Category Archives: Discrimination

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.

CIJA: Zionist Lobbying and Hate Crimes

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ response to the horrific attack on two mosques in New Zealand highlights tensions between promoting the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism and Jewish Canadian concern over hate crimes.

Forty-eight hours after the killings in Christchurch the Toronto Star published letters by the heads of CIJA and Toronto’s Jewish Federation under the headline “Jewish Canadians stand with Muslims.” CIJA’s quick response to the mosque attack no doubt reflected genuine horror as well as an understanding that as a minority religious group disproportionately victimized by hate crimes Jews have an interest in building solidarity against such violence. But, it also represents a cynical ‘get out ahead of the story’ type of public relations from a group that regularly demonizes Muslims in defence of Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians. CIJA, which is the lobbying arm of Canada’s Jewish Federations, claims Israel is “fighting against the Palestinian shackles of international Islamism that has been wreaking absolute havoc all over the world.”

CIJA regularly hypes “Islamic terror”. In response to a 2017 truck attack in Nice, France, CIJA declared “Canada is not immune to… Islamist terror” and in 2018 they highlighted “those strains of Islam that pose a real and imminent threat to Jews around the world.” At the time CIJA also aligned with the xenophobic backlash against the term “Islamophobia in bill M-103, which called for collecting data on hate crimes and studying the issue of “eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia.” In a BuzzFeed article titled “Zionist Groups in Canada Are Jumping On The ‘Creeping Sharia’ Bandwagon” Steven Zhou detailed CIJA, B’nai Brith and other pro-Israel groups backlash to M-103 and “how Muslim Canadians define Islamophobia.”

In a bid to deter organizations from associating with the Palestinian cause or opposing Israeli belligerence in the Middle East, CIJA constantly targets Arab and Muslim community representatives, papers, organizations, etc. To prove that Muslim Canadians financed “Hamas terror”, CIJA pushed to proscribe Muslim charity IRFAN (International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy) as a terrorist entity because it supported orphans and a hospital in the Gaza Strip through official (Hamas controlled) channels. (The federal government considers Hamas a terrorist organization but Palestinians and most of the world consider it a political/resistance organization.) The Jewish group’s press release about the first Canadian-based group ever designated a terrorist organization alludes to ‘foreign Muslims taking advantage of Canadians’. It noted, “Canadians will not tolerate the abuse of their generosity by those who seek to bankroll terrorists.” In 2017 CIJA demanded Ottawa rescind the charitable status of the Islamic Society of British Columbia because the Vancouver-area mosque allegedly offered support for Hamas.

While quick to attack Arabs and Muslims’ support for “terror” or “anti-Semitism,” CIJA clams up when explicit Jewish Islamophobia is brought to their attention. In 2012, the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN) asked for CIJA’s help with an aggressively anti-Muslim textbook used at Joe Dwek Ohr HaEmet Sephardic School in Toronto. It described Muslims as “rabid fanatics” with “savage beginnings,” but CIJA refused to respond.

Last summer lawyer Dimitri Lascaris repeatedly called on CIJA to disassociate from a number of individuals it aligned with at a protest who made anti-Muslim remarks and death threats against mostly Muslim and brown politicians in a video about the rally. CIJA responded by orchestrating an unprecedented smear campaign against the prominent pro-Palestinian activist.

CIJA Québec failed to respond to my request for comment about the Jewish Public Library in Montréal, a constituent agency of the city’s Jewish Federation it officially represents, hosting anti-Muslim activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali next month. Among a slew of extremist statements, Ali said “violence is inherent in Islam—it’s a destructive, nihilistic cult of death. It legitimates murder.”

CIJA has stayed mum about the recent scandal over the head of the Toronto Hebrew School Teachers Federation, Aviva Polonsky, escorting a class from the Community Hebrew Academy to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington. Polonsky posted photographs of her and students meeting with noted Islamophobe Sebastian Gorka and wearing “Make America Great Again” hats.

CIJA ignores Islamophobia by groups it defends or represents. It also stokes anti-Muslim sentiment as part of its bid to defend Israeli colonialism and violence. On the other hand, Canadian Jewry, which CIJA claims to represent, has a strong self-interest in building broad opposition to hate crimes.

Which side is this organization on? Is it always against perpetrators of hate-crimes, so-called “White nationalists” and governments that favour one religion or ethnicity over others? Or does it make exceptions for its supporters and Israel?

This Israeli Election is Between the Right Wing and the Even More Right Wing

Israel’s election campaign, now in its last days, must be the first in which a sitting Israeli prime minister has sought to win over voters by boasting about how much he insulted a president of the United States.

One of the last campaign videos by Benjamin Netanyahu spliced together media clips of US analysts voicing disbelief back in 2011 at the Israeli prime minister’s public humiliation of Barack Obama.

The ad not only described Netanyahu as “lecturing” Obama, but showed him visibly angering the US president by berating him for chasing “illusions” in his pursuit of peace talks with the Palestinians. It closed with Likud’s campaign slogan: “Netanyahu. Right-wing. Strong.”

Netanyahu’s electioneering has rarely been subtle. But after Israel’s attorney general announced during the campaign that the prime minister faced corruption indictments, Netanyahu has had every incentive to plumb new depths.

His officials have stated that his main rival, Benny Gantz, a general he once appointed as military chief of staff, is mentally unstable. One Likud video showed Gantz’s head emerging from a cuckoo clock.

The character assassination has been aided by the leaking of a recording of an off-guard Gantz saying that, if he could have done so, Netanyahu would have had him killed.

Netanayhu’s team also exploited, and possibly leaked, a claim that Gantz’s mobile phone was hacked by Iran. “If he couldn’t protect his own phone, how will he protect our country?” Netanyau has said.

Innuendo has suggested that compromising information on the phone could be used for blackmail.

Gantz, who heads the Blue & White party, hardly emerges spotless, either. He has steeped himself in dubious military glory with ads showing footage of the devastation in Gaza that he presided over, a bombing spree that killed more than 500 children. The video bragged about his sending the enclave “back to the Stone Age”.

Blue & White, which includes two other high-powered generals, is the Israeli security establishment’s effort to oust Netanyahu, who is seen as having squandered international goodwill with his public intransigence on peacemaking.

The generals are no less opposed to Palestinian statehood. They understand the Israeli public’s mood: a recent survey shows that more than 40 per cent of Israelis favour some form of annexation of the West Bank.

Pandering to these sentiments, Netanyahu said at the weekend he would extend Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank during his next term.

Gantz has shown no inclination to stray far from this consensus. In his inaugural campaign speech, he said he would “strengthen the settlement blocs” as well as “retain control of security in the entire land of Israel”, which includes the West Bank and Gaza.

He has repeatedly evaded questions about what solution he proposes for the Palestinians.

But, like most other security officials, Gantz believes it is important for Israel to court the West by giving the appearance of a willingness to negotiate.

Nonetheless, it is no simple matter to dislodge Netanyahu from power after he has won three general elections over the past decade on his security record.

He did so on previous occasions by vanquishing the country’s founding Labour party, which has traditionally presented itself as centre-left. Over time, faced with an unassailable Netanyahu, Labour leaders stopped paying lip service to the Oslo peace accords they signed a quarter of a century ago.

Instead, they began to champion illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory nearly as vociferously as the ruling Likud party.

This time, there are no left-leaning parties in the running. This is a straightforward slugging match between the right wing (Gantz) and the even more right wing (Netanyahu).

For most of the campaign, the two parties have been neck and neck. To form the next government, Netanyahu or Gantz must forge deals with much smaller parties in the 120-member parliament to gain a majority.

Netanyahu will need a mix of the far-right and religious-extremist factions he has previously relied on to clear the 61-seat threshold. To help, he has invited into a future coalition Jewish Power – the rebranded fascists of Kach, a party that was outlawed more than 20 years ago.

Gantz, on the other hand, is caught in an electoral trap. He will either have to out-right-wing Netanyahu to win over these same extremist parties, or secure the backing of Jewish centre-left groups and parties representing Israel’s Palestinian citizens, a fifth of the population.

Bearing in mind his military career, Gantz risks alienating his core support if he suggests a readiness to enter into a deal with the Zionist left or with the country’s Palestinian minority.

Netanyahu understands Gantz’s bind. At the last election, in 2015, the Israeli prime minister warned on polling day that “the Arabs” – Israel’s own Palestinian citizens – were “coming out in droves” to vote. He added that the Jewish left was supposedly “bussing them” to polling stations.

Throughout this campaign, Netanyahu has fanned similar flames. During a recent TV interview, he accused the Palestinian parties of supporting terrorism. He has even characterised the possibility of loose, informal support from Palestinian legislators for a Gantz-led government as “working to eliminate the state of Israel”.

In a recent interview Gantz also said the Palestinian leadership in Israel “speaks out against the State of Israel, so I cannot have a political discourse with it”. He has said he will sit only with parties that are “Jewish and Zionist”.

Meanwhile, Yair Lapid, a former TV news host and Gantz’s electoral partner, voted along with Likud to ban two Palestinian parties already in the parliament from running in the election. The decision was overturned in the courts.

None of this has been lost on Israel’s Palestinian voters. They have had to sit through an allegedly ironic campaign video by the current justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, of the settler-allied New Right party, in which she sprays herself with a perfume labelled “Fascism”.

They have also seen Oren Hazan, a legislator in Netanyahu’s Likud party, emerging from a bubble bath, in a James Bond parody video, to shoot dead a lookalike of a leading Israeli-Palestinian politician.

In Nazareth, the largest Palestinian city in Israel, it has been hard to discern that an election is just around the corner. There have been few posters or rallies, and no excitement. According to a late poll, half of Palestinian voters in Israel intend to stay home.

