Category Archives: Hypocrisy

On Trumpism and Netanyahu-ism: How Benjamin Netanyahu Won America and Lost Israel 

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is as much American as he is Israeli. While other Israeli leaders have made their strong relationship with Washington a cornerstone in their politics, Netanyahu’s political style was essentially American from the start.

Netanyahu spent many of his formative years in the United States. He lived in Philadelphia as a child, graduated from Cheltenham High School and earned a degree in Management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976. He then opted to live in the US, not Israel, when he joined the Boston Consulting Group.

Presumably for familial reasons, namely the death of his brother Yonatan, Netanyahu returned to Israel in 1978 to head the ‘Yonatan Netanyahu Anti-Terror Institute’. This did not last for long. He returned to the US to serve as Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 1984 to 1988. At the time, Israel was ruled by a coalition government, which saw the rotation of two different prime ministers, Labor Party leader, Shimon Peres and Likud leader, Yitzhak Shamir.

Then, terms like ‘Labor’ and ‘Likud’ meant very little to most American politicians. The US Congress was, seemingly, in love with Israel. For them, Israeli politics was a mere internal matter. Things have changed in the following years, in which Netanyahu played a major role.

Even in the last three decades when Netanyahu became more committed to Israeli politics, he remained, at heart, American. His relationship with US elites was different from that of previous Israeli leaders. Not only were his political ideas and intellect molded in the US, he also managed to generate a unique political brand of pro-Israel solidarity among Americans. In the US, Netanyahu is a household name.

One of the successes attributed to Netanyahu’s approach to American politics was the formation of deep and permanent ties with the country’s burgeoning Christian fundamentalist groups. These groups, such as John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, used the support for Israel – based on messianic and biblical prophecies – as a point of unity and a stepping stone into the world of politics. Israel’s Netanyahu used them as reliable allies who, eventually, made up for the growing lack of enthusiasm for Israel among liberal and progressive circles across the US.

The Israel-evangelical connection may have seemed, at the time, a masterful stroke that could be attributed to the political ‘genius’ of Netanyahu. Indeed, it looked as if Netanyahu had guaranteed American loyalty to Israel indefinitely. This assertion was demonstrated repeatedly, especially as the fundamentalists came to Israel’s rescue whenever the latter engaged in war or faced any threat, whether imagined or fabricated.

As American politics shifted towards more populist, demagogic and conservative ideologies, the evangelicals moved closer to the centers of power in Capitol Hill. Note how Tea-party conservatism, one of the early sparks of the chaotic Trumpism that followed, was purportedly madly in love with Israel. The once marginal political camps, whose political discourses are driven by a strange amalgamation of prophecies and realpolitik, eventually became the ‘base’ of US President Donald Trump. Trump had no other option but to make the support for Israel a core value to his political campaign. His base would have never accepted any alternative.

A prevailing argument often suggests that Netanyahu’s mortal error was making Israel a domestic American issue. Whereas the Republicans support Israel – thanks to their massive evangelical constituency – the Democrats have slowly turned against Israel, an unprecedented phenomenon that only existed under Netanyahu. While this is true, it is also misleading, as it suggests that Netanyahu simply miscalculated. But he did not. In fact, Netanyahu has fostered a strong relationship with the various evangelical groups, long before Trump pondered the possibility of moving to the White House. Netanyahu simply wanted to change the center of gravity of the US relationship with Israel, which he accomplished.

For Netanyahu, the support of the American conservative camp was not a mere strategy to simply garner support for Israel, but an ideologically motivated choice, linking Netanyahu’s own beliefs to American politics using the Christian fundamentalists as a vehicle. This assertion can be demonstrated in a recent headline from The Times of Israel: “Top evangelical leader warns: Israel could lose our support if Netanyahu ousted.”

This ‘top evangelical leader’ is Mike Evans who, from Jerusalem, declared that “Bibi Netanyahu is the only man in the world that unites evangelicals.” Evans vowed to take his 77 million followers to the opposition of any Israeli government without Netanyahu. Much can be gleaned from this but, most importantly, US evangelicals consider themselves fundamental to Israeli politics, their support for Israel being conditioned on Netanyahu’s centrality in that very Israeli body politic.

In recent weeks, many comparisons between Netanyahu and Trump began surfacing. These comparisons are apt, but the issue is slightly more complex than merely comparing political styles, selective discourses and personas. Actually, both Trumpism and Netanyahu’s brand of Likudism – call it Netanyahu-ism – have successfully merged US and Israeli politics in a way that is almost impossible to disentangle. This shall continue to prove costly for Israel, as the evangelical and Republican support for Israel is clearly conditioned on the latter’s ability to serve the US conservative political – let alone spiritual – agenda.

Similarities between Trump and Netanyahu are obvious but they are also rather superficial. Both are narcissistic politicians, who are willing to destabilize their own countries to remain in power, as if they both live by the French maxim, Après moi, le déluge – “After me, the flood”. More, both railed against the elites, and placed fringe political trends – often marred by chauvinistic and fascist political views – at center stage. They both spoke of treason and fraud, played the role of the victim, posed as the only possible saviors, and so on.

But popular political trends of this nature cannot be wholly associated with individuals. Indeed, it was Trump and Netanyahu who tapped into, and exploited, existing political phenomena which, arguably, would have taken place with or without them. The painful truth is that Trumpism will survive long after Trump is gone and Netanyahu-ism has likely changed the face of Israel, regardless of Netanyahu’s next step.

Whatever that next step may be, it will surely be situated in the same familiar base of Netanyahu’s angry army of Israeli right-wing zealots and Christian fundamentalists in the US and elsewhere.

The post On Trumpism and Netanyahu-ism: How Benjamin Netanyahu Won America and Lost Israel  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

On “Conflict”, “Peace” and “Genocide”: Time for New Language on Palestine and Israel

On May 25, famous American actor, Mark Ruffalo, tweeted an apology for suggesting that Israel is committing ‘genocide’ in Gaza.

“I have reflected and wanted to apologize for posts during the recent Israel/Hamas fighting that suggested Israel is committing ‘genocide’,” Ruffalo wrote, adding, “It’s not accurate, it’s inflammatory, disrespectful and is being used to justify anti-Semitism, here and abroad. Now is the time to avoid hyperbole.”

But were Ruffalo’s earlier assessments, indeed, “not accurate, inflammatory and disrespectful”? And does equating Israel’s war on besieged, impoverished Gaza with genocide fit into the classification of ‘hyperbole’?

To avoid pointless social media spats, one only needs to reference the ‘United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide’. According to Article 2 of the 1948 Convention, the legal definition of genocide is:

“Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, such as (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part …”

In its depiction of Israel’s latest war on Gaza, the Geneva-based human rights group, Euro-Med Monitor, reported:

The Israeli forces directly targeted 31 extended families. In 21 cases, the homes of these families were bombed while their residents were inside. These raids resulted in the killing of 98 civilians, including 44 children and 28 women. Among the victims were a man and his wife and children, mothers and their children, or child siblings. There were seven mothers who were killed along with four or three of their children. The bombing of these homes and buildings came without any warning despite the Israeli forces’ knowledge that civilians were inside.

As of May 28, 254 Palestinians in Gaza were killed and 1,948 were wounded in the latest 11-day Israeli onslaught, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Though tragic, this number is relatively small compared with the casualties of previous wars. For example, in the 51-day Israeli war on Gaza in the summer of 2014, over 2,200 Palestinians were killed and over 17,000 were wounded. Similarly, entire families, like the 21-member Abu Jame family in Khan Younis, also perished. Is this not genocide? The same logic can be applied to the killing of over 300 unarmed protesters at the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel between March 2018 and December 2019. Moreover, the besiegement and utter isolation of over 2 million Palestinians in Gaza since 2006-07, which has resulted in numerous tragedies, is an act of collective punishment that also deserves the designation of genocide.

One does not need to be a legal expert to identify the many elements of genocide in Israel’s violent behavior, let alone language, against Palestinians. There is a clear, undeniable relationship between Israel’s violent political discourse and equally violent action on the ground. Potentially Israel’s next prime minister, Naftali Bennett, who has served the role of Defense Minister, had, in July 2013, stated: “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there’s no problem with that.”

With this context in mind, and regardless of why Ruffalo found it necessary to back-track on his moral position, Israel is an unrepentent human rights violator that continues to carry out an active policy of genocide and ethnic cleansing against the native, indigenous inhabitants of Palestine.

Language matters, and in this particular ‘conflict’, it matters most, because Israel has, for long, managed to escape any accountability for its actions, due to its success in misrepresenting facts, and the overall truth about itself. Thanks to its many allies and supporters in mainstream media and academia, Tel Aviv has rebranded itself from being a military occupier and an apartheid regime to an ‘oasis of democracy’, in fact, ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’.

This article will not attempt to challenge the entirety of the misconstrued mainstream media’s depiction of Israel. Volumes are required for that, and Israeli Professor Ilan Pappé’s ‘Ten Myths about Israel’ is an important starting point. However, this article will attempt to present some basic definitions that must enter the Palestine-Israel lexicon, as a prerequisite to developing a fairer understanding of what is happening on the ground.

A Military Occupation – Not a ‘Conflict’

Quite often, mainstream Western media refers to the situation in Palestine and Israel as a  ‘conflict’, and to the various specific elements of this so-called conflict as a ‘dispute’. For example, the ‘Palestinian-Israeli conflict’ and the ‘disputed city of East Jerusalem’.

What should be an obvious truth is that besieged, occupied people do not engage in a ‘conflict’ with their occupiers. Moreover, a ‘dispute’ happens when two parties have equally compelling claims to any issue. When Palestinan families of East Jerusalem are being forced out of their homes which are, in turn, handed over to Jewish extremists, there is no ‘dispute’ involved. The extremists are thieves and the Palestinians are victims. This is not a matter of opinion. The international community itself says so.

