unbreakable bond”. Presumably on this view, the enormous sums of money raised are needed only to fund the celebrations.

‘A one-issue guy’

Making the irrefutable observation that the pro-Israel lobby does actually lobby on Israel’s behalf, and very successfully, is typically denounced as anti-semitism. Omar’s comments were perceived as anti-semitic on the grounds that she pointed to the canard that Jews wield outsized influence using money to sway policymaking.

Allegations of anti-semitism against her deepened days later when she gave a talk in Washington DC and questioned why it was that she could talk about the influence of the National Rifle Association and Big Pharma but not the pro-Israel lobby – or “the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country”.

That pro-Israel lobbyists – as opposed to Jews generally – do have dual loyalty seems a peculiar thing to deny, given that the purpose of groups like AIPAC is to rally support for Israel in Congress.

Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a key backer of Republican candidates for the presidency, has never hidden his passion not only for Israel but specifically for the ultra-nationalist governments of Benjamin Netanyahu.

In fact, he is so committed to Netanyahu’s survival that he spent nearly $200 million propping up an Israeli newspaper over its first seven years – all so he could assist the prime minister of a foreign country.

Similarly, Haim Saban, one of the main donors to Democratic presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton, has made no secret of his commitment to Israel. He has said: “I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel.”

Might Saban and Adelson’s “Benjamins” have influenced the very pro-Israel – and very anti-Palestinian – positions of Democratic and Republican presidential candidates? You would have to be supremely naïve or dishonest to claim it has not.

‘No Bernie-like approach’

This point really should be beyond doubt by now. This month the New York Times published an unprecedented essay in which author Nathan Thrall quoted political insiders and lobbyists making plain that, as one would expect, the pro-Israel lobby uses its money to pressure Congressional candidates to toe the lobby’s line on Israel.

Some of the lobby’s power operates at the level of assumption about what Jewish donors expect in return for their money. According to the NYT, some three-quarters of all donations over $500,000 to the major political action committee supporting Democratic nominees for the US Senate race in 2018 were made by Jews.

Though many of those donors may not rate Israel as their main cause, a former Clinton campaign aide noted that the recipients of this largesse necessarily tailor their foreign policy positions so as not to antagonise such donors. As a result, candidates avoid even the mild criticism of Israel adopted by Bernie Sanders, the Democratic party’s challenger to Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.

“There’s no major donor that I can think of who is looking for someone to take a Bernie-like approach,” said the aide. Sanders raised his campaign funds from small donations rather these major funders, leaving him freer to speak openly about Israel.

Fight for donors, not voters

Other insiders are more explicit still. Ben Rhodes, a former confidant of Barack Obama, says the lobby effectively tied Obama’s hands domestically on efforts to promote peace. “The Washington view of Israel-Palestine is still shaped by the donor class,” he told Thrall, adding: “The donor class is profoundly to the right of where the activists are, and frankly, where the majority of the Jewish community is.”

Joel Rubin, a former political director at lobby group J Street and a founding board member of the centrist Jewish Democratic Council of America, concurred: “The fight over Israel used to be about voters. It’s more about donors now.”

All of these insiders are stating that the expectations of major donors shape candidates’ US foreign policy positions in line with Israel’s interests, not necessarily US interests. It is hard not to interpret that as reformulation of “dual loyalty”.

Out of the shadows

What’s so significant about the NYT article is that it signals, as did the muted furore over Omar’s comments, that the pro-Israel lobby is weakening. No powerful lobby, including the Israel one, wants to be forced out of the shadows. It wants to remain in the darkness, where it can most comfortably exercise its influence without scrutiny or criticism.

The pro-Israel lobby’s loyalty to Israel is no longer unmentionable. But it is also not unique.

As Mondoweiss recently noted, Hannah Arendt, the Jewish scholar and fugitive from Nazi Germany, pointed to the inevitability of the “double loyalty conflict” in her 1944 essay “Zionism Reconsidered”, where she foreshadowed the rise of a pro-Israel lobby and its potential negative impacts on American Jews. It was, she wrote, “an unavoidable problem of every national movement of a people living within the boundaries of other states and unwilling to resign their civil and political rights therein.”