In part, that reflects a protest at the Nation-State Basic Law, passed last summer, which made explicit Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state: that Palestinians can never properly be Israeli citizens and that they will always be viewed as unwelcome interlopers.

But it is also a judgment that any success by the Palestinian parties, split in this election into two acrimonious camps, will have no impact on the direction Israeli policy takes.

Whether Netanyahu or Gantz wins, more legislation will be drafted to advance institutional discrimination against the Palestinian minority, and the abusive treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories will intensify.

US President Donald Trump has done his best to give Netanyahu an electoral leg-up. That has included the recognition of Israeli claims to sovereignty over the Golan Heights and an invitation to the White House days before polling.

Last-minute surprises are still possible, but most expect Netanyahu to win outright. Even if the election is indecisive, Israeli history suggests that the most likely outcome is a national unity government between the two largest parties.

Whatever Netanyahu and Gantz claim now about being bitter enemies, the truth is that, ideologically, they have more in common than either cares to admit.

• A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

Rising Politics of Intolerance and the Need for Unity

Over the last 20 years extreme right-wing groups have been on the rise throughout the world. They share a belief in white supremacism and conspiracy theories that allege there is a global plot to replace white Christian populations with Muslims and people of color.

As socio-economic inequality has grown and immigration increased the reactionary ideology of tribal nationalism has become more popular and bled into mainstream politics. Far right groups have garnered support and won political power in a number of countries, including Austria, Poland, Hungary, Italy, the US and India.

Rising far-right terror

Within the spectrum of the far right there are varying degrees of bigotry and Neo-Fascist ideals; at the darkest extreme there are the Neo-Nazi’s, a small percentage that holds the most violent views; next are the pro-white, anti-Semitic social conservatives, they form the majority and want a separation of the races; then there is the more moderate wing or Alt Lite, staunchly anti-feminist, anti-political correctness, pro-western chauvinism. All are abhorrent, all are dangerous; a hint of prejudice no matter where it comes from adds to the collective atmosphere of intolerance, fans the flames of division and can incite violence.

While overall terrorism throughout the world is declining, The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) states that, “there has been a real and significant increase in far-right terrorist activity.”

Since 2014, the number of attacks from right-wing extremists has been greater than attacks from Jihadists, and, the Anti-Defamation League reports that during 2018 “right-wing extremists were linked to at least 50 murders in the United States [up 35% on 2017].” Globally, between 2013 and 2017 there were 113 attacks “by far-right groups and individuals…. of those 47 attacks took place in 2017.

On 15th March, 50 Muslims were murdered in Christchurch, New Zealand: the indiscriminate attack on two mosques during Friday prayers was carried out by Brenton Tarrent, a 28-year-old Australian white supremacist. Prior to the attack Tarrent published a 78-page document entailed The Great Replacement, online. In it he states that the aim of the Christchurch murders was “to take revenge on the [Muslim] invaders for the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders in European lands throughout history…and the thousands of European lives lost to terror attacks throughout European lands.” The manifesto title and many of the ideas promoted in it come from Le Grand Remplacement by 71-year-old Jean Camus and published in 2012.

Camus claims that the white Christian European population is being ousted by immigrants from the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. His views have become highly influential on right-wing groups, nationalist and identitarian movements across Europe, the US and elsewhere. Although Camus is particularly concerned with France and preserving French culture, he believes that all Western countries are faced with what he calls, “ethnic and civilizational substitution”, in which over the course of a single generation a civilization is transformed by immigration.

As a result of wars in the Middle East and economic insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa large numbers of migrants have indeed fled to Europe and elsewhere seeking safety and a new life. The influx of migrants/refugees into western countries presents societal challenges and change, but is not a threat or an act of ‘replacement’. The vast majority of migrants do not want to leave their homeland and travel to a country they do not know; people migrate to escape conflict, persecution and economic hardship, much of it caused by the foreign policies of western powers over decades, the exploitation of poor countries over centuries and the concentration of global economic wealth.

Cries of hate; modes of tolerance

Far-right terrorism is a transnational issue; extremists from different countries are more connected than ever and work together. The Centre for Strategic and International Studies relates the example of how in early 2018 members of the Rise Above Movement  (RAM, a white supremacist group based in California) “traveled to Germany, Ukraine, and Italy to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday and to meet with members of European white supremacist groups.” They posted photographs on Instagram with the RAM logo and words like “RAPEFUGEES ARE NOT WELCOME HERE”.

In Ukraine RAM members are reported to have met with Azov Battalion, a paramilitary unit of the Ukrainian National Guard believed to be training and radicalizing white supremacist organizations based in the United States.

The internet plays a crucial role in the work of such groups: social media platforms are employed by both Islamist and right-wing extremists to spread propaganda, organize training, make travel arrangements for events/protests, raise funds and recruit members. Extreme right-wing Internet channels spread lies, exaggerate and mislead; when challenged the sacred cow of freedom of speech is invoked to justify the use of inflammatory language. Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right, but when it leads to murderous violence it violates the most basic human right, the right to life; freedom of speech needs to be conditioned by a sense of social responsibility, respect and understanding of others.

Acts of hate and intolerance of all kinds have been increasing exponentially across the western world in recent years. The 2016 election of Donald Trump in the US, the highly divisive EU referendum in Britain the same year and the influx of refugees fleeing wars and economic hardship triggered a wave of crimes against immigrants, particularly Muslims, as well as other minority groups. Liberal politicians, especially women, have also been targeted, many receiving hate mail and violent threats from right-wing extremists.

The current hatred of Muslims was aroused by the 9/11 attacks and inflamed by the ‘War on Terror’ announced by President George W. Bush in 2007; prejudice normalized, the far right flourished. A 2010 poll conducted by Gallup found that almost half of Muslim Americans experienced racial or religious discrimination, which is on par with “Hispanic Americans (48%) and African Americans (45%),” and, according to research by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency a third of Muslims in Europe say they face discrimination effecting employment, access to public services and housing.

Mainstream politicians stir up discrimination and incite hate; President Trump openly expresses hostility to foreign nationals and consistently makes and retweets Islamophobic comments, he has banned people from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, talks of the US being invaded and is building a ‘wall’ on the Mexican/US border. He is not alone in pandering to prejudice, many right and far right leaning politicians in western democracies have been guilty of fanning the fires. A striking example was the recent action by UK Home Secretary, Sajid David when he stripped Shamima Begum of her British citizenship. The 19 year old, who was in the final days of pregnancy when the announcement was made, had made the mistake of going to Syria in 2016 to support ISIS and marry an ISIS fighter. Her baby was born inside a refugee camp in Syria and, due to lack of proper medical care, died three weeks later.

Not only is the action to make her stateless illegal, it panders to the rhetoric of right wing populism and, instead of fostering forgiveness and compassion, adds to the creation of an environment in which judgment, intolerance and retribution flourish.

Unity not division

Protectionist ideals flourish in an atmosphere of fear, of economic instability and an unstable political environment; such insecure conditions strengthen inward-looking insular attitudes allowing the divisive ‘us versus them’ ideology to become the norm. Divisions of all kinds feed the idea of separation, create distrust, suspicion and fear; and fear leads to conflict and hate.

A cornerstone of the economic system and many aspects of contemporary life is competition; competition encourages division. Competition and aggression go together: the sense that we must compete or fight to survive, that others – especially others that are dissimilar – are regarded as opponents, rivals, competitors wanting what we have, which we must defend at all costs. Trust is nowhere in such an unjust world, society fractures along flag waving lines, violence erupts.

One of the consequences of this combative socio-economic system is inequality – of wealth, income, opportunity, influence, access to culture etc., etc. This social poison fuels a range of ills including mistrust, particularly of ‘the other’, someone who looks, talks and prays differently. Societies with the highest levels of inequality have the lowest levels of trust.

Competition, socio-economic inequality and poverty are not the cause of right-wing extremism, neither is the spread of misinformation or the use of inflammatory language, but collectively they form a powerful force in the creation of circumstances in which negative human tendencies like fear and aggression, are inflamed.

Division in any form, including nationalism, and competition go against human nature; if we are to free the world of all forms of extremism and hate they need to be driven out of society and from the systems under which we live. Unity is the keynote of the times, unity with the greatest level of diversity; modes of living that encourage tolerance and unite people must be actively inculcated. This means rejecting competition and embracing cooperation; it means sharing resources, information and wealth equitably; it means building trust and right relationships. Only then will there be peace within our communities and the wider world.

Anti-semitism is Cover for a Much Deeper Divide in Britain’s Labour Party

The announcement by seven MPs from the UK Labour Party on Monday that they were breaking away and creating a new parliamentary faction marked the biggest internal upheaval in a British political party in nearly 40 years, when the SDP split from Labour.

On Wednesday, they were joined by an eighth Labour MP, Joan Ryan, and three Conservative MPs. There are predictions more will follow.

With the UK teetering on the brink of crashing out of the European Union with no deal on Brexit, the founders of the so-called Independent Group made reference to their opposition to Brexit.

The chief concern cited for the split by the eight Labour MPs, however, was a supposed “anti-semitism crisis” in the party.

The breakaway faction seemingly agrees that anti-semitism has become so endemic in the party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader more than three years ago that they were left with no choice but to quit.

Corbyn, it should be noted, is the first leader of a major British party to explicitly prioritise the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s continuing belligerent occupation of the Palestinian territories.

‘Sickeningly racist’?

Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP who has highlighted what she sees as an anti-semitism problem under Corbyn, led the charge, stating at the Independent Group’s launch that she had reached “the sickening conclusion” that Labour was “institutionally racist”.

