Category Archives: ethnic cleansing

Desperate Netanyahu Openly Embraces Jewish Extremists

After a decade of coalition governments in Israel led by Benjamin Netanyahu, the language needed to describe them has necessarily grown more extreme.

At first, they were right-wing. Then ultra-nationalist. Recently, analysts have started to talk of Netanyahu leading a far-right coalition. Now it seems we may have to go further still.

Should he win Israel’s election in April, Netanyahu’s next government will be one that openly embraces the terrorist right.

Last week, the Central Elections Committee, a body overseeing the election process and dominated by the main political factions, gave the green light for Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) to run for the Israeli parliament.

That has shocked many observers, because the party is justifiably described as a Jewish version of the Ku Klux Klan.

But Otzma Yehudit won’t only be expecting to win seats in the Knesset. Thanks to Netanyahu, it now has a good chance of becoming a partner in the next government.

Jewish supremacists

The party, founded six years ago, is a political refuge for a group of disciples of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. He and his followers are usually termed anti-Arab racists, but nowadays that applies to a significant swath of political opinion in Israel. They are better described as violent Jewish supremacists.

They back a Greater Israel that includes the occupied territories, all of which they want free of Palestinians. The leaders openly defend and associate with extremists within the settler movement who use terror and violence as a way to secure that very goal.

Last year, Otzma Yehudit’s leader, Michael Ben-Ari, called for violence against Israel’s 1.7-million-strong Palestinian minority, who have second-class citizenship, calling them “a fifth column” that was “waging war against us”.

He warned them: “If you speak against a Jew, you’re not going to be alive … You’re not going to be deported or have your citizenship revoked. You’re not going to be alive! You’ll be put in front of a firing squad, taken down – this is what Arabs understand.”

Ben-Ari has done so little to conceal his support for violence that the US issued a travel ban against him in 2012.

In response to the election committee’s decision, Issawi Frej, an Israeli-Palestinian member of the Knesset, said: “Now our prime minister is laying out the red carpet before the man [Ben-Ari] who said a simple phrase: ‘Kahane was right.’”

Pact with the devil

Netanyahu’s pact with Otzma Yehudit last month was designed to get him out of an electoral hole.

Unsure of how his voters will respond to the indictments he now faces for bribery and fraud, and up against a group of military generals in a popular new party, Netanyahu needs to win over as many right-wing votes as possible – wherever they come from.

Although there are technical reasons why Netanyahu needs Otzma Yehudit, he clearly believes that the political climate he has helped to foster over the past decade has made it acceptable to include these Jewish supremacists in his prospective government.

That was underscored this week when Netanyahu reiterated on social media that Israel was “not a state of all its citizens” – that it did not belong to the fifth of its citizens who are Palestinian but exclusively to the Jewish people around the world.

Netanyahu’s reliance on Otzma Yehudit follows a recent split in another extreme party in his coalition, Jewish Home, that is close to the fanatical religious wing of the settlers. Jewish Home’s political “stars”, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, both government ministers, recently left to create yet another far-right party called the New Right.

Need for extra votes

What was left of the Jewish Home party risked falling just short of the electoral threshold, which needs to be surpassed before a party wins seats in the Knesset. That would result in all its votes being lost, and thereby provide a boost to Netanyahu’s chief opponent, Blue and White, a party led by Benny Gantz and other generals.

Gantz may then be in a position to create an alternative governing coalition made up of the right and centre, and supported informally by a bloc of Israeli-Palestinian parties.

So Netanyahu threw caution to the wind and arm-twisted Jewish Home into making an electoral pact with Otzma Yehudit. Together, they hope to hoover up enough votes to gain a clutch of seats and thereby prop up another government led by Netanyahu’s Likud party.

In fact, Otzma Yehudit is the successor to Kahane’s original party, Kach, which briefly entered the Israeli parliament in the 1980s.

Then, the electoral threshold was much lower, and Kahane was able to win a single seat for himself. But his explicit anti-Arab racism and calls for violence were so discomfiting to the other parties that they shunned him in the Knesset.

Given the added exposure, however, Kahane’s popularity grew. With the prospect of Kach winning several seats in the next election, the parliament amended the election laws to prevent the party from standing. Kahane was assassinated in the US shortly afterwards, in 1990.

When one of his followers, Baruch Goldstein, shot more than 150 Palestinian worshippers in Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994, killing 29, Kach was outlawed as a terrorist organisation.

Manipulating the legal system

But Kach never went away. It didn’t even go properly underground. It flourished in many of the settlements deep in the occupied Palestinian territories, and its former leaders became household names.

The settler youths it cultivated torched olive groves, then mosques, and more recently Palestinian families. The Israeli police and intelligence services made little effort to find the culprits.

But while its violence continued, its leaders grew more sophisticated in the ways they learned to manipulate Israel’s political and legal systems.

Ben-Ari’s deputy, Itamar Ben-Gvir, became a lawyer, finding that it was easy to exploit the reticence of the criminal justice system to prosecute Jews who harm Palestinians.

Related “charities” have promoted Kach’s brand of Jewish supremacism and terrorism, including Lehava, which uses intimidation and violence to stop Jews and Palestinians from dating or even mixing.

Threatened with a noose

Since Kach formally reinvented itself as Otzma Yehudit ahead of the 2013 election, it’s been looking for a way back into parliament. But to the evident delight of its leadership, its brand of anti-Arab racism has in the meantime become so mainstream that Netanyahu can afford to offer it a place in the bosom of the next government.

Netanyahu’s backing for these Jewish supremacists is a clear signal about where the Israeli right plans to push the country next. The evidence has been building for some time that the Netanyahu right has moved remarkably close to Kahane’s positions of three decades ago.

One of Kahane’s stated priorities then was to remove the representatives of Israel’s 1.7 million Palestinian citizens from the Israeli parliament. He regarded them as traitors, a Trojan horse for the larger Palestinian cause that could undermine Israel as a Jewish state from within.

On one occasion in 1988, Kahane publicly threatened an Israeli-Palestinian legislator with a noose.

‘Terrorists’ in the Knesset

Such views – and threats – are now entirely normalised inside Netanyahu’s government. Avigdor Lieberman, until recently Netanyahu’s defence minister and someone who himself spent his formative political years in Kach, has repeatedly sought to cast the Palestinian Knesset members as traitors deserving the death penalty.

Last year he called Ayman Odeh, the joint head of the Palestinian parties, a “terrorist”. He has condemned the legislators as “war criminals” working “to destroy us from within”. He had earlier argued that they should be “executed”.

Lieberman helped Netanyahu drive through legislation to raise the electoral threshold in 2014, in a barely concealed effort to bar Palestinian parties from gaining any seats in the parliament.

When that move backfired, after Palestinian parties combined to form the Joint List, the government responded by passing an Expulsion Law, which empowers a three-quarters majority – in effect, of Jewish legislators – to expel a representative for holding opinions they do not like.

That threat is intended to serve as a sword hanging over Palestinian lawmakers, to prevent them from speaking out on key issues, such as the structural violence of the occupation or the systemic discrimination faced by Israel’s non-Jewish population.

How Netanyahu himself views the representation of Palestinian citizens was illustrated starkly on the day of the 2015 election, when he warned that his government’s survival was “in danger”. He clarified: “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves.”

‘Citizens, not lepers’

Under pressure from then-US President Barack Obama, he apologised for his remark, but he has already restated that sentiment in the early stages of this campaign.

