Category Archives: Boycott

Palestinians in Israel face Uncertain Political Future Amid Joint List Split

A political coalition representing Israel’s Palestinian minority – currently the third biggest faction in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset – has been plunged into crisis by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to call for a surprise general election for April.

Long-simmering ideological and personal tensions within the Joint List, comprising Israel’s four main Palestinian parties, have erupted into a split over who should dominate the faction.

Knesset member Ahmad Tibi announced this month that he would run on a separate ticket with his small Taal party, after polls showed he was more popular than the List’s current head, Ayman Odeh.

The move is yet another blow to the coalition, which has been beset by acrimony since its establishment four years ago.

The latest divisions threaten to further alienate Palestinian voters in Israel, potentially weakening their representation in the Israeli parliament and strengthening the right-wing bloc under Netanyahu.

Falling voter turnouts

The 1.7 million Palestinian citizens of Israel are the remnants of the Palestinian population that was mostly expelled from its homeland in 1948 to create the state of Israel. Today, these Palestinians make up a fifth of the population, but face systemic discrimination.

Voter turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel has been in steady decline for decades, reaching a low at the 2013 election, when just over half cast a ballot.

No Palestinian party has ever been invited to participate in any of the complex coalitions that are the basis of Israeli governments.

In addition, the Palestinian parties’ use of the Knesset as a platform to call for an end to the Israeli occupation and for equal rights for Palestinian citizens regularly attracts the ire of Jewish Israeli politicians.

Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan recently wrote a letter to the Knesset’s ethics committee describing Odeh, the head of the Joint List, as “a criminal and a supporter of terrorism”.

While launching his election campaign this week, former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman accused the Joint List of “treason” and called it “total lunacy” to let its representatives participate in the Knesset.

Acrimony in the Joint List

The creation of the Joint List in time for the 2015 legislative elections briefly boosted turnout, as Palestinian voters in Israel hoped it would give a stronger voice to their interests on the national stage.

The List won 13 out of the 120 seats in the Knesset, but a recent poll showed that only 44 percent of Palestinian voters thought it represented their interests, with 52 percent disagreeing.

Tibi’s departure threatens to lead to further splintering of the coalition, with the southern Islamic Movement also reportedly considering breaking away or demanding leadership of the surviving List.

Relations between the two other parties – Hadash, a block of communist and socialist groups headed by Odeh, and national-democratic party Balad – are fractious, as they compete for a similar pool of secular Palestinian voters.

Call for reform

According to Tibi, the fact that his party, Taal, only holds a single seat in the Knesset is “clearly unjust”.

“The composition of the List should be decided by the people, not decreed by the parties,” he told Middle East Eye.

According to polls, a separate Tibi ticket would be likely to receive six seats, level-pegging with the remnants of the Joint List.

He said an overhaul of the List would make it more democratic and accountable, and revive flagging support from Palestinian voters in Israel.

“The competition between two big lists will actually encourage people to come out and vote,” Tibi said. “Surveys show that we can get 12 seats when we run apart, but together we will drop to 10 or 11 seats.

“The other parties don’t want change because they are afraid of the outcome.”

Tibi said he would consider returning to the List only if it introduced more democratic procedures allotting seats to the parties on the basis of their popularity – either assessed through opinion polls or primaries.

Split could backfire

On social media, Odeh harshly criticised Tibi for the breakup, accusing him of prioritising his “personal interests”.

“Netanyahu wants to see the Joint List break up more than anyone else. The extreme right wants to divide and conquer the Arabs,” he tweeted.

According to analysts, the split could indeed backfire, fuelling disenchantment.

“Surveys show that people support the idea of the Joint List but want more, not less, unity from its parties. They want it better organised and more effective,” Asad Ghanem, a political scientist at Haifa University, told MEE.

“If that trend doesn’t continue, a significant proportion are likely to stay home – or vote for Jewish parties on the basis that at least those parties have some influence within the Israeli political system.”

‘Coming out in droves’

Ghanem also noted that Tibi, a former adviser to late Palestinian national leader Yasser Arafat, had until now been a largely one-man outfit. In the past, he has always allied with another party at election time.

“On paper, Tibi enjoys a lot of support, but that ignores the difficulty he faces widening his party’s appeal,” he said. “He needs to create a convincing list of candidates and establish a party machine capable of bringing out his voters to the polls.”

A combination of low turnout and separate parties could mean one or more fail to pass an electoral threshold, dramatically reducing Palestinian representation in the Knesset.

That would likely delight the Israeli right, including Netanyahu, who raised the electoral threshold before the 2015 vote in an undisguised bid to prevent Palestinian parties from winning seats.

When the Palestinian parties responded by forming the Joint List, Netanyahu used scaremongering on polling day to rally his supporters. He warned Jewish voters that the Palestinian minority was “coming out to vote in droves”.