‘Conflict’ is a generic term. Aside from absolving the aggressor – in this case, Israel – it leaves all matters open for interpretation. Since American audiences are indoctrinated to love Israel and hate Arabs and Muslims, siding with Israel in its ‘conflict’ with the latter becomes the only rational option.

Israel has sustained a military occupation of 22% of the total size of historic Palestine since June 1967. The remainder of the Palestinian homeland was already usurped, using extreme violence, state-sanctioned apartheid, and, as Pappé puts it, ‘incremental genocide’ decades earlier.

From the perspective of international law,  the term ‘military occupation’, ‘occupied East Jerusalem’, ‘illegal Jewish settlements’ and so forth, have never been ‘disputed’. They are simply facts, even if Washington has decided to ignore international law, and even if mainstream US media has chosen to manipulate the terminology as to present Israel as a victim, not the aggressor.

‘Process’ without ‘Peace’

The term ‘peace process’ was coined by American diplomats decades ago. It was put to use throughout the mid and late 1970s when, then-US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, labored to broker a deal between Egypt and Israel in the hope of fragmenting the Arab political front and, eventually, sidelining Cairo entirely from the ‘Arab-Israeli conflict’.

Kissinger’s logic proved vital for Israel as the ‘process’ did not aim at achieving justice according to fixed criteria that has been delineated by the United Nations for years. There was no frame of reference any more. If any existed, it was Washington’s political priorities which, historically, almost entirely overlapped with Israel’s priorities. Despite the obvious American bias, the US bestowed upon itself the undeserving title of ‘the honest peace broker’.

This approach was used successfully in the write-up to the Camp David Accords in 1978. One of the Accords’ greatest achievements is that the so-called ‘Arab-Israeli conflict’ was replaced with the so-called ‘Palestinian-Israeli conflict’.

Now, tried and true, the ‘peace process’ was used again in 1993, resulting in the Oslo Accords. For nearly three decades, the US continued to tout its self-proclaimed credentials as a peacemaker, despite the fact that it pumped – and continues to do so – $3-4 billion of annual, mostly military, aid to Israel.

On the other hand, the Palestinians have little to show for. No peace was achieved; no justice was obtained; not an inch of Palestinian land was returned and not a single Palestinian refugee was allowed to return home. However, American and European officials and a massive media apparatus continued to talk of a ‘peace process’ with little regard to the fact that the ‘peace process’ has brought nothing but war and destruction for Palestine, and allowed Israel to continue its illegal appropriation and colonization of Palestinian land.

Resistance, National Liberation – Not ‘Terrorism’ and ‘State-Building’

The ‘peace process’ introduced more than death, mayhem and normalization of land theft in Palestine. It also wrought its own language, which remains in effect to this day. According to the new lexicon, Palestinians are divided into ‘moderate’ and ‘extremists’. The ‘moderates’ believe in the American-led ‘peace process’, ‘peace negotiations’ and are ready to make ‘painful compromises’ in order to obtain the coveted ‘peace’. On the other hand, the ‘extremists’ are ‘Iran-backed’, politically ‘radical’ bunch that use ‘terrorism’ to satisfy their ‘dark’ political agendas.

But is this the case? Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, many sectors of Palestinian society, including Muslims and Christians, Islamists and secularists and, notably, socialists, resisted the unwarranted political ‘compromises’ undertaken by their leadership, which they perceived to be a betrayal of Palestinians’ basic rights. Meanwhile, the ‘moderates’ have largely ruled over Palestinians with no democratic mandate. This small but powerful group introduced a culture of political and financial corruption, unprecedented in Palestine. They applied torture against Palestinian political dissidents whenever it suited them. Not only did Washington say little to criticize the ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority’s dismal human rights record, but it also applauded it for its crackdown on those who ‘incite violence’ and their ‘terrorist infrastructure’.

A term such as ‘resistance’ – muqawama – was slowly but carefully extricated from the Palestinian national discourse. The term ‘liberation’ too was perceived to be confrontational and hostile. Instead, such concepts as ‘state-building’ – championed by former Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, and others – began taking hold. The fact that Palestine was still an occupied country and that ‘state-building’ can only be achieved once ‘liberation’ was first secured, did not seem to matter to the ‘donor countries’. The priorities of these countries – mainly US allies who adhered to the American political agenda in the Middle East – was to maintain the illusion of the ‘peace process’ and to ensure  ‘security coordination’ between PA police and the Israeli army carried on, unabated.

The so-called ‘security coordination’, of course, refers to the US-funded joint Israeli-PA efforts at cracking down on Palestinian resistance, apprehending Palestinian political dissidents and ensuring the safety of the illegal Jewish settlements, or colonies, in the occupied West Bank.

War and, Yes, Genocide in Gaza – Not ‘Israel-Hamas Conflict’

The word ‘democracy’ was constantly featured in the new Oslo language. Of course, it was not intended to serve its actual meaning. Instead, it was the icing on the cake of making the illusion of the ‘peace process’ perfect. This was obvious, at least to most Palestinians. It also became obvious to the whole world in January 2006, when the Palestinian faction Fatah, which has monopolized the PA since its inception in 1994, lost the popular vote to the Islamic faction, Hamas.

Hamas, and other Palestinian factions have rejected – and continue to reject – the Oslo Accords. Their participation in the legislative elections in 2006 took many by surprise, as the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) was itself a product of Oslo. Their victory in the elections, which was classified as democratic and transparent by international monitoring groups, threw a wrench in the US-Israeli-PA political calculations.

Lo and behold, the group that has long been perceived by Israel and its allies as ‘extremist’ and ‘terrorist’, became the potential leaders of Palestine! The Oslo spin doctors had to go into overdrive in order for them to thwart Palestinian democracy and ensure a successful return to the status quo, even if this meant that Palestine is represented by unelected, undemocratic leaders. Sadly, this has been the case for nearly 15 years.

Meanwhile, Hamas’ stronghold, the Gaza Strip, had to be taught a lesson, thus the siege imposed on the impoverished region for nearly 15 years. The siege on Gaza has little to do with Hamas’ rockets or Israel’s ‘security’ needs, the right to ‘defend itself’, and its supposedly ‘justifiable’ desire to destroy Gaza’s ‘terrorist infrastructure’. While, indeed, Hamas’ popularity in Gaza is unmatched anywhere else in Palestine, Fatah, too, has a powerful constituency there. Moreover, the Palestinian resistance in the Strip is not championed by Hamas alone, but also by other ideological and political groups, for example, the Islamic Jihad, the socialist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and other socialist and secular groups.

Misrepresenting the ‘conflict’ as a ‘war’ between Israel and Hamas is crucial to Israeli propaganda, which has succeeded in equating Hamas with militant groups throughout the Middle East and even Afghanistan. But Hamas is not ISIS, Al-Qaeda or Taliban. In fact, none of these groups are similar, anyway. Hamas is a Palestinian Islamic nationalist movement that operates within a largely Palestinian political context. An excellent book on Hamas is the recently published volume by Daud Abdullah, Engaging the World. Abdullah’s book rightly presents Hamas as a rational political actor, rooted in its ideological convictions, yet flexible and pragmatic in its ability to adapt to national, regional and international geopolitical changes.

But what does Israel have to gain from mischaracterizing the Palestinian resistance in Gaza? Aside from satisfying its propaganda campaign of erroneously linking Hamas to other anti-American groups, it also dehumanizes the Palestinian people entirely and presents Israel as a partner in the American global so-called ‘war on terror’. Israeli neofascist and ultranationalist politicians then become the saviors of humanity, their violent racist language is forgiven and their active ‘genocide’ is seen as an act of ‘self-defense’ or, at best, a mere state of ‘conflict’.

The Oppressor as the Victim

According to the strange logic of mainstream media, Palestinians are rarely ‘killed’ by Israeli soldiers, but rather ‘die’ in ‘clashes’ resulting from various ‘disputes. Israel does not ‘colonize’ Palestinian land; it merely ‘annexes’, ‘appropriates’, and ‘captures’, and so on. What has been taking place in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem, for example, is not outright property theft, leading to ethnic cleansing, but rather a ‘property dispute’.

The list goes on and on.

In truth, language has always been a part of Zionist colonialism, long before the state of Israel was itself constructed from the ruins of Palestinian homes and villages in 1948. Palestine, according to the Zionists, was ‘a land with no people’ for ‘a people with no land’. These colonists were never ‘illegal settlers’ but ‘Jewish returnees’ to their ‘ancestral homeland’, who, through hard work and perseverance, managed to ‘make the desert bloom’, and, in order to defend themselves against the ‘hordes of Arabs’, they needed to build an ‘invincible army’.

It will not be easy to deconstruct the seemingly endless edifice of lies, half-truths and intentional misrepresentations of Zionist Israeli colonialism in Palestine. Yet, there can be no alternative to this feat because, without proper, accurate and courageous understanding and depiction of Israeli settler colonialism and Palestinian resistance to it, Israel will continue to oppress Palestinians while presenting itself as the victim.

The post On “Conflict”, “Peace” and “Genocide”: Time for New Language on Palestine and Israel first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Thomas Friedman’s last gasp

Thomas Friedman’s recent column in the New York Times reflecting on Israel’s 11-day destruction of Gaza is a showcase for the delusions of liberal Zionism: a constellation of thought that has never looked so threadbare. It seems that every liberal newspaper needs a Thomas Friedman – the UK’s Guardian has Jonathan Freedland – whose role is to keep readers from considering realistic strategies for Israel-Palestine, however often and catastrophically the established ones have failed. In this case, Friedman’s plea for Joe Biden to preserve the ‘potential of a two-state solution’ barely conceals his real goal: resuscitating the discourse of an illusory ‘peace process’ from which everyone except liberal Zionists has moved on. His fear is that the debate is quietly shifting outside this framework – towards the recognition that Israel is a belligerent apartheid regime, and the conclusion that one democratic state for Palestinians and Jews is now the only viable solution.