Netanyahu suggested that a Gantz-led government could betray the country by relying on informal support from Palestinian legislators. The prime minister characterised this electoral alliance as “an obstructive bloc” that would be “working to eliminate the state of Israel”.

Netanyahu was thereby trying to create a false equivalence between his move to forge an alliance with the terror-supporting Kahanists of Otzma Yehudit and Gantz’s possible reliance on Israel’s main Palestinian parties.

This incitement barely attracted attention, apart from a former Israeli-Palestinian Supreme Court judge, Salim Joubran, who reminded Netanyahu: “These [Palestinian] citizens are legitimate, not invalid, contemptible, or lepers.”

Marches demanding expulsion

Efforts to cast the elected representatives of Israel’s large Palestinian minority as traitors are intended to send a message that the Palestinian public is equally disloyal.

That would have been welcomed by Kahane. Under the slogan “They Must Go”, he argued that there was no place for Palestinians either in Israel or in the occupied territories.

Shortly after he entered parliament in 1984, he staged a provocative march to Umm al-Fahm, a large Palestinian town in Israel that lies close to the West Bank, to demand that its inhabitants emigrate. Police blocked his way, and government leaders protested that his actions were “shameful” and “dangerous”.

In recent years, his disciples, led by Baruch Marzel, have held similar marches to Umm al-Fahm and other Palestinian communities in Israel. These marches, however, have been approved by the courts and are provided with a police escort.

Accusations of disloyalty

For more than a decade, Kahane’s message has been echoed from within the government. Lieberman has heavily promoted a “static transfer” programme, in which communities such as Umm al-Fahm – and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian citizens – would find themselves cast outside Israel through the redrawing of borders. They would be stripped of their citizenship.

After Lieberman announced his plan, it was backed by the right-wing prime minister of the time, Ariel Sharon. More recently, the proposal has won support from Netanyahu.

Lieberman has also been at the forefront of a popular Israeli discourse that demands Palestinian citizens demonstrate their loyalty to a Jewish state – or more precisely, a state that abides by the far-right positions of Netanyahu’s government.

By those standards, Palestinian citizens are bound to fail and appear disloyal.

It is within that framework that the Central Elections Committee, while approving Otzma Yehudit, banned a major Palestinian party, Balad, from running in April’s election.

It did so on the grounds that Balad opposes Israel being a Jewish state and demands it become a state belonging to all its citizens, or a liberal democracy, which would give equal rights to Palestinian and Jewish citizens.

Incitement over forest fires

Constant incitement against Palestinians has come from the prime minister down.

Two years ago, for example, Netanyahu accused Palestinian citizens of being behind forest fires that raged across Israel, in what he claimed was an attempt to burn down the state. This smear dominated front pages, even though authorities never produced any evidence for it.

But it has contributed to an intensifying racism shared among much of the Israeli Jewish public, as consistently demonstrated in polls.

According to one in December, 88 percent would object to their son befriending a girl belonging to Israel’s Palestinian minority, and 90 percent would oppose their daughter being friends with an Arab boy. Nearly half do not want a Palestinian citizen as a neighbour.

Annexing the West Bank

Meanwhile, in the occupied territories, Kahane’s calls for Jewish sovereignty over the West Bank and at the hyper-sensitive holy site of Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem are now a staple of the Netanyahu government’s discourse.

Ministers such as Bennett and Shaked, as well as senior members of Netanyahu’s own Likud party, openly speak about seeking to annex large swaths of the West Bank.

At the same time, Al-Aqsa Mosque – which Israeli Jews call Temple Mount – has become ever-more a flashpoint, as the right focuses its attention on asserting a stronger Jewish presence there and tightening Israel’s control over the site. Tensions there have again risen in recent days.

Were he alive today, Kahane would be delighted at how much influence he has exerted over the subsequent period – not only on popular discourse in Israel, but on the strategic aims of Israeli governments.

And now, his disciples in Otzma Yehudit have a chance – care of Netanyahu – to carry on Kahane’s work from inside the next government and to accelerate the pace of change.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Chasing Mirages: What Are Palestinians Doing to Combat the “Deal of the Century”?

More US measures have been taken in recent weeks to further cement the Israeli position and isolate the Palestinian Authority (PA), before the official unveiling of President Donald Trump’s so-called ‘deal of the century’. But while attention is focused on spiteful US actions, little time has been spent discussing the PA’s own responses, options and strategies.

The last of Washington’s punitive measures came on March 3, when the US shut down its Consulate in Jerusalem, thus downgrading the status of its diplomatic mission in Palestine. The Consulate has long served as a de-facto American embassy to the Palestinians. Now, the Consulate’s staff will merge into the US embassy in Israel, which was officially moved to Jerusalem last May – in violation of international consensus regarding the status of the occupied city.

Robert Palladino, US State Department spokesperson, explained the move in a statement, saying that “this decision was driven by our global efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our diplomatic engagements and operations.”

Diplomatic hogwash aside, ‘efficiency and effectiveness’ have nothing to do with the shutting of the Consulate. The decision is but a continuation of successive US measures aimed at “taking Jerusalem off the table” – as per Trump’s own words – of any future negotiations.

International law, which recognizes East Jerusalem as an occupied Palestinian city, is of no relevance to the Trump administration, which has fully shed any semblance of balance as it is now wholly embracing the Israeli position on Jerusalem.

To bring Palestinians into line, and to force their leadership to accept whatever bizarre version of ‘peace’ Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has in mind, the US has already taken several steps aimed at intimidating the PA. These steps include the cutting of $200 million in direct aid to Gaza and the West Bank, and the freezing of another $300 million dollars that were provided annually to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

That, and the shutting down of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington DC, on September 10, were all the signs needed to fully fathom the nature of the US ultimatum to the Palestinian leadership: accept our terms or face the consequences.

It is no secret that various US governments have served as the financial and even political backers of the PA in Ramallah. While the PA has not always seen eye-to-eye with US foreign policy, its survival remained, till recently, a top American priority.

The PA has helped Washington sustain its claim to being an ‘honest peace broker’, thus enjoying a position of political leadership throughout the Middle East region.

Moreover, by agreeing to take part in assisting the Israeli military in policing the Occupied Territories through joint US-funded ‘security coordination’, the PA has proved its trustworthiness to its US benefactors.

While the PA remained committed to that arrangement, Washington reneged.

According to the far-right Israeli government coalition of Benjamin Netanyahu, PA leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is simply not doing enough.

‘Doing enough’, from an Israeli political perspective, is for Palestinians to drop any claims to occupied East Jerusalem as the future capital of Palestine, accept that illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank would have to remain in place regardless of the nature of the future ‘peace agreement’, and to also drop any legal or moral claims pertaining to Palestinian refugees right of return.

While the PA has demonstrated its political and moral flexibility in the past, there are certain red lines that even Abbas himself cannot cross.

It remains to be seen how the PA position will evolve in the future as far as the soon-to-be announced ‘deal of the century’ is concerned.

Yet, considering that Trump’s blind support for Israel has been made quite clear over the course of the last two years, one is bewildered by the fact that Abbas and his government have done little by way of counteracting Washington’s new aggressive strategy targeting the Palestinians.

Save for a few symbolic ‘victories’ at the United Nations and UN-related bodies, Abbas has done little by way of a concrete and unified Palestinian action.

Frankly, recognizing a Palestinian state on paper is not a strategy, per se. The push for greater recognition has been in the making since the PLO Algiers conference in 1988, when the Palestine National Council declared a Palestinian state to the jubilation of millions around the world. Many countries, especially in the global south, quickly recognized the State of Palestine.