Aida Touma-Suleiman, a legislator for the Hadash party, said those who preferred the Joint List to splinter were “gambling” that they would manage to pass the threshold. “That’s a very dangerous position to adopt,” she told MEE.

Need for common platform

Ghanem criticised the Joint List for failing to make an impact on the most pressing socio-economic issues faced by the Palestinian minority. Half of Palestinian families in Israel live under the poverty line, nearly four times the rate among Israeli Jews.

He also accused the List of failing to effectively counter recent legislative moves by the Netanyahu government that have targeted the rights of Israel’s Palestinian minority.

In 2016, the government passed an Expulsion Law empowering a three-quarters majority of the parliament to ban a legislator for holding unpopular political views. It was widely seen as a measure to silence Palestinian Knesset members.

And last summer, Israel voted through the Nation-State Basic Law, which explicitly gives the Jewish people alone a right to self-determination in Israel.

Ghanem said the Joint List’s failure to offer a clear position on the last law, or mobilise Palestinian opinion against it, was especially glaring.

“The problem is that the List has failed to develop a common political programme. It is not enough to have a Joint List, it must have a joint voice too.”

Touma-Suleiman, however, called much of the criticism of the Joint List unfair.

“The Nation State Law showed exactly what the Netanyahu government thinks of our rights. Anything we achieve is like pulling teeth from the lion’s mouth,” she said. “We are operating in a very hostile political environment.”

Crisis of legitimacy

Jafar Farah, the director of Mossawa, an advocacy group for Israel’s Palestinian citizens and rumoured to be a future candidate for the Hadash party, agreed with Tibi that the Joint List was suffering from a crisis of legitimacy.

“Who speaks for our community when we address the Israeli public or speak to the Palestinian Authority or attend discussions in Europe?” he told MEE. “That person needs to be able to say credibly that they represent the community.”

Farah, however, noted that the reality of Palestinians in Israel was “more complicated” than that for most other national minorities. Israeli officials have strenuously objected to any efforts by the Palestinian minority to create its own internal parliament or seek self-determination.

Nonetheless, he said, the Palestinian parties were making themselves irrelevant by focusing on a two-state solution in an era when Netanyahu and the right had imposed on the region their agenda of permanent occupation in the context of a single state.

“We can’t just accept the rules of a political game in which we operate in the margins of a Jewish democracy. It is not enough just to have a leader, we need to offer a new political vision. We have to be creative and bring a new agenda.

“The Jewish majority won’t come to our aid. We have to lead the struggle and be ready to pay the price.”

End of ideological politics

Ghanem said the Joint List’s failures, combined with the collapse of any peace-making efforts to end the occupation, had encouraged a move away from ideological politics among many Palestinian voters in Israel.

“People are instead increasingly focusing on their own personal concerns,” he said.

He pointed to recent local elections in Nazareth, the largest Palestinian-majority city in Israel, where the main political parties bowed out and left the mayoral race to two independent candidates.

The trend away from ideological politics was being reinforced, as elsewhere, by new media that offered people a wider set of perspectives.

“Generally, people feel more confused, and want clear, strong figures like a Netanyahu or a Trump,” Ghanem said. “Tibi can exploit that trend.”

Gaining more influence

Tibi said it was vital for the parties to find a way to make alliances with centre and centre-left Jewish parties in the current climate.

“It is not just about getting more Arab legislators into the Knesset,” he said. “It is about having more legislators who can have an influence, who can help shape the choice of the prime minister. That is imperative if we are going to bring down Netanyahu and the right.”

Tibi said he hoped that, by rebuilding the credibility of the Palestinian parties, they would be in a position to form a “blocking majority” in the Knesset, similar to the situation in the early 1990s.

Then, a newly elected centre-left coalition headed by Yitzhak Rabin needed the support of the Palestinian parties to push through the Oslo Accords, against fierce opposition from the right, led by Netanyahu.

Rabin did so through an arrangement with Palestinian legislators that they would back the coalition from outside the government.

“We helped Rabin achieve his goals and in return the situation of our community improved, with more rights and higher budgets,” said Tibi. “We can be in that position again but only if we can regain the confidence of our community.”

Calls for boycott

Tibi and others believe that, if the turnout among Palestinian citizens returns to the levels of the 1980s, the minority could elect several more legislators, potentially tipping the balance towards a centre-left government.

But for that to happen, the Palestinian parties will need to overturn growing apathy and frustration from their voters, warned Ghanem.

Salman Masalha, a Palestinian columnist for Haaretz newspaper, called the Palestinian members of the Knesset “a fig leaf” whose participation served only to “beautify the state to the world, making it look like a vibrant democracy”.

He argued for a boycott of the election, playing on Netanyahu’s 2015 election incitement: “Arab citizens must respond, ‘the Arabs are boycotting in droves’ the scam of Israeli democracy.”