She and her allies claim she has been hounded out of the party by “anti-semitic bullying”. Berger has suffered online abuse and death threats from rightwing extremists and neo-Nazis.

In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle, the former Labour MP said the Independent Group would provide the Jewish community with a “political home that they, like much of the rest of the country, are now looking for”.

In a plea to keep the party together, deputy leader Tom Watson issued a video in which he criticised his own party for being too slow to tackle anti-semitism. He added: “Time is short for us to confront the scale of the problem and meet the consequences, to keep others from leaving”.

Ruth Smeeth, another Jewish Labour MP who may yet join a later wave of departures, was reported to have broken down in tears at a parliamentary party meeting following the split, as she called for tougher action on anti-semitism.

Two days later, as she split from Labour, Ryan accused the party of being “infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism”.

Hatred claims undercut

The timing of the defections was strange, occurring shortly after the Labour leadership revealed the findings of an investigation into complaints of anti-semitism in the party. These were the very complaints that MPs such as Berger have been citing as proof of the party’s “institutional racism”.

And yet, the report decisively undercut their claims – not only of endemic anti-semitism in Labour, but of any significant problem at all.

That echoed an earlier report by the Commons home affairs committee, which found there was “no reliable, empirical evidence” that Labour had more of an anti-semitism problem than any other British political party.

Nonetheless, the facts seem to be playing little or no part in influencing the anti-semitism narrative. This latest report was thus almost entirely ignored by Corbyn’s opponents and by the mainstream media.

It is, therefore, worth briefly examining what the Labour Party’s investigation discovered.

Over the previous 10 months, 673 complaints had been filed against Labour members over alleged anti-semitic behaviour, many based on online comments. In a third of those cases, insufficient evidence had been produced.

The 453 other allegations represented 0.08 percent of the 540,000-strong Labour membership. Hardly “endemic” or “institutional”, it seems.

Intemperate language

Those figures, it should be remembered, have almost certainly been inflated by the efforts of Corbyn’s opponents to trawl through Labour members’ social media accounts in search of comments, some of them predating Corbyn’s leadership, that could be portrayed as anti-semitic.

Intemperate language flared especially in 2014 – before Corbyn became leader – when Israel launched a military operation on Gaza that killed large numbers of Palestinian civilians, including many hundreds of children

Certainly, it is unclear how many of those reportedly anti-semitic comments concern not prejudice towards Jews, but rather outspoken criticism of the state of Israel, which was redefined as anti-semitic last year by Labour, under severe pressure from MPs such as Berger and Ryan and Jewish lobby groups, such as the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement.

Seven of the 11 examples of anti-semitism associated with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition adopted by Labour concern Israel. That includes describing Israel as a “racist endeavour”, even though Israel passed a basic law last year stripping the fifth of its population who are not Jewish of any right to self-determination, formally creating two classes of citizen.

Illustrating the problem Labour has created for itself as a result, some of the most high-profile suspensions and expulsions have actually targeted Jewish members of the party who identify as anti-Zionist – that is, they consider Israel a racist state. They include Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker, Martin Odoni, Glyn Secker and Cyril Chilson.

Another Jewish member, Moshe Machover, a professor emeritus at the University of London, had to be reinstated after a huge outcry among members at his treatment by the party.

Unthinking prejudice

Alan Maddison, who has been conducting statistical research on anti-semitism for a pro-Corbyn Jewish group, Jewish Voice for Labour, put the 0.08 percent figure into its wider social and political context this week

He quoted the findings of a large survey of anti-semitic attitudes published by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in 2017. It found that 30 percent of respondents from various walks of society agreed with one or more of eight anti-semitic views, ranging from stereotypes such as “Jews think they are better than other people” to Holocaust denial.

However, lead researcher Daniel Staetsky concluded that in most cases this was evidence of unthinking prejudice rather than conscious bigotry. Four-fifths of those who exhibited a degree of anti-semitism also agreed with at least one positive statement about Jewish people.

This appears to be the main problem among the tiny number of Labour Party members identified in complaints, and is reflected in the predominance of warnings about conduct rather than expulsions and suspensions.

Far-right bigotry

Another of the institute’s findings poses a particular problem for Corbyn’s opponents, who argue that the Labour leader has imported anti-semitism into the party by attracting the “hard left”. Since he was elected, Labour membership has rocketed.

Even if it were true that Corbyn and his supporters are on the far-left – a highly questionable assumption, made superficially plausible only because Labour moved to the centre-right under Tony Blair in the late 1990s – the institute’s research pulls the rug out from under Corbyn’s critics.

It discovered that across the political spectrum, conscious hatred of Jews was very low, and that it was exhibited in equal measure from the “very left-wing” to the “fairly right-wing”. The only exception, as one might expect, was on the “very right-wing”, where virulent anti-semitism was much more prevalent.

That finding was confirmed last week by surveys that showed a significant rise in violent, anti-semitic attacks across Europe as far-right parties make inroads in many member states. A Guardian report noted that the “figures show an overwhelming majority of violence against Jews is perpetrated by far-right supporters”.

Supporters of overseas war

So what is the basis for concerns about the Labour Party being mired in supposed “institutional anti-semitism” since it moved from the centre to the left under Corbyn, when the figures and political trends demonstrate nothing of the sort?

A clue may be found in the wider political worldview of the eight MPs who have broken from Labour.

All but two are listed as supporters of the parliamentary “Labour Friends of Israel” (LFI) faction. Further, Berger is a former director of that staunchly pro-Israel lobby group, and Ryan is its current chair, a position the group says she will hold onto, despite no longer being a Labour MP.

So extreme are the LFI’s views on Israel that it sought to exonerate Israel of a massacre last year, in which its snipers shot dead many dozens of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza in a single day. Faced with a social media backlash, it quietly took down the posts.

The eight MPs’ voting records – except for Gavin Shuker, for whom the picture is mixed – show them holding consistently hawkish foreign policy positions that are deeply antithetical to Corbyn’s approach to international relations.

They either “almost always” or “generally” backed “combat operations overseas”; those who were MPs at the time supported the 2003 Iraq war; and they all opposed subsequent investigations into the Iraq war.

Committed Friends of Israel

In one sense, the breakaway group’s support for Labour Friends of Israel may not be surprising, and indicates why Corbyn is facing such widespread trouble from within his own party. Dozens of Labour MPs are members of the group, including Tom Watson and Ruth Smeeth.

Smeeth, one of those at the forefront of accusing Corbyn of fostering anti-semitism in Labour, is also a former public affairs director of BICOM, another stridently pro-Israel lobby group.

None of these MPs were concerned enough with the LFI’s continuing vocal support for Israel as it has shifted to the far-right under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have stepped down from the group.

Nor was their committed support for Labour Friends of Israel shaken by a 2017 undercover Al-Jazeera documentary investigating the Israel lobby’s tactics in the UK. It revealed that the LFI and the Jewish Labour Movement were both covertly working closely with an Israeli embassy official, Shai Masot, to damage Corbyn.

In fact, the secret filming recorded Ryan inventing a false claim of anti-semitism against a Labour party member.

She also admitted on camera that she was in almost daily contact with Masot, and was filmed speaking to Masot about £1 million he had secured on the LFI’s behalf to fly Labour MPs on junkets to Israel as part of recruiting them to the Israeli cause.

‘Wrong kind of Jews’

Anti-semitism has taken centre stage in the manoeuvring against Corbyn, despite there being no evidence of significant hatred against Jews in the party. Increasingly, it seems, tangible abuse of Jews is of little interest unless it can be related to Corbyn.

The markedly selective interest in anti-semitism in the Corbyn context among the breakaway MPs and supposed anti-semitism watchdogs has been starkly on show for some time.

Notably, none expressed concern at the media mauling of a left-wing, satirical Jewish group called Jewdas when Corbyn was widely attacked for meeting “the wrong kind of Jews”. In fact, leading Labour figures, including the Jewish Labour Movement, joined in the abuse.

And increasingly in this febrile atmosphere, there has been an ever-greater indulgence of the “right kind of anti-semitism” – when it is directed at Corbyn supporters.

A troubling illustration was provided on the TV show Good Morning Britain this week, when Tom Bower was invited on to discuss his new unauthorised biography of Corbyn, in which he accuses him of anti-semitism. The hosts looked on demurely as Bower, a Jewish journalist, defamed fellow Jewish journalist Michael Segalov as a “self-hating Jew” for defending Corbyn on the show.

Revenge of the Blairites

So what is the significance of the fact that the Labour MPs who have been most outspoken in criticising Corbyn – those who helped organise a 2016 leadership challenge against him, and those who are now rumoured to be considering joining the breakaway faction – are heavily represented on the list of MPs supporting LFI?

For them, it seems, vigorous support for Israel is not only a key foreign policy matter, but a marker of their political priorities and worldview – one that starkly clashes with the views of Corbyn and a majority of the Labour membership.

Anti-semitism has turned out to be the most useful – and damaging – weapon to wield against the Labour leader for a variety of reasons close to the hearts of the holdouts from the Blair era, who still dominate the parliamentary party and parts of the Labour bureaucracy.

Perhaps most obviously, the Blairite wing of the party is still primarily loyal to a notion that Britain should at all costs maintain its transatlantic alliance with the United States in foreign policy matters. Israel is a key issue for those on both sides of the Atlantic who see that state as a projection of Western power into the oil-rich Middle East and romanticise Israel as a guarantor of Western values in a “barbaric” region.

Corbyn’s prioritising of Palestinian rights threatens to overturn a core imperial value to which the Blairites cling.

Tarred and feathered

But it goes further. Anti-semitism has become a useful stand-in for the deep differences in a domestic political culture between the Blairites, on one hand, and Corbyn and the wider membership, on the other.