Yet, instead of using such a symbolic declaration as a component of a larger strategy aimed at realizing this independence on the ground, the PA simply saw the act of recognizing Palestine as an end in itself. Now, there are 137 countries that recognize the State of Palestine. Sadly, however, much more Palestinian land has been stolen by Israel to expand on or build new Jewish-only colonies on the land designated to be part of that future state.

It should have been clear, by now, that placing a Palestinian flag on a table at some international conference, or even having a Palestine chair at the G77 UN coalition of developing countries, is not a substitute for a real strategy of national liberation.

The two main Palestinian factions, Abbas’ own Fatah party and Hamas, are still as diverged as ever. In fact, Abbas seems to focus more energy on weakening his political rivals in Palestine than on combating the Israeli Occupation. In recent weeks, Abbas has taken yet more punitive financial measures targeting various sectors of Gaza society. The collective punishment is even reaching families of prisoners and those killed by the Israeli army.

Without a united front, a true strategy or any form of tangible resistance, Abbas is now vulnerable to more US pressure and manipulation. Yet, instead of moving quickly to solidify the Palestinian front, and to reach out to genuine allies in the Middle East and worldwide to counter the bitter US campaign, Abbas has done little.

Instead, the Palestinian leader continues to chase political mirages, taking every opportunity to declare more symbolic victories that he needs to sustain his legitimacy among Palestinians for a while longer.

The painful truth, however, is this: it is not just US bullying that has pushed the PA into this unenviable position, but, sadly, the self-serving nature and political bankruptcy of the Palestinian leadership itself.

Would railing at a Labour Saudi Lobby be Racist?

Owen Jones has made a short video discussing Labour’s crisis over anti-semitism. There are some good elements to it, not least the warning against conspiratorial thinking, and an admission, admittedly a fairly limited one, that the Labour leadership should not be accused of being anti-semitic (and implicitly that the party is not “institutionally anti-semitic”.)

Sadly, however, there is little more to recommend. This is another example of how Jones has failed to grasp the larger issues involved, and how he views the anti-semitism issue through an astoundingly narrow lens – one that refuses to depart from a simplistic identity politics.

Given that Jones is supposed to be one of the very few prominent voices of support for Corbyn in the media, this is depressing indeed. And it is why I have taken the time to analyse a couple of the most glaring flaws in the video.

First, Jones makes a telling analogy, and one that highlights his confusion.

He objects to Labour members raising the issue of Israel when Jewish comrades want to talk about anti-semitism by noting that no one would think it acceptable to deflect the conversation to Saudi Arabia if Muslims sought to talk about Islamophobia.

However, Jones ignores a very serious difference between these two examples. The fact is that there is a very strong and vocal pro-Israel lobby in the Labour party – not least the Jewish Labour Movement, the sister organisation of the Israeli Labour party, and Labour Friends of Israel, which includes 80 MPs.

Imagine for a moment – if you can – what it would mean were the voice of Muslims in the party to be represented chiefly by a Labour Friends of Saudi Arabia and a Saudi Labour Movement.

How would ordinary members respond to these Saudi-affiliated Labour MPs and this pro-Saudi lobby vigorously defending and promoting Saudi Arabia in the party? Indeed, how would they feel about criticism of Riyadh being termed “Islamophobia”, and a section of Muslim Labour members, supported by a group of prominent non-Muslim MPs, complaining that criticism of Saudi Arabia amounted to an attack on their identity as Muslims?

Human rights abusers

Demands to respect their identification with Saudi Arabia would, I suspect, hold little sway with most Labour members. Members would rightly expect to be able to criticise not only Saudi Arabia, but also others in the party who openly supported Riyadh and lobbied on its behalf. And it is fair to assume they would object in very strong terms were they accused of Islamophobia for doing so.

Before I get told that any comparison between Israel and Saudi Arabia is anti-semitic (and I am sure I will), let me remind readers it was Jones, not me, who introduced this analogy. Nonetheless, I think it is clear that such a comparison is valid.

The fact is that both states are massive human rights abusers. Saudi Arabia’s head-chopping, women-oppressing theocracy is an abhorrent state; but so too is Israel’s anachronistic colonial-settler state, built on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and a decades-long belligerent occupation. Both are shameful examples of the trampling of human rights to promote an extreme ideology that confuses politics and religion.

So Jones’ comparison is actually far more useful and revealing than he presumably realises.

Racism towards Palestinians

Labour’s real-life lobby groups are not only fanatically pro-Israel, they are also deeply hostile to Corbyn – and have been since he was elected leader. The reason is obvious. They oppose him not because he is anti-semitic (at least Jones concedes that much in Corbyn’s favour) but because he is genuinely anti-racist – that is, he is against all forms of racism.

They oppose him because he has been a long-time critic of Israel for its undeniable oppression of, and racism towards, Palestinians.

The Saudi Arabia comparison would again be telling. Were a Saudi Arabia lobby to vocally denounce Corbyn as Islamophobic for rejecting human rights abuses by Riyadh, domestically and in Yemen, Labour members would rightly come to Corbyn’s defence and highlight the cynical exploitation of Islamophobia to shield Saudi Arabia from criticism.

But the Labour lobby’s support for Israel is not theoretical. Despite their claims, most of these lobbyists are not supporting – at least in practice – efforts to realise a two-state solution, as Corbyn does. Their actions, if not always their words, support the far-right government of Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, and the systematic crimes his government commits against Palestinians.

They identify so fully with Israel that they would rather oust Corbyn – or even, it seems, destroy the Labour party – than let him reach power. In other words, they would rather override the democratic will of party members than risk Corbyn shifting Britain away from its unwavering support for the Netanyahu government, or a government of army generals if it takes his place after April’s election.

Plot against Corbyn

To state this is not to indulge in some kind of conspiratorial thinking, as Jones implies. We know that pro-Israel lobbyists in Labour like the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel have been plotting to rid Labour of Corbyn to protect a Netanyahu-led Israel.

How do we know? Because an undercover reporter from Al Jazeera spent months secretly filming the efforts of these lobby groups to damage Corbyn in collusion with an Israeli agent, Shai Masot, working out of the Israeli embassy in London.

It is significant that, like the rest of the British media, Jones, who comments so much on the supposed anti-semitism “crisis” in Labour, rarely, if ever, refers to the resulting documentary, The Lobby.

One can understand why. It deeply damages his thesis, and suggests what he denies: that groups like the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel are conflating anti-Zionism with anti-semitism precisely to weaponise anti-semitism – to make it politically useful to them.

The documentary suggests that Labour’s problem isn’t so much anti-semitic tropes on the “hard left” as it is anti-Corbyn scheming among die-hard supporters of Israel.

Blair’s Great Game for Oil

Second, Jones wilfully ignores the wider political dimension to the anti-semitism furore in Labour.

He assumes, without any evidence, that “moderates” like former leader Tony Blair and current deputy leader Tom Watson care more about anti-semitism and racism than do Jeremy Corbyn and Chris Williamson, the MP who was recently suspended for publicly defending the party and its members against charges that anti-semitism in Labour was endemic.

(We will draw a veil over the problem that, disgracefully, Jones backed the suspension of Williamson, even though in the video Jones effectively echoes him by denying that the party suffers from institutional anti-semitism.)

Jones bases his assumption on zero evidence. Or rather he ignores the massive evidence suggesting that both Blair and Watson have a much weaker commitment to anti-racism than Corbyn and Williamson.