For that reason, the US-Cuban lobby has an obvious dual loyalty problem too. It’s just that, given the Cuban lobby’s priority is overthrowing the Cuban government – a desire shared in Washington – the issue is largely moot.

In Israel’s case, however, there is a big and growing gap between image and reality. On the one hand, Washington professes a commitment to peace-making and a promise to act as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians. And on the other, the reality is it has offered full-throated support for a series of ultra-nationalist Israeli governments determined to destroy any hope of peace and swallow up the last vestiges of a potential Palestinian state.

Doing the Lord’s work

It’s important to point out, however, that advocates for Israel are not only Jews. While the pro-Israel lobby represents the views of a proportion of Jewish Americans, it is also significantly comprised of Christians, evangelicals in particular.

Millions of these Christians – including Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – can be accused of dual loyalty too. They regard Israel’s role in Biblical prophecy as far more important than the future of the US, or mankind for that matter.

For many of these evangelicals, bringing about the end of the world by ensuring Jews return to their Biblical homeland – triggering a final reckoning at the Battle of Armageddon – is the fulfillment of God’s will. And if it’s a choice between support for Washington’s largely secular elites and support for God, they know very definitely where they stand.

Again, the NYT has started to shine a light on the strange role of Israel in the US political constellation. Another recent article reminded readers that in 2015 Pompeo spoke of the end-times struggle prophesied to take place in Israel, or what is often termed by evangelicals as “The Rapture”. He said: “We will continue to fight these battles.”

During his visit last month to Israel, he announced that the Trump administration’s work was “to make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state, remains. I am confident that the Lord is at work here”.

Divorced from reality

If the debate about the pro-Israel lobby in the US is for the first time making a nod to truth, the conversation about the pro-Israel lobby in the UK is becoming more and more divorced from reality.

Part of the reason is the way the Israel lobby has recently emerged in the UK – hurriedly, and in a mix of panic and damage limitation mode.

Given that for decades European countries largely followed Washington’s lead on Israel, pro-Israel lobbies outside the US were much less organised and muscular. European leaders’ unquestioning compliance was assured as long as Washington appeared to act as a disinterested broker overseeing a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. As a result, Europe was in little need of vigorous pro-Israel lobbies.

But that illusion has now been shattered, first by the explicit Greater Israel ideology espoused by a series of Netanyahu governments, and latterly by Donald Trump’s occupancy of the White House and his vehement backing of Israeli demands, however much they violate international law.

That has left European policy towards Israel – and its enabling by default of Netanyahu and Trump’s efforts to crush Palestinian rights – dangerously exposed.

Conflating Jews and Israel

Popular backlashes have taken the form of a rapid growth in support for BDS, a grassroots, non-violent movement promoting a boycott of Israel. But more specifically in Britain’s case, it has resulted in the surprise election of Jeremy Corbyn, a well-known champion of Palestinian rights and anti-racism struggles generally, to lead the opposition Labour party.

For that reason, Jewish leadership groups in the UK have had to reinvent themselves quickly, from organisations to promote the community’s interests into vehicles to defend Israel. And to do that they have had to adopt a position that was once closely identified with anti-semitism: conflating Jews with Israel.

This, we should remember, was the view taken 100 years ago by arch anti-semites in the British government. They regarded Jews as inherently “un-British”, as incapable of assimilation and therefore as naturally suspect.

Lord Balfour, before he made his abiding legacy the 1917 Declaration of a Jewish “national home” in Palestine, helped pass the Aliens Act to block entry to the UK of Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe. Balfour believed Jewish immigration had resulted in “undoubted evils”.

A lobby cobbled together

Also significantly, unlike the US, where the pro-Israel lobby has maintained fervent support for Israel as a bipartisan matter over decades, the need for an equivalent pro-Israel lobby in the UK has emerged chiefly in relation to Corbyn’s unexpected ascent to power in the Labour party.

Rather than emerging slowly and organically, as was the case in the US, the British pro-Israel has had to be cobbled together hastily. Israel’s role in directing this immature lobby has been harder to hide.