A boycott of the national elections is the official platform of two factions: the small, staunchly secular Abnaa al-Balad (Sons of the Land) party and the popular northern wing of the Islamic Movement, under Sheikh Raed Salah, which the Netanyahu government outlawed four years ago.

Ghanem observed that Netanyahu’s fate, as he faces indictment on several corruption charges in the midst of the election campaign, could play a decisive role in the turnout of Palestinian voters.

“If Netanyahu looks vulnerable, more [Palestinian voters] will come out in the hope that their parties will be able to support the centre-left in challenging the right.

“But if he looks likely to win, as seems the case at the moment, then many will conclude that the situation is hopeless and stay home.”

• First published in Middle East Eye

Canada’s NDP as Tools of US Imperialism, Israeli Zionism

Do New Democrat MPs who belong to the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG) have carte blanche to flout party policy?

Last week CIIG executive member Murray Rankin participated in a press conference calling for a new round of Canadian sanctions on Iran. The Victoria MP joined CIIG chair Michael Levitt, vice-chair David Sweet and executive member Anthony Housefather for an event led by former CIIG executive Irwin Cotler. Rankin’s role in this anti-Iranian effort runs counter to the NDP’s opposition to illegal sanctions on Iran, call for Canada to re-establish diplomatic relations with that country and support for the 2015 “p5+1 nuclear deal”. (Justin Trudeau has failed to maintain his election promise to restart diplomatic relations with Iran.)

Rankin’s departure from NDP policy takes place amidst the Donald Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and bid to force others to adhere to its illegal sanctions, threatening to sanction any country that buys Iranian oil.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said the US would seek to starve Iranians until the country’s decision-makers accept their demands. Last month Pompeo told the BBC, “the [Iranian] leadership has to make a decision that they want their people to eat.”

Along with punishing its economy, the US and Israel are seeking to foment unrest in Iran. According to a July Axios story, “Israel and the United States formed a joint working group a few months ago that is focused on internal efforts to encourage protests within Iran and pressure the country’s government.”

The other NDP member on CIIG’s executive also recently departed from the party’s position by condemning the Palestinian solidarity movement. Randall Garrison tweeted, “Nick Cave: cultural boycott of Israel is ‘cowardly and shameful’” and linked to an article quoting the Australian musician who has criticized a growing list of prominent individuals – from Lorde to Natalie Portman – refusing to whitewash Israeli apartheid. Garrison’s comment seems to run counter to the NDP’s vote against a 2016 House of Commons resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. It certainly angered many rank-and-file party members.

After the backlash to Garrison’s attack on the Palestine solidarity movement, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs put out statement calling on people to defend the NDP MP. It said, “last night MP Randall Garrison tweeted an anti-BDS article, calling boycotts of Israel ‘cowardly and shameful’. Since then, the comment section of the tweet has been filled with hateful pro-BDS messages from anti-Israel trolls.”

The timing of Garrison’s tweet made it especially egregious. The day before CIIG’s vice-chair attacked Palestine solidarity activists the Israeli Knesset voted down (71 votes to 38) a bill titled the “Basic Law: Equality”, which stated, “the State of Israel shall maintain equal political rights amongst all its citizens, without any difference between religions, race and sex.” The bill was partly a response to the explicitly racist Nation-State law passed in the summer. (The bulk of Garrison and Rankin’s colleagues on CIIG’s Israeli partner — the Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group — most likely voted against equality.)

Three weeks ago Garrison spoke at an event organized by the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC). CIIG’s chair also spoke. On Twitter Michael Levitt noted: “Had an amazing time talking to the CJPAC Fellowship Conference last night. Over 50 Jewish and non-Jewish university students who are pro-Israel and politically engaged.”

In his hostility to Palestine solidarity activism, Garrison has taken to blocking NDP members on Twitter. After Garrison’s attack against the BDS movement, prominent lawyer and Palestinian rights advocate, Dimitri Lascaris, wrote: “No other Canadian MP has blocked me even though I have said far harsher things about other Canadian MPs than I have ever said about Garrison.”

Last summer NDP leader Jagmeet Singh refused to heed a call by 200 well-known musicians, academics, trade unionists and party members for the NDP to withdraw from CIIG. Perhaps if Singh had supported the open letter signed by Roger Waters, Linda McQuaig, Maher Arar, Noam Chomsky, etc. it would have sent a message and lessened the likelihood that Garrison and Rankin would flout party policy.

It is not too late for Singh to revaluate his position on the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group.

Counter Punching the Corpocracy?

America’s corpocracy, or what I call the Devil’s marriage between dominant corporate and subordinate government America, is a vast domain of thousands of colluding corporations and government agencies.1 While the corpocracy’s rampant and successful wrongdoing is what makes the corpocracy so powerful, it still must depend on customers to survive and thrive. Customers? Let’s make that more often “victims,” people harmed by the corpocracy’s wrongdoing in some way or another from trivial to irrevocable, like death.

