Category Archives: BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement)

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 “We repealed it.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.”

Once Again, the UN has failed to Name Firms that Profit from Israel’s Illegal Settlements

The United Nations postponed last week for the third time the publication of a blacklist of Israeli and international firms that profit directly from Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied territories.

The international body had come under enormous pressure to keep the database under wraps after lobbying behind the scenes from Israel, the United States and many of the 200-plus companies that were about to be named.

UN officials have suggested they may go public with the list in a few months.

But with no progress since the UN’s Human Rights Council requested the database back in early 2016, Palestinian leaders are increasingly fearful that it has been permanently shelved.

That was exactly what Israel hoped for. When efforts were first made to publish the list in 2017, Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, warned: “We will do everything we can to ensure that this list does not see the light of day.”

He added that penalising the settlements was “an expression of modern antisemitism”.

Both Israel and the US pulled out of the Human Rights Council last year, claiming that Israel was being singled out.

Israel has good reason to fear greater transparency. Bad publicity would most likely drive many of these firms, a few of them household names, out of the settlements under threat of a consumer backlash and a withdrawal of investments by religious organisations and pension funds.

The UN has reportedly already warned Coca-Cola, Teva Pharmaceuticals, the defence electronics company Elbit Systems and Africa Israel Investments of their likely inclusion. Israeli telecoms and utility companies are particularly exposed because grids serving the settlements are integrated with those in Israel.

There is an added danger that the firms might be vulnerable to prosecutions, should the International Criminal Court at The Hague eventually open an investigation into whether the settlements constitute a war crime, as the Palestinian leadership has demanded.

The exodus of these firms from the West Bank would, in turn, make it much harder for Israel to sustain its colonies on stolen Palestinian land. As a result, efforts to advance a Palestinian state would be strengthened.

Many of the settlements – contrary to widely held impressions of them – have grown into large towns. Their inhabitants expect all the comforts of modern life, from local bank branches to fast-food restaurants and high-street clothing chains.

Nowadays, a significant proportion of Israel’s 750,000 settlers barely understand that their communities violate international law.

The settlements are also gradually being integrated into the global economy, as was highlighted by a row late last year when Airbnb, an accommodation-bookings website, announced a plan to de-list properties in West Bank settlements.

The company was possibly seeking to avoid inclusion on the database, but instead it faced a severe backlash from Israel’s supporters.

This month the US state of Texas approved a ban on all contracts with Airbnb, arguing that the online company’s action was “antisemitic”.

As both sides understand, a lot hangs on the blacklist being made public.

If Israel and the US succeed, and western corporations are left free to ignore the Palestinians’ dispossession and suffering, the settlements will sink their roots even deeper into the West Bank. Israel’s occupation will become ever more irreversible, and the prospect of a Palestinian state ever more distant.

A 2013 report on the ties between big business and the settlements noted the impact on the rights of Palestinians was “pervasive and devastating”.

Sadly, the UN leadership’s cowardice on what should be a straightforward matter – the settlements violate international law, and firms should not assist in such criminal enterprises – is part of a pattern.

Repeatedly, Israel has exerted great pressure on the UN to keep its army off a “shame list” of serious violators of children’s rights. Israel even avoided a listing in 2015 following its 50-day attack on Gaza the previous year, which left more than 500 Palestinian children dead. Dozens of armies and militias are named each year.

The Hague court has also been dragging its feet for years over whether to open a proper war crimes investigation into Israel’s actions in Gaza, as well as the settlements.

The battle to hold Israel to account is likely to rage again this year, after the publication last month of a damning report by UN legal experts into the killing of Palestinian protesters at Gaza’s perimeter fence by Israeli snipers.

Conditions for Gaza’s two million Palestinians have grown dire since Israel imposed a blockade, preventing movement of goods and people, more than a decade ago.

The UN report found that nearly all of those killed by the snipers – 154 out of 183 – were unarmed. Some 35 Palestinian children were among the dead, and of the 6,000 wounded more than 900 were minors. Other casualties included journalists, medical personnel and people with disabilities.

The legal experts concluded that there was evidence of war crimes. Any identifiable commanders and snipers, it added, should face arrest if they visited UN member states.

Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, dismissed the report as “lies” born out of “an obsessive hatred of Israel”.

Certainly, it has caused few ripples in western capitals. Britain’s opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn was a lone voice in calling for an arms embargo on Israel in response.

It is this Israeli exceptionalism that is so striking. The more violent Israel becomes towards the Palestinians and the more intransigent in rejecting peace, the less pressure is exerted upon it.

Not only does Israel continue to enjoy generous financial, military and diplomatic support from the US and Europe, both are working ever harder to silence criticisms of its actions by their own citizens.

As the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement grows larger, western capitals have casually thrown aside commitments to free speech in a bid to crush it.

France has already criminalised support for a boycott of Israel, and its president Emmanuel Macron recently proposed making it illegal to criticise Zionism, the ideology that underpins Israel’s rule over Palestinians.

More than two dozen US states have passed anti-BDS legislation, denying companies and individual contractors dealing with the government of that particular state the right to boycott Israel. In every case, Israel is the only country protected by these laws. Last month, the US Senate passed a bill that adds federal weight to this state-level campaign of intimidation.

The hypocrisy of these states – urging peace in the region while doing their best to subvert it – is clear. Now the danger is that UN leaders will join them.

• First published in The National

The “Kosher Nostra” Nation

[T]the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.

– Charles Baudelaire, The Generous Gambler (1864)

The Jewish state of Israel characterizes itself as a “Jewish and democratic” state, although the latest law of the Knesset wishes to raise “Jewishness” above “democracy”. However, it must be blindingly obvious to anyone not in thrall to the ruling narratives, that when a minority of a population is regarded as hostile, is unwelcome and therefore is never part of a governing coalition, democracy must be a casualty, especially when that minority has been singled out for discriminatory and dispossessory treatment, despite the legal somersaulting of the greatest of Jewish legal minds.

– Lynda Burstein Brayer1

Brief: Having now called an election in April, it seems clear Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s rationale for the early poll is to avert possible indictment for alleged corruption. Always something of a political ‘chancer’ whom few would accuse of lacking chutzpah, even for the estimable “Bibi” this is an audacious gamble. Either way, win or lose (and we might opine, guilty or innocent), very little is likely to change for the better in the way the state of Israel comports itself on the international stage. With that in mind, this is as good a time as any to take a deeper look at this increasingly militarily aggressive and geopolitically opportunistic nation, which like its current leader, has long been a law unto itself. I paid a visit of sorts to the Wailing Wall.

Invoking the Horrors of the Past

In a speech written in late January 1970, and read on 3 February that year to an International Conference of Parliamentarians in Cairo (a day after he died), after first noting that ‘the traditional role of the imperial power [is to] to consolidate with the least difficulty what it has already taken by violence…’, famed English philosopher, historian and social critic Bertrand Russell had the following to say about Israel:

…[E]very new conquest becomes the new basis of the proposed negotiation from strength, which ignores the injustice of the previous aggression. The aggression…must be condemned, not only because no state has the right to annex foreign territory, but because every expansion is an experiment to discover how much more aggression the world will tolerate….We are frequently told that we must sympathize with Israel because of the suffering of the Jews in Europe at the hands of the Nazis. I see in this suggestion no reason to perpetuate any suffering. What Israel is doing today cannot be condoned, and to invoke the horrors of the past to justify those of the present is gross hypocrisy.’[My emphasis].

For the more detached, by any measure Russell’s critique even at the time was a damning indictment of the Middle East’s ‘only democratic state’. Though obviously appalled by its treatment of the Palestinians, much of Russell’s ire and indignation likely derived from Israel’s involvement in the hugely pivotal 1967 Six-Day War (still fresh in people’s minds), though few, if any, of his contemporaries would’ve been privy to the full picture of that “involvement” as it unfolded.

Such an appraisal is rendered even more damning when we consider the objective reality of Israel’s conduct in the intervening decades and what we’ve since come to know about it. Hardly a day has gone by where Israel has not tried to distort and corrupt said “reality”; this is especially evident in its purported desire for Middle East peace, where its key talking points on the matter are somewhat incongruent with said “reality”. Along with their intransigence on the matter of statehood for the Palestinians, in effect [it] is doing everything in its power to destabilise the region, as it has done for much of its history.

Yet that it has been remarkably successful at this endeavour is an understatement to be sure: “The Most Moral Army in the World?!” It takes some chutzpah to come up with a tagline like that! And we only need consider the number of pundits within the geopolitical ‘opinionocracy’ who’ve bought into this counterfeit narrative. Indeed, many of them—past and present—have been party to its creation, are guardians of its myths, accountable for the legacies thereof, and/or treasonable accomplices to its invention and preservation. Such is the extraordinary power of this “narrative” that, if it collapsed or was even seriously challenged, the country would probably cease to exist, at least in its present iteration. This is one reality Israel’s staunchest defenders doubtless realise, though few would wish to ever have that conversation for fear of tempting fate.