Most of the UK’s Jewish leadership organisations have been poorly equipped for the task of tackling the new sympathy for Palestinian rights unleashed in the Labour party by Corbyn’s rise. The Board of Deputies, for example, has enjoyed visible ties to the ruling Conservative party. Any criticisms they make of the Labour leader are likely to be seen as having an air of partisanship and point-scoring.

So unusually in Britain’s case, the chief pro-Israel lobby group against Corbyn has emerged from within his own party – in the form of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).

The JLM is trumpeted in the British media both as a venerable Jewish group, more than a century old, and as one that is widely representative of Jewish opinion. Neither claim is true.

Revived to deal with Corbyn

The JLM likes to date its origins to the Poale Zion organisation, which was founded in 1903. A socialist society, Poale Zion affiliated itself not only with the British Labour party but also with a wide range of anti-Palestinian Zionist organisations such as the World Zionist Organisation and the Israeli Labour party. The latter carried out the ethnic cleansing of the vast majority of Palestinians in 1948 and the party’s leaders to this today publicly support the illegal settlement “blocs” that are displacing Palestinians and stealing their land.

But as the investigative journalist Asa Winstanley has shown, before the unexpected ascent of Corbyn to the Labour leadership in 2015, the JLM had largely fallen into dormancy.

It was briefly revived in 2004, when Israel was facing widespread criticism in Britain over its brutal efforts to crush a Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories. But the JLM only really became active again in 2015.

According to a covert recording of a private JLM event in late 2016, its then chair Jeremy Newmark said he and other activists had agreed to reform the group in September 2015 in response to “the rise of Jeremy Corbyn” and “Bernie Sanders in the States”. Corbyn has been elected Labour leader only days previously.

According to the transcript, Newmark told the other activists that it would be the “start of a struggle and a battle we will all be engaged in for months and probably years ahead of us”. He added that the JLM would be a suitable vehicle for their work because of the “rights and privileges” it enjoyed as a Labour party affiliate organisation.

Front for Israeli embassy

The motive behind the JLM’s resuscitation was also revealed by an undercover documentary made by Al-Jazeera, aired in early 2017. It showed that the JLM was acting as little more than a front for the Israeli embassy, and that the mission it set itself was to weaken Corbyn in the hope of removing him from the leadership.

Early on, the JLM and other pro-Israel lobbyists within the party realised that the most effective way to damage Corbyn, and silence solidarity with the Palestinian cause, was to weaponise the charge of anti-semitism.

Support for Palestinian rights necessarily requires severe criticism of Israel, whose popular, right wing governments have shown no interest in making concessions to the Palestinians on self-determination. In fact, while westerners have debated the need for urgent peacemaking, Israel has simply got on with grabbing vast tracts of Palestinian land as a way to destroy any hope of statehood.

But pro-Israel lobbyists in the UK have found that they can very effectively turn this issue into a zero-sum game – one that, in the context of a British public conversation oblivious to Palestinian rights, inevitably favours Israel.

Identifying with Israel

The thrust of the lobby’s argument is that almost all Jews identify with Israel, which means that attacks on Israel are also attacks on Jewish identity. That, they claim, is a modern form of anti-semitism.

This argument, if it were true, has an obvious retort: if Jews really do identify with Israel to the extent that they are prepared to ignore its systematic abuse of Palestinians, then that would make most British Jews anti-Arab racists.

Further, if Jewish identity really is deeply enmeshed in the state of Israel, that would place a moral obligation on Jews to denounce any behaviour by Israel towards Palestinians that violates human rights and international law.

And yet the very Jewish leaders claiming that Israel is at the core of their identity are also the ones who demand that Jews not be expected to take responsibility for Israel’s actions – and that to demand as much is anti-semitic.

Could there be a clearer example of having your cake and eating it?

‘Institutionally anti-semitic’

Nonetheless, the JLM has very successfully hijacked the debate within Labour of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to silence criticism. It has worked hard to impose a highly controversial new definition of anti-semitism that conflates it with criticism of Israel. Seven on the 11 examples of anti-semitism used to illustrate the new definition relate to Israel.