Ironically, one of the corpocracy’s victims is itself, as when the Department of War is exploited by the war industry.2 This article is not about how the corpocracy can protect itself from itself. Why would I ever want to offer self help to the corpocracy? Better that it self-destructs! No, this article is a review of the literature on ways in which Americans victimized by the corpocracy can fight back, if they should be plucky enough or sure enough.

Why, you may well ask, do I even bother to write this article since the counter-puncher is invariably outpunched, sometimes more than once? Since Corporate America tells Government America what to do and not to do, if there is no redress from the former, there is unlikely to be any from the latter either. Since Government America is a corporate service, not a public service, “the public be Damned” is more likely to be the outcome of any follow-up counter-punching. Nevertheless, being an informed customer surely is preferable to being an uninformed customer, particularly at the beginning when the options are to buy or not to buy a suspect product or service.

Not writing the article, moreover, would be defeatist, a response to be avoided. Moreover, writing a good article requires good second-hand research only fingertips away from the keyboard and the Internet that just might yield some practical insights and revelations.

But before getting to the types of counterpunches available to those wronged, let’s quickly scan the land of wrongdoers to remind us of who they are and what they do to their customers. Excluded will be the greatest wrongdoers of history, the U.S. war (and gun) industry and the U.S. Department of War.3 Their customers and non-customer victims are well known and fall outside the present topic.

A Few Examples of Wrongdoers and Their Wrongdoing

Since knowledgeable readers of the alternative media already know what they know about the subject at hand and are also victimized customers themselves, only a few examples are given for the three more harmful industries.4 A few examples are also given for the retail industry simply because of the sheer volume of their customers.

Pharmaceutical Industry. Diluted cancer drugs to boost profits. Successfully lobbies to keep drug prices high. Sells pills that kill about 100,000 Americans annually. Markets a drug that is more expensive than alternative drugs and deadly among adults and children.

Agriculture/Chemical Industries. Sued a farmer claiming he was using the company’s patented seeds. Causes billions of dollars to be spent yearly for healthcare, subsidies, environmental damage, and more from producing and consuming foods laced with pesticides, antibiotics and GMOs.

Financial Services Industry. Created and marketed fantasy financial products plummeting U.S. into its 2nd greatest depression. Soaks credit card holders with excessive rates. Constantly raises deductibles while shrinking coverage. Hem haws in honoring insurance claims and short changes legitimate claims.

Retail Industry. A dozen or so large corporations monopolize this industry. Its predominate victims are their employees who work for pittance and are bullied along the way, bullied suppliers, and small communities that lose their small retailers when a mammoth retailer arrives on the scene. An illustrative retailer is Walmart, referred to as “the beast from Bentonville,” by the author of an incriminating expose. 5

Its other victims are customers in the ordinary sense.  Exploiting them is rife in this industry  Sometimes customers don’t even know they are being exploited. Here is an example of stealth marketing: a few extremely pricey items are prominently displayed to lure bargain hunters into buying two of the less pricey items displayed nearby.6 Other examples of exploitation include making false claims, baiting and switching, reneging on deals, using small print and lengthy terms and conditions to discourage their being read or understood, and requiring prospective buyers to waive their Constitutional right to sue in court for any damages from the product after its purchase and use.

Counter Punches

  • Complaining
  • Boycotting
  • Lobbying
  • Suing

Complaining

To whom do the complainers submit a complaint? Let’s briefly review the three options: business complaint departments, independent complaint resources, and the government’s myriad complaint resources.

Business Complaint Departments. They are, to put it simply, a farce. Companies with the worst customer service that “people hate calling” reportedly are Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Wells Fargo, and Dish Network.7 Mind you, they are simply the five worst, which leaves a lot of room for hundreds of other despised customer complaint departments.

Private Complaint Resources. Probably the most familiar is the Better Business Bureau to which consumers can submit complaints and get ratings for better businesses to patronize. BBB is a useless resource and has been criticized for allegedly giving higher ratings to businesses that pay a membership fee.8 Then there are websites on the internet that air complaints without resolving them such as the “Complaints Board” that bills itself as “the most trusted and popular consumer website.”

Regulatory Agencies.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists, if I counted correctly, 115 industries in the U.S. but a U.S. government website lists only six federal regulatory agencies by product type where consumer complaints can be filed, and two of the unlisted types are two of the most harmful industries I highlighted above, the pharmaceutical and agriculture/chemical industries. Such bureaucratic nonsense is to be expected. But it really doesn’t matter, anyway. All the federal regulatory agencies were captured by Corporate America long ago. Suppose you were permanently impaired by eating a GMO product engineered by “MonSatan.” Don’t bother contacting FDA, the federal agency supposedly regulating the safety of food. FDA has given “Monsanto a pass” that amounts to “playing with genetic fire” whenever we eat.9

Boycotting

Boycotts have minimal effect. Corporations can afford them. A few years ago, corporations were listed that were boycotted by various groups for one reason or another.10 As far as I can tell the corporations on the list are still thriving, although a large percent of customers dissatisfied with a given brand switched to a different brand and are likely to tell friends about their negative experience and may even post a negative review online.11 Kudos to them!