Its ‘settler-colonialist/democratic-apartheid’ status notwithstanding, by any definition Israel is a rogue state, one that routinely ignores the peremptory norms of international law. Indeed any other country that conducted itself on the world’s stage in the manner Israel sees fit to do so would, in a just world, be considered a pariah and be treated as one.

Yet such is Israel’s chokehold on public perception via its control of both the US legislature, the electoral system, and the media, most people still view it as the perennial victim, a constant target of nations, groups, organisations, and individuals who wish at the very least to deny its legitimacy (as fragile as it is), or at worst, wipe it off the map. It takes an extraordinary effort and a certain kind of collective genius, albeit of a decidedly malevolent, evil variety, in order to manipulate international public perception to such a degree, and maintain such a tight leash on that narrative over decades. To allude to the epigraph, this might be Israel’s “cleverist wile”.

Not quite convinced? Let’s go ‘shopping’ shall we? No other nation:

  1. benefits more substantively or more frequently from U.S. largesse and its alliance with America (and the West in general) or enjoys so many perks and privileges;
  2. comes close to punching so far above its own weight in having Washington’s ear and works harder at downplaying broad awareness of its influence and power;
  3. leverages its prime benefactor’s strategic and financial power so brazenly and so often in the service of its own interest and aspirations (and not always those of its benefactors);
  4. is more effective and more blatant at stifling free speech and any debate, no matter how rational or reasonable, that runs counter to those interests and aspirations;
  5. so stealthily yet pervasively controls the ‘optics’ of the global media narrative and the broad public and political discourse that forms the foundation of public perception about it;
  6. is so impervious to, indeed immune from, approbation or reproach, much less the consequences thereof, by its principal sponsor and/or the international community for its numerous and well documented criminal ‘delinquencies’;
  7. routinely spies on and regularly steals information from its benefactor of both a commercial and strategic value and even on-sells this information to U.S. rivals and potential enemies;
  8. comes more complete with more obvious contradictions between the image it portrays to the world and the reality of its behaviour, conduct and actions; and,
  9. in the absence of any serious, concerted, effective opposition can be expected based on its track record to push the envelope further in the uncompromising pursuit of these aspirations regardless of the consequences or the objections of the rules-based international community.

How Did we Get Here?

Given the Constitution-defying priority any specific U.S. administration—Democrat or Republican—attributes to Israel, it is worth recalling some Oval Office tenants whose relationships with the nation should set the mood for a deeper elucidation of the themes herein. To begin with it wasn’t always this way, certainly not until the presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson (aka LBJ). It might sound like a big call at first, but few presidents of the modern era have managed to bequeath their country a legacy as consequential and enduring as that of LBJ.

Now I suspect most folks might think of the Vietnam War as the ‘crowning achievement’ of LBJ’s dubious legacy. Yet for this writer it was Johnson’s unprecedented and unequivocal support for Israel—support which amongst other things facilitated that country’s illegal acquisition of nuclear weapons whilst waiving any of the transparency and accountability provisions included in international nuclear non-proliferation treaties—from the time he came into office in November 1963, that may well be the more consequential aspect of that legacy. We’ll come back to the LBJ/Israel thing soon, but first a bit of useful history.

In 2018, 70 years after president Harry Truman finally succumbed to both internal and external pressure (he was initially opposed to the notion of a Jewish state in Palestine and for good reason), and effectively gave the nod for the Zionists to create the state of Israel—against the advice of numerous people within and across diplomatic, political and national security circles—the phenomenal power, influence and control this tiny nation has come to exert in the United States since that time is now an ineluctable, existentially dangerous reality. America is now Israel’s life-line and meal-ticket, its life insurance policy, its ‘minder’ (muscle) if one likes. The implications of this reality became manifestly obvious long ago, but the implications of maintaining that relationship going forward are becoming increasingly disconcerting.2

For his part Truman’s successor Dwight (“Ike”) Eisenhower trod a very cautious path when it came to Israel. He was not backward in reining in Israel’s imperial minded tendencies, which revealed themselves to the world at large during the Suez Crisis in 1956. Israel had invaded Egypt in tandem with, and encouraged by, the then imperial colossi of the Middle East, France and Great Britain. Eisenhower vehemently opposed this action when it was proposed, and was by all accounts ropable when they went ahead with it behind his back. Ike’s successor John F Kennedy’s (JFK) attitude towards the state of Israel is well documented, most memorably by the late Michael Collins Piper in his book Final Judgment, wherein he points the finger directly at the Israelis as amongst those involved in the planning, execution, and cover-up of JFK’s ‘Big Day Out’ in November 1963. That aside, Kennedy notably refused to entertain Israel’s ambition to build their own nuclear arsenal, and for this and other reasons kept them at arm’s length. This policy incensed former Zio-terrorist David Ben-Gurion (by then the Israeli PM after succeeding Moshe Sharat), who after JFK was murdered, then rallied his hard-core off-siders who were chomping at the bit to assert themselves as the new kids on the Middle East block. They finally had in Johnson, a real friend in the White House.

Israel then has much to thank Number 36 for “that” priceless commodity of “having Washington’s ear”, a political “access all areas” gift-card that for Israel just keeps on giving. The Israel lobby and their numerous surrogates wasted little time in ‘infiltrating’ LBJ’s administration from the top down, and they were upgraded to frequent flyer status by the Israel friendly new POTUS. It has continued uninterrupted to this day.3

And the recent passing of George HW Bush for many was probably not lamented too much by folks of a certain political or historical worldview, even for those not given to speaking or thinking ill of the dear departed. Yet according to Alison Weir of If Americans Knew, he deserves credit for at least one initiative, one that almost certainly contributed to his failed bid for reelection in 1992 as POTUS, and which by definition changed the course of history. (“It’s the Zionists, stupid!” anyone?)

In Weir’s summation, in holding up a $10 billion loan guarantee in 1991 to Israel over its continued settlement building in Palestine, Bush senior ‘won the battle, but eventually lost the war’, a lesson that presidents and political folks of all stripes have remembered ever since. Bush told Israel that the U.S. would not give it $10 billion in loan guarantees until Israel stopped building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, which, of course, are illegal under international law. In his efforts to seek a peaceful solution to the intractable issue of the settlements and an overarching peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians, Bush Senior stated publicly:

I think the American people will strongly support me in this. I’m going to fight for it because I think this is what the American people want, and I’m going to do absolutely everything I can to back those members of the Congress who are forward-looking in their desire to see peace.

Noble sentiments to be sure, but Bush was way off base if he felt that such political posturing would carry him to a second term.4 It would seem that neither the Congress—bought and paid for by the Lobby in any event as much then as it is now—nor the much lauded “American people” were that “forward looking in their desire to see peace”. It was either that or the “American people” were suffering from compassion fatigue, had bigger concerns in their lives, didn’t understand the implications, or couldn’t be bothered voting. One suspects that very little has changed.

Of course, the Israel lobby, notably the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)—always at the ready with a fine line in umbrage—was not unexpectedly, well, ‘umbraged’ at Bush’s gambit. He overestimated the Congress and the people they represented, and in underestimating the power of the Lobby, HW made a career limiting move of the presidential kind.

“Ye Shall Blot them out to the Last Man”

It’s worth noting that at the time the Israeli PM was (former terrorist cum Mossad chief) Yitzhak Shamir, a man who like many Israeli leaders believed that his country was both above the law and beyond moral reproach. This extended even to the point back in the day of declaring that Israel had the right to interfere in the affairs of other countries, a reality amply documented in two recently released al-Jazeera documentaries (here, and here), with one citing the outcome of the 1992 election as further evidence. Such is the sense of entitlement and righteousness, even Shamir made no bones about it:

We are very far from having any moral qualms as far as our national war goes. We have before us the command of the Torah, whose morality surpasses that of any other body of laws in the world: ‘Ye shall blot them out to the last man.’

When Shamir was himself ousted in July 1992, his successor Yitzhak Rabin, promised to honour the loan guarantees, after which Bush finally inked the deal. But not only were Bush’s second term ambitions scuttled; Israel under Netanyahu in 1996 subsequently reneged on the loan guarantees in any event. The settlements are a going concern to this day. (Rabin, who may or may not have been committed to the settlements issue, was in any event assassinated in 1995.)

That said, for some there are signs this elaborate and unprecedented facade it has painstakingly constructed is beginning to crack. In a recent RT interview with Rick Sanchez, Chris Hedges discussed the Boycott, Divestment & Sanction (BDS) movement, which seeks amongst other aims to put economic and diplomatic pressure on Israel and highlight the dire predicament of the Palestinians who are living under what is no less than an apartheid system. This system is one unilaterally imposed by Israel in complete defiance of international law and democratic principles, attended by utter indifference to the basic human rights of Palestinians, such as equality, security, justice, peace, and freedom. Indeed we might argue that Israel’s greatest public relations triumph is the degree it has managed to convince the rest of the world to subscribe to and fully embrace that same level of indifference.