Arguing, for example, that Israel is a “racist endeavour”, the view of many in the growing BDS movement and among Corbyn supporters, is now being treated as evidence of anti-semitism.

For this reason, the JLM has been able to file a complaint against Labour with the Equality and Human Rights Commission arguing that the party is “institutionally anti-semitic”.

Labour is only the second political party after the neo-Nazi British National Party to have been subjected to an investigation by the equality watchdog.

Counterweight to the JLM

Despite its claims, the JLM does not represent Jewish opinion in the Labour party. The JLM says it has 2,000 members, though that figure – if accurate – includes non-Jews. Attendance at its annual general meeting this month could be measured in the dozens.

As one Jewish critic observed: “There are some 300,000 Jews in Britain. The Jewish Labour Movement claims to represent us all. So why were there fewer people at their AGM [annual general meeting] than at my Labour Party branch AGM?”

Many Jews in the Labour party have chosen not to join the JLM, preferring instead to act as a counterweight by creating a new Jewish pressure group that backs Corbyn called Jewish Voice for Labour.

Even a new JLM membership drive publicised by former Labour leader Gordon Brown reportedly brought only a small influx of new members, suggesting that support for the JLM’s anti-Corbyn, pro-Israel agenda is very limited inside Labour.

Speaking for ‘the Jews’

The re-establishment of the JLM has one very transparent aim in mind: to push out Corbyn, using any means at its disposal. At its annual general meeting, the JLM unanimously passed a motion of no confidence in Corbyn, describing him as “unfit to to be Prime Minister”. The resolution declared that “a Labour Government led by [Corbyn] would not be in the interests of British Jews”.

One Jewish commentator derisively noted the JLM’s arrogance in speaking for all British Jews at a time of Conservative government-imposed austerity:

“I would not presume to proclaim what is in the interests of ‘the Jews’, but I really cannot imagine that the person who drafted this resolution had any real experience of meeting unemployed Jews, Jewish pensioners and single mothers just scraping by, or Jews who are struggling as they use under-resourced mental health services.”

Scoring Labour candidates

In other circumstances, a group of people operating inside a major political party using underhand methods to disrupt its democratic processes would be described as entryists. Some 2,000 pro-Israel fanatics within Labour are trying to overturn the overwhelming wishes, twice expressed at the ballot box, of the Labour membership, now numbering more than 500,000.

Nonetheless, last week the JLM started to show its hand more publicly. It has been noisily threatening to disaffiliate from the Labour party. In the circumstances that would at least be an honourable – if very unlikely – thing for it to do.

Instead it announced that it would begin scoring local and national Labour politicians based on their record on anti-semitism. After the JLM’s frantic lobbying for the adoption of the new anti-semitism definition, it seems clear that such scores will relate to the vehemence of a candidate’s criticism of Israel, or possibly their ideological sympathy with Corbyn, more than overt bigotry towards Jews.

That was underscored this week when a senior Labour politician, Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, came under fire from the JLM and Board of Deputies for comments he made in 2014, during Israel’s attack on Gaza, that only recently came to light. He was recorded saying: “The enemy of the Palestinian people is not the Jewish people, the enemy of the Palestinian people are Zionists.” He had previously denied making any such comment.

Mike Katz, the JLM’s new chair, responded: “Insulting a core part of their [Jewish people’s] identity and then dissembling about it is shameful behaviour from a senior frontbencher in our party, let alone someone who aspires to administer our justice system.”

Marginal prejudice

According to the Labour party’s own figures, actual anti-Jewish prejudice – as opposed to criticism of Israel – is extremely marginal in its ranks, amounting to some 0.08 percent of members. It is presumably even less common among those selected to run as candidates in local and national elections.

The JLM has nonetheless prioritised this issue, threatening that the scores may be used to decide whether activists will campaign for a candidate. One might surmise that the scores could also serve as the basis for seeking to deselect candidates and replace them with politicians more to the JLM’s liking.