Blair waged an illegal war in Iraq that probably led to the preventable deaths of more than a million Iraqis, and turned many millions more into refugees. He acted as though these human beings were simply pawns on a chessboard that could be shuffled around in the Great Game for Oil played by himself and US President George W Bush.

Also, Blair has been fabulously remunerated by Saudi Arabia for working as a consultant to the head-chopping regime, one that has funded a militant Islamic extremism across the Middle East, destabilising the region and contributing to countless more deaths.

As for Labour’s deputy leader, consider these recent observations from veteran party member Graham Bash:

Watson is extremely unconcerned when it comes to racism against black people and Muslims. He went along with all New Labour’s anti-terrorism and Prevent measures. He also abstained on Theresa May’s 2014 Immigration Act which introduced the ‘hostile environment policy’ which led to the deportation of hundreds of black people.

Class privilege

Neither of these men has the authority to lecture the Labour leadership, or its members, on any kind of racism.

What is undeniable is that these Labour “moderates”, who represent the centrist impulses of the parliamentary party and have the sympathetic ear of the liberal corporate media, viscerally hate Corbyn. They regard his mildly socialist programme as a threat to the economic and social order that privileges them.

If it is now clear that we are in a class struggle, how is the multi-millionaire Blair, who owns a clutch of palatial homes, possibly on the right side of that struggle?

Similarly, the problem is less that Dame Margaret Hodge is a hardcore Zionist than that she is a hardcore supporter of capitalism – along with many other Labour MPs. Hodge enjoys the fortune of her family’s business empire, and married into even more money. Like most of the Labour parliamentary party, she has no understanding of the difficulties endured by austerity-hit Britain.

It is the very privileges enjoyed by most Labour MPs that make them unlikely champions for any serious redistribution of wealth.

Defending capitalism

It is also why a growing section of a supposedly socialist Labour party are trying to extend the meaning of an already weaponised anti-semitism into ever-more fanciful, and apparently self-sabotaging, realms.

Anti-semitism has rapidly gone from meaning hatred or fear of Jews, to opposition to Israel, to antipathy to capitalism, as starkly illustrated by another “moderate” Labour MP, Siobhan McDonagh. As Jones notes, she recently told Radio 4:

It’s very much part of their [Corbyn supporters’] politics, of hard left politics, to be against capitalists and to see Jewish people as the financiers of capital. Ergo you are anti-Jewish people.

That line of argument has been emerging – unremarked – for some time from within parts of the Labour party, and it is proof in itself that many so-called “moderates” have been weaponising anti-semitism – not to protect Jews but to protect their class privilege.

What we see in Labour is a pincer movement utilising anti-semitism to try to fatally wound Corbyn and the movement behind him. Some oppose him because Israel is their issue, some because maintenance of the neoliberal order is their issue. Both groups, it seems, fear any change to the status quo, and have discovered the accusation of anti-semitism is a winning card.

But real socialists, recognising that western economies and the planet’s climate are moving closer to meltdown, know that change has to be a political priority – and an urgent one. For Labour party members, those who uphold either the right of Israel to be a racist oppressor state or the right of capitalism to destroy the planet stand in the way of efforts to prevent humankind from hurtling over the cliff edge.

Jones and other fairweather allies of a Corbyn-led Labour refuse to consider any of this when they agree to prioritise an anti-semitism “crisis” manufactured by the very opponents of a renewed socialist programme they say they support.

It is long past time for Jones to take off his blinkers and see what is happening to the Labour party.

Labour’s Civil War on Israel has been a Long Time Coming

An announcement this week by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) that it is considering splitting from the British Labour Party could not have come at a worse moment for Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader is already besieged by claims that he is presiding over a party that has become “institutionally anti-semitic”.

The threats by the JLM should be seen as part of concerted efforts to oust Corbyn from the leadership. They follow on the heels of a decision by a handful of Labour MPs last month to set up a new faction called the Independent Group. They, too, cited anti-semitism as a major reason for leaving.

On the defensive, Corbyn was prompted to write to the JLM expressing his and the shadow cabinet’s “very strong desire for you to remain a part of our movement”. More than 100 Labour MPs, including members of the front bench, similarly pleaded with the JLM not to disaffiliate. They apologised for “toxic racism” in the party and for “letting our Jewish supporters and members down”.

Their letter noted that the JLM is “the legitimate and long-standing representative of Jews in the Labour party” and added that the MPs recognised the importance of “calling out those who seek to make solidarity with our Jewish comrades a test of foreign policy”.

That appeared to be a swipe at Corbyn himself, who is the first leader of a British political party to prioritise Palestinian rights over the UK’s ties to an Israeli state that has been oppressing Palestinians for decades.

Only this week the Labour leader renewed his call for Britain to halt arms sales to Israel following a UN report that said the Israeli army’s shooting of Palestinian protesters in Gaza’s Great March of Return could amount to war crimes.

Evidence ignored

Despite the media attention, all the evidence suggests that Labour does not have a problem of “institutional anti-semitism”, or even a problem of anti-semitism above the marginal racism towards Jews found in the wider British population. Figures show only 0.08 percent of Labour members have been disciplined for anti-semitism.

Also largely ignored by the British media, and Corbyn’s opponents, is the fact that a growing number of Jews are publicly coming out in support for him and discounting the claims of an “endemic” anti-semitism problem.

Some 200 prominent Jews signed a letter to the Guardian newspaper calling Corbyn “a crucial ally in the fight against bigotry and reaction. His lifetime record of campaigning for equality and human rights, including consistent support for initiatives against antisemitism, is formidable.”

At the same time, a new organisation, Jewish Voice for Labour, has been established to underscore that there are progressive Jews who welcome Corbyn’s leadership.

On the back foot

In the current hysterical climate, however, no one seems interested in the evidence or these dissenting voices. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that Corbyn and his supporters are on the back foot as they face losing from Labour an affiliate group of 2,000 members who represent a section of the UK’s Jewish community.

But paradoxically, the loss of the JLM may be inevitable if Labour is serious about becoming a party that opposes racism in all its forms, because the JLM has proved it is incapable of meeting that simple standard.

While the Labour Party has been dragged into an increasingly fractious debate about whether anti-Zionism – opposition to Israel as a Jewish state – equates to anti-semitism, everyone has been distracted from the elephant in the room.

Zionism as racism

In fact, it is political Zionism, at least in the hardline form adopted by groups such as the JLM, that is racism – towards Palestinians.

Zionism, we should recall, required the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians to engineer a “Jewish state” on the ruins of Palestinians’ homeland. It fuelled Israel’s hunger for an enlarged territory that led to it occupying the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and further dispossessing the Palestinians through illegal settlement building.

Zionism has made it impossible for any Israeli government to offer meaningful concessions to Palestinians on statehood to create the conditions necessary for peace. It has justified policies that view “mixing between the races” – between Jews and Palestinians – as dangerous “miscegenation” and “assimilation”.

Furthermore, Zionism has kept Israel’s Palestinian citizens a segregated minority, hemmed up in their own ghettoised communities, denied rights to almost all land in Israel, and corralled into their own separate and massively inferior school system.

Efforts to oust Corbyn

All of these policies were instituted by Israel’s Labor Party, the sister organisation of the JLM in Britain. The JLM not only refuses to oppose these policies, but effectively shields Israel from criticism about them from within Britain’s Labour Party.

The JLM has remained mute on the structural violence of Israel’s occupying army, and the systematic racism – encoded in Israel’s laws – towards the fifth of its population who are Palestinian citizens.