Nonetheless, Hedges posited that Israel is becoming ‘frightened and desperate’, evidenced in his view by the anti-BDS legislation spreading throughout the US. This campaign by the Israeli lobby in America and their many supporters at the municipal, state and federal levels represents an all-out effort to protect Israel’s public image by derailing the movement and discrediting the people and the organisations behind it. With numerous U.S. states—attended by no small measure of sharia-like dedication to the cause it seems—having enshrined into legislation anti-BDS statutes, the first amendment rights of Americans are under attack in a manner which would have the Founding Fathers, at least those whose enthusiasm for it was genuine, spinning furiously in their eternally designated plots of land.

Moreover, Israel is attempting on a global scale to redefine the very meaning of anti-Semitism, an overused, though nonetheless utilitarian epithet serving the country well as both an impregnable force-field against criticism and a formidable attack/offensive weapon purpose-built to denigrate, discredit, even destroy, those who’d dare to challenge its behaviour. Insofar as Hedges is concerned though, Israel ‘can no longer control its narrative or hide the brutality of their apartheid system.’

For an incisive insight into some of those “controlled narratives” (or myths), it is perhaps Ilan Pappe’s Ten Myths about Israel that best serves to identify these foundational narratives (which Pappe describes as “fallacies”), how they have been created, who’s controlling them, and what the end game might be if we’re to be living in a world where these myths continue to prevail, and we are prepared or even forced to accept them. Well might we ask: How do these myths and fallacies—especially when the carefully crafted perceptions underpinning them clash with the brutal reality of the facts on the ground as it were—threaten the geopolitical order? Iraq? Libya? Syria? Yemen? Anyone?….just to give you a taste of “the brutal reality of the facts on the ground”!

The answers to these and other questions are beyond the scope of this essay but in rhetorical form are worth keeping front of mind as we go forward. Pappe identifies several “fallacies” that have sustained Israel’s image and credibility as a “moral” nation, that: it has every right to exist; it has a right to defend itself; its cause is righteous; that other nations wish to destroy it; and that unlike other nations it is not accountable under international law. The Israelis we might aver have their own ‘peculiar institution‘ vis-a-vis the Palestinians—a form of modern slavery wherein human, social, economic and other rights are routinely denied in an apartheid state to people whose land they continue to dispossess and ‘set up shop’ on, and whose property and belongings they continue to loot, misappropriate, confiscate, steal or destroy without restraint etc.5

Though it would doubtless have the world believe it, Israel’s greatest strategic threat isn’t Iran, it is the increasingly concerted efforts—as welcome as they are necessary—by numerous groups, nations, and individuals (including prominent Israeli citizens) to call out Israel so as to rein in its lawless behaviour. Israel knows this. The corollary to this is that Israel’s greatest existential fear is the erosion of support that it currently enjoys with the American electorate whether from Jews and non-Jews alike, though it would be a courageous pundit who’d opine as to how this might play out and over what period of time.

This isn’t just evidenced by their own relentless, strenuous efforts to both shut these groups and individuals down; they have infiltrated and then undermined whole nations’ legal systems and political processes in order to amongst other aims make it punishable by law to even criticise the country. If the phrase (generally attributed to Voltaire), ‘To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize’ is essentially true, it’s difficult to think of any other nation that might qualify for the ‘gig’. The recent incident where a Texas school district speech pathologist was sacked because she refused to sign an oath declaring she would never support the BDS movement is just one of the more recent and glaring examples of this draconian effort to stifle any kind of debate about Israel.

Revenge of the Mosers?

For those still with doubts about the coercive power Israel and its network of institutional, organisational and political supporters wield in the West—especially in Great Britain and the United States—then the two documentaries produced by Qatar’s al-Jazeera news network mentioned earlier surely will dispel any uncertainty. (See links above). As these films illustrate, this increasingly out of control ally of the West brooks very little opposition to its hegemonic tendencies in the Greater Middle East. Israel for its part refuses to recognise—much less respond in kind to—the boundaries defined by international law.

In doing so then, the country thumbs its nose at the fundamental tenets and principles tying the community of nations together along with the very sovereignty of individual countries, and places global security, peace and stability in even greater existential peril. In short, the more the Israelis push those boundaries, the more they’ll continue to feel it’s their God-given right to do so, and the more we will proceed, by default or by design, to let them get way with it. This is one of the most important takeaways from these two films, the first one focussing on the lobby in Great Britain, and the second one that of the United States.

From a geopolitical standpoint, this is more a nightmare in the making than [an] accident waiting to happen. Unless we’re all chomping at the bit for another World War with all the bells ‘n whistles as it were, it is high time we called time on Israel, and hold it truly accountable. If that sounds alarmist, then consider the following.

Earlier this year Colin Powell’s former Chief-of-Staff Lawrence Wilkerson declared categorically that Israel is in the process of dragging America into a war with Iran, one which could destroy what’s left of the Middle East and ignite ‘a third world war’.6 )) Wilkerson says the evidence is clear: “Israel seeks ‘a massive confrontation with the various powers arrayed against it, [one] that will suck America in and perhaps terminate the experiment that is Israel and do irreparable damage to the empire that America has become.” [My emphasis].

Wilkerson points the finger of blame at Netanyahu, whose bespoke denigrations of the Iranian Islamic republic are as strident as they are provocative. To anyone within earshot Bibi, with monotonous frequency, kvetches in full-tilt Cassandra-like mode that Iran a) represents the greatest threat facing the Jewish state and to the very stability of the Middle East; and b) is constantly fanning the flames of anti-Semitism as if they’ve somehow cornered the market on it. Wilkerson dismissed these self-serving accusations out of hand using simple logic—an argumentative tool with which far too many of Israel’s defenders appear to be unacquainted.

As Wilkerson said at the time: ‘This antisemitism bit, of course…is almost always a weapon of choice for Israeli politicians under stress hurled, in this case, at the country whose Jewish population—by the way, the largest in the Middle East outside of Turkey and Israel—lives in Iran in reasonable peace.’ [My Emphasis] Like so many of us, what Wilkerson appears to be suggesting amongst other things is that the ‘cachet’ of the anti-Semitic jibe is now not as effective as it used to be. This is part of the reason why Israel is losing control of the narrative.

And to the extent where they even exist in substantive form, Israel’s status and reach are such that countervailing forces struggle to contain this monster. To underscore this, we might consider David Sheen’s recent Lobelog piece, the unambiguously titled “Israel Crushes Resistance At Home And Abroad.” For Sheen, the Jewish-Israeli left is ‘in tatters’, a spent political force. What is interesting about his comment is that whilst it may be obvious to more clear-eyed folks, the dominance of the hard-right itself does not seem to receive much attention in the cut and thrust of public political debate, especially in the corporate media. This in itself may or may not be coincidental, as the disempowerment and marginalisation of the left in general in the West has been, we might argue, a work in progress for some time. The dismal power-political status of the Israeli left notwithstanding, it may be simply mirroring the broader political-economic reality.

Moreover, given the well documented fact that the mainstream press in the west is virtually unanimous in its unquestioning support for Israel, we cannot realistically expect this will change anytime soon. Sheen further notes the Jewish-Israeli left make up ‘a tiny fraction’ of Israel’s overall population, with ‘numbers steadily shrinking since the start of the millennium’. In Sheen’s depressing and ominous summation—one just dripping with historical irony, albeit of the truly tragic kind—the lay of the land in Israeli politics is such that:

No alliance of progressive parties can hold a candle to Israel’s hawkish governing coalitions. No liberal newspaper can pull the public away from the tabloids that back PM Netanyahu and his rivals even further to the right. And no upstart activist group has been able to sway the hearts and minds of significant numbers of young Jews, brainwashed with ever-increasing doses of Zionist propaganda…Top Israeli lawmakers openly incite against leftist figures with frightening regularity, knowing that these attacks will only increase their own popularity among Israeli voters. Even without this egging on, Israeli society is increasingly purging its leftists from positions of influence, as the Israelis who’ve lost their jobs in recent years…for their left-leaning views can attest to.

For those of us who’ve long argued that any hope for Israel’s ‘rehabilitation’ rests largely on the future efforts of left-leaning, liberal or progressive Jewish activist groups and individuals both in Israel and in the U.S. especially, to counter, then reject, the tenets of Zionism, Sheen’s observation leaves one pessimistic. With Zionism the reigning ideology in Israel and being one completely at odds with anything we might define as “liberal”, the real battle must be undertaken by a critical mass of ordinary Jews everywhere who genuinely subscribe to authentic liberal values and/or are decidedly uncomfortable with Israel purporting to act on their behalf and in their interests. I imagine also (or at least hope) there’d be quite a few Jewish folks of a more conservative hew who might be willing to embrace some liberal principles and muster up some umbrage in the cause of justice, equality and peace for the Palestinians if they were willing to inform themselves of the more grim realities that actually exist on the ground. Either way, it’s going to be a long haul.