For more than five decades, the two-state solution – of a large, ultra-militarized state for Israel, and a much smaller, demilitarized one for Palestinians – has been the sole paradigm of the Western political and media class. During these years, a Palestinian state failed to materialize despite (or more likely because of) various US-backed ‘peace processes’. While Americans and Europeans have consoled themselves with such fantasies, Israel has only paid them lip-service, enforcing a de facto one-state solution premised on Jewish supremacy over Palestinians, and consolidating its control over the entire territory.

But in recent years, Israel’s naked settler-colonial actions have imperiled that Western paradigm. It has become increasingly evident that Israel is incapable of making peace with the Palestinians because its state ideology – Zionism – is based on their removal or eradication. What history has taught us is that the only just and lasting way to end a ‘conflict’ between a native population and a settler-colonial movement is decolonization, plus the establishment of a single, shared, democratic state. Otherwise, the settlers continue to pursue their replacement strategies – which invariably include ethnic cleansing, communal segregation and genocide. These were precisely the tactics adopted by European colonists in the Americas, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Friedman’s function in the Western media – conscious or not – is to obfuscate these historical lessons, tapping into a long legacy of unthinking colonial racism.

One of the central pillars of that legacy is an abiding fear of the native and his supposedly natural savagery. This has always been the unspoken assumption behind the interminable two-state ‘peace process’. A civilized and civilizing West tries to broker a ‘peace deal’ to protect Israel from the Palestinian hordes next door. But the Palestinians continuously ‘reject’ these peace overtures because of their savage nature – which is in turn presented as the reason why Israel must ethnically cleanse them and herd them into reservations, or Bantustans, away from Jewish settlers. Occasionally, Israel is forced to ‘retaliate’ – or defend itself from this savagery – in what becomes an endless ‘cycle of violence’. The West supports Israel with military aid and preferential trade, while watching with exasperation as the Palestinian leadership fails to discipline its people.

Friedman is an expert at exploiting this colonial mentality. He often avoids taking direct responsibility for his racist assumptions, attributing them to ‘centrist Democrats’ or other right-minded observers. Coded language is his stock in trade, serving to heighten the unease felt by western audiences as the natives try to regain a measure of control over their future. In some cases the prejudicial framing is overt, as with his concern about the threat of an ascendant Hamas to women’s and LGBTQ rights, couched in an identity politics he knows will resonate with NYT readers. But more often his framing is insidious, with terms like ‘decimate’ and ‘blow up’ deployed to cast Palestinians’ desire for self-determination as violent and menacing.

Friedman’s promotion of the two-state model offers a three-layered deception. First, he writes that the two-state solution would bring ‘peace’, without acknowledging that the condition for that peace is the Palestinians’ permanent ghettoization and subjugation. Second, he blames the Palestinians for rejecting just such ‘peace plans’, even though they have never been seriously offered by Israel. And finally, he has the chutzpah to imply that it was the Palestinians’ failure to negotiate a two-state solution that ‘decimated’ the Israeli ‘peace camp’.

Such arguments are not only based on Friedman’s dehumanizing view of Arabs. They are also tied to his domestic political concerns. He fears that if Joe Biden were to acknowledge the reality that Israel has sabotaged the two-state solution, then the President might disengage once and for all from the ‘peace process’. Of course, most Palestinians would welcome such an end to US interference: the billions of dollars funnelled annually to the Israeli military, the US diplomatic cover for Israel, and the arm-twisting of other states to silently accept its atrocities. But, Friedman argues, this withdrawal would carry a heavy price at home, setting off a civil war within Biden’s own party and within Jewish organizations across the US. God forbid, it might ‘even lead to bans on arms sales’ to Israel.

Friedman reminds us of Israeli businessman Gidi Grinstein’s warning that in the absence of a ‘potential’ two-state solution, US support for Israel could morph ‘from a bipartisan issue to a wedge issue’. The columnist writes that preserving the two-state ‘peace process’, however endless and hopeless, is ‘about our national security interests in the Middle East’. How does Friedman define these interests? They are reducible, he says, to ‘the political future of the centrist faction of the Democratic Party.’ A ‘peace process’ once designed to salve the consciences of Americans while enabling the dispossession of Palestinians has now been redefined as a vital US national security issue – because, for Friedman, its survival is necessary to preserve the dominance of foreign policy hawks in the Democratic machine. The argument echoes Biden’s extraordinarily frank admission made back in 1986 that ‘were there not an Israel the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region’.

Friedman then concludes his article with a set of proposals that unwittingly expose the true consequences of a two-state settlement. He insists that Biden build on his predecessor’s much ridiculed ‘peace plan’, which gave US blessing to Israel’s illegal settlements on vast swaths of the occupied West Bank, penning Palestinians into their Bantustans indefinitely. Trump’s plan also sought to entrench Israel’s control over occupied East Jerusalem, remake Gaza as a permanent battlefield on which rivalries between Fatah and Hamas would intensify, and turn the wealth of the theocratic Gulf states into a weapon, fully integrating Israel into the region’s economy while making the Palestinians even more dependent on foreign aid. Polite NYT opinionators now want Biden to sell these measures as a re-engagement with the ‘peace process’.

The US, writes Friedman, should follow Trump in stripping the Palestinians of a capital in East Jerusalem – the economic, religious and historic heart of Palestine. Arab states should reinforce this dispossession by moving their embassies from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem. Neighbouring countries are encouraged to pressure the Palestinian Authority, via aid payments, to accede even more cravenly to Israel’s demands. (Of course, Friedman does not think it worth mentioning that Palestine is aid-dependent because Israel has either stolen or seized control of all its major resources.)

Once this subordinate position is guaranteed, divisions within the Palestinian national movement can be inflamed by making Hamas – plus the two million Palestinians in Gaza – dependent on the PA’s patronage. Friedman wants the Fatah-led PA to decide whether to send aid to the Gaza Strip or join Israel in besieging the enclave to weaken Hamas. For good measure, he also urges the Gulf states to cut off support to the United Nations aid agencies, like UNRWA, which have kept millions of Palestinian refugees fed and cared for since 1948. The international community’s already feeble commitment to the rights of Palestinian refugees will thus be broken, and the diaspora will be forcibly absorbed into their host countries.

Such proposals are the last gasp of a discredited liberal Zionism. Friedman visibly flounders as he tries to put the emperor’s clothes back on a two-state solution which stands before us in all its ugliness. The Western model of ‘peace-making’ was always about preserving Jewish supremacy. Now, at least, the illusions are gone.

• First published in New Left Review

The post Thomas Friedman’s last gasp first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Power at Any Cost: How Opportunistic Mansour Abbas Joined Hands with Avowed “Arab Killers” 

We are led to believe that history is being made in Israel following the formation of an ideologically diverse government coalition which, for the first time, includes an Arab party, Ra’am, or the United Arab List.

If we are to accept this logic, the leader of Ra’am, Mansour Abbas, is a mover and shaker of history, the same way that Naftali Bennett of the far-right Yamina Party, and Yair Lapid, the supposed ‘centrist’ of Yesh Atid, are also history makers. How bizarre!

Sensational media headlines and hyperboles aside, Israel’s new government was a desperate attempt by Israeli politicians to dislodge Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving Prime Minister, from power. While Lapid is fairly new to Israel’s contentious politics, Bennett and Abbas are opportunists, par excellence.

Lapid is a former TV anchorman. Despite his claims to centrist ideologies, his political views are as ‘right’ as they get. The problem is that such characters as Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, also of Yamina, and Netanyahu, of course, among others, have relocated the center of Israel’s political spectrum further to the right, to the point that the right became the center and the ultra-right became the right. This is how Israel’s neofascist and extremist politicians managed to become kingmakers in Israel’s politics. Bennett, for example, who in 2013 bragged about “killing lots of Arabs” in his life, is set to be the Prime Minister of Israel.

It is in this strange context that we must understand Mansour Abbas’ position. His meager four seats at the Israeli Knesset made his party critical in forming the coalition that has been purposely created to oust Netanyahu. Ra’am does not represent Israel’s Palestinian Arab communities and, by joining the government, Abbas is certainly not making history in terms of finding common ground between Arabs and Jews in a country that is rightly recognized by Israeli and international human rights groups as an apartheid state.

On the contrary, Abbas is moving against the current of history. At a time that Palestinians throughout historic Palestine – the occupied Palestinian territories and today’s Israel – are finally unifying around a common national narrative, Abbas is insisting on redefining the Palestinian agenda merely to secure a position for himself in Israeli politics – thus, supposedly ‘making history.’

Even before Abbas shook hands with Bennett and other Israeli extremists who advocate the killing of Palestinians as a matter of course, he made it clear that he was willing to join a Netanyahu-led government. This is one of the reasons behind the splintering of the once unified Arab political coalition, known as the Joint List.

Following his meeting with Netanyahu in February, Abbas justified his shocking turnabout with unconvincing political platitudes as one “needs to be able to look to the future, and to build a better future for everyone”,  and so on.

The fact that Netanyahu was largely responsible for the despairing outlook of Israel’s Palestinian communities seemed entirely irrelevant to Abbas, who was inexplicably keen on joining any future political alliance, even if it included Israel’s most chauvinistic political actors. Sadly, though not surprisingly, this has proved to be the case.