Lobbying

Lobbying, you ask incredulously, when corporate America is the summa cum laude of lobbying for their self-interests? Well, any approach, I reason, is worth considering when the corpocracy has us hanging onto the ropes by our fingertips. Consider consumers of eggs and animal rights activists, for instance, who have been lobbying against the cruel treatment of hens by industrial farm factories. Despite a few isolated reforms, “severe abuses throughout the industry remain commonplace.”12 Let’s not dismiss this form of counterpunching altogether, however. I learned, for instance, of a success story, one in which the “largest and most powerful lobbying group for the processed food industry” has been brought “to the breaking point” by organized consumer groups.13

Suing

The scold of corporate America, Ralph Nader, has exhorted us to “sue for justice” because our “lawsuits are good for America.”14 His exhortation is most quixotic. He contends that “tort law is seriously underused,” and finishes the sentence with the reason why, namely, “primarily because it is not easy to hire attorneys to litigate against wealthy commercial firms.” Tort lawyers, an appendage of the corpocracy, and legislators, have all but guaranteed through tort “reform” legislation the futility of winning a lawsuit against corporate wrongdoing except for truly egregious and indisputable cases. Moreover, even if there were a customer-friendly tort law, proving the plaintiff’s case probably would take a Houdini lawyer because no corporation is going to go down without an interminable and nasty fight. Furthermore, wily corporations put clauses into contracts for big ticket items replacing the customer’s right to sue with arbitration agreements skewed in favor of guess who?

Conclusion

This article’s title is written as a question implying uncertainty over the usefulness of counterpunching the corpocracy. It is mostly a rhetorical question. Except in rare instances involving indisputable cases of bodily harm or wrongful death, we can be almost certain that the corpocracy will win the fight.

  1. Brumback, GB. The Devil’s Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch, 2011.
  2. See Brumback, GB. “Inside the War Industry“, OpEdNews, April 6; Dissident Voice, April 10; Uncommon Thought Journal, April 15, 2018.
  3. Brumback, GB. America’s Oldest Professions: Waring and Spying, 2015.
  4. See Brumback, GB. “An Evil Root“, OpEdNews, March 8; Dissident Voice, March 15; The Greanville Post, March 20; Uncommon Thought Journal, March 21, 2017.
  5. Hightower, J. “How Wal-Mart Is Remaking Our World: Bullying people from your town to China”, April 26, 2002.
  6. Poundstone, W. Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value and How to Take Advantage of It, 2010.
  7. Oswald, E. “Worst Customer Service: 5 Companies People Hate Calling”, CheatSheet.com., July 14, 2017.
  8. Reference Designer. “Better Business Bureau – A Useless Institution?” Reference Designer, September 21st, 2009.
  9. Todhunter, C. “Genetic Engineering and the GMO Industry: Corporate Hijacking of Food and Agriculture”, Global Research, January 1, 2013.
  10. Ethical Consumer. “List of Consumer Boycotts”, May 2016.
  11. Llopis, G. “Consumers Are No Longer Brand Loyal”, Forbes, December 10, 2014.
  12. Greenwald, G. Consumers Are Revolting Against Animal Cruelty — So the Poultry Industry Is Lobbying for Laws to Force Stores to Sell Their Eggs”, The Intercept, March 2, 2018.
  13. Mercola, J. “Lobbying Group for Processed Food Industry Teeters on Brink of Extinction — Will Its Science Propaganda Arm Follow Suit?” Organic Consumers Association, February 27, 2018.
  14. Nader, R. Suing for Justice. Your lawsuits are good for America,” Harper’s, April 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amnesty International has condemned the law in unequivocal terms:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amnesty International has condemned the law in unequivocal terms:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Israel marks 70 years, what have been the true costs?

Independence Day celebrations tomorrow should be a moment for Israelis – and the many Jews who identify with Israel – to reflect on what kind of state it has become after seven decades.

The vast majority of Israelis, however, are too busy flying blue-and-white flags from their cars, venerating their army as the “most moral in the world” and poring over the latest official statistics in the hope that more Israeli Jews than Palestinians were born over the past year.

The Zionist project was intended, so its founders claimed, to provide a sanctuary from persecution for all Jews around the world. But at what cost, both to the native Palestinians on whose homeland a Jewish state was built and to the moral character of those who settled there? And has it really provided the sanctuary it promised?

Those questions should be especially troubling to Israelis in the wake of three weeks in which Israeli sharpshooters have been killing and wounding hundreds of Palestinians involved in unarmed protests along the perimeter fence in Gaza.

The context for the protests – ignored by most Israelis – is a decade-long siege imposed by Israel that has cut off Gaza from the outside world, engineering a humanitarian catastrophe and intermittent Israeli assaults that have laid waste to large areas of the enclave.