But as Sheen has noted, such numbers are on the wane, and not just in Israel. For him the picture in the U.S. is even more gloomy. He posits the prospect that American Jews, the next-largest Jewish community in the world (interestingly one perceived to be much more liberal than Israel’s own), might be able to conjure up that “critical mass” required for the battle. However, as he notes, any hope upon the part of frustrated Israeli-based activists of soliciting the support of their American brethren is a forlorn one:

Unfortunately for those besieged Israeli leftists, it would seem that the Israeli government already has a significant head start on them, taking the fight stateside, as well. The apparent objective: Crush any US opposition [to Israel], and to those who’d build their own white ethno-states in its likeness. [My Emphasis]

In an Open Letter he penned to his fellow Israelis in 2016, journalist Jonathan Ofir struck a similar note with the following:

…my hopes of change coming from within us Israelis have regrettably declined in the years – and thus, I am also, if not more so, placing my bets upon the involvement of the international community—whose help we need so badly—not for more cash, weapons, or apologetic “understanding”, but rather for its intervention in what we are apparently unable, and mostly unwilling, to fix. The attitude which I thus exhibit here is an extremely unpopular one in Israeli and Jewish culture. It is the vein of the “moser”—the one who “snitches” against the “Jewish nation” towards the goyim. Well, get over it. There are far more serious issues at hand.

For the objective observer of geopolitical affairs and assorted ‘reality’ purists then, the following ‘specimen’ can’t be denied easily. Along with being one that is not easily explained away, as already hinted, this peculiar “reality” has portentous implications for everyone on this planet: That Israel, allied with certain individuals, institutions and assorted ‘infiltrators’ and fifth columnists in the United States, whether Israeli or American citizens or both but all still unreservedly simpatico with [Israel], has exerted such a massively inordinate, consequential influence in the enactment and execution of U.S. foreign policy, along with being a country which routinely undermines and manipulates the American democratic system and the electoral process so pervasively. Now that’s what I’d call a robust sense of reckless entitlement.

Read that: Israel is thereby placing at risk global stability and security in ways which will surely be as unprecedented as they are unpredictable. Israel to sum up simply, is a law unto itself!

For my part I can’t recall offhand any similar episode in history where the reigning superpower of the era effectively relinquished its power to a much smaller nation and in the process, outsourced control of its own destiny —and we might add, the fate of many other nations including those it purports to ally itself with—to a self-serving cabal whose first allegiance apart from themselves and their ilk is, and has always been, to the nation which is the direct if not so deserving beneficiary of this accumulation and aggregation of power. This is perhaps the grandest gesture history has to offer of geopolitical folly, a largesse unthinkingly and it would appear, unconditionally bestowed upon one nation by another, albeit of the genuinely existentially dangerous kind……we’re breaking new ground here I suppose. What may be less obvious for most is that in the doing thereof, America has brought both itself and the World Order as we know it a whole mess o’ trouble down the mountain. And maybe that was the game-plan all along!?

Back in the day when George Bush faced off against Bill Clinton in 1992, the latter realised quite early “[it’s] the economy, stupid!” that mattered. History was to prove him right in one sense. But for the former, he presumably realised—albeit too late—that it really was the Zionists after all.

It still is.

  1. Extract from: “Zionism, Judaism and the Jewish State of Israel: Separateness, ontological uniqueness and Jewish morality are its characteristics,” The Saker Blog, November 23, 2018
  2. For an informed history of the creation of Israel and how it acquired its extraordinary influence over American political life, sans the myths and fallacies, folks should check out Alison Weir’s Against our Better Judgment. Her website <a href=”https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&amp;rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=13&amp;cad=rja&amp;uact=8&amp;ved=2ahUKEwiA19jVwcnfAhWKXbwKHekODukQFjAMegQIDRAB&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fifamericaknew.org%2Fabout_us%2Faccusations.html&amp;usg=AOvVaw1yTUbhDeZQv0LWLMQxUdnV”><em>If Americans Knew</em></a> is also an essential watering hole for truth-seekers on the subject of Israel, Israel/U.S. relations, Palestine and the Middle East in general.
  3. For further information surrounding the key events and people of the Johnson era, readers should seek out Phillip Nelson’s Remember the Liberty and my own two-part essay on same, here and here.
  4. In the 1988 election Bush reportedly garnered around 35 per cent of the Jewish vote, but that ‘tanked’ to less than one third of that in 1992. His campaign donations from Jewish sources also were substantially down.
  5. In the accompanying video lecture Pappe speaks about the book.
  6. ((As CoS to Colin Powell’s Secretary of State in the early years of Bush Junior’s administration, Wilkerson got suckered before by the Israels and their U.S. based neoconservative cum Zionist/PNAC brethren in the lead up the Iraq invasion in 2003. And we all know how that turned out. Insofar as one can gather, Wilkerson’s not about to let any of them forget it.

Long Live the Armed Struggle!

Murdering Truthsayers 

I am thinking of Karen Silkwood for some odd reason. Murdered November 13, 1974 as a twenty-eight-year-old labor union activist and chemical technician working for a nuclear power plant, Kerr-McGee Cimarron River nuclear facility in Crescent, Oklahoma. The industry was supplying nuclear fission rods for reactors. She found violations of health and safety regulations, and well, the story of this ordinary woman with an ordinary life has turned into a cause celebre with Meryl Streep playing her in a 1984 movie.

Karen was pursued by some dark figures on a cold night, and the manila envelope she was carrying with the evidence of safety violations bound for the New York Times inside her crashed Honda car mysteriously disappeared. She lay there dying.

Run off the road of protest and combating injustices and war. So go the lives of political prisoners, but in a much more tortuous and protracted way as Linda G. Ford develops in her spot-on book, Women Politicals in America: Jailed Dissenters from Mother Jones to Lynne Stewart.

One such hero is Marilyn Buck, who was serving an 80-year sentence for aiding and abetting Assata Shakur’s escape, for a Brinks robbery and the bombing of the Capitol in protest of US role in Grenada and Lebanon. She was on the FBI’s “shoot to kill” list.

Women engaged in serious struggle with ties to Puerto Rican and Black liberation movements were given harsh sentences, and imprisoned where gulag-like, tortuous and isolating conditions were ramped up because of these political prisoners’ gender identity.

Exclusion and isolation are the tools of a fascist society, as these female politicals’ lives as activists, both peaceful and militantly violent, demonstrate over the course of four hundred years of this country’s white history.

“The women politicals jailed in the 80s would face a situation designed to destroy them as political activists, and as women,” Ford writes in the section of the book she tags as, “The Threat of Armed Struggle Against American Imperialism Posed by Defiant Revolutionaries Laura Whitehorn, Susan Rosenberg and Their Comrades Has The Facing Authoritarian Measures Designed to Destroy, 1960-1990.”

Jailers who willingly neglect the health of prisoners. Prison medical experts denying basic life saving treatment. Massive censorship of prisoners’ reading and writing. Male nurses ramming fingers up a political’s anus and vagina. Locked in High Security Units in what Silvia Baraldini called “a living tomb . . . a white sepulcher.” She was part of the May 19th Communist group and Black Liberation Army. She was charged with BLA robberies – however, she was in Zimbabwe when one of them took place.

I was arrested in 1982 on RICO (Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations, laws mean for the Mafia) charges accused of having aided members of the Black Liberation Army in a conspiracy against the United States. In reality I participated in the escape of Black revolutionary Assata Shakur who now lives in Cuba.

Rosenberg was sentenced to 43 years in prison, three for refusing to testify before the grand jury or give the names of members of the May 19th Communist Organization group.

These are bombings against imperialist targets:  a federal building on Staten Island (January 1983), the National War College at Fort McNair (April 1983), the US Senate in November 1982, the Israeli Aircraft Industries Building in April 1984, the South African Consulate in September 1984, and the NYC Policemen’s Benevolent Association in February 1985.

Laura Whitehorn stated the last action (no person was targeted or hurt) was done because the NYC association supported cops “who had killed innocent civilians.” Whitehorn stated she readily participated in the bombings as an underground warrior as protest of US imperialism in Lebanon, El Salvador and Grenada.

“If you live in a country doing illegal acts, you have to take steps, or you’re complicit.” The author Ford follows up Whitehorn’s strongly put if you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem rejoinder with …

And if you break a law doing that, you become a political prisoner. 

Susan Rosenberg is another hero of resistance Linda forges as a real icon of the revolution: she was charged with involvement in the Senate, War College and NY Police bombings, but those were eventually dropped. She would later be tried in a FISA court – foreign intelligence surveillance act.

Judge Frederick B. Lacey didn’t consider she and her co-defendant, Tim Blunk, were part of an organized illegal resistance movement acting out of conscience against US actions in Central America, racism in South Africa and the oppressive COINTELPRO, according to Ford.

Rosenberg and Blunk were hit with possession of guns and dynamite charges, although there was no link they used them. She got 58 years in the federal penitentiary, twice as long as for the average first degree murderer. Bail was $5 million and no parole recommendation was provided.  Ford:

To US authorities, she represented the absolute worst of the 60s rebels: she was a BLA, Independista and Weather Underground sympathizer/activist, and she was a female and a lesbian.

No food for two days, no time to wash up, and she was beaten and left in a cold cell, in solitary confinement. The entire process of the fascist police state in this country is a psychological hell, designed to strip people of who they are, to erase their identity.

There was absolutely nowhere to go; it felt like death. All that lay in front of me were the ruins of my life. I was losing even my favorite color, favorite food, favorite season.