Abbas’ position became impossible to sustain in May during the well-coordinated Israeli war in Gaza and the racist attacks on Palestinian communities in Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and throughout Israel. Even then, when Palestinians were finally able to articulate a common narrative linking the occupation, siege, racism and apartheid in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and Israel together, Abbas insisted on developing a unique position that would allow him to sustain his chances of achieving power at any cost.

Although it was the Palestinian Arab communities that were under systematic attacks carried out by Israeli Jewish mobs and police, Abbas called on his community to “be responsible and behave wisely,” and to “maintain public order and keep the law.” He even parroted similar lines used by right-wing Israeli Jewish politicians, as he claimed that “peaceful popular protests” by Palestinian communities inside Israel have turned “confrontational,” thus creating a moral equilibrium where the victims of racism somehow became responsible for their own plight.

Abbas’ position has not changed since the signing of the coalition deal on June 2. His political narrative is almost apolitical as he insists on reducing the national struggle of the Palestinian people to the mere need for economic development – not fundamentally different from Netanyahu’s own ‘economic peace’ proposal in the past. Worse, Abbas intentionally delinks the state of poverty and under-development in Palestinian communities from state-championed racial discrimination, which constantly underfunds Arab communities while spending exuberant amounts of funds on illegal Jewish settlements that are built on ethnically cleansed Palestinian lands.

“We have reached a critical mass of agreements in various fields that serve the interest of Arab society and that provide solutions for the burning issues in Arab society — planning, the housing crisis and, of course, fighting violence and organized crime,” Abbas said triumphantly on June 2, as if the rooted inequality, including communal violence and organized crime, are not direct results of racism, socio-economic inequality and political alienation and marginalization.

No history has been made by Abbas. He is but an example of the self-serving politician and a direct expression of the endemic disunity in the Palestinian Arab body politic inside Israel.

Sadly, the unprecedented success of the Arab Joint List following the March 2020 elections has now culminated in a tragic end, where the likes of Abbas become the unwelcomed ‘representative’ of a politically conscious and awakened community.

In truth, Mansour Abbas, a Palestinian Arab politician who is willing to find common ground with extremists and proud ‘Arab killers’, only represents himself. The future will attest to this claim.

The post Power at Any Cost: How Opportunistic Mansour Abbas Joined Hands with Avowed “Arab Killers”  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

On the Politics of Victory and Defeat: How Gaza Dethroned the King of Israel

How did Benjamin Netanyahu manage to serve as Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister? With a total of 15 years in office, Netanyahu surpassed the 12-year mandate of Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion. The answer to this question will become particularly critical for future Israeli leaders who hope to emulate Netanyahu’s legacy, now that his historic leadership is likely to end.

Netanyahu’s ‘achievements’ for Israel cannot be judged according to the same criteria as that of Ben Gurion. Both were staunch Zionist ideologues and savvy politicians. Unlike Ben Gurion, though, Netanyahu did not lead a so-called ‘war of independence’, merging militias into an army and carefully constructing a ‘national narrative’ that helped Israel justify its numerous crimes against the indigenous Palestinians, at least in the eyes of Israel and its supporters.

The cliched explanation of Netanyahu’s success in politics is that he is a ‘survivor’, a hustler, a fox or, at best, a political genius. However, there is more to Netanyahu than mere soundbites. Unlike other right-wing politicians around the world, Netanyahu did not simply exploit or ride the wave of an existing populist movement. Instead, he was the main architect of the current version of Israel’s right-wing politics. If Ben Gurion was the founding father of Israel in 1948, Netanyahu is the founding father of the new Israel in 1996. While Ben Gurion and his disciples used ethnic cleansing, colonization and illegal settlement construction for strategic and military reasons, Netanyahu, while carrying on with the same practices, changed the narrative altogether.

For Netanyahu, the biblical version of Israel was far more convincing than secular Zionist ideology of yesteryears. By changing the narrative, Netanyahu managed to redefine the support for Israel around the world, bringing together right-wing religious zealots, chauvinistic, Islamophobic, far-right and ultra-nationalist parties in the US and elsewhere.

Netanyahu’s success in rebranding the centrality of the idea of Israel in the minds of its traditional supporters was not a mere political strategy. He also shifted the balance of power in Israel by making Jewish extremists and illegal settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories his core constituency. Subsequently, he reinvented Israeli conservative politics altogether.

He also trained an entire generation of Israeli right-wing, far-right and ultra-nationalist politicians, giving rise to such unruly characters such as former Defense Minister and the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman, former Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, and former Defense Minister, and Netanyahu’s likely replacement, Naftali Bennett.

Indeed, a whole new generation of Israelis grew up watching Netanyahu take the right-wing camp from one success to another. For them, he is the savior. His hate-filled rallies and anti-peace rhetoric in the mid-1990s galvanized Jewish extremists, one of whom killed Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s former Prime Minister who engaged the Palestinian leadership through the ‘peace process’ and, ultimately, signed the Oslo Accords.

On Rabin’s death in November 1995, Israel’s political ‘left’ was devastated by right-wing populism championed by its new charismatic leader, Netanyahu, who, merely a few months later, became Israel’s youngest Prime Minister.

Despite the fact that, historically, Israeli politics is defined by its ever-changing dynamics, Netanyahu has helped the right prolong its dominance, completely eclipsing the once-hegemonic Labor Party. This is why the right loves Netanyahu. Under his reign, illegal Jewish colonies expanded unprecedentedly, and any possibility, however meager, of a two-state solution has been forever buried.

Additionally, Netanyahu changed the relationship between the US and Israel, where the latter was no longer a ‘client regime’ – not that it ever was in the strict definition of the term – but one that holds much sway over the US Congress and the White House.

Every attempt by Israel’s political elites to dislodge Netanyahu from power has failed. No coalition was powerful enough; no election outcome was decisive enough and no one was successful enough in convincing Israeli society that he could do more for them than Netanyahu has. Even when Gideon Sa’ar from Netanyahu’s own Likud party tried to stage his own coup against Netanyahu, he lost the vote and the support of the Likudists, later to be ostracized altogether.

Sa’ar later founded his own party, New Hope, continuing with the desperate attempt to oust the seemingly unconquerable Netanyahu. Four general elections within only two years still failed to push Netanyahu out. Every possible mathematical equation to unify various coalitions, all united by the single aim of defeating Netanyahu, has also failed. Each time, Netanyahu came back, with greater resolve to hang on to his seat, challenging contenders within his own party as well as his enemies from without. Even Israel’s court system, which is currently trying Netanyahu for corruption, was not powerful enough to compel disgraced Netanyahu to resign.

Until May of this year, Palestinians seemed to be marginal, if at all relevant to this conversation. Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation looked as if they were mollified, thanks to Israeli violence and Palestinian Authority acquiescence. Palestinians in Gaza, despite occasional displays of defiance, were battling a 15-year-long Israeli siege. Palestinian communities inside Israel seemed alien to any political conversation pertaining to the struggle and aspirations of the Palestinian people.

All of these illusions were dispelled when Gaza rose in solidarity with a small Palestinian community in Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem. Their resistance ignited a torrent of events that, within days, unified all Palestinians, everywhere. Consequently, the popular Palestinian revolt has shifted the discourse in favor of Palestinians and against the Israeli occupation.

Perfectly depicting the significance of that moment, the Financial Times newspaper wrote, “The ferocity of the Palestinian anger caught Israel by surprise.” Netanyahu, whose extremist goons were unleashed against Palestinians everywhere, similar to his army being unleashed against besieged Gaza, found himself at an unprecedented disadvantage. It took only 11 days of war to shatter Israel’s sense of ‘security’, expose its sham democracy and spoil its image around the world.

The once untouchable Netanyahu became the mockery of Israeli politics. His conduct in Gaza was described by leading Israeli politicians as “embarrassing”, a defeat and a “surrender”.

Netanyahu struggled to redeem his image. It was too late. As strange as this may sound, it was not Bennett or Lieberman who finally dethroned the “King of Israel’, but the Palestinians themselves.

The post On the Politics of Victory and Defeat: How Gaza Dethroned the King of Israel first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Tech giants help Israel muzzle Palestinians

Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, sought to shut down all use of the popular video-sharing app TikTok in Israel last month.

The attempt to censor TikTok, details of which emerged last weekend, is one of a number of reported attempts by Israel to control social media content during last month’s military assault on the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu tried to impose the blackout as Israel faced an international social media outcry over its 11-day attack on Gaza, which killed more than 250 Palestinians, and the violent repression by Israeli police of Palestinian protests in occupied East Jerusalem and inside Israel.

Government law officers are understood to have resisted the move.

Benny Gantz, the defense minister, also lobbied senior officials at Facebook and TikTok to crack down on posts critical of Israel, labelling them incitement and support for terror.

The tech giants responded by agreeing to act “quickly and effectively,” according to a statement from Gantz’s office.

The revelations follow widespread reports last month that social media corporations regularly removed posts that referred to the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where Israel recently stepped up moves to force out Palestinian families and replace them with Jewish settlers.

Social media users and digital rights organizations also reported censorship of posts about the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.

Threats of expulsions in Sheikh Jarrah and an invasion by Israeli soldiers of al-Aqsa were the main triggers causing Hamas to fire rockets into Israel last month. Israel responded by destroying swaths of Gaza.

Shadowy cyber unit

Israel’s success in manipulating social media last month follows warnings from Israeli human rights groups about the longer-term threat of Israeli censorship faced by Palestinians.

Adalah, a legal rights group in Israel, said a shadowy Israeli government “cyber unit” – which works hand in hand with tech giants like Facebook and Twitter – had been given “a blank check” to police social media and muzzle online dissent.

Israel’s supreme court ruled in April that the cyber unit could continue its often secretive operations from inside the justice ministry, arguing that its work contributed to national security.