Israelis were unshaken, even after the broadcast of a video of soldiers excitedly debating, as if in an arcade game, which protester in Gaza they were best positioned to shoot “in the head”. When one Palestinian was felled by a bullet, the soldiers could be heard whooping and cheering, delighted to have caught the moment on their phones.

In response, Avigdor Lieberman, the defence minister, said the sniper “deserves a medal”. Meanwhile, the Israeli army’s only concern was the lack of “restraint” shown by the soldier who filmed the shameful incident.

This is not about young hotheads. Recent statements from government officials have a decidedly genocidal flavour. Mr Lieberman observed that “there are no innocent people in Gaza” while a spokesman for the ruling Likud party claimed “all 30,000 [protesters in Gaza] are legitimate targets”.

Earlier, when Israel attacked Gaza in 2014, justice minister Ayelet Shaked called Gaza’s Palestinians “enemy combatants” and their children “little snakes”.

Such views have clerical support as a new wave of extremist settler rabbis have moved into the mainstream. According to a rabbinical handbook called The King’s Torah, Jewish law justifies preventatively killing Palestinians as “terrorists” and their children as “future terrorists”.

It was this twisted logic – a presumption that Palestinians are terrorists, not human beings – behind the government’s decision to prevent protesters seriously wounded by Israeli sniper fire from being transferred for emergency treatment outside Gaza, where hospitals can barely function after years of Israel’s blockade.

The same logic justified Mr Lieberman’s ban on Palestinian families who have lost loved ones to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from joining similarly bereaved Israeli families for a joint Memorial Day ceremony in Israel this week.

The profound racism in Israeli society is not only directed towards Palestinians but to other non-Jews. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this month scrapped a United Nations plan to re-settle nearly 20,000 Africans currently seeking asylum in Israel in western countries.

The right was outraged that a similar number would remain in Israel. They want all of them returned to Africa, even if it means the refugees’ lives will be put in danger as a result.

One commentator recently warned in the liberal daily Haaretz: “A clerical fascist state will rise here much faster than you think.”

The only bulwark till now has been the supreme court. It overturned government bans both on medical treatment for wounded Gazans and on the entry of bereaved Palestinian families.

But it is being aggressively cowed. This week Mr Netanyahu announced his intention to block the court’s power of judicial review so he can safeguard racist and grossly anti-democratic legislation. The gates are opening to the tyranny of an ethnic Jewish majority already lording it over the native Palestinian population.

But the government has Jews in its sights too. It is well-advanced in a campaign to incite against Israel’s shrinking community of leftists and human rights activists – as well as, of course, against its large minority of Palestinian citizens.

It started by characterising as “traitors” the whistleblowing soldier group Breaking the Silence but has now targeted mainstream progressive groups.

Mr Lieberman suggested Tamar Zandberg, leader of the small left wing parliamentary party Meretz, was a Palestinian agent after she called for an inquiry into the killing of the Gaza protesters.

And Mr Netanyahu has accused the New Israel Fund, the largest donor to progressive causes in Israel, of endangering the “security and future of Israel” for backing the UN asylum seeker plan.

Those human rights activists who seek to record abuses by settlers or the army are now threatened with legislation backed by Mr Lieberman that would jail them for up to 10 years.

The Israeli right has introduced what is effectively a political test – dividing “good” Jews from “bad” ones – not only in Israel but for Jews overseas.

Those who support a fortress-like Greater Israel oppressing Palestinians are welcome; those who vocally oppose the occupation or want Israel punished with boycotts to encourage it to mend its ways are most definitely not. They are being denied entry at Israel’s borders.

Despite Israel’s continuing claim that it is a safe haven for Jews, in reality it is no such thing. It is an ugly ethnic supremacist state and one closing its doors to Jews who decry the oppression of the native Palestinian population.

That is what Israel and its supporters around the world will be celebrating this week.

• First published in National Abu Dhabi

The Row Over Jerusalem gives American Jews a Tough Choice

For decades most American Jews have claimed an “Israel exemption”: resolutely progressive on domestic issues, they are hawks on their cherished cause. Racism they would vigorously oppose if applied in the United States is welcomed in Israel.

Reports at the weekend suggested that Donald Trump was about to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, throwing a wrench in any peace plan.

If true, the US president will have decisively prioritised support for Israel – and pro-Israel lobbies at home – over outrage from Palestinians and the Arab world. But paradoxically, just as American Jews look close to winning the battle domestically on behalf of Israel, many feel more alienated from a Jewish state than ever before.

There has long been a minority whose concerns focused on the occupation, but most American Jews’ support for Israel itself was unwavering. A Law of Return denies non-Jews the right to migrate to Israel. Admissions committees bar Palestinian citizens – one in five of Israel’s population – from hundreds of communities. A refusal of family reunification has torn apart Palestinian families in cases where one partner lives in Israel and the other in the occupied territories.