There is something so compelling in Ford’s unleashing of the floodgates of truth in this book, and the tides have shifted even more dramatically against revolt, against resistance, against simple discontents. Imagine, this faux pacifism of the bourgeoisie, peering through their looking glass designed by Hollywood and a fine Merlot, even barely entertaining the idea that armed revolt and violent overthrow are necessary components in righting all the wrongs in this country. Those middle and upper middle classers look for total destruction in countries their tax dollars and sometimes their direct employment support, but when it comes to the assault of everyday structural violence meted out on their fellow citizens, these middlings — who take their marching orders from the elites who pull out the Clinton America Must Have 100,000 More Police card every single time Hillary Clinton declares we are in super predator country – do not question the complexities of cause and effect when a society is over-policed, under organized, and flooded with privatizing all things American.

The tough times for prisoners like Rosenberg always get worse in America. The High Security Unit at Lexington is a doozy – a maximum security hell-hole – a chamber of horrors —  and set up by the best and the brightest of American corporal technocrats who show their love of the macabre Russian prisoner gulag or Nazi concentration camp techniques.

Historian Laura Flanders called the HSU an example of punishment “designed to experiment with the effects of physical deprivation on female inmates.” The myth (lie) that the US doesn’t use torture to coerce people to give up their politics is busted every time in Ford’s recounting of the fascism deployed by the American political/policing corporate Mafioso. Spending your entire sentence in solitary confinement “unless one renounces her beliefs” is against the laws of international conventions on torture and against the US Constitution’s first amendment.

The day before Slick Willy Clinton left office, in January 2001 Rosenberg was granted clemency after 16 years and three months inside. She worked for a human rights organization — American Jewish World Service — and fought to reform prison. She taught literature at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York until the college caved and did not rehire her. In her 2011 memoir, American Radical, she is defiant, proving she was not destroyed by American fascism, but conversely overcame the illegal and unethical torture and censoring with her political beliefs intact.

I tried not to weep. If I did I was afraid I would drown in the waters of my soul . . . The government’s goal was to destroy us through isolation, through exile, life sentences, medical negligence, and horrible physical conditions. In that they failed.

In May 1994, Marilyn Buck, the remaining female member of the May 19th Communist Organization,  talked about why she was a political prisoner, then locked up at the Shawnee HSU at Marianna prison.

I am a white woman from the middle class who has refused to accept the great American social contract: democracy for the white few, unmitigated oppression for the colonized and exploited many. I am despised because I have rejected and betrayed the bonds of white privilege, have defended Black people’s rights, and have engaged in the struggle to defeat U.S. imperialism, to support national liberation struggles and the right of all peoples to self-determination. I am censored, locked behind walls, and watched.

After starting her second prison stint, Buck talked of the repression orchestrated in Capitalist America, after earning a degree in psychology, working for fellow political Abu-Jamal and thrown into solitary after September 11 as a potential terrorist. She served 33 years of her 80-year sentence. “The exclusion from society is their weapon”, she writes. “Isolation silences voices of resistance and reverberates into society to stave off action. Destroying one’s political identify renders them as un-beings, but more destructive is that police fascism of America stifles the context from which to organize social opposition and organized resistance within the society.”

Think of the isolation and torture of a Nelson Mandela and African National Congress in South Africa. This need in the US to repress/destroy revolutionary movements goes way back against those dissidents and others who refuse this imperialist state, as Mary K. O’Melveney opined: punishing “those who resist racism, genocide, colonialism and imperialism.”

It is a legacy of an existential nightmare, and endless justice denied to politicals because the US expunges the very fact (history of) it has pursued relentlessly political dissidents they have then caught, prosecuted, persecuted, tortured, and many times disappeared. The lives of these women individually and collectively have been resuscitated by Linda G. Ford, and her book serves as testimony and a testament of the great harm done by our government in the name of capitalism/imperialism utilizing the most crude and sophisticated methods of anti-democratic repression.

Buck wrote in 2000 that more women political prisoners will emerge, and with Code Pink rabble-rousers, the Native American water protectors around facing federal charges and decades of incarceration, and the many women who have drawn and quartered the racist and misogynistic history of modern America in the Black Lives Movement, she was right. She implored that we all have a duty to resist and buck “the rapacious, anti-human system.” One will not see this call to action in today’s political leaders and intellectuals; in fact, this country is about protecting the trans-financial, military and global corporatist forces that make up the police state that denies equality and justice.

Over the course of the past 19 years, America has turned on itself, thrown the gates of freedom into the scrap pile of gauntlets and barricades built to prevent or forestall unfettered access by both the government/police state and corporations/trans-finance to not only pry into our lives, but to exact more than a pound of flesh from us as citizens, a term now code-switched to “consumers,” and on a larger gradient of more applicable descriptors for we, by, for, because of the people tethered to this non-democratic morass of penury and punishment:  suspects, persons of interest, pre-accused, targets, marks, inmates, disenfranchised, dispossessed, the other, the accused, evicted, foreclosed upon, fined, levied, sterilized, patients, the sick, mentally infirm, audiences, focus groups, and the taxed and damned!

In this book, Ford exposes the Post 9/11 systemic sickness of oppression and disappearing all administrations on both aisles of the political heap have green-lighted. Here, a chilling account from Moazzam Begg, 2012, about another political, female, we go hand-in-hand with in Ford’s book:

Of all the abuses [prisoner Abu Yahya al-Libi] describes in his account, the presence of a woman and her humiliation and degradation were the most inflammatory to all the prisoners [at Bagram] – would never forget it. He describes how she was regularly stripped naked and manhandled by guards, and how she used to scream incessantly in isolation for two years. He said prisoners protested her treatment, going on hunger strikes, feeling ashamed they could do nothing to help. He described her in detail: a Pakistani mother – torn away from her children – in her mid-thirties, who had begun to lose her mind. Her number, he said, was 650.

So, little known Aafia Siddiqui is highlighted in this book as a victim of “American white supremacy and imperialism; enduring the consequences of an extreme anti-terrorist/anti-Muslim era which began with the September 11, 2001 bombings of the World Trade Center.”

She was educated at MIT as a neuroscientist and worked in the US for years. Her Muslim activism got the fascist Attorney General John Ashcroft interested, and he put her on his watch-list. All the accusations of terrorism proved baseless, yet the FBI, CIA and American military tribunals held on like a rabid dog. She was kidnapped by Pakistani bounty hunters on the payroll of the Americans, with her three children snatched up too.

The youngest was immediately killed, and the other two imprisoned separately for years. Dr. Siddiqui was beaten, raped, tortured and kept in solitary in black site prisons of the American empire.

Oh, the irony! January 15, 2019 and the Pedophile President Trump has nominated William Barr for attorney general. Barr served (sic) as George H.W. Bush’s AG from 1991 to 1993. That was a short time but enough to pardon six Reagan officials for the Iran-Contra scandal and then oversee Guantánamo Bay military prison opening up. Mass incarceration at home and designing a secret National Security Agency mass phone surveillance blueprint were two of his fingerprints that have followed us all into 2019. What would those women politicals say today about the Islamophobia?

What would they say about the limp, weak, conniving questioning by both sides of the political dung heap during this fascist Barr’s confirmation hearings? Barr sounds like the quintessential white supremacist, privileged, Ivy-League educated (sic)  elite that an Obama or Clinton or Trump or Bush presses the flesh with on a daily basis.

Ford puts a lot into context in her chapter titled: “The Empire Strikes Back: American Imperial Authorities Disappear, Torture and Destroy Aafia Siddiqui; and Routinely Jail Female Anti-Imperialist Dissenters, Muslim Women and Whistleblowers, 1990-Present.”

The three presidents in charge from 1990s until 2018, have had somewhat different doctrines of global empire: Clinton prepared the way, Bush implemented the 9/11 unleashing of new military adventures, and Obama (continued somewhat clumsily by Trump) streamlined, codified and expanded Bush’s new global warmongering.

A world of smart bombs, Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, Taliban, collateral damage. Invasions of Iraq. A world of 300 nuclear bombs in Israel, Saudi Arabia aligned with the Zionists, Israel First pledges by US elected politicians. A world of Exxon more powerful than most nation states. This new spasm of fascism was codified with the Bush Doctrine. Chalmers Johnson stated this concept of World Domination by the USA  was laid out in 2002 at a West Point Academy gathering: Bush stated that “. . . our policy would be to dominate the world through absolute military superiority and to wage preventive war against any possible competitor.”

Things from the ‘60s through the ‘90s are dramatically different in terms of how the police state operates and how far-reaching now the American project to dominate, steal, harass, kill and contain has grown. Let’s look at Chalmers Johnson in an article for the Nation September 27, 2001 and then from his 2004 book, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, which Ford includes in her book:

The suicidal assassins of September 11, 2001, did not “attack America,” as our political leaders and the news media like to maintain; they attacked American foreign policy. Employing the strategy of the weak, they killed innocent bystanders who then became enemies only because they had already become victims. Terrorism by definition strikes at the innocent in order to draw attention to the sins of the invulnerable. The United States deploys such overwhelming military force globally that for its militarized opponents only an “asymmetric strategy,” in the jargon of the Pentagon, has any chance of success. When it does succeed, as it did spectacularly on September 11, it renders our massive military machine worthless: The terrorists offer it no targets. On the day of the disaster, President George W. Bush told the American people that we were attacked because we are “a beacon for freedom” and because the attackers were “evil.” In his address to Congress on September 20, he said, “This is civilization’s fight.” This attempt to define difficult-to-grasp events as only a conflict over abstract values–as a “clash of civilizations,” in current post-cold war American jargon–is not only disingenuous but also a way of evading responsibility for the “blowback” that America’s imperial projects have generated.