“We have got elections coming up but we are not going to put that effort in unless we know people are standing shoulder to shoulder with us,” said Katz.

Need for vigorous debate

Paradoxically, the JLM appears to be preparing to do openly what pro-Israel lobbyists in the US deny they do covertly: use their money and influence to harm candidates who are not seen as sympathetic enough to Israel.

Despite claims from both US and UK pro-Israel lobby groups that they speak for their own domestic Jewish populations, they clearly don’t. Individuals within Jewish communities are divided over whether they identify with Israel or not. And certainly, their identification with Israel should not be a reason to curtail vigorous debates about US and UK foreign policy and Israeli influence domestically.

Even if the vast majority of Jews in the US and UK do support Israel – not just in a symbolic or abstract way, but the actual far-right governments that now permanently rule Israel – that does not make them right about Israel or make it anti-semitic for others to be highly critical of Israel.

Chipping away at democracy

The overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews support a narrow spectrum of politicians, from the militaristic right to religious fundamentalists and fascists. They view Palestinians as less deserving, less human even, than Jews and as an obstacle to the realisation of Jewish rights in the whole of the “Land of Israel”, including the Palestinian territories. Does that make them right? Does their numerical dominance excuse their ugly bigotry towards Palestinians? Of course not.

And so it would be the same even were it true that most Jewish members of the Labour party supported a state that proudly upholds Jewish supremacism as its national ideology. Their sensitivities should count for nothing if they simply mask ugly racist attitudes towards Palestinians.

Lobbies of all kinds thrive in the dark, growing more powerful and less accountable when they are out of view and immune from scrutiny.

By refusing to talk frankly about the role of pro-Israel lobbies in the UK and the US, or by submitting to their intimidation, we simply invite Israel’s supporters and anti-Palestinian racists to flex their muscles more aggressively and chip away at the democratic fabric of our societies.

There are signs that insurgency politicians in the US are ready for the first time to shine a light into the recesses of a political system deeply corrupted by money. That will inevitably make life much harder for the pro-Israel lobby.

But paradoxically, it is happening just as the the UK’s Israel lobby is pushing in exactly the opposite direction. British politics is being plunged into a stifling, unhealthy silence on the longest example of mass human rights abuses, sanctioned by the west, in modern history.

• First published at Mondoweiss

War Versus Peace: Israel Has Decided and So Should We

So, what have we learned from the Israeli legislative elections on April 9?

A whole lot.

To start with, don’t let such references as the “tight race” between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his main rival, Benny Gantz, fool you.

Yes, Israelis are divided on some issues that are particular to their social and economic makeup. But they are also resolutely unified around the issue that should concern us most: the continued subjugation of the Palestinian people.

Indeed, ‘tight race’, or not, Israel has voted to cement Apartheid, support the ongoing annexation of the Occupied West Bank, and carry on with the Gaza siege.

In the aftermath of the elections, Netanyahu emerged even more powerful; his Likud party has won the elections with 36 seats, followed by Gantz’s Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) with 35 seats.

Gantz, the rising star in Israeli politics was branded throughout the campaign as a centrist politician, a designation that tossed a lifeline to the vanquished Israeli ‘left’ – of which not much is left anyway.

This branding helped sustain a short-lived illusion that there is an Israeli alternative to Netanyahu’s extremist right-wing camp.

But there was never any evidence to suggest that Gantz would have been any better as far as ending the Israeli occupation, dismantling the Apartheid regime and parting ways with the country’s predominantly racist discourse.

In fact, the opposite is true.

Gantz has repeatedly criticized Netanyahu for supposedly being too soft on Gaza, promising to rain yet more death and destruction on an a region that, according to the United Nations, will be unlivable by 2020.

A series of videos, dubbed “Only the Strong Survives”, were issued by the Gantz campaign in the run up to the elections. In the footage, Gantz was portrayed as the national savior, who had killed many Palestinians while serving as the army’s chief of staff between 2011 and 2015.

Gantz is particularly proud of being partly responsible for bombing Gaza “back to the stone age.”