Meanwhile, the JLM’s mother body, the World Zionist Organization, has a division that – to this day – finances the establishment and expansion of settlements in the West Bank, in violation of international law.

Added to this, an Al Jazeera undercover documentary broadcast in 2017 showed that the JLM was covertly working with an Israeli government official, Shai Masot, to damage Corbyn because of his pro-Palestinian positions.

Israel, remember, has for the last decade equated to the ultra-nationalist government of Benjamin Netanyahu. His coalition allies seek not a two-state solution, but the takeover of most of the occupied territories and ultimately their annexation, again in violation of international law.

Ella Rose was appointed director of the JLM in 2016, straight from a post at the Israeli embassy.

Relic of old politics

Times – and politics – move on. The JLM is a relic of a period when it was possible to claim to be anti-racist while turning a blind eye to the oppression of the Palestinian people. Social media and Palestinians armed with camera phones – not just Corbyn – have made that evasion no longer possible.

Labour giving pride of place to groups such as the JLM or Labour Friends of Israel – to which 80 of its MPs proudly belong – is, in the current circumstances, as obscene as it would have been 40 years ago for British parties to host their own Friends of South Africa groups.

The Labour Party bureaucracy is being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the modern world by its members, who have felt liberated by Corbyn’s leadership and his history of supporting all kinds of anti-racism struggles, including the Palestinian one.

While Britain has major and pressing issues to tackle, from dealing with its exit from Europe to imminent climate collapse, Labour’s energies have been sidetracked into a civil war about Israel, of all things.

The old guard want to be allowed to support Israel, even as it heads towards full-blown fascism, while much of the membership want to dissociate from what looks increasingly like another apartheid state – and one whose leaders are seeking to stoke conflict across a volatile region.

Redefining anti-semitism

Israel’s most ardent supporters, and Corbyn’s enemies, in Labour will play dirty to protect Israel and their own role from scrutiny, as they have been doing all along.

The JLM led moves last year intended to divide the party by insisting that Labour redefine anti-semitism to include criticism of Israel.

Rumblings of dissatisfaction from the JLM will be cited as further evidence of the membership’s anti-semitism, because that is the most powerful weapon they have to silence criticism of Israel and deflect attention away from their role in shielding Israel from proper scrutiny within Labour.

Politics is about choices and values. Labour has for many decades sided exclusively with Israel and ignored the rights of Palestinians.

Support for ethnic cleansing

In 1944 – four years before Israel’s creation – Labour’s annual conference recommended that the natives of Palestine, a large majority population, be ethnically cleansed to advance the goals of European Zionists colonising their land. The resolution declared: “Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out, as the Jews move in.”

That is exactly what Israel did by expelling 750,000 Palestinians, more than 80 percent of the Palestinian population, in events we now call the Nakba (Catastrophe).

For decades after Israel’s creation, Labour Party members happily travelled to Israel to toil in agricultural communes, such as the kibbutz, that were built on stolen Palestinian land and which, to this day, refuse to allow any of the country’s 1.7 million Palestinian citizens to live in them.

In a speech in 1972, after Israel seized yet more Palestinian lands, including East Jerusalem, Labour leader Harold Wilson urged Israel to hold on to these conquered territories: “Israel’s reaction is natural and proper in refusing to accept the Palestinians as a nation.”

Dark underbelly of racism

This is the dark, dishonourable underbelly of Labour racism, and the party’s decades-long support for colonialism in the Middle East.

Labour created a hierarchy of racisms, in which concern about hatred towards Jews enjoyed star billing while racism towards some other groups, most especially Palestinians, barely registered.

Under Corbyn and a much-expanded membership, these prejudices are being challenged in public for the first time – and that is justifiably making the party an “unsafe” space for groups such as the JLM and Labour Friends of Israel, which hang on to outdated, hardline Zionist positions.

The JLM’s claim to speak for all Jews in Labour has been challenged by anti-racist Jews like those of the Jewish Voice for Labour. Their efforts to defend Corbyn and Labour’s record have been widely ignored by the media or, encouraged by JLM, dismissed as “downplaying” anti-semitism.

History catching up

The JLM’s discomfort may be unfortunate, but it cannot be avoided. It is the price to be paid for the continuing battle by progressives to advance universal rights and defeat racism. This battle has been waged since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was published in 1948 – paradoxically, the year Israel was established by violating the core principles of that declaration.

Israel’s racism towards Palestinians has been indulged by Labour for too long. Now history is catching up with Israel, and with groups such as the JLM.

Labour MPs have a choice. They can stand on the wrong side of history, battling the tide like some modern King Canute, or they can recognise that it is time to fully enter the modern era – and that means embracing a programme of anti-racism that encompasses everyone, including Jews and Palestinians.

• A version of this article first published in Middle East Eye

The Chagos Islands Case, WikiLeaks and Justice

Let this be a lesson to its detractors, doubters and stuffed shirts of the secrecy establishment: the documents sourced from WikiLeaks can have tangible, having significant value for ideas and causes. They can advance matters of the curious; they can confirm instances of the outrageous and they can add to those fabulous claims that might change history.  While Julian Assange and the publishing organisation have been sniped at for being, at various instances, dangerous, unduly challenging and even less than significant (odd, no?), its documentary legacy grows.

Nowhere has there been a tangible demonstration of this than the issue of litigation.  With gradual but relentless commitment, advocates and activists have been introducing documents obtained from WikiLeaks into court proceedings.  The judicial benches have not always been consistent on how best to cope with the adducing of such matters.  Would, for instance, a document obtained improperly still be relevant in proceedings?  Or should be excluded on grounds of confidentiality?  This state of affairs sits oddly with reality, but then again, the law is more often a fiction that resists reality.

The technological imperative here should be obvious.  Such documents lose their factual character of confidence the moment they appear on the website, however obtained.  Millions have the means to access it, even if, legally, the document might retain a certain character.  In this regard, state officials remain jealous of their secrets and their correspondence, keen to ensure that prying publics are kept in the necessary dark.

The case of removing the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago is a particularly ugly one, deeply mired in political considerations and diplomatic intrigue.  The islands, located some 1,800 kilometres from Mauritius, became part of an arrangement between Britain and the United States, the latter particularly keen to acquire a military base in the area, the former keen to be in the good books as Greek advisor to all-powerful Rome.

In 1965, with cards firmly kept to their chests, British diplomats disaggregated the Chagos Islands from Mauritius.  Mauritius, in turn, received four million pounds for the favour.  This underhanded arrangement became the prelude for the removal of all 3,000 occupants from the Islands.  The UK Permanent Under-Secretary overseeing the sordid business was intent on being brutal, suggesting in 1966 with all the crudeness of an ethnic cleanser that Britain be “tough about this.  The object of the exercise was to get some rocks which will remain ours; there will be no indigenous population except seagulls who have not yet got a Committee (the Status of Women does not cover the rights of Birds).”

The hand written note appended by D.A. Greenhill on August 24, 1966 on the same document was filled with lashings of vulgarity: “along with the birds go some few Tarzans or Men Fridays” who had to be moved on.  Once done, “we must be very tough and a submission is being done accordingly.”  What followed was a forced eviction of the inhabitants and the construction of the US base on Diego Garcia.

This nastiness proved perennial.  The Chagossians took up their claims of return, including unacknowledged fishing rights, badgering the UK government repeatedly in their efforts.  One ploy adopted by the good officials in Her Majesty’s Government was its attempt to turn the area of claim, known as the British Indian Ocean Territory, into a marine park or reserve.