A focus on anti-semitism avoids the right-wing MPs having to admit much wider grievances with Corbyn’s Labour that would probably play far less well not only with Labour members, but with the broader British electorate.

As well as their enthusiasm for foreign wars, the Blairites support the enrichment of a narrow neo-liberal elite, are ambivalent about austerity policies, and are reticent at returning key utilities to public ownership. All of this can be neatly evaded and veiled by talking up anti-semitism.

But the utility of anti-semitism as a weapon with which to beat Corbyn and his supporters – however unfairly – runs deeper still.

The Blairites view allegations of anti-Jewish racism as a trump card. Calling someone an anti-semite rapidly closes down all debate and rational thought. It isolates, then tars and feathers its targets. No one wants to be seen to be associated with an anti-semite, let alone defend them.

Weak hand exposed

That is one reason why anti-semitism smears have been so maliciously effective against anti-Zionist Jews in the party and used with barely a murmur of protest – or in most cases, even recognition that Jews are being suspended and expelled for opposing Israel’s racist policies towards Palestinians.

This is a revival of the vile “self-hating Jew” trope that Israel and its defenders concocted decades ago to intimidate Jewish critics.

The Blairites in Labour, joined by the ruling Conservative Party, the mainstream media and pro-Israel lobby groups, have selected anti-semitism as the terrain on which to try to destroy a Corbyn-led Labour Party, because it is a battlefield in which the left stands no hope of getting a fair hearing – or any hearing at all.

But paradoxically, the Labour breakaway group may have inadvertently exposed the weakness of its hand. The eight MPs have indicated that they will not run in by-elections, and for good reason: it is highly unlikely they would stand a chance of winning in any of their current constituencies outside the Labour Party.

Their decision will also spur moves to begin deselecting those Labour MPs who are openly trying to sabotage the party – and the members’ wishes – from within.

That may finally lead to a clearing out of the parliamentary baggage left behind from the Blair era, and allow Labour to begin rebuilding itself as a party ready to deal with the political, social, economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Why Liberal Jews in Israel and the US have made Lara Alqasem a Cause Celebre

An American student of Palestinian descent detained in Israel’s airport for nearly a fortnight has become an unexpected cause celebre. Lara Alqasem was refused entry under legislation passed last year against boycott activists, and Israeli courts are now deciding whether allowing her to study human rights at an Israeli university threatens public order.

Usually those held at the border are swiftly deported, but Ms Alqasem appealed against the decision, becoming in the process an improbable “prisoner of conscience” for the boycott cause.

The Israeli government, led by strategic affairs minister Gilad Erdan, claims that the 22-year-old is a leader of the growing international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Activists like Ms Alqasem, he argues, demonise Israel.

Two lower courts have already ruled against the student. Israel’s supreme court has postponed her deportation until Wednesday while it reconsiders the evidence. But refusing to go quietly, Ms Alqasem is attracting increasing international attention to her plight.

So far Israeli officials have shown only that Ms Alqasem once belonged to a small Palestinian solidarity group at a Florida university that backed boycotting a hummus company over its donations to the Israeli army.

Under pressure, Ms Alqasem has disavowed a boycott of Israel, citing as proof her decision to enroll in a masters programme in Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Given the blanket hostility in Israel to the boycott movement, Ms Alqasem has found a surprisingly wide array of allies in her legal struggle.

Members of the small Zionist-left Meretz party visited her and demanded she be allowed to attend the course, which began on Sunday.

Ami Ayalon, a retired head of the Shin Bet, the secret police that oversees security checks at Israel’s borders, warned that the agency was now “a problem for democracy” in repeatedly denying foreigners entry.

Vice-chancellors of eight Israeli universities sent a letter of protest to the government and 500 academics at Hebrew University submitted a petition decrying Ms Alqasem’s incarceration.

The solidarity has been unprecedented – and perplexing.

Israeli officials control entry not only to Israel but also to the occupied Palestinian territories. For decades, foreigners with Arab-sounding names – like Ms Alqasem – have been routinely harassed or turned back at the borders, with barely a peep from most on the Israeli left.

And over the same period, Israel has stripped many thousands of Palestinians from the occupied territories of the right to return to their homeland after living abroad. These abuses, too, have rarely troubled consciences in Israel.

So what makes Ms Alqasem’s case different? The answer confers little credit on liberal Israelis.

Israel’s universities are worried that the academic boycott has highlighted their long-term complicity in Israel’s occupation and is gradually eroding their international standing. Joint research projects with foreign universities are in jeopardy, as is their lucrative income from programmes they wish to expand for overseas students.

The universities want to co-opt Ms Alqasem as a poster girl for academic freedom in Israel.

They hope she will provide cover for their guilty secret: that they have stood by, or actively assisted, as Israel made a mockery of academic freedom for Palestinians under occupation. Research shows that Israel’s universities have strong ties to the nation’s military, which regularly attacks Palestinian places of learning and limits Palestinians’ freedom to study by enforcing strict movement restrictions.

Jewish liberals in Israel and the US, meanwhile, are concerned at the entrenchment of the Israeli far-right’s rule. In recent weeks, a wave of Israeli and American Jewish activists have been detained and questioned at the border over their politics.

Those liberals desperately need to draw a red line, halting the expansion of racial profiling into political forms of profiling that undermine their own status. If the courts uphold the fundamental rights of Ms Alqasem, their own rights will be more secure too.

That was why progressive Jewish leaders in the US added their own voices last week, signing a petition calling for Ms Alqasem to be allowed to study in Israel.

But the case has shone a light not only on the self-interested opportunism of Israeli liberals but also on the hypocrisy of leaders of progressive American Jewish communities.

Ms Alqasem was identified as a boycott activist via a McCarthyite website called Canary Mission, which has murky ties to the Israeli government.

Since it launched in 2014 under the slogan “If you’re racist, the world should know”, the site has built an online database profiling thousands of US academics and students, including Jewish ones, critical of Israel.

Its aim is to terrify US academia into silence on Israel. The site explicitly threatens to send letters to prospective employers accusing its targets – those who show solidarity with Palestinians – of being antisemitic.

Until recently, this blacklist had passed largely unremarked outside pro-Palestinian circles. But since its role in helping Israeli officials bar Jewish and non-Jewish activists became clear, interest in its provenance has grown.

This month the Forward, an American Jewish publication, unmasked several of Canary Mission’s major donors. They include the communal funds of Jewish federations representing liberal communities in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The trail leads back to a shadowy registered charity in Israel called Megamot Shalom, which aims to “protect the image of the state of Israel”.

Simone Zimmerman, an American Jewish peace activist who was detained at the border by Israeli officials in August, lamented that the American Jewish establishment’s secret support for Canary Mission “reeks of hypocrisy and betrayal”.

Supposedly liberal Jewish institutions in Israel and the US wish to be seen battling racism and aiding good causes, including the rights of a Palestinian-American student after she repudiated a boycott of Israel.

But covertly they support and finance projects intended to silence criticism of Israel and enforce the oppression of Palestinians they say they want to help.

Ms Alqasem has been turned into a pawn in the struggle between Jewish liberals and Israeli ultra-nationalists. Israel’s continuing violations of the wider rights of Palestinians – to enter and freely move around their homeland, and to receive an education – are simply not part of the discussion.

• First published in The National

The Russian Minority in the Baltics Live Under “Apartheid” States

It has been nearly three decades since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Despite Russia’s reemergence on the world stage as a respected power after market-oriented ‘reforms’ destroyed its economy for the duration of the nineties, the breakup of the USSR is an event regarded by an increasing amount of Russians as a catastrophic tragedy rather than a triumph of ‘freedom and democracy.’ In recent years, there have been numerous polls showing that more than half of Russians not only regret the collapse of the Soviet Union but would even prefer for its return. However, the nostalgia only comes as a surprise to those who have forgotten that not long before the failed August Coup that led to its demise, the first and only referendum in its history was held in March of 1991 which polled citizens if they wished to preserve the Soviet system.

The results were more than three quarters of the population in the entire socialist federation (including Russia) voting a resounding yes with a turnout of 80% in the participating republics. In Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan the outcome was more than 90% voting for renewal. Even the country with the lowest amount of support, the Ukraine, was still 70% in favor. While the measure was officially banned in six republics— Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and the three Baltic states— despite being unrecognized by their local governments the vote was still organized and the outcomes were all over 90%. Ironically, the union dissolved five months later under the pretext of establishing ‘democracy’ in Eastern Europe just as it ignored the very wishes of Soviet citizens. After more than 25 years of suffering at the hands of economic and trade liberalization, gutting of state subsidies and mass privatization of the former state-run industry, is it any wonder that Russians are yearning for a return to socialism?

The consequences of the disintegration are still felt in the relations with the United States today. It planted the seeds for the carefully arranged revival of the Cold War that was hiding in plain sight until it surfaced with ‘color revolutions’, proxy wars and dubious spy poisonings. One source of the strained relations between the West and Russia has been the Baltic states, which burgeoned following their integration into the European Union and enrollment in NATO membership in 2004 during its enlargement. NATO continues its provocations with massive war games bordering Kaliningrad, while Moscow is painted as the aggressor even though the U.S. defense spending increase this year alone surpasses Russia’s entire military budget.

The antagonism between Latvia, Estonia and (to a lesser degree) Lithuania with Moscow stems partly from the cessation of the USSR itself. The conclusion of the Cold War resulted in more than 25 million Russians instantly discovering themselves living abroad in foreign countries. For seventy years, fifteen nations had been fully integrated while Russians migrated and lived within the other republics. The Soviet collapse immediately reignited national conflicts, from the Caucasus to the Baltics. While the majority of the ethnic Russian diaspora live in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, nearly 1 million reside in the post-Soviet Baltics and since 1991 they have been subjected to a campaign of forced assimilation, discrimination and exclusion.