Most Jews have justified to themselves these and many other affronts on the grounds that, after the European holocaust, they deserved a strong homeland. Palestinians had to pay the price.

Given that half the world’s Jews live outside Israel – the great majority in the US – their support for Israel is critical. They have donated enormous sums, helping to build cities and plant forests. And they have lobbied aggressively at home to ensure diplomatic, financial and military support for their cause. But it is becoming ever harder for them to ignore their hypocrisy.

The rift has grown into a chasm as Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government widens its assault on civil rights. It now targets not just Palestinians but the remnants of liberal Jewish society in Israel – in open contempt for the values of American Jews.

The peculiar catalyst is a battle over the most significant surviving symbol of Jewishness: the Western Wall, a supporting wall of a long-lost temple in Jerusalem.

Jews in the US mostly subscribe to the progressive tenets of Reform Judaism. In Israel, by contrast, the hard-line Orthodox rule supreme on religious matters.

Since the 1967 occupation, Israel’s Orthodox rabbis have controlled prayers at the Western Wall, marginalising women and other streams of Judaism. That has deeply offended Jewish opinion in the US.

Trapped between American donors and Israel’s powerful rabbis, Mr Netanyahu initially agreed to create a mixed prayer space at the wall for non-Orthodox Jews. But as opposition mounted at home over the summer, he caved in. The shock waves are still reverberating.

Avraham Infeld, a veteran Israeli liaison with the US Jewish community, told the Haaretz newspaper this week that the crisis in relations was “unprecedented”. American Jews have concluded “Israel doesn’t give a damn about them”.

Now a close ally of Mr Netanyahu’s has stoked the storm. In a TV interview last month, Tzipi Hotovely, the deputy foreign minister, all but accused American Jews of being freeloaders. She condemned their failure to fight in the US or Israeli militaries, saying they preferred “convenient lives”.

Her comments caused uproar. They echo those of leading Orthodox rabbis, who argue that Reform Jews are not real Jews – and are possibly even an enemy.

The Israeli right has opened a Pandora’s box. Its mounting attacks on liberal Jews in Israel – echoing Mr Trump’s rhetoric and policies towards minorities in the US – are gradually forcing American Jews to reassess their longstanding double standard.

For some time the Israeli government has tarred Israeli anti-occupation organisations like B’Tselem and the soldier whistle-blowing group Breaking the Silence as traitors. Last week it widened the assault.

The education minister accused the veteran legal group Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) – Israel’s version of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – of “supporting terrorists”. Forty years of ACRI programmes in schools are in jeopardy.

The move follows recent decisions to allow pupils to provide racist answers in civics exams and to expand gender-segregation to universities. Meanwhile, two new bills from Mr Netanyahu’s party would crack down on free speech for Israelis promoting a boycott, even of the settlements. One proposes seven years in jail, the other a fine of $150,000.

Defence minister Avigdor Lieberman is seeking stronger powers against political activists, Jews and Palestinians alike, including draconian restraining orders and detention without charge or trial.

And for the first time, overseas Jews are being grilled on arrival at Israel’s airport about their political views. Some have signed a “good behaviour oath” – a pledge to avoid anti-occupation activities. Already Jewish supporters of boycotts can be denied entry.

The Netanyahu government, it seems, prefers as allies Christian evangelicals and the US alt-right, which loves Israel as much as it appears to despise Jews.

Israel is plotting a future in which American Jews will have to make hard choices. Can they continue to identify with a state that openly turns its back on them?

• First published in The National

This Is Not National Unity

The reconciliation agreement signed between rival Palestinian parties, Hamas and Fatah, in Cairo on October 12 was not a national unity accord – at least, not yet. For the latter to be achieved, the agreement would have to make the interests of the Palestinian people a priority, above factional agendas.

The leadership crisis in Palestine is not new. It precedes Fatah and Hamas by decades.

Since the destruction of Palestine and the creation of Israel in 1948 – and even further back – Palestinians found themselves beholden to international and regional power play, beyond their ability to control or even influence.

The greatest achievement of Yasser Arafat, the late and iconic leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was his ability to foster an independent Palestinian political identity and a national movement that, although receiving Arab support, was not entirely appropriated by any particular Arab country.

The Oslo Accords, however, was the demise of that movement. Historians may quarrel on whether Arafat, the PLO and its largest political party, Fatah, had any other option but to engage in the so-called ‘peace process’. However, in retrospect, we can surely argue that Oslo was the abrupt cancellation of every Palestinian political achievement, at least since the war of 1967.

Despite the resounding defeat of Arab countries by Israel and its powerful western allies in that war, hope for a new beginning was born. Israel reclaimed East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, but, unwittingly unified Palestinians as one nation, although one that is oppressed and occupied.