Since 2016, the cyber unit has removed many tens – and more likely hundreds – of thousands of Palestinian social media posts in collaboration with global tech corporations.

The posts are erased without any legal oversight and usually without notifying users, Adalah pointed out. In many cases, users’ accounts are suspended or removed entirely, or access to whole websites blocked.

The vast bulk of those being silenced are Palestinians – either those under a belligerent Israeli occupation or those who live inside Israel with degraded citizenship.

The cyber unit was established in late 2015, part of a raft of measures by Israel purportedly intended both to identify “terrorists” before they strike and to curb what Israel describes as “incitement”.

Given the opaque nature of the process, it is impossible to know what content is being taken down, Rabea Eghbariah, one of the Adalah lawyers who filed a petition against the unit to Israel’s high court, told The Electronic Intifada.

Examples in the Israeli media, however, suggest that Israel regularly targets posts critical of Israel’s belligerent occupation or express solidarity with Palestinians.

The court petition to end the cyber unit’s work was filed in November 2019 by Adalah, which represents 1.8 million Palestinian citizens, a fifth of Israel’s population.

According to Adalah, the unit’s methods violate “the constitutional rights of freedom of expression and due process”.

In approving those methods, Adalah observed, the courts had conferred on the Israeli state the “unchecked” power “to govern online speech” and had allowed private tech companies to usurp control of the judicial process.

Eghbariah said Palestinians could rarely challenge their silencing on social media. The tech companies do not reveal when Israel is behind the censorship or what “terms of service” have been violated.

In court, Israeli officials defended their sweeping suppression of online content by arguing that ultimately social media companies like Google and Facebook were free to decide whether to accede to its requests.

News sites shuttered

However, Israeli officials have previously boasted that the tech giants almost always agree to remove whatever content Israel demands. In 2016, the justice ministry reported that Facebook and Google were “complying with up to 95 percent of Israeli requests to delete content” – almost all of it Palestinian.

Eghbariah told The Electronic Intifada that some 80 percent of Israel’s referrals for removing content relate to Facebook and its other major platform, Instagram, both of which are heavily used by Palestinians.

The next most targeted site was YouTube, where Palestinians often post videos showing attacks by Jewish settlers illegally taking over Palestinian land or Israeli soldiers invading Palestinian communities.

The accounts of Palestinian news agencies and journalists have also been repeatedly shut down.

Eghbariah noted that submissions by Israel’s cyber unit to social media platforms had skyrocketed since it was set up. In 2019, the last year for which there are figures, some 19,600 requests to remove content were submitted – an eightfold increase on three years earlier.

He added that each referral to a tech company could relate to tens or hundreds of posts, and that the removal of a whole website typically counted as a single request.

“What’s noticeable is the increasing cooperation rate of the social media platforms,” he said. “In 2016, three quarters of Israeli requests were complied with. By 2019 that had risen to 90 per cent.”

Distinctions blurred

Human Rights Watch is among those who have criticized Israel for blurring the distinction between legitimate criticism made by Palestinians and incitement.

By contrast, the Palestinian digital rights group 7amleh has noted, Israel rarely takes action against Israeli Jews, even though they are responsible for posting racist or inciteful material roughly every minute.

And the politicized nature of Israel’s crackdown on social media is often hard to disguise.

In December 2017, Nariman Tamimi was detained for incitement.

She had streamed a video on Facebook of her then 16-year-old daughter, Ahed, confronting and slapping an Israeli soldier who was invading their home in the occupied West Bank moments after his unit shot her cousin.

Dareen Tatour, a poet from the town of Reine, next to Nazareth, spent years either in jail or under strict house arrest for supposedly glorifying violence in a poem.

Experts said the lines had been misunderstood by Israel’s security services.

Indeed, errors in translations from Arabic have been regularly evident. In a case in October 2017, a Palestinian laborer was arrested for supposedly threatening a terrorist attack on Facebook before it was discovered that the Arabic expression he used meant “good morning.”

In 2019, 7amleh reported that fears over this online crackdown had left two-thirds of Palestinians worried about expressing their political views on social media.

Normalizing censorship

Other governments may look to the Israeli court’s decision in April as further encouragement to adopt a more aggressive role in censoring online content.

Eghbariah said that the UK, France and the European Union already had their own cyber referral units, although unlike Israel’s those units were explicitly authorized by legislation.

In a sign that Israel’s politicized approach to crushing online dissent could become normalized worldwide, an architect of Israel’s cyber unit was appointed to Facebook’s new oversight board last year. Emi Palmor was the justice ministry’s director-general at the time the unit was established.

The board is supposed to oversee what content should be allowed on Facebook and Instagram.

The Israeli cyber unit’s increasing efforts to remove content from Palestinians, labelling it “terrorism,” “disinformation” or “incitement,” are the latest stage in more than a decade of moves by Israel to control and manipulate its image online as social media has become more central in most people’s lives.

Israel stepped up its digital activities after its large-scale attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, which killed large numbers of civilians, including children, and shocked much of the world.

During the attack, the Israeli army established its own Youtube channel, the first army to do so, offering a model that the US army quickly sought to emulate.

At the same time tech-savvy youngsters were recruited to pose as ordinary web-surfers as they secretly promoted foreign ministry talking-points.

Several “cyber warrior” teams established in the following years, including one that recruited former officers from Israel’s military spying unit 8200.

Erased from maps

Since then, Israel has expanded its digital operations, not only promoting hasbara (propaganda) online but intensifying its silencing of Palestinians.

At a conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah in 2018, local representatives for Google and Facebook conceded that the companies’ priority was to avoid upsetting powerful governments like Israel’s that could tighten regulation or constrain their commercial activities.

The tech giants are also unlikely to be neutral between the claims of the Israeli state and ordinary Palestinians when they are so reliant on Israel’s hi-tech sector. Technologies developed using the West Bank and Gaza as a testing-bed have been eagerly bought up by these global corporations.

Incensed by Facebook’s censorship, a Palestinian campaign of online protests was launched in 2018 under the hashtag #FBcensorsPalestine.

In Gaza, demonstrators have accused the company of being “another face of occupation.”

Google and Apple have also faced a wave of criticism for colluding in Israel’s policy seeking to erase Palestinians’ visible presence in their homeland. The tech companies have failed to identify many Palestinian villages in the West Bank on their online maps and GPS services while highlighting illegal Jewish settlements.

They have also refused to name the Palestinian territories as “Palestine,” in accordance with Palestine’s recognition by the United Nations, subordinating these areas under the title “Israel.”

Jerusalem is presented as Israel’s unified and undisputed capital, just as Israel claims – making the occupation of the Palestinian section of the city invisible.

• First published in Electronic Intifada

The post Tech giants help Israel muzzle Palestinians first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Leftist Anti-Anti-Imperialism: Supporting Imperialism but with Caveats

Academic Gilbert Achcar, in an article originally in New Politics and  picked up by The Nation, proves by his own example that what he calls “progressive democratic anti-imperialists” are not progressive. Rather, they (1) serve to legitimize reaction and (2) obscure the singular role of US imperialism, while (3) attacking progressive voices. Such anti-anti-imperialism provides left cover for the foreign policy of the US as well as the UK, where Achcar is based.

Legitimizing imperialism

Achcar, by his own admission, supported the US/NATO imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya, which quickly and predictably morphed into a full war of Western imperial conquest against one of the then most prosperous African nations. Today Libya is a failed state, where black African slaves are openly traded and military factions contend for state power.

Achcar’s alibi is that he warned “there are not enough safeguards in the wording of the [no-fly] resolution to bar its use for imperialist purposes,” adding that he favored the imperialist action as a measure for the “protection of civilians and not ‘regime change.’” This is an example of leftist anti-anti-imperialism; i.e., supporting imperialism but with caveats.

Achcar wished for a democratic people’s uprising in Libya rather than Western imposed regime-change. So, while he echoed the main imperialist talking points about the “brutal dictator” and his “regime,” he hoped for a nice imperialism which would achieve regime change by “democratic” means. He admits to no responsibility for his propagandizing which – whether it was his intention or not – foreshadowed the ensuing disaster.

Behind Achcar’s leftish rhetoric is a flawed belief that somehow the imperialist actions of the US and its allies may be truly humanitarian. In short, the US purportedly has a “responsibility to protect (R2P).” Achcar championed R2P in the former Yugoslavia, Libya, and Syria, where his article lauds how the US bombing “rescued” people on the ground, even though in every instance the outcomes were neither democratic nor humanitarian.

That such noble intentions regarding “responsibility to protect” inexorably devolve is because R2P is nothing more than an ideological defense of the imperial project. The true anti-imperialist stance, contra Achcar, is no intervention – humanitarian or otherwise. The fundamental lesson should be evident that, after the multitude of US-backed post-WWII “military actions,” neither the motivation to participate nor the outcomes were democratic or humanitarian.

How many wars has the US been involved in lately? Timothy McGrath, in an article in The World, documents anywhere from 0 to 134 depending on your definition, since the last officially declared US war was WWII. McGrath concludes that the right answer to how many is “too many,” which is an appropriate anti-imperialist view.

Obscuring the singular role of US imperialism

Achcar says: “To illustrate the complexity of the questions that progressive anti-imperialism faces today – a complexity that is unfathomable to the simplistic logic of” the peace activists he criticizes. “Complexity” is indeed the crux of his argument and what is wrong with it. Achcar’s political universe does not recognize a single, imperialist superpower but a “complexity” of imperialisms. His plea for opposing all imperialisms renders the role of the US imperialism equivalent to all other nations.