The Nation, Johnson

Americans like to say that the world changed as a result of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It would be more accurate to say that the attacks produced a dangerous change in the thinking of some of our leaders, who began to see our republic as a genuine empire, a new Rome, the greatest colossus in history, no longer bound by international law, the concerns of allies, or any constraints on its use of military force. The American people were still largely in the dark about why they had been attacked or why their State Department began warning them against tourism in an every-growing list of foreign countries . . . . But a growing number finally began to grasp what most non-Americans already knew and had experienced over the last half century – namely, that the United States was something other than what it professed to be,, that it was, in fact, a military juggernaut intent on world domination.

Blowback, Johnson

We are all terrorists, that is, those of us who use words, placards, hacking, bodies, grouped protests, and two-by-fours in an attempt to stop the juggernaut of corporate power and collusion with their government. Little Eichmann’s and henchmen and henchwomen in the Military-Pharma-Ag-Energy-Legal-Edu-IT-AI-Chem-Finance-Insurance-Med Industrial Complex. The new red scare is green, as in eco-terrorists. The anti-Boycott-Divest-Sanction movement is the new terror against the American Israel way of life. Anyone questioning Zionism or the Israeli policy of apartheid and genocide is the new-old-future enemy of the State of Fascist America.

You get arrested and prosecuted for setting up camps in public places, for throwing stage blood on the gates of Air Force installations that are harbingers of death missiles. You get thrown in jail/prison for torching a few internal combustion SUV’s. Jail-and-hard-time for protecting your Native American holy places. Jail time for putting water and food in the Arizona desert for migrating undocumented immigrants.

Jail-jail-jail, felonies-felonies-felonies, misdemeanors-misdemeanors-misdemeanors, eviction-eviction-eviction, bad credit reports-terminations from jobs, failure to pay taxes.

Americans are the enemy of the state, and when that American is a woman political activist – that can be a woman against death squads trained-supplied-abetted by USA, or someone wanting to expose the death camps of concentrated animal feeding operations, even a woman in a tree protesting the cutting of old growth forests, especially a woman on the streets proclaiming the end of violence against Black men, women, children. The enemy of this state is anyone, slipping into board rooms at college campuses fighting the rape culture, or getting into city hall meetings and decrying gentrification, or women building homeless camps or distributing clean needles.

You can be Sisters Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert, 78 and 68 years old respectively (in 2015), who committed themselves to nonviolent protests. Eric Schlosser interviewed them, and the two told of being “shackled and chained, strip-searched in front of male guards, locked in filthy cells with clogged toilets and vermin.”

That global war on terror hit these sisters broadside, including Sister Jackie Hudson, for coming onto the grounds of a Minuteman II silo in Colorado.

They wore white jump suits embossed with Citizen Weapon Inspection Team; hammered railroad tracks, drew a cross in their blood, banged on the silo, and prayed. After their arrest, they were left on the ground for three hours. (Ford)

The strongest bond of human sympathy outside the family relation should be one uniting working people of all nations and tongues and kindreds.

Abraham Lincoln, “Reply to a Committee from the Workingmen’s Association of New York,” March 21, 1864

I am now thinking about Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan, three Maryknoll sisters and a lay missionary murdered in El Salvador. Thirty-eight years ago this past December 2, 1980, beaten, raped and murdered. They were working on international humanitarian aid projects, which were counter to the USA’s project of terror in Central America, under Jimmy Carter, who suspended aid to the Salvadoran Army, for a brief moment, and then reinstated it. The women were murdered by and with the collusion with US trained thugs who attended Fort Benning’s notorious School of the Americas.

Under Reagan and Bush Senior, the civilian murders in Salvador and Guatemala, to name two, continued with US backing, both material aid/advisers, and political and diplomatic (sic). In El Salvador’s Decade of Terror: Human Rights Since the Assassination of Archbishop Romero, Human Rights Watch reports:

During the Reagan years in particular, not only did the United States fail to press for improvements … but, in an effort to maintain backing for U.S. policy, it misrepresented the record of the Salvadoran government, and smeared critics who challenged that record. In so doing, the Administration needlessly polarized the debate in the United States, and did a grave injustice to the thousands of civilian victims of government terror in El Salvador. [23] Despite the El Mozote Massacre that year, Reagan continued certifying (per the 1974 amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act) that the Salvadoran government was progressing in respecting and guaranteeing the human rights of its people, and in reducing National Guard abuses against them.

I was in Central America then, and throughout the ’80s. The blasphemy of America then, and the outright denigration of those nuns by many in America, to include the media and politicos, was telling to me in my formative years as a newspaper reporter along the US-Mexico border. One can’t go back or turn one’s back on the act of bearing witness to crimes against humanity. For me going on 45 years of journalism and activism, America has lived up to its Murder Incorporated moniker.

The work of people like Linda G. Ford give some sustenance for me to continue fighting the oppressive and repressive mindset of the American individual and the system protecting those individuals.

I’m now thinking about Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.  I ended up in Spokane, May 2001, and quickly found out that Spokane, Washington, was where free speech was officially banned by the city fathers and thug cops. She was there, as a 19-year-old in December 1909, and arrested and jailed. She went to lumber camps in Montana and Washington, speaking at IWW meetings. She stated she fell in love with her country, calling it,

… a rich, fertile, beautiful land, capable of satisfying all the needs of its people – It could be paradise on earth if it belonged to the people, not to a small owning class.

She wrote about the experience in Spokane in the Industrial Worker and The Socialist, two journal articles that inspired other protests to the authorities.  She wrote about being safer with others locked up, rather than being alone. In Spokane, a jailer approached her at night, and while all the other mostly prostitute women had complied, Flynn told him to take his hands off her and he left her alone. Her article  “resulted in matrons for women prisoners in Spokane.” She was acquitted after two trials of “conspiracy to incite men to disobey the law.”

By the age of 15, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a committed socialist and was arrested, with her father, for public speaking without a permit. They were finally released on bail at 2 am. At their trial, the judge advised Elizabeth to go back to school for a while longer before she became a teacher. (Ford)

Defiant, she read the theories of socialists Upton Sinclair and Edward Bellamy and of anarchist Peter Kropotkin, as well as delving deeply into Marx and Engels.

Here’s what Flynn said at age 73 in 1963:

I was a convict, a prisoner without rights, writing a censored letter. But my head was unbowed. Come what may, I was a political prisoner and proud of it, at one with some of the noblest of humanity, who had suffered for conscience’s sake. I felt no shame, no humiliation, no consciousness of guilt. To me my number 11710 was a badge of honor.

Being a member of the Communist Party of America (CPUSA), for Flynn and others was about following through with American roots and American ideals. Defending constitutional rights made them good Americans. It was Flynn who supported her constitutional right to political belief and free speech, yet these arguments were for naught, as she said: “in the United States – boasted citadel of democracy – we were prisoners for opinion under a fascist-like thought control act.” Ethel Rosenberg was not defended by the CP, until after her death row orders were imminent. The CP defendants were “arguing their Americanness, when the Rosenbergs were in jail after being convicted of being totally un-American and dedicated to the downfall of the USA.”

Ford goes into great detail about the Ethel Rosenberg case, but the final argument against her American assassination vis-à-vis a death sentence comes from many scholars, including the 2010 book, Final Verdict, written by Miriam Schneir and Walter Schneir:

The evidence against Ethel “was so weak that it seems incredible today that she was even indicted, much less convicted and executed.”

It is clear there are fractures in the American “left,” whatever that is, and to this day, many leftists distance themselves from Ethel Rosenberg, which Ford finds counter to what her book on Political Prisoners is attempting to do:

To me, it is essential to include her as a woman political prisoner, and the only woman executed by the federal government since Mary Surratt was hanged for allegedly being part of the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln. Rosenberg was a victim of a terrible, extreme, and wholly antifeminist time, which saw women in stereotypical ways, ways which often contradicted each other, making it difficult for women to achieve any acceptable balance. Ethel Rosenberg had been a young activist, a worker and union leader, an aspiring singer/actress, and like a good 5os woman, gave it all up to be a (nervous and anxious) wife and mother. As it turned out, she never came up with the right combination of certified female traits to convince her jailers that she was worthy of any sort of fair treatment.

Reading about Lynne Stewart and Assata Shakur in Ford’s book is both insightful and complimentary, even though their lives are divergent, and the time periods of their incarceration and prosecution are separated by more than four decades.

Ford does both women justice in their own lives plagued with injustice. Shakur still is alive in Cuba; Lynn Stewart died of breast cancer.

Here, in her own words, Shakur:

My name is Assata Shakur, and I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government’s policy towards people of color. I am an ex-political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984.