Moreover, the deep wounds suffered by Arab countries as a result of the disastrous war, gave Arafat and Fatah the opportunity to utilize the new margins that opened up as a result of the Arab retreat.

The PLO, which was originally managed by the late Egyptian President, Jamal Abdul Nasser, became an exclusively Palestinian platform. Fatah, which was established a few years prior to the war, was the party in charge.

When Israel occupied Lebanon in 1982, its aim was the annihilation of the Palestinian national movement, especially since Arafat was opening up new channels of dialogue, not only with Arab and Muslim countries, but internationally as well. The United Nations, among other global institutions, began recognizing Palestinians, not as hapless refugees needing handouts, but as a serious national movement deserving to be heard and respected.

At the time, Israel was obsessed with preventing Arafat from rebranding the PLO into a budding government. In the short term, Israel achieved its main objective: Arafat was driven to Tunisia with his party’s leadership, and the rest of the PLO’s fighters were scattered across the Middle East, once more falling hostage to Arab whims and priorities.

Between 1982 and the signing of Oslo in 1993, Arafat fought for relevance. The PLO’s exile became particularly evident as Palestinians launched their First Intifada (the uprising of 1987). A whole new generation of Palestinian leaders began to emerge; a different identity that was incepted in Israeli prisons and nurtured in the streets of Gaza and Nablus was sculpted. The greater the sacrifices and the higher the Palestinian death toll rose, the more heightened that sense of collective identity grew.

The PLO’s attempt to hijack the Intifada was one of the main reasons why the uprising eventually faltered. The Madrid talks in 1991 was the first time that true representatives of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories would take on an international platform to speak on behalf of Palestinians at home.

That endeavor was short-lived. Eventually, Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas (today’s head of the Palestinian Authority – PA) negotiated an alternative agreement secretly in Oslo. The agreement largely sidelined the United Nations and allowed the United States to claim its position as a self-proclaimed ‘honest broker’ in a US-sponsored ‘peace process.’

While Arafat and his Tunisian faction were allowed back to rule over occupied Palestinians with a limited mandate provided by the Israeli government and military, Palestinian society fell into one of its most painful dilemmas in many years.

With the PLO, which represented all Palestinians, cast aside to make room for the PA – which merely represented the interests of a branch within Fatah in a limited autonomous region – Palestinians became divided into groups.

In fact, 1994, which witnessed the official formation of the PA, was the year in which the current Palestinian strife was actually born. The PA, under pressure from Israel and the US, cracked down on Palestinians who opposed Oslo and justifiably rejected the ‘peace process.’

The crackdowns reached many Palestinians who took leadership positions during the First Intifada. The Israeli gambit worked to perfection: The Palestinian leadership in exile was brought back to crack down on the leadership of the Intifada, while Israel stood aside and watched the sad spectacle.

Hamas, which itself was an early outcome of the First Intifada, found itself in direct confrontation with Arafat and his authority. For years, Hamas positioned itself as a leader of the opposition that rejected normalization with the Israeli occupation. That won Hamas massive popularity among Palestinians, especially as it became clear that Oslo was a ruse and that the ‘peace process’ was moving towards a dead-end.

When Arafat died, after spending years under Israeli army siege in Ramallah, Abbas took over. Considering that Abbas was the brain behind Oslo, and the man’s lack of charisma and leadership skills, Hamas took the first step in a political maneuver that proved costly: it ran for the PA’s legislative elections in 2006. Worse, it won.

By emerging as the top political party in an election that was itself an outcome of a political process that Hamas had vehemently rejected for years, Hamas became a victim of its own success.

Expectedly, Israel moved to punish Palestinians. As a result of US urgings and pressures, Europe followed suit. The Hamas government was boycotted, Gaza came under constant Israeli bombardment and Palestinian coffers began drying up.

A Hamas-Fatah brief civil-war ensued in the summer of 2007, resulting in hundreds of deaths and the political and administrative split of Gaza from the West Bank.

Officially, Palestinians had two governments, but no state. It was a mockery, that a promising national liberation project abandoned liberation and focused mostly on settling factional scores, while millions of Palestinians suffered siege and military occupation, and millions more suffered the anguish and humiliation of ‘shattat’ – the exile of the refugees abroad.

Many attempts were made, and failed to reconcile between the two groups in the last 10 years. They failed mostly because, once more, the Palestinian leaderships leased their decision-making to regional and international powers. The golden age of the PLO was replaced with the dark ages of factional divisions.

However, the recent reconciliation agreement in Cairo is not an outcome of a new commitment to a Palestinian national project. Both Hamas and Fatah are out of options. Their regional politicking was a failure, and their political program ceased to impress Palestinians who are feeling orphaned and abandoned.

For the Hamas-Fatah unity to become a true national unity, priorities would have to change entirely, where the interest of the Palestinian people – all of them, everywhere – would, once more, become paramount, above the interests of a faction or two, seeking limited legitimacy, fake sovereignty and American handouts.