It apparently mattered little to Israeli centrists and the remnants of the left that in the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza, dubbed Operation “Protective Edge”, over 2,200 Palestinians were killed and over 11,000 were injured. In that most tragic war, over 500 Palestinian children were killed, and much of Gaza’s already ailing infrastructure was destroyed.

But then again, why vote for Gantz when Netanyahu and his right-wing extremist camp are getting the job done?

Sadly, Netanyahu’s future coalition is likely to be even more extreme than the previous one.

Moreover, thanks to new possible alliances, Netanyahu will most likely free himself of burdensome allies, the likes of former Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

One significant change in the likely makeup of the Israeli right is the absence of such domineering figures, who, aside from Lieberman also include former Education Minister, Naftali Bennett and former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

All the grandstanding from Bennett and Shaked, who had recently established a new party called “The New Right”, didn’t even garner them enough votes to reach the threshold required to win a single seat in the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset. They needed 3.25 percent of the vote, but only achieved 3.22 percent. They are both out.

The defeat of the infamous duo is quite revealing: the symbols of Israel’s extreme right no longer meet the expectations of Israel’s extremist constituencies.

Now the stage is wide open for the ultra-orthodox parties, Shas, which now has eight seats, and United Torah Judaism, with seven seats to help define the new normal in Israel.

The Israeli left – if it was ever deserving of the name – received a final blow; the once prominent Labor Party, won merely six seats.

On the other hand, Arab parties that ran in the 2015 elections under the united banner of the “Joint List”, fragmented once more, to collectively achieve only 10 seats.

Their loss of three seats, compared to the previous elections, can be partly blamed on factional and personal agendas. But, that is hardly enough to explain the massive drop in Arab voter participation in the elections: 48 percent compared to 68 percent in 2015.

This record low participation can only be explained through the racist ‘Nation State Law”, which was passed by the right wing-dominated Knesset on July 19, 2018. The new Basic Law, declared Israel as the “nation state of the Jewish people” everywhere, relegating the rights of the Palestinian people, their history, culture and language, while elevating everything Jewish, making self-determination in the state an exclusive right for Jews only.

This trend is likely to continue, as Israel’s political institutions no longer offer even a symbolic margin for true democracy and fair representation.

But perhaps the most important lesson that we can learn in the aftermath of these elections is that in today’s Israel, military occupation and apartheid have been internalized and normalized as uncontested realities, unworthy of national debate. This in particular should summon our immediate attention.

During election campaigns, no major party spoke about peace, let alone provided a comprehensive vision for achieving it. No leading politician called for the dismantling of the illegal Jewish settlements that have been erected on Palestinian land in violation of international law.

More importantly and tellingly, no one spoke of a two-state solution.

As far as Israelis are concerned, the two-state solution is dead. While this is also true for many Palestinians, the Israeli alternative is hardly co-existence in one democratic secular state. The Israeli alternative is Apartheid.

Netanyahu and his future government coalition of like-minded extremists are now armed with an unmistakably popular mandate to fulfill all of their electoral promises, including the annexation of the West Bank.

Moreover, with an emboldened and empowered right-wing coalition, we are also likely to witness a major escalation in violence against Gaza this coming summer.

Considering all of this, we must understand that Israel’s illegal policies in Palestine cannot and will not be challenged from within Israeli society.

Challenging and ending the Israeli occupation and dismantling Apartheid can only happen through internal Palestinian resistance and external pressure that is centered around the strategy of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

It is now incumbent on the international community to break this vicious Israeli cycle and support the Palestinian people in their ongoing struggle against Israeli occupation, racism and apartheid.

Why Is This Seder Different From All Other Seders?

The idea of making a different type of seder came about because of my discomfort with a ceremony that in many ways glorifies many unattractive aspects of American Jewish culture and also serves as a justification for the Israeli dispossession and suppression of the Palestinian people and their culture.  Passover now appears to me to be the most Zionist of all Jewish holidays, and its celebration, the reading of the Hagada, the Hebrew text which defines the seder, clearly reflects this fact.