But how can this be given the facts? The US has over 800 foreign military bases, not including secret “black” sites, active-duty combat bases, and foreign installations nominally under the name of the host nation but garrisoning US troops. And that does not include what are literally armies of US private military contractors abroad. US military spending eclipses the next ten nations in the world. US arms sales makes it the greatest war profiteering nation. US has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons of mass destruction and a “first strike” nuclear posture. No other nation or combination of nations have such imperial reach.

Achcar’s formulation in effect obscures the hegemonic role of US imperialism. In his view, the US has “kept a low profile in the Syrian war” compared to the “incomparably more important intervention of Russian imperialism.” Not mentioned is that Syria in near Russia’s border, while it is a half a globe away from the US. Moreover, Russia is in Syria at the invitation of a sovereign nation in accordance with international law, whereas the US is committing the supreme crime of waging war.

Although Achcar says all imperialisms should be equally opposed, that has not been his practice. Achar teaches at the London School of Oriental and African Studies where an anti-imperialist student group revealed that he taught a training class to members of a counter-insurgency branch of the UK military. In his defense, Achcar responded: “Should we prefer that the military and security personnel of this country be solely exposed to right-wing education?”

Attacking progressive voices

Achcar’s central thesis is: “Meanwhile, Cold War ‘campism’ was reemerging under a new guise: No longer defined by alignment behind the USSR but by direct or indirect support for any regime or force that is the object of Washington’s hostility.” “Campism,” according to perennial Cold Warrior Achcar, is the political deviation of not being sufficiently hostile to the USSR or Russia or communism.

Achcar laments what he considers errant voices of leftist “fools,” but not the larger issue of the decline of the anti-war movement. In fact, the very elements that he attacks – the US Peace Council, UNAC, and the Stop the War Coalition– are among the leading anti-war organizations in the US (USPC and UNAC) and the UK (StWC).

Achcar’s “plague on all houses” is a recipe for inactivism by the peace movement. If all state actors are imperialist, then there is nothing left to do but empty moralizing. For example, by conflating US imperialism with the Syrian defense, no solution is possible for ending that benighted struggle. The only option left for progressive politics under the Achcar paradigm is to wish for a magical perfect socialism to arise triumphal out of the ashes of the bombs.

Surely the fundamental demand of the genuine peace movement, “out now,” is anathema to Professor Achcar, who espouses the imperialist prerogative of the “right to protect.” Those who promote such non-intervention are attacked as “fools.” Achcar, incidentally, dismisses political understandings to the left of him as “lunatic” and “not intelligent.”

Achcar begins his article with the observation that “the last three decades have witnessed increasing political confusion about the meaning of anti-imperialism” and proceeds to prove that thesis by his apologetics for US imperialism and his disdain for those who object to Washington’s hostility to nations that assert their independent sovereignty.

The article concludes with Achcar elevating to a “guiding principle” the responsibility to support “intervention by an imperialist power [when it] benefits an emancipatory popular movement…[with] the restriction of its involvement to forms that limit its ability to impose its domination.” In other words, he supports imperialism but with caveats.

The post Leftist Anti-Anti-Imperialism: Supporting Imperialism but with Caveats first appeared on Dissident Voice.

How Billionaire Foundations Fund NGOs to Advance US Foreign Policy Goals

US foreign policy is increasingly promoted by billionaire funded foundations.  The neoliberal era has created individuals with incredible wealth and through “philanthropy”, they flex their influence and feel good at the same time. While these philanthropists can be liberal on some issues, they universally support U.S. foreign policy and the “free market”.  Because many of these super-rich individuals made their wealth through investments and speculation, most do not like a planned economy, socialized services beyond the private sector or greater government control.

These mega wealthy individuals, and the people who run their foundations, are often intricately connected to the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Grants are given to projects, campaigns and organizations which align with their long-term goals.  In this direct way, supposedly independent ThinkTanks and NGOs are influenced if not controlled.  There is much truth in the old saying, “He who pays the piper, calls the tune.”

Independent Nicaragua

Nicaragua is a good example.  For historical and contemporary reasons, Washington is hostile to the Nicaraguan government.  The Sandinista Front ousted the US supported dictator in 1979 and governed until 1990. Then, following a decade of US sponsored “Contra” war and economic sanctions, the Sandinistas were voted out of office. Next, after 16 years of neoliberal governments, the Nicaraguan people voted to return the Sandinistas to power in 2006. Since then, the Sandinista Front (FSLN) won the election with more support in 2011 and more again, 73%, in 2016.

Nicaragua has a capitalist economy, but the government provides many social services, including health care and education, along with community-based policing and an impressive 90% food self-sufficiency. Nicaragua maintains an independent foreign policy which sometimes aligns with Cuba, Venezuela and other independent movements in Latin America.

Nicaragua has made plans for a trans-oceanic canal.  Because this would compete with the Panama Canal and be independent of heavy U.S. influence, the United States does not approve. With the financial collapse of the canal’s Chinese investor, the plans have been suspended if not cancelled.  Regardless of whether the plan is implemented, the US foreign policy establishment and associated media is hostile to the Nicaraguan government for daring to plan this project.

US Targets Nicaragua

US meddling in Nicaragua is thinly veiled behind the US funded “civil society”, a “new generation of democratic leaders” and an “ecosystem of independent media”.  In September 2016, a high USAID official told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that 2,200 youth had received leadership training.

U.S. governmental hypocrisy is quite astounding.  Imagine if Nicaragua (or Russia or any other country) trained thousands of US activists to “promote democracy” in the USA.

In December 2018, the US ratified the “Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act” which imposes sanctions and commits the US to preventing Nicaragua receiving a loan, financial or technical assistance from US dominated financial institutions.

In August 2020, journalist Ben Norton at the Grayzone reported details of a new US AID “task order” called Responsive Assistance in Nicaragua (RAIN). The document “outlines plans for a US regime-change scheme against Nicaragua’s elected leftist government”.  In short, Washington is not just hostile but actively trying to undermine, destabilize and replace the Sandinista administration.

The Foreign Policy Establishment, Nicaragua and Elliott Abrams

A key institution of the foreign policy establishment is the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).  Its role and importance are analyzed in the book Wall Street’s Thinktank. CFR events and publications, including “Foreign Affairs” magazine, give a good picture of key foreign policy priorities and debates.

Hostility to the Nicaragua government is reflected in CFR reports and publications.

One important example is an article by Elliott Abrams. Abrams has been a major foreign policy official for forty years.  He was convicted of lying to Congress yet he is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).  In September 2015 he wrote an article published at CFR titled “The Sandinistas Attack the Miskito Indians – Again“.  He ends the article with an appeal to environmental or human rights groups:

“The open question is whether anyone – groups defending the environment, or defending Indian rights or human rights more generally, or fighting against Sandinista repression – will help them.”

Seemingly in response to Elliott Abrams’ suggestion, several major foundations have financed reporting on Nicaragua emphasizing conflict and tensions in the indigenous Miskitu zone.

In March 2017 a Guardian article funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation described “Lush Heartlands of Nicaragua’s Miskito people spark deadly land disputes.

In the fall of 2018, the Oakland Institute received a grant of $237,294 for “Land Dispute Project – Nicaragua” from the Howard G Buffet Foundation.  This year Oakland Institute published “Nicaragua’s Failed Revolution“. The subtitle of the report is “The Indigenous Struggle for Saneamiento”, with “saneamiento” being the final step of the process toward regaining indigenous rights.

The funding for these reports came from foundations where the key players are interconnected with the foreign policy establishment. For example, Howard W. Buffet,  the former Executive Director at the Howard G Buffet Foundation, is a member of CFR.  Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), is a writer for CFR publications and speaker at CFR events.

We do not know if they were influenced by Elliott Abrams’ appeal, but the anti-Sandinista message was likely heard one way or another.  Land disputes involving indigenous groups are widespread in the Americas, including North America.  Research and reports could be done regarding almost every country. But instead of researching and reporting on indigenous land conflict in Colombia or Honduras or British Columbia, the billionaire foundations funded reports on Nicaragua.

The Miskitu indigenous in Nicaragua are not new to conflict. During the 1980’s the CIA manipulated them to advance their proxy Contra army.  Many Nicaraguans died as a result.  Now, 35 years later, people such as Elliott Abrams are trying to use the Miskitu all over again. The Miskitu may have valid issues and complaints. But are the advocates seeking a solution or are they seeking to exacerbate the conflict? There is a big difference.

Economic warfare and “Conflict Beef” 

The United States is increasingly using sanctions and economic warfare to hurt those governments deemed to be “adversaries”.  Some right wing foreign policy advisors would like to amplify the economic damage to Nicaragua. Some would like to prevent the US from importing beef from Nicaragua.

Cattle ranching is a major part of the economy in Nicaragua. Previously Nicaragua exported lots of beef to Venezuela. But with the extreme economic hardships, exports have declined.  Nicaragua has helped fill the gap by exporting larger quantities of high-quality beef to the USA.

On 21 October PBS Newshour showed a 9 minute video about “Conflict Beef”. The documentary said the increase in Nicaraguan exports is “coming at a high cost for indigenous communities that are being run off their land to make way for cattle ranches”. This accusation, and the suggestion that perhaps Nicaraguan beef should not be imported,  was a core message of the video which merged journalism with activism.

Subsequent research including interviews with indigenous leaders from the area reveal that the PBS Newshour  report is fundamentally inaccurate.  Journalist John Perry, based in Nicaragua, gives details in the article “Progressive Media Promoted a False Story of Conflict Beef from Nicaragua” published by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Some of the reported violence was made up; some was exaggerated. The claims of “genocide” are not credible.

The exaggerated and untrue accusations in the PBS report are based on four sources. Lottie Cunningham is an indigenous attorney who heads up the Center for Justice and Human Rights on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN).