The Baltic republics made nationalism their official state policy while moving away from Russia’s sphere of influence into a closer relationship with the West. Boris Yeltsin’s subservience to Washington eclipsed any concern for the fate of captive Russians as the Soviet Bloc was herded into the EU, but his administration did quarrel with the new Baltic authorities and accused them of creating an anti-Russian ‘apartheid.’ As geopolitical tensions have increased under his successor, Vladimir V. Putin, who has embarrassed Western imperialism in the international arena, so has Moscow’s disapproval of the treatment of its minority held hostage in the Baltic Rim. Is a comparison to South Africa warranted? Even if the similarities are only partial, the three states show evidence of deep ethnocracy.

While less than 10% of Lithuania is ethnically Russian, in Latvia and Estonia the number is much higher at a quarter of their entire populations. The three governments have passed laws promoting their official languages and restored citizenship requirements that existed up until 1940, demanding that their Russian minorities apply or risk losing basic rights and guarantees. Russia has interpreted these measures as a form of slow-motion ethnic cleansing intended to coerce Russians to immigrate elsewhere. When the three states first became independent, in an act of systematic discrimination they distributed non-citizen ‘alien’ passports to ethnic Russians and excluded them from obtaining citizenship automatically, even if they had lived and worked in a Baltic state for their entire life. In fact, citizenship was not immediately granted to anyone whose ancestry arrived after 1940, a policy that specifically targeted ethnic Russians who without naturalization are left stateless.

For example, when Estonia first declared its independence more than 30% of its population (or every third person) did not have citizenship of the country of residence. This inscribed ethnic division into their society and although many Russians have become naturalized over the last two decades, there are still more than 80,000 in Estonia without determined status who are mostly former Soviet citizens and their descendants. In Latvia, segregation runs even deeper where more than 250,000 Russians (15% of the population) remain stateless. Even when they do become citizens, the parliaments have attempted to pass laws banning non-EU immigrants (predominantly Russians) from possessing voting rights on several occasions. Polls also show the prejudice within their societies, with many Balts indicating they would prefer their Russian-speaking neighbors to repatriate. Meanwhile, the Russian population has expressed concern about the reemergence of neo-Nazism. The authorities have nurtured holocaust denial, such as the Latvian government objecting to an UNESCO Holocaust exhibition of the Salaspils concentration camp on the basis it would ‘tarnish the country’s image.’ No kidding.

One criteria for the naturalization exams is based on language where in order to become citizens Russians must become fluent in Latvian and Estonian, even though they are such a large minority that in larger cities they often constitute 50% of the population and Russian may be the most spoken language. Simultaneously, any attempt to make Russian a second official language have been struck down. It is a deliberate effort to assimilate the Russian-speaking minority and erase remnants of Soviet culture. In order to obtain basic entitlements, Russians have to pass the tough naturalization tests which many fail several times (especially the elderly), facing fines and risking losing their employment in the process. The tests are notoriously difficult as Latvian and Estonian languages bear little resemblance to Slavic Russian and are much closer to Finnish. Apart from ethnicity, 40% of Latvia as a whole identifies as Russian-speaking and have been accustomed to schooling in their native tongue where they already have low career prospects and income rates. Rather than inclusion, they have been mandated to adopt the Baltic languages. Beginning in 2019, the Russian language education options in Latvia will be discontinued altogether in higher education at colleges and universities as well as many secondary schools, which has sparked demonstrations in protest.

It should be made clear that what ethnic Russians experience in the Baltics has its own particularities that make it significantly different from the institutionalized racism and violently enforced segregation that existed in South Africa (or what many believe is applicable to the Palestinians under Israeli occupation). The word apartheid itself originates from the Afrikaans word for ‘separateness’ (or apart-hood), but an exact comparison is not the real issue. There are many overlapping characteristics that make an analogy arguable. For instance, the use of an ID system denoting ethnicity and alien status with the inability of Russians to participate in the democratic process or politics. Their reduced standing contributes to a society where ethnic groups often do not intermingle and are concentrated in particular areas with Russians mostly residing in urban cities. Yet even Israel (until July 2018) recognized Arabic as a second official language, while none of three Baltic states do so for Russian. When referendums have been held on whether to adopt Russian as a second language, the non-citizen communities are excluded from voting, ensuring its inability to pass.

The exams also coerce Russians to accept a nationalist and historically revisionist account of the last century where the Soviet Union is said to have “occupied” the Baltics. A history lesson is needed to understand how this is untrue and based on pure Nazi mythology. During the Romanov dynasty, the Baltic states had been part of the Russian Empire but became independent for the first time in centuries following the February Revolution in 1917. Along with Belarus and Finland, the Bolsheviks were unable to regain the three republics during the Russian Civil War. During the 1930s, the three nations were officially sovereign states but under their own brutal nationalist regimes. The Soviet liberation of the Baltics can hardly be seen as a ‘forceful incorporation’ considering what they replaced were not democracies themselves and they were absorbed in order to block Hitlerite expansionism.

Since the restoration of capitalism in Eastern Europe, the Baltic states have waged a campaign of diminishing and obscuring the Holocaust into a ‘double genocide’ of equal proportions, conflating the Nazis and the Soviets as twin evils. Western ‘democracies’ have helped obfuscate the truth about the widely misunderstood Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the treaty of non-belligerence between Germany and the USSR. The 1939 non-aggression pact has been painted as a ‘secret alliance’ between the Nazis and the Soviets, disregarding that France and Great Britain had done the same with the Germans the previous year with the Munich Agreement. Only the Soviets are said to have ‘conspired’ with Hitler, just as when the West fought the Germans it was for ‘liberal values’ but when the USSR did so it was for competing ‘dominion’ over Europe. In order to mask their own fascist sympathies, the West has falsified the historical reasons for the accord. In reality, there were measures incorporating the Baltic states into the USSR as part of a mutual defense and assistance against German imperialism and their ‘master plan’ for the East.

The truth is that the ruling class in the West feared the spread of communism much more than fascism, and actually viewed the rise of Hitler and Mussolini in Europe as an opportunity to crush the Soviet Union. Leading up to WWII, not only was it Western capital investment which financed the rapid buildup of Germany’s armed forces, but the U.S., Britain and France did everything within their power to encourage Hitler’s aggression toward the USSR. More than once they collectively refused to sign any mutual security alliance with Moscow while appeasing Hitler’s expansionism in Czechoslovakia, with the British in particular guilty of sabotaging negotiations to isolate the Soviets and pit them into a war against Germany.

Stalin was well aware the Nazis planned to expand the Lebensraum further East, but the Soviets were in the midst of a rapid industrialization process that accomplished in a single decade what took the British more than a century. They needed time to guarantee they could defeat an offensive by the Wehrmacht, the most powerful and developed military force in the world at the time. It provided an additional year and ten months of further buildup of Soviet armaments — if not for this move, it is possible the Germans would never have been stopped twenty kilometers short of Moscow and turned the outcome of the war in their favor. The real reason the pact infuriated the West was because it obligated them into having to fight the Germans, something the imperial powers had hoped to avoid altogether.

More disturbingly, the Baltic governments have drawn from the traditions of the far right by whitewashing the local nationalists that sided with Germany during their invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 which broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The Nazi collaborators have been restored and normalized as ‘freedom fighters’ who fought solely for Baltic independence. The Estonian parliament has even adopted resolutions honoring the Estonian Legion and 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) without any such equivalent measure for the more than 30,000 Estonians who courageously fought in the Red Army. To most Russians, it is an absolute insult to the 27 million Soviets who died defeating the Nazis, including the Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians who did so as well. Today, if they wish to become citizens they must swear an oath of allegiance to this rewriting of history which has been made a precondition for obtaining citizenship. The three states also do not recognize the May 9th Victory Day as a holiday, forcing the Russian minority to celebrate it informally.

The rehabilitation of the local nationalists who fought alongside the Germans has been done under the false premise that the collaboration was a purely strategic alliance. The Soviets are portrayed as equal to or worse than Nazi Germany, a false equivalency between fascism and communism that is a ubiquitous trait among ultra-rightists today. Tens of thousands of Latvians and Estonians volunteered and were conscripted into legions of the SS which participated in the Holocaust, as did Lithuanians in the Nazi-created Territorial Defense Force and their Security Police. They did not simply coordinate on the battlefield with the Germans, but directly participated in the methodical slaughter of Jews, Roma and others because they shared their racism. In Lithuania, for example, quislings welcomed the Wehrmacht as liberators and for the next three years under Nazi occupation helped murder 200,000 Jews, nearly 95% of the country’s Jewish population, a total which exceeded every other European country in terms of percentage of extermination. It is certain that the only thing that prevented Lithuania’s Jews from extinction was the heroism and sacrifice of the Red Army.

During the Cold War, the US and NATO sought to whitewash certain Nazi war criminals when it suited its strategic interests against the Soviets. This went beyond the Germans themselves, whether it was recruiting their spies for espionage, atomic scientists in Operation Paperclip, or making Hans Speidel the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Central Europe. The Nuremberg Trials had ruled the entire Waffen SS as an organization to be guilty of war crimes during the holocaust, but the US chose to make a distinction between the 15th and 19th SS divisions in Latvia (Latvian Legion) and 20th division in Estonia from the German divisions of the SS. In 1950, the US Displaced Persons Commission determined:

The Baltic Waffen SS Units are to be considered as separate and distinct in purpose, ideology, activities, and qualifications for membership from the German SS, and therefore the Commission holds them not to be a movement hostile to the Government of the United States under Section 13 of the Displaced Persons Act, as amended.