This is where WikiLeaks proved particularly valuable, with cables clearly outlining the improper and frustrating motive of UK officials.  This wily and heinous move, went one summary on May 15, 2009 of a discussion conducted by US political counsellor Richard Mills at the Foreign Office, would make it “difficult if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve.”  The assent of the United States would also be required – a mere formality.

That cable in question became the subject of a legal claim by the Chagossians that wound its way through the British legal system, culminating in two approvals of the use of WikiLeaks cables, the first being the Court of Appeal in 2014, and the second being before the UK Supreme Court in 2018. The latter duly acknowledged that the principle of inviolability would normally “make it impermissible to use such documents or copies in a domestic court of the host country” except in extraordinary circumstances or instances of a waiver by the mission state. In this case, the cable in question did not form part of the London Embassy archive, meaning it could be used in court proceedings.  Even more significantly, the very fact that it came into the public domain “even in circumstances where the document can be shown to have been wrongly extracted from the mission archive” destroyed its inviolability.

Such proceedings formed part of a momentum that saw the UK referred to the International Court of Justice via vote in the United Nations in 2017.  Many European states that might have voted for the UK decided to abstain, a result of Brexit fever.  The ICJ duly found that “the process of decolonization of Mauritius was not lawfully completed when that country acceded to independence in 1968, following the separation of the Chagos Archipelago.”  Accordingly, the UK was “under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible.”

The UK Foreign Office has been snooty in response.  This island dot continues to irk, worry, and gets under the skin of the establishment. “This is an advisory opinion, not a judgment.”  Besides, “The defence facilities on the British Indian Ocean Territory help to protect people here in Britain and around the world from terrorist threats, organised crime and piracy.”  When in a tight corner, always aspire to universal relevance and importance.  In the meantime, the fortunes of the Chagossians, and international opinion, have turned.

The Chagos Islands Case, WikiLeaks and Justice

Let this be a lesson to its detractors, doubters and stuffed shirts of the secrecy establishment: the documents sourced from WikiLeaks can have tangible, having significant value for ideas and causes. They can advance matters of the curious; they can confirm instances of the outrageous and they can add to those fabulous claims that might change history.  While Julian Assange and the publishing organisation have been sniped at for being, at various instances, dangerous, unduly challenging and even less than significant (odd, no?), its documentary legacy grows.

Nowhere has there been a tangible demonstration of this than the issue of litigation.  With gradual but relentless commitment, advocates and activists have been introducing documents obtained from WikiLeaks into court proceedings.  The judicial benches have not always been consistent on how best to cope with the adducing of such matters.  Would, for instance, a document obtained improperly still be relevant in proceedings?  Or should be excluded on grounds of confidentiality?  This state of affairs sits oddly with reality, but then again, the law is more often a fiction that resists reality.

The technological imperative here should be obvious.  Such documents lose their factual character of confidence the moment they appear on the website, however obtained.  Millions have the means to access it, even if, legally, the document might retain a certain character.  In this regard, state officials remain jealous of their secrets and their correspondence, keen to ensure that prying publics are kept in the necessary dark.

The case of removing the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago is a particularly ugly one, deeply mired in political considerations and diplomatic intrigue.  The islands, located some 1,800 kilometres from Mauritius, became part of an arrangement between Britain and the United States, the latter particularly keen to acquire a military base in the area, the former keen to be in the good books as Greek advisor to all-powerful Rome.

In 1965, with cards firmly kept to their chests, British diplomats disaggregated the Chagos Islands from Mauritius.  Mauritius, in turn, received four million pounds for the favour.  This underhanded arrangement became the prelude for the removal of all 3,000 occupants from the Islands.  The UK Permanent Under-Secretary overseeing the sordid business was intent on being brutal, suggesting in 1966 with all the crudeness of an ethnic cleanser that Britain be “tough about this.  The object of the exercise was to get some rocks which will remain ours; there will be no indigenous population except seagulls who have not yet got a Committee (the Status of Women does not cover the rights of Birds).”

The hand written note appended by D.A. Greenhill on August 24, 1966 on the same document was filled with lashings of vulgarity: “along with the birds go some few Tarzans or Men Fridays” who had to be moved on.  Once done, “we must be very tough and a submission is being done accordingly.”  What followed was a forced eviction of the inhabitants and the construction of the US base on Diego Garcia.

This nastiness proved perennial.  The Chagossians took up their claims of return, including unacknowledged fishing rights, badgering the UK government repeatedly in their efforts.  One ploy adopted by the good officials in Her Majesty’s Government was its attempt to turn the area of claim, known as the British Indian Ocean Territory, into a marine park or reserve.

This is where WikiLeaks proved particularly valuable, with cables clearly outlining the improper and frustrating motive of UK officials.  This wily and heinous move, went one summary on May 15, 2009 of a discussion conducted by US political counsellor Richard Mills at the Foreign Office, would make it “difficult if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve.”  The assent of the United States would also be required – a mere formality.

That cable in question became the subject of a legal claim by the Chagossians that wound its way through the British legal system, culminating in two approvals of the use of WikiLeaks cables, the first being the Court of Appeal in 2014, and the second being before the UK Supreme Court in 2018. The latter duly acknowledged that the principle of inviolability would normally “make it impermissible to use such documents or copies in a domestic court of the host country” except in extraordinary circumstances or instances of a waiver by the mission state. In this case, the cable in question did not form part of the London Embassy archive, meaning it could be used in court proceedings.  Even more significantly, the very fact that it came into the public domain “even in circumstances where the document can be shown to have been wrongly extracted from the mission archive” destroyed its inviolability.

Such proceedings formed part of a momentum that saw the UK referred to the International Court of Justice via vote in the United Nations in 2017.  Many European states that might have voted for the UK decided to abstain, a result of Brexit fever.  The ICJ duly found that “the process of decolonization of Mauritius was not lawfully completed when that country acceded to independence in 1968, following the separation of the Chagos Archipelago.”  Accordingly, the UK was “under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible.”

The UK Foreign Office has been snooty in response.  This island dot continues to irk, worry, and gets under the skin of the establishment. “This is an advisory opinion, not a judgment.”  Besides, “The defence facilities on the British Indian Ocean Territory help to protect people here in Britain and around the world from terrorist threats, organised crime and piracy.”  When in a tight corner, always aspire to universal relevance and importance.  In the meantime, the fortunes of the Chagossians, and international opinion, have turned.

In Hebron, Israel removes the Last Restraint on its Settlers’ Reign of Terror

You might imagine that a report by a multinational observer force documenting a 20-year reign of terror by Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers against Palestinians, in a city under occupation, would provoke condemnation from European and US politicians.

But you would be wrong. The leaking in December of the report on conditions in the city of Hebron, home to 200,000 Palestinians, barely caused a ripple.

About 40,000 separate cases of abuse had been quietly recorded since 1997 by dozens of monitors from Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Italy and Turkey. Some incidents constituted war crimes.

Exposure of the confidential report has now provided the pretext for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to expel the international observers. He shuttered their mission in Hebron this month, in apparent violation of Israel’s obligations under the 25-year-old Oslo peace accords.

Israel hopes once again to draw a veil over its violent colonisation of the heart of the West Bank’s largest Palestinian city. The process of clearing tens of thousands of inhabitants from central Hebron is already well advanced.

Any chance of rousing the international community into even minimal protest was stamped out by the US last week. It blocked a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council expressing “regret” at Israel’s decision, and on Friday added that ending the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) was an “internal matter” for Israel.