— “I am a 20th Century Escaped Slave”, Counterpunch, December 30, 2014

I first introduced myself to Linda Ford when I read her work at Dissident Voice on Red Fawn Fallis. I wanted to interview her about the stories of women Native Americans prosecuted and imprisoned for their valiant and righteous stand against the energy thugs and US government goons protecting the illegal interests of the big energy purveyors.

Here’s what Ford wrote in her intro paragraph about Red Fawn Fallis:

What happened to Standing Rock water protector Red Fawn Fallis is what has happened to many women political dissenters who go up against Big Government/Corporate power.  After she was viciously tackled by several police officers (caught on video), she was brought up on serious charges of harming those who harmed her.  Fallis, after months of intense corporate/military surveillance and handy informant reports, was targeted as a coordinator and a leader, a symbol and an inspiration.  For daring to make a stand for her people against the encroaching poison and destruction brought by the Dakota Access gas pipeline, she became a political prisoner.

— “Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops“, Dissident Voice, July 17, 2018

She was kind enough to submit to some lengthy questions by yours truly after the first part of this discussion/book review went live at Dissident Voice last week (January 13): “In The Eye of the Beholder: USA History of Imprisoning Women Politicals.”

Here is that Q and A:

Paul Haeder: Great book, great histories revealed. What one or two women you discovered in your research have inspired you to continue your own dissident writing? Why?

Linda Ford: There are many, many but I guess I would choose Assata Shakur and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn as the biggest inspirations.  Assata Shakur is my cover photo because that image represents a perfectly lovely woman, shackled by her countrymen, and dragged to a murder trial for a murder she never committed, which the authorities knew, all because she dared to be part of a real resistance movement in the 60s.  She had tremendous courage and the courage of having and living consistent principles.  She never gave in.  She fought back against white supremacist oppression—and also against sexism in the Black Panther Party.  Plus she got away!  She was one of the very few to get out and away from very possible execution in jail, helped by her comrades, including sister politicals. Go Assata!  Exiled in Cuba, she’s still considered an enemy of the US.  She’s an inspiration to me to reveal the oppression and racism that is American society.  I framed a quote from her:  “I just have to be myself, stay as strong as I can and do my best.”

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a political prisoner and proud of it and the reason I wrote the book, curious to see how many other women were political prisoners throughout America’s history.  Turned out there were a lot and it took me about 10 years to find out how many and how that evolved.  What I identified with as far as Flynn was concerned was that she was always, throughout her very long career, for the workers and always fighting against the horrible inequities of capitalism.  Coming from a rural working class background, and having come up against elitism disdain because of it, especially in my academic career, I share her politics.  I also like the way she insisted that socialism, especially Debs-style socialism, was American–and had a proud history in the worker and farmer rebellions starting in the late 19th century, against capitalist American authority, repression and violence.  At her trial in the 50s, she used the arguments of Lincoln to show how steeped Communists were in American political philosophy.  Good luck there, of course.  And I admire her for staying with her socialist convictions, her work for unions and fairness, in spite of unreliable (male) relationships.  She reminds me of what real socialism is and what real feminism is and how what purports to pass for them now—is not it.  She reminds me of how important it is to continue to challenge the pseudo socialists and feminists of today.

PH: Women political prisoners is a fact most Americans have a tough time squaring with their own delusional educations, magical thinking and exceptionalist crap. How do you talk to the average person about what you have found to be a massive, concerted and systematic system of our police state, going on 400 years?

LF: Talking to “average person”?  Well, they think I’m crazy.  That’s why I read CJ Hopkins, John Steppling, Glenn Ford—and Paul Haeder!  I read people who let me know that I’m not crazy—that being what Lynne Stewart called a “left-wing wingnut” is okay.  Especially since the Russia hysteria, and my stubborn refuting of it, people shake their heads and some recommend I read certain articles or attend certain lectures to put me on the right path. Others avoid me. It really is like the 50s!  Some people I talk to about women as political prisoners and what they fought identify with parts of it.  In rural New York you do have strong anti-capitalist/banker sentiment.  And some are willing to believe my huge amount of research probably did uncover some truth.  But the book presents way too much bad news for most people—whether rural small town neighbors or academics or liberal Democrats who don’t want to deal.  In order to accept the entirety of what I’m arguing—that an authoritarian American government with its police, military, and corporate-led structure has systematically worked to destroy political dissent—people have to deny an entire corporate media/education/government authority as they know it.  You would have to understand that NBC’s Lester Holt is lying.  So it’s a tough sell.

PH: There is a deep chill in this country that has solidified in the past 25 years, and especially after US Patriot Act and the Obama Administration’s move to curtail our freedoms, that stems from a country that is so fixed on giving corporations ALL the power to strip our Constitutional Rights as workers. How do we inspire young people to be dissidents and to risk a lifetime of penury and imprisonment (both in the carcel state as well as in their lives as workers, renters, precarious citizens)?

LF: Inspire youth to dissent—there’s another REALLY tough sell.  My last teaching job was at Colgate, so not a lot of worker activism for sure; they weren’t buying all the Native American or female tribulations I told them about for the most part.  They weren’t necessarily buying my relentless socialist feminist history.  But there were some pretty strong feminist students.  Some youth can identify with dissident heroism.  Some can see the reality of the job world, and the evils of war and racism.  I see groups of students who have lived through mass murders at their schools, doing rallies, going to legislatures and Congress.  And I see them turned away for their efforts.  That is a hard but very true lesson of what it might take to change the violence- as- fabric of this culture.  They need to decide to be in it for the long haul.  But it starts with a dose of reality eye-opening.

PH: Many Americans, unfortunately, relish the American police state and the war state, largely because of brainwashing and shifting baseline syndrome. Where do you see some of these heroic women of the past fitting in today in this Homeland Security loving populous?

LF: There’s a good question.  How about all those TV shows with cops, FBI, CIA, homeland goons?!  Wow, talk about brainwashing.  I think Mother Jones, Ma Bloor, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn—would be so appalled today.  These are socialist union people in a world where capitalism has gone completely insane.  All their work, all their suffering, jailing, all for naught.  Workers have less than zero power—so many have had to give up.  And the populace, as noted, brainwashed thoroughly that that’s their fault, that socialism or dissent is evil and un-American.  (Ohhhh—Venezuela!!)  People have been conditioned—and they can also see the evidence—that it’s hopeless to resist.  If you do resist our basic inequality, like Occupy, or like some teacher unions, there is a huge oppressive countervailing apparatus to put you down.  Some female protests continue though.  Anti-imperialist dissenters just keep it going.  As I wrote in Dissident Voice on January 8th, women like former nun Elizabeth McAlister continue to bear witness against nuclear insanity.  She fights even though she doesn’t expect success, with the “absurd conviction” that her protest can make a small difference.

PH: What key points have you learned in your research, interviews, studies and writing?

LF: Well, what I’ve learned has added to my radicalization big time.  I believe that socialism is the only way, that patriarchy and racism remain really really bad today; they’ve taken different forms over time but they are there.  Many American women remain heroes and still fight against what’s wrong in America anyway.  From my interviews I’ve concluded that these women radicals stayed radical.  It hasn’t mattered to them which administration is in power.  It’s depressingly obvious to me how incredibly strong our capitalist culture is now, and the close connection it has with government authoritarianism—fascism.  And how present-day fascism enhances patriarchy, racism and anti-Earth policy.  By the end of the book, I had some rants going against it all—it became a jeremiad for me, a` la Anne Hutchinson.

PH:  Naomi Wolf wrote about fascism under W Bush. In her book, The End of America.

The 10 essential steps the state must implement to take total control are:

  • Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.
  • Create secret prisons where torture takes place.
  • Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens.
  • Set up an internal surveillance system.
  • Harass citizens’ groups
  • Engage in arbitrary detention and release.
  • Target key individuals.
  • Control the press.
  • Treat all political dissidents as traitors.
  • Suspend the rule of law.

Seems like she was 300 years too late. However, this is United States of Amnesia, Groundhog Day, and plagued with consumerist and spectacle loving people. Discuss.

LF: Interesting choice.  Well, one thing I have to confess is that books like this—out in 2007—is about Bush fascism.  I get itchy about books that seem to indicate that such American fascism started with Bush, or grew appreciably more.  And she does seem to say that given time, Democrats can change the laws.  I liked Jules Boykoff’s book, 2006, Suppression of Dissent which talks about how American protest has been dismantled by a media-state partnership, by talking about Black Panthers (60s) and Judi Bari (90s); and also Bill Quigley, writing in 2011 about how police have become SWAT teams which have become military operations against protesters.  And in my book, I obviously argue that American fascism is from the way-back.  It’s like people who argue, “Well, hey Trump,” like he’s the be-all and end-all of bad American government, when mostly Obama did the same but he’s apparently now a god.  Anyway.  Wolf’s 10 steps—My women have seen all of that, and before 2007.  You’ve got internal/external enemies as in communism and terrorism, or wartime enemies leading to imprisonment.  Secret prisons we have as in black site prisons for Siddiqui, or the conditions for the women prisoners of the Lexington High Security Unit being kept quiet—conditions of extreme torture.  Plus most people don’t know we have many many political prisoners in jail, mostly in solitary—like Red Fawn Fallis and Aafia Siddiqui and Marius Mason at Carswell, TX.  The paramilitary was at Standing Rock, but also used against Mother Jones.