While the displaced persons laws let Jewish refugees into the United States, it also provided cover for the reserved spaces for thousands of Nazi collaborators in an open-door policy providing them safe harbor. Following the end of WWII, many of the former members of the Baltic SS units became anti-Soviet partisans known as the Forest Brothers who carried on a guerilla campaign against the Soviets with the assistance of the CIA and MI6 until it was defeated in mid-50s. Unfortunately, Nikita Khruschev then made one of a series of colossal mistakes by permitting the exiled Baltic nationals to return as part of the de-Stalinisation thaw.

The idea that regiments of the Schutzstaffel were fighting purely for Estonian and Latvian independence is a horrifying fabrication in defiance of the overwhelming evidence documented by holocaust historians. The West has exploited this sanitizing of history that reappeared following the reinstatement of free enterprise in eastern Europe which has proliferated the far right in the EU as a whole. Why? It serves their cynical immediate interests in undermining Moscow. The same manipulations are occurring in the Cold War’s sequel. Last year, NATO even produced a short film and a-historical reenactment entitled Forest Brothers: Fight for the Baltics, glorifying the anti-Soviet partisans as part of its propaganda effort against Russia.

Any crimes that were committed by the Soviet NKVD during the war are dwarfed by the tens of thousands of Jews and Roma which were exterminated on an industrial level by the Nazis and their co-conspirators using the race theory — there is no comparison. Not to mention that the reintroduction of the free market to Eastern Europe killed more people than any period in Soviet history, reducing life expectancy by a decade and undoing seventy years worth of progress. We only ever hear of the faults of socialism and the inflated numbers of losses of life attributed to its failure, never the daily crimes of capitalism or the tens of millions lost in the wars it produces. The Soviet brand of socialism was far from perfect, but nevertheless a model for what humanity can achieve in the face of tremendous adversity without being shackled by the contradictions of capitalism — an industrial society with relative equality in education, wealth, employment and basic necessities. Now that Western capitalism is once again collapsing, it is making friends with nationalists to revise its ugly history and the Russian minority in the Baltics are suffering the consequence. It will continue to apportion blame on the up-and-coming power in Moscow, no longer the quasi-colony of the Yeltsin era, for its soon-to-be expiration. Let us hope it does not start another World War in the midst of it — for all our sake.

A Shameful Legacy: “Race” and the Railroad Industry in the United States

“Race” has always, historically speaking, been the Achilles Heel of the labor movement in the United States, the number one tool of the bosses and big capital to divide, contain, and crush working-class struggles.

In the history of the worker’s movement in the US there are few things as shameful as the legacy – decade-after-decade – of blatant in-your-face segregationist practices, codified discrimination, and race-hatred against African-American  railroaders. The latter story— the oppression and the resistance —is told in Eric Arnesen’s Brotherhoods of Color: Black Railroad Workers and the Struggle for Equality. Among African American rail workers who have experienced and studied this rich history, Arnesen’s book is considered the authoritative reference, the Bible really, of an important, if often overlooked, history in the overall struggle for Black and worker’s rights in the US. (In addition to Brotherhoods of Color, I would recommend Philip Foner’s classic history Organized Labor and the Black Worker 1619-1973 an extraordinarily rich and comprehensive general history that takes up these issues and much more.)

The Railway Labor Act

The passage of the Federal Railway Labor Act of 1924 (RLA) registered important advances for railroad workers in that it was the first federal legal recognition of trade unions by craft. The RLA set up collective bargaining mechanisms that facilitated legally binding contract settlements and the adjudication of grievances, in exchange for rail labor organizations submitting to drawn-out federally “supervised” procedures that in practice gave up the right to strike.

Nevertheless, these concessions to rail labor reined in somewhat the unbridled prerogatives of the rail bosses over decades of on-again, off-again class war on the US rails from the great labor uprisings of 1877 through the struggles of the American Railway Union under the leadership of the legendary Eugene V. Debs.

The American Railway Union fought for the unification of all railroad workers – regardless of craft, race or ethnicity – into one big union. It won a big victory in the 1894 Great Northern strike but fell apart after the massive defeat in the Pullman strike later that year.

Those decades saw regular combat been rail capital and rail labor over worker’s rights, decent wages and living standards, working conditions and safety, the length of the working day, health and vacation benefits, and so on. The RLA, as it became institutionalized, also reined in the violence the rail bosses and their thugs and goons, backed by state and federal cops, National Guard, and armed forces, that was periodically unleashed against rail labor.

By setting up a significant government bureaucracy to oversee the adjudication of contract settlements and grievances, Washington and the rail carriers accomplished a major political goal of buying “labor peace” in the vast national rail industry at a time the United States was rising as a world power following World War I.

Another concession in the interests of rail labor was that the RLA also established the first federally protected pension system for any category of US workers, eleven years before the passage of the Social Security Act. The Railroad Retirement Board still exists to this day parallel to the Social Security Administration (and from which I personally draw my pension as a retired locomotive engineer).

The Institutionalization of Segregation

Perhaps the most pernicious consequences of the RLA was that it froze into place existing, narrow craft categories of workers, and, within that, a system of racist discrimination and the exclusion of non-“white” workers from the legally recognized craft unions, the so-called “Brotherhoods.”

It took decades of struggle in the yards, in the streets, in state and Federal legislatures, and continually in the courts, before the system began to weaken in the 1940s, under the impact of World War II labor shortages and the entry of masses of African American workers into the labor force and the massively expanding war industries. Further pressure mounted in the 1950s, as the Civil Rights Movement began to mobilize and fight, until the whole rotten structure collapsed in ignominy after the passage of the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act. Over the next few years, Blacks finally began to get jobs, and union membership, as locomotive engineers, firemen, conductors, brakemen and switchmen, electricians and machinists, office personnel, and other crafts beyond “their” craft as sleeping car porters, cooks, and dining car attendants. Women began to enter the operating crafts and other skilled rail jobs in relatively larger numbers in the 1980s and 1990s.

Massive Union Growth in the US

The great labor battles of the 1930s in the United States are downplayed in history textbooks and public education. In fact, this period was marked by a huge working-class and trade union upsurge across the US. The nadir of US labor organization was in the depths of the 1931-32 Great Depression. Union membership had been reduced to 1-2% of the employed workforce. Most of that pitiful number was within the semi-moribund, very conservative AFL craft unions. By 1937-38 the number of organized workers has risen to a full 35% of the US workforce, following a few years of explosive strikes and organizing campaigns under the banner of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) movement with successful drives to organize the steel, auto, trucking, and countless other industries. Nowhere has there been recorded such a massive growth in trade-union membership in such a short period as in the United States at that time.

Unfortunately, this mass organization of the US working class in the 1930s bypassed almost completely the railroad industry and the “whites only” craft-union structure of the “Brotherhoods” that had been codified under the RLA a decade earlier. The craft structure was reinforced, with its segregationist core intact.

The CIO

The CIO did not exclude African-American workers and actively recruited them. In the course of the decade’s great labor battles, such as the Flint Sit-Down strikes of 1936-1937, the battle to organize US Steel and the entire steel industry, and much more, Black and Caucasian workers often organized, mobilized, and fought together and even politically radicalized, to an extent, together. Caucasian workers had to adjust their perspectives and outlooks and confront their prejudices to a degree as they faced the reality that African-American workers had already become a mass presence in US industry. Their numbers and concentration, as well as their evident and obvious capacity for industrial work and a fierce determination to struggle for decent-paying union jobs in the face of race prejudice and segregationist practice was becoming politically unstoppable. Race-baiting was an ever-present political tool of the bosses who fought tooth and nail against trade union advances. Many workers became conscious of these divide-and-conquer tactics and began to rethink their world outlooks.

The Women’s Emergency Brigade organized during the Flint Sit Down Strike of 1937.

Roots of the Civil Rights Movement

Brotherhoods of Color shows that the source and ultimate responsibility for the racist practices and policies that confronted Black workers throughout the 20th Century lay with the private rail carriers and the federal and state governments that catered to their needs and profits. Nevertheless, it must also be said that often these industry and state authorities used the racist and mean-spirited attitudes of the rail unions, the so-called “Brotherhoods” as a cover for inaction or hostile action against Black workers, who were fighting a permanent defensive war to preserve the relatively skilled jobs they had managed to secure.

These AFL-affiliated craft unions, legally recognized under the RLA, contained bylaws and “covenants” that openly excluded Black workers, making them essentially “white job trusts.” The “Brotherhoods” were, at times, even more racist and reactionary than the formal policies of the carriers and government bodies and agencies who regularly came under enough political and legal pressure from Black workers and their allies among labor radicals and civil rights and worker’s rights lawyers, to occasionally give lip service (and usually little else) to fair labor practices.

Brotherhoods of Color meticulously documents the legal battles doggedly fought by civil rights and worker’s rights attorneys in the generally hostile territory of the criminal justice system that predominated at that time. That system, as a whole, acted to uphold and defend – decade after decade – the prevailing system of de jure or de facto segregation and keep Black workers and their attorneys in an endless legal labyrinth. Nevertheless, working through the rigged “legal system,” trying to wring any concessions possible was the main approach of the more conservative Black and liberal organizations like the NAACP.

They took advantage of every contradiction between the fine words of US law and its sordid reality and snail’s pace when it came to race and sex discrimination. Even favorable court rulings here and there were rarely, if ever, implemented in practice. Slick government, carrier, or “Brotherhood” lawyers always managed to drag things out.