The TIPH was established in 1997 after a diplomatic protocol split the city into two zones, controlled separately by Israel and a Palestinian Authority created by the Oslo accords.

The “temporary” in its name was a reference to the expected five-year duration of the Oslo process. The need for TIPH, most assumed, would vanish when Israel ended the occupation and a Palestinian state was built in its place.

While Oslo put the PA formally in charge of densely populated regions of the occupied territories, Israel was effectively given a free hand in Hebron to entrench its belligerent hold on Palestinian life.

Several hundred extremist Jewish settlers have gradually expanded their illegal enclave in the city centre, backed by more than 1,000 Israeli soldiers. Many Palestinian residents have been forced out while the rest are all but imprisoned in their homes.

TIPH faced an impossible task from the outset: to “maintain normal life” for Hebron’s Palestinians in the face of Israel’s structural violence.

Until the report was leaked, its documentation of Israel’s takeover of Hebron and the settlers’ violent attacks had remained private, shared only among the states participating in the task force.

However, the presence of observers did curb the settlers’ worst excesses, helping Palestinian children get to school unharmed and allowing their parents to venture out to work and shop. That assistance is now at an end.

Hebron has been a magnet for extremist settlers because it includes a site revered in Judaism: the reputed burial plot of Abraham, father to the three main monotheistic religions.

But to the settlers’ disgruntlement, Hebron became central to Muslim worship centuries ago, with the Ibrahimi mosque established at the site.

Israel’s policy has been gradually to prise away the Palestinians’ hold on the mosque, as well the urban space around it. Half of the building has been restricted to Jewish prayer, but in practice the entire site is under Israeli military control.

As the TIPH report notes, Palestinian Muslims must now pass through several checkpoints to reach the mosque and are subjected to invasive body searches. The muezzin’s call to prayer is regularly silenced to avoid disturbing Jews.

Faced with these pressures, according to TIPH, the number of Palestinians praying there has dropped by half over the past 15 years.

In Hebron, as at Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, a Muslim holy site is treated solely as an obstacle – one that must be removed so that Israel can assert exclusive sovereignty over all of the Palestinians’ former homeland.

A forerunner of TIPH was set up in 1994, shortly after Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli army doctor, entered the Ibrahimi mosque and shot more than 150 Muslims at prayer, killing 29. Israeli soldiers aided Goldstein, inadvertently or otherwise, by barring the worshippers’ escape while they were being sprayed with bullets.

The massacre should have provided the opportunity for Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s prime minister of the time, to banish Hebron’s settlers and ensure the Oslo process remained on track. Instead he put the Palestinian population under prolonged curfew.

That curfew never really ended. It became the basis of an apartheid policy that has endlessly indulged Jewish settlers as they harass and abuse their Palestinian neighbours.

Israel’s hope is that most will get the message and leave.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in power for a decade, more settlers are moving in, driving out Palestinians. Today Hebron’s old market, once the commercial hub of the southern West Bank, is a ghost town, and Palestinians are too terrified to enter large sections of their own city.

TIPH’s report concluded that, far from guaranteeing “normal life”, Israel had made Hebron more divided and dangerous for Palestinians than ever before.

In 2016 another army medic, Elor Azaria, used his rifle to shoot in the head a prone and badly wounded Palestinian youth. Unlike Goldstein’s massacre, the incident was caught on video.

Israelis barely cared until Azaria was arrested. Then large sections of the public, joined by politicians, rallied to his cause, hailing him a hero.

Despite doing very little publicly, TIPH’s presence in Hebron had served as some kind of restraint on the settlers and soldiers. Now the fear is that there will be more Azarias.

Palestinians rightly suspect that the expulsion of the observer force is the latest move in efforts by Israel and the US to weaken mechanisms for protecting Palestinian human rights.

Mr Netanyahu has incited against local and international human rights organisations constantly, accusing them of being foreign agents and making it ever harder for them to operate effectively.

And last year US President Donald Trump cut all aid to UNRWA, the United Nations’ refugee agency, which plays a vital role in caring for Palestinians and upholding their right to return to their former lands.

Not only are the institutions Palestinians rely on for support being dismembered but so now are the organisations that record the crimes Israel has been committing.

That, Israel hopes, will ensure that an international observer post which has long had no teeth will soon will soon lose its sight too as Israel begins a process of annexing the most prized areas of the West Bank – with Hebron top of the list.

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

Benny Gantz and Israel’s Drive to Become a Modern-day Sparta

With April’s elections looming, sr Benjamin Netanyahu has good reason to fear Benny Gantz, his former army chief. Gantz has launched a new party, named Iaeli Resilience, just as the net of corruption indictments is closing around the prime minister.

Already, at this early stage of campaigning, some 31 per cent of the Israeli public prefer Gantz to head the next government over Netanyahu, who is only months away from becoming the longest-serving leader in Israel’s history.

Gantz is being feted as the new hope, a chance to change direction after a series of governments under Netanyahu’s leadership have over the past decade shifted Israel ever further to the right.

Like Israel’s former politician generals, from Yitzhak Rabin to Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, Gantz is being portrayed – and portraying himself – as a battle-hardened warrior, able to make peace from a position of strength.

Before he had issued a single policy statement, polls showed him winning 15 of the 120 parliamentary seats, a welcome sign for those hoping that a centre-left coalition can triumph this time.

But the reality of what Gantz stands for – revealed this week in his first election videos – is far from reassuring.

In 2014, he led Israel into its longest and most savage military operation in living memory: 50 days in which the tiny coastal enclave of Gaza was bombarded relentlessly.

By the end, one of the most densely populated areas on earth – its two million inhabitants already trapped by a lengthy Israeli blockade – lay in ruins. More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the onslaught, a quarter of them children, while tens of thousands were left homeless.

The world watched, appalled. Investigations by human rights groups such as Amnesty International concluded that Israel had committed war crimes.

One might have assumed that during the election campaign Gantz would wish to draw a veil over this troubling period in his military career. Not a bit of it.

One of his campaign videos soars over the rubble of Gaza, proudly declaring that Gantz was responsible for destroying many thousands of buildings. “Parts of Gaza have been returned to the Stone Age,” the video boasts.

This is a reference to the Dahiya doctrine, a strategy devised by the Israeli military command of which Gantz was a core member. The aim is to lay waste to the modern infrastructure of Israel’s neighbours, forcing survivors to eke out a bare existence rather than resist Israel.

The collective punishment inherent in the apocalyptic Dahiya doctrine is an undoubted war crime.

More particularly, the video exults in the destruction of Rafah, a city in Gaza that suffered the most intense bout of bombing after an Israeli soldier was seized by Hamas. In minutes, Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment killed at least 135 Palestinian civilians and wrecked a hospital.

According to investigations, Israel had invoked the Hannibal Procedure, the code name for an order allowing the army to use any means to stop one of its soldiers being taken. That includes killing civilians as “collateral damage” and, more controversially for Israelis, the soldier himself.

Gantz’s video flashes up a grand total of “1,364 terrorists killed”, in return for “three-and-a-half years of quiet”. As Israel’s liberal Haaretz daily observed, the video “celebrates a body count as if this were just some computer game”.

But the casualty figure cited by Gantz exceeds even the Israel army’s self-serving assessment – as well, of course, as dehumanising those “terrorists” fighting for their freedom.

A more impartial observer, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, estimates that the Palestinian fighters killed by Israel amounted to 765. By their reckoning, and that of other bodies such as the United Nations, almost two-thirds of Gazans killed in Israel’s 2014 operation were civilians.

Further, the “quiet” Gantz credits himself with was enjoyed chiefly by Israel.