Her organization is a US AID recipient and she is close to the US Ambassador to Nicaragua. The United Nations Human Rights Commission has issued press releases based soley on her accusations. Judging by this “Conflict Beef” report, her accusations are sometimes exaggerated and sometimes untrue.

Another source for this report is Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute. The Institute received a grant of nearly one quarter million dollars for their research on Nicaraguan “land conflict”.

Much of their information came from the Oakland Institute report and the claims of Lottie Cunningham, a USAID grant recipient and recipient of the Lush Spring Prize sponsored by Lush Cosmetics. Recently published interviews with numerous elected indigenous leaders from Nicaragua’s autonomous zones indicate that Lottie Cunningham is viewed with skepticism if not hostility.  The leaders believe that her organization, Center for Justice and Human Rights in the Atlantic District of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN), does not represent the interests of indigenous communities and is actually promoting violence and publicity for personal gain.

The lead journalist was Nate Halverson for REVEAL at the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). CIR is well funded, with a budget around $10M, and large grants from dozens of individual foundations:  Hearst ($625K), Soros ($325K), Gates ($247k), Ford ($250K), Pierre Omidyar ($900K), etc.

Another journalist, Camilo de Castro Belli, appeared in the video.  He is the son of author and Sandinista critic Giacondo Belli and a “Central America Fellow” at the neoliberal Aspen Institute.  The Aspen Institute is funded by grants from the Rockefeller, Ford, Gates and other US philanthropy foundations.

Key allegations in the “Conflict Beef” story are untrue.  The beef for export comes from cattle that are NOT from the indigenous zones.  The cattle are individually tagged and regulated by the national IPSA (Institute for Agricultural Protection and Health) which is in turn audited by the US Dept of Agriculture. Nicaraguans are currently in discussion with European regulators in preparation for export there. This video, from one of the Nicaraguan beef producers,  gives a sense of the professionalism.

Even the introduction of the PBS video is untrue. They sensationally claim that a young Miskitu girl was shot in the face by someone “sending a message” to the community.  The girl was accidentally shot while playing with another youth who had his father’s gun.  This version is confirmed by the president of the local indigenous community who knows the family of the girl victim. The girl survived the incident, and the family accepted a bribe to fabricate the false story.

Another claim that “dozens of armed men attacked another Indigenous village in northeast Nicaragua, killing four people in the Mayangna community” is false.  A version of this same story was repeated twice in the Oakland Institute report and sent by Lottie Cunningham (CEJUDHCAN) to the United Nations Human Rights Council who dutifully issued a press release. This despite the fact the claims had been quickly exposed as false be the president of the Mayangna indigenous community.  But media quickly jumped on the story, reportedly after two phone calls from people and no verification.

When a government is targeted by Washington, as the Sandinista government clearly is, the media attitude seems to be “guilty until proven innocent”.

This story about “conflict beef” reveals how big foundations influence reports which promote the US foreign policy goals on Nicaragua:  to defame and economically punish those who are too independent.

The post How Billionaire Foundations Fund NGOs to Advance US Foreign Policy Goals first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Jewish groups that aid Israel’s war crimes can’t deny all responsibility for those crimes

Here is something that can be said with great confidence. It is racist – antisemitic, if you prefer – to hold Jews, individually or collectively, accountable for Israel’s crimes. Jews are not responsible for Israel’s war crimes, even if the Israeli state presumes to implicate Jews in its crimes by falsely declaring it represents all Jews in the world.

Very obviously, it is not the fault of Jews that Israel commits war crimes, or that Israel uses Jews collectively as a political shield, exploiting sensitivities about the historical suffering of Jews at the hands of non-Jews to immunise itself from international opprobrium.

But here is something that can be said with equal certainty. Israel’s apologists – whether Jews or non-Jews – cannot deny all responsibility for Israel’s war crimes when they actively aid and abet Israel in committing those crimes, or when they seek to demonise and silence Israel’s critics so that those war crimes can be pursued in a more favourable political climate.

Such apologists – which sadly seems to include many of the community organisations in Britain claiming to represent Jews – want to have their cake and eat it.

They cannot defend Israel uncritically as it commits war crimes or seek legislative changes to assist Israel in committing those war crimes – whether it be Israel’s latest pummelling of civilians in Gaza, or its executions of unarmed Palestinians protesting 15 years of Israel’s blockade of the coastal enclave – and accuse anyone who criticises them for doing so of being an antisemite.

But this is exactly what has been going on. And it is only getting worse.

Upsurge in antisemitism?

As a ceasefire was implemented yesterday, bringing a temporary let-up in the bombing of Gaza by Israel, pro-Israel Jewish groups in the UK were once again warning of an upsurge of antisemitism they related to a rapid growth in the number of protests against Israel.

These groups have the usual powerful allies echoing their claims. British prime minister Boris Johnson met community leaders in Downing Street on Thursday pledging, as Jewish News reported, “to continue to support the community in the face of rising antisemitism attacks”.

Those Jewish leaders included Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, a supporter of Johnson who played a part in helping him win the 2019 election by renewing the evidence-free antisemitism smears against the Labour party days before voting. It also included the Campaign Against Antisemitism, which was founded specifically to whitewash Israel’s crimes during its 2014 bombardment of Gaza and has ever since been vilifying all Palestinian solidarity activism as antisemitism.

In attendance too was the Jewish Leadership Council, an umbrella organisation for Britain’s main Jewish community groups. In an article in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper on this supposed rise in antisemitism in the UK, the JLC’s vice-president, Daniel Korski, set out the ridiculous, self-serving narrative these community groups are trying to peddle, with seemingly ever greater success among the political and media elite.

Popular outrage over Gaza

Korski expressed grave concern about the proliferation of demonstrations in the UK designed to halt Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. During 11 days of attacks, more than 230 Palestinians were killed, including 65 children. Israel’s precision air strikes targeted more than a dozen hospitals, including the only Covid clinic in Gaza, dozens of schools, several media centres, and left tens of thousands of Palestinians homeless.

The sense of popular outrage at the Israeli onslaught was only heightened by the fact that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had clearly engineered a confrontation with Hamas at the outset to serve his immediate personal interests: preventing Israeli opposition parties from uniting to oust him from power.

In his naked personal calculations, Palestinian civilians were sacrificed to help Netanyahu hold on to power and improve his chances of evading jail as he stands trial on corruption charges.

But for Korski and the other community leaders attending the meeting with Johnson, the passionate demonstrations in solidarity with Palestinians are their main evidence for a rise in antisemitism.

‘Free Palestine’ chants

These community organisations cite a few incidents that undoubtedly qualify as antisemitism – some serious, some less so. They include shouting “Free Palestine” at individuals because they are identifiable as Jews, something presumably happening mostly to the religious ultra-Orthodox.

But these Jewish leaders’ chief concern, they make clear, is the growing public support for Palestinians in the face of intensifying Israeli aggression.

Quoting David Rich, of the Community Security Trust, another Jewish organisation hosted by Johnson, the Haaretz newspaper reports that “what has really shaken the Jewish community … ‘is that demos are being held all over the country every day about this issue’ [Israel’s bombardment of Gaza].”

Revealingly, it seems that when Jewish community leaders watch TV screens showing demonstrators chant “Free Palestine”, they feel it as a personal attack – as though they themselves are being accosted in the street.

One doesn’t need to be a Freudian analyst to wonder whether this reveals something troubling about their inner emotional life: they identify so completely with Israel that even when someone calls for Palestinians to have equal rights with Israelis they perceive as a collective attack on Jews, as antisemitism.

Exception for Israel

Then Korski gets to the crux of the argument: “As Jews we are proud of our heritage and at the same time in no way responsible for the actions of a government thousands of miles away, no matter our feelings or connection to it.”

But the logic of that position is simply untenable. You cannot tie your identity intimately to a state that systematically commits war crimes, you cannot classify demonstrations against those war crimes as antisemitism, you cannot use your position as a “Jewish community leader” to make such allegations more credible, and you cannot exploit your influence with world leaders to try to silence protests against Israel and then say you are “in no way responsible” for the actions of that government.

If you use your position to prevent Israel from being subjected to scrutiny over allegations of war crimes, if you seek to manipulate the public discourse with claims of antisemitism to create a more favourable environment in which those war crimes can be committed, then some of the blame for those war crimes rubs off on you.

That is how responsibility works in every other sphere of life. What Israel’s apologists are demanding is an exception for Israel and for themselves.

Lobby with the UK’s ear

In another revealing observation seeking to justify claims of an upsurge in antisemitism, Korski adds: “We don’t see the same kind of outpouring of emotion when it comes to the Rohingya or the Uighurs or Syria, and it makes a lot of Jews feel this is about them [as Jews].”

But there are many reasons why there aren’t equally large demonstrations in the UK against the suffering of the Rohingya and the Uighurs – reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with antisemitism.

The oppressors of the Rohingya and the Uighurs, unlike Israel, are not being generously armed by the British government or given diplomatic cover by Britain or being given preferential trade agreements by Britain.

But equally importantly, the states oppressing the Rohingya and Uighurs – unlike Israel – don’t have active, well-funded lobbies in the UK, with the ear of the prime minister. China and Myanmar – unlike Israel – don’t have UK lobbies successfully labelling criticism of them as racism. Unlike Israel, they don’t have lobbies that openly seek to influence elections to protect them from criticism. Unlike Israel, they don’t have lobbies that work with Britain to introduce measures to assist them in carrying out their oppression.

The president of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl, for example, pressed Johnson at the meeting this week to classify all branches of Hamas, not just its military wing, as a terrorist organisation. That is Israel’s wet dream. Such a decision would make it even less likely that Britain would be in a position to officially distance itself from Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, where Hamas runs the government, and even more likely it would join Israel in declaring Gaza’s schools, hospitals and government departments all legitimate targets for Israeli air strikes.