And surveillance—oh yeah—Standing Rock, Occupy, and also against the National Woman’s Party in 1917, done by the brand new FBI.  Government has harassed citizen groups from the pro-Palestinian to those equated with Communism in the 50s.  We’ve seen arbitrary detention of suffragists, Occupy protesters and, of course, lawyer Lynne Stewart.  Stewart was also a targeted key individual, as was Ma Bloor in the 40s, Wounded Knee resisters in the 70s and Standing Rock protectors a couple of years ago.  Occupy tried not to say who their leaders were to avoid that.  The press is totally controlled now, except Dissident Voice and a few stalwarts, but a controlled media was used against Shakur and the Panthers, Siddiqui, Judi Bari and (“Red”) Emma Goldman.

Political dissidents have been considered traitors—especially in wartime, WWI being an egregious example, as also the communists, the Ohio 7 and Weatherwomen, even 83-year-old Plowshares nuns. The lack of the rule of law is definitely horrible today—that’s why Lynne Stewart was jailed, because she tried to fight for that principle—no defender rights, especially against “terrorists”, but it was no picnic for Communists or Japanese-American women jailed for their race. Wolf’s is a useful list—and again, government control gets worse and worse and people don’t seem to notice, or want to notice, much less fight it

PH: Now universities, businesses, Homeland Security, police, FBI, banks, state, city, county governments, police forces, private corporations seemingly work together to quell dissent, quell debate, stave off any criticism of the vanguard and elites. Are we in very different times now, and how and why, than when the Weather Underground, BPP, et al were protesting and dissenting in the 1960s-’90s?

LF: Well, things are different now and mostly not better for dissent, but as I’ve argued, it’s never been good.  For instance, in the 1960s to the 90s, the media was not completely controlled, so you could have some truthful coverage, some anti-authority coverage, some sympathy for dissenters which is hard to find now.  It was not Standing Operating Procedure to use an all-out military attack on just about any or all serious protest.  After the Kent State student killings in 1970, as a student, I joined a very big rally which shut down the Northway in Albany because of what the National Guard did.  So a different time in that way—constant protest is needed now over police/military brutality in this country.  And look what happens—Sandra Bland was killed in her cell and Rev. Joy Powell was railroaded on a murder charge after they took on police brutality against Black Americans.  There is no habeas corpus or fair legal treatment; there is ultra surveillance—and there is a very tight and efficient bond between Big Business and global elitist government.  There is brainwashing with an emphasis on sexist, racist and vacant thinking; workers have no power, and no jobs.  So—here’s what’s the same as the 60s—we need a revolution!

Anti-BDS Bill Defeated

Some may be happy to learn that the US Senate didn’t pass the ‘anti BDS bill’ on Tuesday. But a look at the vote reveals that America’s politicians are fully removed from the American ethos of freedom. Fifty six  mostly Republican Senators, just 4 shy of the 60 needed to pass the bill, voted to enact a law contrary to the Constitutional right to Freedom of Speech as granted by the 1st amendment. The defeated bill included a provision to allow states and local governments to punish Americans who boycott Israel. This was an astonishing and nearly successful attempt  to legislate crude government interference with freedom of speech in its most protected form: political speech. The fact that such a bill made it to the floor of the Senate confirms that the American political establishment is an occupied zone committed to silencing opposition to Israel and its lobby.

Democrats did not necessarily oppose the anti BDS bill on first amendment grounds. Instead, most Senate Democrats have vowed to block all legislation in the Senate until it votes to end the government shutdown. Trump has closed the Federal government until Congress accedes to his demand for $5.7 billion to begin to erect an Israeli style ghetto wall on the Mexican border.

If the president is so desperate to defend America’s southern border, perhaps he should consider not giving military aid to Israel, even if  just for two years. This would free $8 billion and give Trump enough cash to build his wall and then maybe he could invest the remaining $2.3 billion where it’s really needed: to make America great again.

A Question Every American Must Confront: Apartheid Israel or US Democracy?

Bahia Amawai is a US citizen and Texas-based language specialist who helps autistic and speech-impaired children overcome their impairment.

Despite the essential and noble nature of her work, she was fired by the Pflugerville Independent School District, which serves the Austin area.

Every year, Amawai signs an annual contract that allows her to carry on with her tasks uninterrupted. This year, however, something changed.

Shockingly, the school district has decided to add a clause to the contract that requires teachers and other employees to pledge not to boycott Israel ‘during the term of their contract.’

The ‘oath’ is now part of Section 2270.001 of the Texas Government Code, and it is stated in the contract with obvious elaboration so as those wishing to work, or keep their jobs with the Texan government find no loophole to avoid its penalties:

“‘Boycott Israel’ means refusing to deal with, terminating business activities with, or otherwise taking any action that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations specifically with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territory ..”

The fact that Texas considers unacceptable even the boycott of businesses operating in the illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied West Bank puts it at odds with international law, and, subsequently with the vast majority of the international community.

But don’t rush to judgment yet, condemning Texas for being the infamous and stereotypical ‘wild west’, as portrayed even in the United States’ own media. Indeed, Texas is but a small facet in a massive American government campaign aimed at stifling freedom of speech as enshrined in its country’s own constitution.

25 US states have already passed anti-boycott of Israel legislation, or have issued executive orders targeting the boycott of support networks, while other states are in the process of following suit.

At a federal government level, the Congressional Israel Anti-boycott Act, which is being received with enthusiasm among US legislators, vows to fine and imprison those who boycott Israel.

While there is strong civil society opposition to such obvious violations of the basic tenets of freedom of speech, the pro-Israel campaigners are unhinged.

Texas – which has passed and enacted laws criminalizing support for the boycott of Israel, as championed by the Palestinian Civil Society Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) – continues to lead the way for other states.

In the Texan town of Dickinson, which was devastated by hurricane Harvey last year, hurricane victims were asked to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel in exchange for life-saving humanitarian aid.

It must have been a complete shock for displaced residents of the town to learn that the meager supplies they were about to receive hinged on their support of the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But this is the sad state of democracy in the US at the moment, where the interests of a relatively small, distant country are made the centerpiece of US government policies, at home or abroad.

Israel’s wealthy supporters are working hand in hand with Israel’s influential lobby groups in Washington DC, but also at state, and even city levels to make the boycott of Israel punishable by law.

Many US politicians are answering the unreasonable lobby call of criminalizing political dissent throughout the country. While in reality many of them could care less or even truly understand the nature of the debate concerning BDS, they are willing to go the extra mile (as in violating the sanctity of their own democratic system) to win lobby favors, or to, at least avoid their wrath.

The anti-BDS campaign started in the US in earnest a few years ago, and, unlike BDS’ own tactics, it avoided grassroot efforts, focusing instead on quickly creating an official body of legal work that places boycotters of Israel in the dock.

Although the hastily composed legal language has been bravely challenged, and, at times, reversed altogether by civil society lawyers and organizations, the Israeli strategy has managed to place BDS supporters on the defensive.

That limited success can be accredited to powerful friends of Israel who have generously and forcefully responded to Tel Aviv’s war drums.

Las Vegas gambling mogul, Sheldon Adelson, took the helm of leadership. He moved into action, establishing the “Maccabee Task Force”, which raised millions of dollars to fight against what Israeli officials define as an existential threat to Israel and the delegitimization of the country as a “Jewish state.”

A major strategy that the Israeli camp has advanced in the discussion is the misleading notion that BDS calls for the boycott of Jews, as opposed to the boycott of Israel as a state that violates international law and numerous United Nations resolutions.

A country that practices racism as a matter of course, defends racial segregation and builds apartheid walls deserves nothing but complete boycott. That is the minimal degree of moral, political and legal accountability considering that the US, as with other countries, are obligated to honor and respect international law in that regard.

The US, however, encouraged by the lack of accountability, continues to behave in the same manner as countries that Washington relentlessly attacks for their undemocratic behavior and violation of human rights.

If such bizarre happenings – firing teachers and conditioning aid on taking a political stance – took place in China, for example, Washington would have led an international campaign condemning Beijing’s intransigence and violation of human rights.

Many Americans have yet to fathom how the United States’ submission to Israel’s political will is affecting their everyday life. But with more and more such legal restrictions, even ordinary Americans will soon find themselves fighting for basic political rights that, like Bahia Amawai, they have always taken for granted.

Sure, Israel may have succeeded in coercing some people not to openly vow support of BDS, but it will eventually lose this battle as well.

Muffling the voices of civil society rarely works over long periods of time, and the anti-BDS campaign, now penetrating the very heart of US government, is bound to eventually resurrect a nationwide conversation.

Is protecting Israeli Apartheid more important to Americans than preserving the fundamental nature of their own democracy?

That is a question that every American, regardless of how they feel about a supposedly distant Middle Eastern conflict, must answer, and urgently so.