In Gaza, Palestinians faced regular military attacks, a continuing siege choking off essential supplies and destroying their export industries, and a policy of executions by Israeli snipers firing on unarmed demonstrators at the perimeter fence imprisoning the enclave.

Gantz’s campaign slogans “Only the Strong Wins” and “Israel Before Everything” are telling. Everything, for Gantz, clearly includes human rights.

It is shameful enough that he believes his track record of war crimes will win over voters. But the same approach has been voiced by Israel’s new military chief of staff.

Aviv Kochavi, nicknamed the Philosopher Officer for his university studies, was inaugurated this month as the army’s latest head. In a major speech, he promised to reinvent the fabled “most moral army in the world” into a “deadly, efficient” one.

In Kochavi’s view, the rampaging military once overseen by Gantz needs to step up its game. And he is a proven expert in destruction.

In the early stages of the Palestinian uprising that erupted in 2000, the Israeli army struggled to find a way to crush Palestinian fighters concealed in densely crowded cities under occupation.

Kochavi came up with an ingenious solution in Nablus, where he was brigade commander. The army would invade a Palestinian home, then smash through its walls, moving from house to house, burrowing through the city unseen. Palestinian space was not only usurped, but destroyed inside-out.

Gantz, the former general hoping to lead the government, and Kochavi, the general leading its army, are symptoms of just how complete the militaristic logic that has overtaken Israel really is. An Israel determined to become a modern-day Sparta.

Should he bring about Netanyahu’s downfall, Gantz, like his predecessor politician-generals, will turn out to be a hollow peace-maker. He was trained to understand only strength, zero-sum strategies, conquest and destruction, not compassion or compromise.

More dangerously, Gantz’s glorification of his military past is likely to reinforce in Israelis’ minds the need not for peace but for more of the same: support for an ultranationalist right that bathes itself in an ethnic supremacist philosophy and dismisses any recognition of the Palestinians as human beings with rights.

Benny Gantz and Israel’s Drive to Become a Modern-day Sparta

With April’s elections looming, sr Benjamin Netanyahu has good reason to fear Benny Gantz, his former army chief. Gantz has launched a new party, named Iaeli Resilience, just as the net of corruption indictments is closing around the prime minister.

Already, at this early stage of campaigning, some 31 per cent of the Israeli public prefer Gantz to head the next government over Netanyahu, who is only months away from becoming the longest-serving leader in Israel’s history.

Gantz is being feted as the new hope, a chance to change direction after a series of governments under Netanyahu’s leadership have over the past decade shifted Israel ever further to the right.

Like Israel’s former politician generals, from Yitzhak Rabin to Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, Gantz is being portrayed – and portraying himself – as a battle-hardened warrior, able to make peace from a position of strength.

Before he had issued a single policy statement, polls showed him winning 15 of the 120 parliamentary seats, a welcome sign for those hoping that a centre-left coalition can triumph this time.

But the reality of what Gantz stands for – revealed this week in his first election videos – is far from reassuring.

In 2014, he led Israel into its longest and most savage military operation in living memory: 50 days in which the tiny coastal enclave of Gaza was bombarded relentlessly.

By the end, one of the most densely populated areas on earth – its two million inhabitants already trapped by a lengthy Israeli blockade – lay in ruins. More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the onslaught, a quarter of them children, while tens of thousands were left homeless.

The world watched, appalled. Investigations by human rights groups such as Amnesty International concluded that Israel had committed war crimes.

One might have assumed that during the election campaign Gantz would wish to draw a veil over this troubling period in his military career. Not a bit of it.

One of his campaign videos soars over the rubble of Gaza, proudly declaring that Gantz was responsible for destroying many thousands of buildings. “Parts of Gaza have been returned to the Stone Age,” the video boasts.

This is a reference to the Dahiya doctrine, a strategy devised by the Israeli military command of which Gantz was a core member. The aim is to lay waste to the modern infrastructure of Israel’s neighbours, forcing survivors to eke out a bare existence rather than resist Israel.

The collective punishment inherent in the apocalyptic Dahiya doctrine is an undoubted war crime.

More particularly, the video exults in the destruction of Rafah, a city in Gaza that suffered the most intense bout of bombing after an Israeli soldier was seized by Hamas. In minutes, Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment killed at least 135 Palestinian civilians and wrecked a hospital.

According to investigations, Israel had invoked the Hannibal Procedure, the code name for an order allowing the army to use any means to stop one of its soldiers being taken. That includes killing civilians as “collateral damage” and, more controversially for Israelis, the soldier himself.

Gantz’s video flashes up a grand total of “1,364 terrorists killed”, in return for “three-and-a-half years of quiet”. As Israel’s liberal Haaretz daily observed, the video “celebrates a body count as if this were just some computer game”.

But the casualty figure cited by Gantz exceeds even the Israel army’s self-serving assessment – as well, of course, as dehumanising those “terrorists” fighting for their freedom.

A more impartial observer, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, estimates that the Palestinian fighters killed by Israel amounted to 765. By their reckoning, and that of other bodies such as the United Nations, almost two-thirds of Gazans killed in Israel’s 2014 operation were civilians.

Further, the “quiet” Gantz credits himself with was enjoyed chiefly by Israel.

In Gaza, Palestinians faced regular military attacks, a continuing siege choking off essential supplies and destroying their export industries, and a policy of executions by Israeli snipers firing on unarmed demonstrators at the perimeter fence imprisoning the enclave.

Gantz’s campaign slogans “Only the Strong Wins” and “Israel Before Everything” are telling. Everything, for Gantz, clearly includes human rights.

It is shameful enough that he believes his track record of war crimes will win over voters. But the same approach has been voiced by Israel’s new military chief of staff.

Aviv Kochavi, nicknamed the Philosopher Officer for his university studies, was inaugurated this month as the army’s latest head. In a major speech, he promised to reinvent the fabled “most moral army in the world” into a “deadly, efficient” one.

In Kochavi’s view, the rampaging military once overseen by Gantz needs to step up its game. And he is a proven expert in destruction.

In the early stages of the Palestinian uprising that erupted in 2000, the Israeli army struggled to find a way to crush Palestinian fighters concealed in densely crowded cities under occupation.

Kochavi came up with an ingenious solution in Nablus, where he was brigade commander. The army would invade a Palestinian home, then smash through its walls, moving from house to house, burrowing through the city unseen. Palestinian space was not only usurped, but destroyed inside-out.

Gantz, the former general hoping to lead the government, and Kochavi, the general leading its army, are symptoms of just how complete the militaristic logic that has overtaken Israel really is. An Israel determined to become a modern-day Sparta.

Should he bring about Netanyahu’s downfall, Gantz, like his predecessor politician-generals, will turn out to be a hollow peace-maker. He was trained to understand only strength, zero-sum strategies, conquest and destruction, not compassion or compromise.

More dangerously, Gantz’s glorification of his military past is likely to reinforce in Israelis’ minds the need not for peace but for more of the same: support for an ultranationalist right that bathes itself in an ethnic supremacist philosophy and dismisses any recognition of the Palestinians as human beings with rights.

Palestinians in Israel face Uncertain Political Future Amid Joint List Split

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

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

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

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

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

Falling voter turnouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acrimony in the Joint List

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

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

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

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

Call for reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Split could backfire

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

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

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

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

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

‘Coming out in droves’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need for common platform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crisis of legitimacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of ideological politics

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

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

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

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

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

Gaining more influence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calls for boycott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• First published in Middle East Eye