This legalistic road was nowhere a sufficient basis for change. It was rather more of a marker and registration for the ebb and flow of the grass-roots struggle against job discrimination and segregation which became unstoppable by the 1960s. Arnesen writes:

Just as proponents of educational desegregation learned in the 1950s, court-imposed solutions were costly, time-consuming, and imperfect. Employment discrimination cases slowly wound their way through the judicial system in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, addressing local variations as well as other obstacles that the ‘white’ craft unions threw in the way of African-American railroaders. Without a doubt, these cases established important principles that undermined the legitimacy of racist practices. In effect, though, they eroded only at a glacial pace both existing and new practices designed to thwart the job rights of black fireman and brakemen.

The struggles documented in Brotherhoods of Color became one of the mightiest rivers flowing into the ocean of the mass Civil Rights Movement emerging in the Deep South in the 1950s and 1960s. The political culmination was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which gave the legal death knell to the segregationist practices that were institutionalized at the time of the Railway Labor Act. After the 1964 legislation the resistance of the craft unions collapsed virtually overnight and a period, sometimes fraught with tension but with steady gains, saw the beginnings of genuine job opportunities, union membership, and advances for African American workers in the freight and passenger rail industry.

Even in the period when Black workers were largely confined to crafts of sleeping car porters, cooks, and dining attendants, Black-led unions representing these workers on the job were organized. The strongest was the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) which became, under the leadership of A. Philip Randolph, a powerful, prestigious organization in Black communities across the United States. The BSCP received a charter from the AFL in 1925 and, for years, unsuccessfully petitioned for the desegregation of the racist “Brotherhoods.” The BSCP was in the forefront of Black rights struggles across the US.

For example, it is not well known that the central organizer of the Montgomery Bus Boycott was E.D. Nixon, President of the Montgomery, Alabama chapter of the BSCP and the NAACP who convinced a courageous 26-year-old Martin Luther King (older prominent local preachers were reluctant to step forward) to take public leadership of what became the turning-point action that became the major spark of the mass movement across the South that soon materialized. The legendary Rosa Parks, whose conscious, well-organized decision to refuse to sit at the back of the bus set off the boycott, was a secretary at the NAACP office employed by BSCP worker and organizer E.D. Nixon.

Randolph had the courage to threaten a mass March on Washington in early 1941 demanding an end to segregation in the armed forces as well as that the massively expanding war industries hire and promote without discrimination Black workers. President Franklin Roosevelt was not happy but issued Executive Order 8802 prohibiting discrimination in war industries under federal contracts. This succeeded in get the March on Washington called off. Randolph later became the honorary chairperson for the famous 1963 March on Washington.

But the real heroes in Brotherhoods of Color are the rank-and-file workers, themselves, fighting to preserve their jobs against the carriers, the state governments, and the racist “Brotherhoods.” Arnesen gives them their voice and records their efforts, their many defeats and some victories which, when all is said and done, contributed mightily to the historic breakthroughs of the 1960s.

The overall history documented comprehensively by Arnesen does reveal clearly that all advances, small and larger, won were a byproduct of independent mass action or the threat of it from below.

Crucially, it should be emphasized that the space to do this was increased materially in the first half of the 20th Century in the World War I era, and, even more in the buildup to US entry into World War II. The centrality of the rail industry, the conversion to massive war production on the eve of World War II translated to a hunger for labor power on the railroads in particular and US industry in general. Black workers, already a massive layer of the working class in the worst, and worst-paying, jobs, and their representatives and advocates, saw the opening to fight for decent jobs, paying union-scale, in the rapidly expanding war industries. For example, during World War I thousands of Blacks were hired as construction and maintenance laborers on northern rail lines. In fact, Black GIs returning from World War II and the Korean War, and the African American nationality as a whole in these post-war periods, were in no mood for settling into the old segregationist and humiliating status quo.

Stop the Whitewashing of Our History

In my 30-year railroad career, working as a brakeman-switchman, hostler, and locomotive engineer in Chicago, Washington, DC, and New York, for first the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad and then for Amtrak, I saw a transformation in the number of African-American and then women in the operating crafts. I remember being in the cab of the locomotive in the middle of some godforsaken stretch of Illinois countryside, or pulling a 150-car coal train from Chicago’s giant Proviso Yard to the gates of a northern Indiana power plant, listening to the stories of some of the first Black engineers that the carriers were forced to hire – and the craft unions gave up trying to exclude. These brothers related to me the bullshit they had to put up with initially, even as things began to get better and prejudices began to break down.

It would be very educational and useful if our unions today would confront this blot on our history and dignity as organizations of labor. This is long overdue. And not only for moral reasons.

I maintain that we need to know the history of our unions if we are going to transform them into instruments of struggle for the coming battles facing the working class in the United States today, in this new gilded age of obscene social inequality and squalid oligarchy in the United States.

This whitewashing of history really slapped me across the face when I received in the mail in 2013 a booklet celebrating the 150th Anniversary of my union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), which is now a division of the Teamsters Union, and its predecessors the Brotherhood of the Footboard (founded in 1863) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. There was not a single word in that small book about the segregationist, “whites only” bylaws and “covenants” that prevailed for 100 years!

I had once personally confronted BLET President Dennis Pierce about this, in a friendly way, when he attended a retirement party thrown by our Division 11 in New York City. Brother Pierce told me he was “appalled” at what he saw in the archives, including “whites only” covenants, but when I asked him why the history booklet sent to each member, glorifying the history of our union, there was not a single word on the decades-long blatant racism he fell back on the lame and cowardly rationalization that to include it in the 150th anniversary booklet and literature would be “divisive”! As if the real “division” were not the racist practices themselves.

Old Lessons, Current Realities

While the legacy of racist discrimination in the railroad industry – and in US social relations in general – have been dealt heavy blows in the past several decades, race hatred and demagogy remain a reference point for ultra-rightist forces and their allies (who are invariably anti-union) and a cutting-edge component in the current social and political polarization in US politics. These voices are trying to get a hearing for their reactionary viewpoints in the working class and our greatly weakened trade-union movement.

Since the financial crisis and so-called Great Recession of 2007-08 there were subsequent devastating attacks on the value of labor, employment, wages, and living standards under both Democratic and Republican White Houses and Congresses. The relative and slight uptick in GDP numbers today (famously manipulated and manipulatable), the balloon of the stock market, and slight increases in industrial production and manufacturing have been typically hyped by President Donald Trump – “this is the greatest economy in the history of America.” The actual economic figures (which are always “readjusted”) are significant and interesting mainly around the question of their sustainability. One key question: What will be the unintended consequences of the unfolding clashes over trade and tariffs between the United States, China, and the European Union? What will be the spillover effects, economically and politically, in Asia, Canada, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa?

Another curious fact that stands out for now is that wages for working people continue to stagnate and trend downward, with minor exceptions, despite the official low unemployment figures. Labor shortages in fast-food and other large-scale wholesale and retail operations such as Amazon, Walmart, and so on, along with militant drives by unorganized workers to fight for $15 an hour, have forced these outfits to grant some wage concessions.

Similarly, rank-and-file teachers, almost independent of their weak unions, forced state house to grant some wage relief (that is raises) with no strings attached in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona.

Brotherhoods of Color is well-written and comprehensive. I recommend it not only for its rich evocation of the past but because it contains many lessons for rail and other US workers of whatever “race” or skin tone, for the present and future. Workers, who are being drawn into today’s struggles and will by the millions be drawn into the giant, inevitable class battles that lay ahead in the USA.

The Druze have to face that in Israel, some are far more equal than others

Here’s a riddle: when is a campaign for equality not really about equality? When it’s in Israel, it seems.

Earlier this month, tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel – those belonging to the small Druze religious sect – staged a protest in Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv. They were joined by large numbers of Israeli Jews, including former senior security officers and the two largest centre-left parties in the parliamentary opposition, Zionist Union and Yesh Atid.

All expressed outrage at the country’s new Nation-State Basic Law, which gives constitutional backing to the principle that all Jews in the world enjoy a privileged status in Israel denied to the country’s native, non-Jewish population. The Basic Law also strips Arabic – the mother tongue of a fifth of Israel’s population – of its former status as an official language.

The crowd chanted “Equality! Equality!” and urged the repeal of a law that has been accused by legal groups of formalising a system of apartheid in Israel.

Fast forward a week, to the Saturday evening before last. Tens of thousands of Muslims and Christians – also part of the 1.8-million-strong Palestinian minority – staged their own protest at the same Tel Aviv location and at the same hour. They also called for equality and the repeal of the law. And yet this time only a smattering of Israeli Jews turned out to support them, while the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid parties actively boycotted the event.

What happened? What was so different about the first and second demonstrations?

Druze Delusions

The starkly contrasting reactions from Israeli Jews to the two protests neatly highlighted several things: the hypocrisy of a so-called Israeli left that claims to believe in equality; the widespread misunderstanding by most outsiders of what a Jewish state entails; and the delusions of a Druze community that thinks it is “owed” equality by a self-declared Jewish state.

Let’s start in reverse.

The Druze are incensed by the Basic Law because most believe they have demonstrated “loyalty” to Israel – to use an idea imposed on them by the state – through their service in the Israeli army.

Shortly after Israel was created on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland, Druze leaders were pressured into signing an agreement. It committed the small minority – less than two percent of Israel’s population – to three years of conscription.

Israeli Jews have been only too keen to showcase the Druze as proof that patriotic non-Jews can be “blood brothers” with Jews. The Druze, they claim, are evidence that a Jewish state is not racist, as it was characterised for many years by the United Nations General Assembly, or apartheid in nature, as a growing number of experts have concluded.

Of course, we should acknowledge there is a problem – at least for a state claiming to be a Western-style liberal democracy – in making rights for citizens conditional on their proving “loyalty”. But let us set that issue aside for the moment.