The first problem comes at very beginning of the ceremony when the host declares that God chose the Jewish people above all other peoples. This type of exceptionalism is very much out of favor with many these days, as it should be, whether it is applied to Jews, Israel or to American foreign policy.

Secondly, there is the glorification of God’s horrible vengeance upon those who have wronged the Jews or those who do not believe in their God.  God’s killing of Egyptian innocent children is awful even as a symbolic tale.

After drinking the third of the four cups of wine, the host instructs the presumably tipsy guests to rise and pour a fourth cup.  Referring to God, he then recites:

Pour out Thy wrath upon the nations that know Thee not, and upon the kingdoms that call not upon Thy name; for they have consumed Jacob and laid waste his habitation.  Pour out Thy rage upon them and let Thy fury overtake them.  Pursue them in anger and destroy them from under the heavens of the Eternal.

A bit over the top, no?  Especially, when the present-day real God of many American Jews, Israel and its mighty army, has laid waste to Gaza in a succession of criminal assaults which continue today as a brutal siege and a weekly massacre at the eastern Gaza border.  The first seder this year takes place on a Friday, which is the day of the week most of the border killings occur.

Oh, and one more thing, the Hebrew word for “nations that know Thee not” is “goyim,” which is also the derisive name Jews call non-Jews in their common vernacular.  Who wants to say that, even if all your guests speak no Hebrew and may not hear the “g” word?

Thirdly, I recoil at the allusion to the perpetual victimization of the Jewish people which is uttered with only the fortification of one cup of wine.

For more than once have they risen against us to destroy us; in every generation they rise against us and seek our destruction.  But the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hands.

This, for me echoes the recent false claims of anti-Semitism from which we are protected, not so miraculously, by the smears of pro-Israel lobby operatives directed at people such as Rep. Ilahn Omar, Jeremy Corbyn or anyone else who criticizes Israel and its apartheid government.

And lastly but very importantly, is the oft-quoted declaration toward the conclusion of the reading of the Hagada of “next year in Jerusalem.”  This phrase is frequently and ludicrously cited as proof of the long-time (2000 year) Jewish longing for return to their homeland, and it is employed as a justification for the entire Zionist enterprise.

This is ironic because the “telling” (hagada) of the exodus story is especially irksome since most people actually believe in its veracity as recorded history even though this story has absolutely no basis in fact. There is actually zero historical evidence that the Jews were ever slaves in Egypt.

Passover, as with all Jewish celebrations in Israel, means “closure” for the Palestinians under occupation.  That entails restricted travel and other prohibitions which make the lives of the Palestinians even more difficult than normal.

As they say in another context in the Hagada, “dayenu?” or “is that not enough?” to explain why an alternative seder may be in order. For me it is more than enough.

So here is what I have come up with as a replacement.

My seder is called a seder lo b’seder, or loosely translated, a seder that is not right or not OK.  It sounds better in Hebrew.  It is held on the second day of Passover and may serve as an antidote for guests who have participated in a traditional seder the previous evening.  Seder means arrangement or order and lo means not.  So this is a seder with no order, the opposite of the meaning of seder and the tradition of doing the ceremony in a proscribed manner.

My motto is “skip the (traditional) seder, do a seder lo b’seder.” The Hebrew verb for skip is the same as the name of the holiday.  Just as Passover; i.e., pass over, in English, is synonymous with skip.

Thus there is no order in which the meal is to be eaten.  All foods from soup to dessert will be available to the guests throughout dinner.  All can eat what they want when they want and just as importantly not eat what they do not desire.

Some usual Passover foods will be available.  They include gefilte fish, matzoh (a cracker that is central to the symbolism of Passover), red wine and grape juice.  Also, charoset which is a mixture of nuts, dried and fresh fruits, nuts and honey because it tastes really good.  Bread and shrimp (prohibited by Jewish law during Passover) will also be available and are placed in close proximity to the matzoh and gefilte fish, respectively.

Italian food which is a popular cuisine in my upstate New York community, since there is a large Italian-American presence here, will be featured. The main courses will be a vegetarian lasagna and Utica greens which is a popular indigenous local dish invented by my sister-in-law’s cousin.