Divide and Rule

The Israeli Jewish public’s assumption that the Druze enjoy equal status in Israel was always fanciful self-deception. Israel selected the Druze to serve in the army not because they were “loyal” but because officials wanted to exploit them as part of a cynical divide-and-rule strategy.

After the incomplete ethnic cleansing campaign of 1948, which left small numbers of Palestinians inside the new Jewish state, the Israeli leadership wished to foment internal discord and suspicion among the remnants of the native population. It hoped to pit the tiny Palestinian Druze and Christian sects against the larger Palestinian Muslim sect.

Israel was able to strong-arm the vulnerable Druze community because their religious leadership was isolated and co-optable.

Israel tried a similar strategy with the Christians, as the Israeli historian Hillel Cohen has noted. The plan failed both because it was difficult to secure a common response from the leaders of a dozen or so diverse Christian denominations and because local Palestinian Christians preferred to emphasise their ties to overseas churches rather than becoming dependent on the Israeli military.

Israel, however, has not given up on that long-term goal. Just as Palestinian “Druze” were transformed by officials from a religion into a nationality to cultivate “loyalty”, so the state has encouraged – with much less success – Palestinian Christians to view themselves as a separate nation, one it has termed the “Aramaic” nation, in reference to the language of Jesus.

Seen from another perspective, Israel never had any intention of finding out whether the Muslim population wanted to be “loyal” to the state. There was never any conceivable scenario in which the Israeli military was going to train and arm the 80 percent of Palestinians who constituted the Muslim community. They were never going to be allowed near the inner workings of Israel’s military machine.

In short, the Druze are “loyal” to Israel only because Israel needed the Muslims to be “disloyal”.

Demolitions and discrimination

But the self-deception runs deeper. If Israel had actually made equal citizenship rights conditional on “loyalty”, as it claims, then Druze communities ought to have been treated the same way as Jewish communities. In fact, one could argue, they should have been treated better. The Druze have a higher rate of conscription than Jewish society, and proportionally more of them serve in combat roles, where they are in greater danger of being killed.

But, in reality, only a tiny number of Druze have been allowed to succeed, and then only as individuals. The Israeli media love to trumpet the triumphs of Amal Asad, the retired Druze general who has been leading the community’s protests for equality, or write headlines about the first female Druze judge or TV anchor, or the first Druze officer managing the occupation.

But for the vast majority of Druze men, military service qualifies them only to become fodder for Israel’s extensive security industries, working as security guards at shopping malls, or as low-ranking policemen and prison wardens.

They can hope for little more after a childhood spent in the segregated Druze education system. Historically, its matriculation rates have been low, even when compared with the dismal standards set in state schools provided for the rest of the Palestinian minority.

And judged in terms not of Druze individuals but of Druze communities, the picture is even worse.

Despite the community’s “loyalty”, notes Druze analyst Dalia Halabi, the Israeli state has seized some 70 percent of Druze lands – as it has done with the rest of the Palestinian minority – to build new communities exclusively for Jews. It demolishes homes in Druze communities where land and building permits are denied, while retroactively approving homes built in violation of Israeli law by Jewish settlers on private Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Today, Druze villages are as overcrowded, ghetto-like and underfunded as those of Christians and Muslims. There was no obvious reward for communal Druze “loyalty”.

Celebration of apartheid

The Druze may have been fooling themselves about their rights, but they have been far from alone. Much of the debate – and outrage – about the Basic Law outside Israel has been deeply wrong-headed.

The legislation changes very little in practice. Those, especially liberal Jews in the US and Europe, who fear that the new nation-state law has changed Israel do not understand what Israel was before. The crime committed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the far-right is not that they ended equality and introduced apartheid; it is that they drew attention to the existing situation of apartheid. They gave apartheid constitutional standing. They took apartheid out of the shadows and celebrated it.

This Basic Law has been in the drafting process for the best part of a decade. Over that period, the Zionist centre-left parties now calling for equality did not object to the proposed legislation because it would change things, but because they considered it “unnecessary” and “redundant”. The things the Basic Law codifies have existed since Israel’s birth.

In a recent interview, Yariv Levin, the tourism minister and a confidant of Netanyahu, made that clear. He explained that one important reason why equality was not enshrined in the new law was that it would have conflicted with the 1950 Law of Return, foundational legislation that made the new state the collective property not of citizens (which included a fifth who were Palestinian) but of Jews everywhere, even those outside Israel’s borders.

Having in 1948 denied the vast majority of Palestinians a right to return to their homes from which they had just been expelled, Israeli officials passed the Law of Return to open the floodgates, allowing every Jew in the world to come and settle in their stead.

Unequal from the start

Netanyahu, let’s remember, did not draft the Law of Return. It was the brainchild of Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, and his supposedly socialist Labor party.

In accordance with the Law of Return, Israel’s “liberal” Supreme Court has concurred that there is no “Israeli nation”, only a worldwide “Jewish nation” that has an automatic right to citizenship in Israel. This ethnic idea of “nationality” confers on Jews all sorts of additional rights denied to Palestinian citizens – a database by the legal group Adalah lists nearly 70 such laws.

The so-called Jewish nation’s ancestral home is, according to the state’s founding document drafted in 1948, the Declaration of Independence, the “Land of Israel”, not the “state of Israel”. The term, echoed in the Basic Law, evokes vague biblical boundaries that include parts of many neighbouring states, and most especially the occupied Palestinian territories.

Similarly, the clause in the new Basic Law encouraging Jews to “settle” the land was not conjured out of thin air by the Israeli far-right. Israel’s revered founding generation long ago invoked the idea of a “land without people” to justify Jewish settlement to “make the desert bloom”.

It was Ben-Gurion and his “civilising” socialist kibbutz movement that established “admissions committees” overseeing hundreds of communities across Israel to ensure no Palestinian citizens, whether Druze, Christian or Muslim, would ever be allowed inside. While 93 percent of Israel’s land was reserved for the “Jewish nation” – for world Jewry – Palestinian citizens were confined to little more than two percent of the land they had once called their homeland.

Hypocrisy of Israeli left

But if the Druze and outsiders allowed themselves to be misled, the masters of self-deception were the Israeli Jewish public, especially its leftist and centrist components, who are currently standing shoulder to shoulder with the Druze.

Strangely, given their passionate calls for equality for all citizens, these same Israeli Jews have long ignored the only political parties in the Israeli parliament whose programmes are committed to equality. In fact, not only have they ignored these parties, but they have accused them of sedition over their platforms for equality.

It was the Balad party that back in the late 90s first popularised the slogan that Israel should become a “state of all its citizens” – a state where all citizens had equal rights. But that party, led by Palestinian citizens, was ostracised by almost all Israeli Jews.

Later, in 2006, the Palestinian leadership in Israel produced a document, the Future Vision, which called for Israel to become a “consensual democracy”. How did Israel respond? Its intelligence services – led by officials who are now joining the Druze call for equality – termed the Future Vision “subversion”.

Azmi Bishara, a Palestinian Christian professor of philosophy and leader of Balad, was chased into exile, accused of treason. And Israeli Jews, from right to left, cheered on this campaign of vilification and incitement.

All this happened before Netanyahu led his current succession of right-wing governments from 2009 onwards. It was the centre-left, now apparently so sensitive to the principles of equality and democracy, that hounded the Palestinian parties’ campaign for democratic reform into the shadows.

Underscoring the hypocrisy, the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid parties, now so supportive of the Druze equality campaign, stood mutely by only two months ago when, in a “highly unusual” move, the Israeli parliament’s presidium disqualified Balad from even submitting legislation on a state of all its citizens.

It would be reassuring to think we are seeing the beginnings of a political awakening by the Israeli left and centre, that sections of the Israeli public are starting to reconsider their former ugly illiberalism. But sadly, all the evidence points in the opposite direction.

State OF Denial

The Israelis Jews who supported the Druze at the 4 August protest did so not because they believe in equality and liberal democracy, but because they want their ethnocracy – an ethnic state of privileges for Jews – to continue masquerading as a liberal democracy. Israeli Jews have allied with the Druze only insofar as it is necessary to maintain that illusion.

Meanwhile, almost the entire Israeli Jewish public has shunned the rest of the Palestinian minority because its demands for substantive equality threaten to force Israeli Jews out of their state of denial. That is why polls show that more than half of Israeli Jews express sympathy for the Druze struggle for equality, even as almost none are prepared to back the rest of the Palestinian minority when it makes the same demand.

A giant banner depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with “Crime Minsiter” inscribed on it, is spread on the ground as Israeli Arabs and their supporters protest against the ‘Jewish Nation-State Law’ in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018/ AFP PHOTO / Ahmad GHARABLI

A banner depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with ‘Crime Minister’ inscribed on it, as part of a protest in Tel Aviv on 11 August (AFP)

A decade ago, the far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman, now the defence minister, started campaigning under the slogan “No citizenship without loyalty”. His threat was that, unless the Palestinian minority started to prove their loyalty by becoming Zionists and serving in the army, he would strip them of citizenship.

Lieberman’s political platform hit a major hurdle. According to international law, states cannot leave sections of their population stateless by revoking citizenship. But Lieberman’s efforts have paid off nonetheless, as these latest events prove.

Through their highly circumscribed support for equality – for Druze but not other Palestinian citizens – Israeli Jews have made clear their unquestioning acceptance of what “loyalty” entails.

Israeli citizens are not supposed to be loyal to a democratic principle, or universal human rights, or even the welfare of their compatriots. In Israel, “loyal” citizens are required to bow down before the Jewishness of the state and uphold the values of Jewish supremacism, even if it means their own permanent abasement.

• First published in Middle East Eye