Instead of the traditional not consumed glass of red wine for the prophet Elijah, a glass of wine will be placed on the table in memory of my dear departed friend and neighbor, Bruce, who would have been a willing enthusiastic participant in this seder.

The only restriction placed on the food that is acceptable at this seder is that it is not wholly or partly produced at Israeli Jewish companies.  This seder is officially and proudly designated as a pro BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) event.  Luckily, neither this seder nor anything I or my wife do is funded by the State of New York because the New York State governor, Andrew Cuomo, has bowed to the pro-Israel lobby, or as it is known in Israel, the Jewish lobby, and cut state funding to all supporters of BDS.

The only part of the typical seder that is included in the seder lo b’seder is the performance of the song Chad Gadya which ends the festive meal.  In my seder the song is performed both before and after dinner.  Prior to eating, the guests are invited to listen and view a video (with English subtitles) of the Chava Alberstein version of this iconic Passover song which she recorded at the height of the First Intifada in 1989.  In this rendition, which is sung mostly in Hebrew instead of the more traditional Aramaic, Alberstein added protest lyrics in response to the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Echoing the words of the Hagada she sings,

And what has changed for you?
What has changed?
I myself have changed this year
And on all nights, on all nights
I have asked only four questions
Tonight I have another question:
How long will the cycle of horror last?
… Hunter and hunted, beater and beaten
When will this madness end?

Alberstein’s protest song roiled much of the Jewish Israeli population and it was banned from the radio despite or maybe because of the enormous popularity and artistic reputation of the singer.  Younger readers will take note that the suppression of speech critical of government policy, especially in relation to what goes on in the territories, did not start with Netanyahu.

A couple of weeks ago I came across a video of the Rana Choir performing an Arabic/Hebrew version of the Alberstein Chad Gadya at a 2016 Arab-Israeli Remembrance Day Ceremony.  The choir is a group based in Jaffa, composed of Palestinians and Jews, which is unusual in Israel.  I am usually rather skeptical about joint ventures in the apartheid reality of Israel which are derisively and understandably termed “normalization” by many Palestinians.  Most end up with members of the stronger group, the Jews, setting the agenda, and ironically reproducing the unequal power relationship of the occupation.  A majority of the singers appear to be Jewish and I have been told that the Arabic is almost unintelligible.  However, despite all this I will present this version to my guests as a possible source of hope.  This beautiful and haunting once censored protest song is, at least, still being performed.

As in the “normal” seder, the meal and ceremony concludes with the host, me, singing Chad Gadya with the guests invited to join in. They are especially encouraged to, at the very least, sing the chorus.  The song in our seder is sung in Aramaic as is usual.

I like this song because it arguably is understood as having no significant meaning and as being pure melody and wordplay.  In other words free of the cant, rant or any political significance of which I may find objectionable but ever present in the normal seder.

So that is the outline of my planned Passover meal.  It is an attempt to quietly declare that Zionism is not tenable or moral and the practiced Judaism which supports Israel is also defective.  I do not mean my seder to be offensive to any of my fellow co-religionists, but if it is so be it.

In our American culture those who renounce Catholicism are not generally censured by the general population, but those that criticize the practice of Judaism are.  Why is that?

Unfortunately, my seder will not happen this year due to family commitments having nothing to do with Passover. However, I plan to do it next year.  The guests will include my 94-year-old mother-in-law and her daughter, my wife’s sister, both of whom attended my initial alternative seder two years ago. My wife and her family are not Jewish; however, all told me they had a wonderful time.  I already have three dear friends who are pro-Palestinian activists committed to the event.  Two of them will be recovering from the previous night’s first Seder.  All three have been falsely accused of anti-Semitism by the local Jewish Federation in response to their political activity.

Zionism means dispossession of 700,000 indigenous Palestinian people and their future descendants.  Today it means the ever-expanding Judaization of Jerusalem, the oppression of the Palestinian people including the brutal siege of Gaza and the continual killing of Gazans at the border protests.

That is why I say, “Next year in upstate New York, I will have a seder that will be lo b’seder.”