Pure projection

If you are lobbying to get special favours for Israel, particularly favours to help it commit war crimes, you don’t also get to wash your hands of those war crimes. You are directly implicated in them.

David Hirsch, an academic at the University of London who has been closely connected to efforts to weaponise antisemitism against critics of Israel, especially in the Labour party under its previous leader Jeremy Corbyn, also tries to play this trick.

He tells Haaretz that antisemitism is supposedly “getting worse” because Palestinian solidarity activists have been giving up on a two-state solution. “There used to be a struggle in Palestine solidarity between a politics of peace – two states living side by side – and a politics of denouncing one side as essentially evil and hoping for its total defeat.”

But what Hirsch is doing is pure projection: he is suggesting Palestinian solidarity activists are “antisemites” – his idea of evil – because they have been forced by Israel to abandon their long-favoured cause of a two-state solution. That is only because successive Israeli governments have refused to negotiate any kind of peace deal with the most moderate Palestinian leadership imaginable under Mahmoud Abbas – one that has eagerly telegraphed its desire to collaborate with Israel, even calling “security coordination” with the Israeli army “sacred”.

A two-state solution is dead because Israel made it dead not because Palestinian solidarity activists are more extreme or more antisemitic.

In calling to “Free Palestine”, activists are not demanding Israel’s “total defeat” – unless Hirsch and Jewish community organisations themselves believe that Palestinians can never be free from Israeli oppression and occupation until Israel suffers such a “total defeat”. Hirsch’s claim tells us nothing about Palestinian solidarity activists, but it does tell us a lot about what is really motivating these Jewish community organisations.

It is these pro-Israel lobbyists, it seems, more than Palestinian solidarity activists, who cannot imagine Palestinians living in dignity under Israeli rule. Is that because they understand only too well what Israel and its political ideology of Zionism truly represent, and that what is required of Palestinians for “peace” is absolute and permanent submission?

Better informed

Similarly, Rich, of the Community Security Trust, says of Palestinian solidarity activists: “Even the moderates have become extremists.” What does this extremism – again presented by Jewish groups as antisemitism – consist of? “Now the movement [in solidarity with Palestinians] is dominated by the view that Israel is an apartheid, genocidal, settler-colonialist state.”

Or in other words, these pro-Israel Jewish groups claim there has been a surge in antisemitism because Palestinian solidarity activists are being influenced and educated by human rights organisations, like Human Rights Watch and Israel’s B’Tselem. Both recently wrote reports classifying Israel as an apartheid state, in the occupied territories and inside Israel’s recognised borders. Activists are not becoming more extreme, they are becoming better informed.

And in making the case for a supposed surge in antisemitism, Rich offers another inadvertently revealing insight. He says Jewish children are suffering from online “abuse” – antisemitism – because they find it increasingly hard to participate on social media.

“Teenagers are much quicker to join social movements; we’ve just had Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion, #MeToo – now Jewish kids find all their friends are joining this [Palestinian solidarity] movement where they don’t feel welcome or they are singled out because they’re Jewish.”

Fancifully, Rich is arguing that Jewish children raised in Zionist families and communities that have taught them either explicitly or implicitly that Jews in Israel have superior rights to Palestinians are being discriminated against because their unexamined ideas of Jewish supremacy do not fit with a pro-Palestinian movement predicated on equality.

This is as preposterous as it would have been, during the Jim Crow era, for white supremacist Americans to have complained of racism because their children were being made to feel out of place in civil rights forums.

Such assertions would be laughable were they not so dangerous.

Demonised as antisemites

Zionist supporters of Israel are trying to turn logic and the world upside down. They are inverting reality. They are projecting their own racist, zero-sum assumptions about Israel on to Palestinian solidarity activists, those who support equal rights for Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East.

As they did with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition, these Jewish groups are twisting the meaning of antisemitism, skewing it from a fear or hatred of Jews to any criticism of Israel that makes pro-Israel Jews feel uncomfortable.

As we watch these arguments being amplified uncritically by leading politicians and journalists, remember too that it was the only major politician to demurred from this nonsensical narrative, Jeremy Corbyn, who became the main target – and victim – of these antisemitism smears.

Now these pro-Israel Jewish groups want to treat us all like Corbyn, demonising us as antisemites unless we fall silent even as Israel once again brutalises Palestinians.

The post Jewish groups that aid Israel’s war crimes can’t deny all responsibility for those crimes first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Jerusalem protests: The mob “breaking faces” learned from Israel’s establishment

Inside the Israeli parliament and out on the streets of Jerusalem, the forces of unapologetic Jewish supremacism are stirring, as a growing section of Israel’s youth tire of the two-faced Jewish nationalism that has held sway in Israel for decades.

Last week, Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the far-right Religious Zionism faction, a vital partner if caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands any hope of forming a new government, issued a barely veiled threat to Israel’s large Palestinian minority.

Expulsion, he suggested, was looming for these 1.8 million Palestinians, a fifth of the Israeli population who enjoy very degraded citizenship. “Arabs are citizens of Israel – for now at least,” he told his party. “And they have representatives at the Knesset [Israeli parliament] – for now at least.” For good measure, he referred to Palestinian legislators – the elected representatives of Israel’s Palestinian minority – as “our enemies sitting in the Knesset”.

Smotrich’s brand of brazen Jewish racism is on the rise, after his faction won six mandates in the 120-member parliament in March. One of those seats is for Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the neo-fascist Jewish Power party.

Ben Gvir’s supporters are now in a bullish mood. Last month, they took to the streets around the occupied Old City of Jerusalem, chanting “Death to Arabs” and making good on promises in WhatsApp chats to attack Palestinians and “break their faces”.

For days, these Jewish gangs of mostly youngsters have brought the lawless violence that has long reigned largely out of sight in the hills of the occupied West Bank into central Jerusalem. This time, their attacks haven’t been captured in shaky, out-of-focus YouTube videos. They have been shown on prime-time Israeli TV.

Equally significant, these Jewish mobs have carried out their rampages during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

Arson attacks

The visibility and premeditation of this gang violence has discomfited many Israelis. But in the process, they have been given a close-up view of how appealing the violent, anti-Arab doctrines of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane – the ideological inspiration behind Jewish Power – are proving with a significant section of young Jews in Israel.

One, sporting a “Kahane was right” badge, spoke for her peers as she was questioned on Israeli TV about the noisy chants of “May your village burn down” – a reference to so-called “price-tag” arson attacks committed by the Israeli far-right against Palestinian communities in the occupied territories and inside Israel.

Olive groves, mosques, cars and homes are regularly torched by these Jewish extremists, who claim Palestinian lands as their exclusive biblical birthright.

The woman responded in terms she obviously thought conciliatory: “I don’t say that it [a Palestinian village] should burn down, but that you should leave the village and we’ll go live in it.”

She and others now sound impatient to bring forward the day when Palestinians must “leave”.

Machinery of oppression

These sentiments – in the parliament and out on the streets – have not emerged out of nowhere. They are as old as Zionism itself, when Israel’s first leaders oversaw the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from most of their homeland in 1948, in an act of mass dispossession Palestinians called their Nakba (catastrophe).

Violence to remove Palestinians has continued to be at the core of the Jewish state-building project ever since. The rationale for the gangs beating up Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem are the actions pursued more bureaucratically by the Israeli state: its security forces, occupation administrators and courts.

Last week, that machinery of oppression came under detailed scrutiny in a 213-page report from Human Rights Watch. The leading international human rights group declared that Israel was committing the crime of apartheid, as set out in international law.

It argued that Israel had met the three conditions of apartheid in the Rome Statute: the domination of one racial group over another, systematic oppression of the marginalised group, and inhumane acts. Those acts include forcible transfer, expropriation of landed property, the creation of separate reserves and ghettos, denial of the right to leave and return to their country, and denial of the right to a nationality.

Only one such act is needed to qualify as the crime of apartheid but, as Human Rights Watch makes clear, Israel is guilty of them all.

Dragged out of bed

What Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups have been documenting is equally visible to the gangs roaming Jerusalem. Israel’s official actions share a common purpose, one that sends a clear message to these youngsters about what the state – and Israel’s national ideology of Zionism – aims to achieve.

They see Palestinian land reclassified as Jewish “state land” and the constant expansion of settlements that violate international law. They see Palestinians denied permits to build homes in their own villages. They see orders issued to demolish Palestinian homes, or even entire communities. And they see Palestinian families torn apart as couples, or their children, are refused the right to live together.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers shoot Palestinians with impunity, and drag Palestinian children out of bed in the middle of the night. They man checkpoints throughout the occupied West Bank, restricting the movement of Palestinians. They fire on, or “arrest”, Palestinians trying to seek work outside the closed-off ghettos Israel has imposed on them. And soldiers stand guard, or assist, as settlers run amok, attacking Palestinians in their homes and fields.

All of this is invariably rubber-stamped as “legal” by the Israeli courts. Is it any surprise, then, that growing numbers of Israeli teenagers question why all these military, legal and administrative formalities are really necessary? Why not just beat up Palestinians and “break their faces” until they get the message that they must leave?

Uppity natives

The battlefront in Jerusalem in recent days – characterised misleadingly in most media as the site of “clashes” – has been the sunken plaza in front of Damascus Gate, a major entrance to the walled Old City and the Muslim and Christian holy places that lie within.

The gate is possibly the last prominent public space Palestinians can still claim as theirs in central Jerusalem, after decades in which Israeli occupation authorities have gradually encircled and besieged their neighbourhoods, severing them from the Old City. During Ramadan, Damascus Gate serves as a popular communal site for Palestinians to congregate in the evenings after the daytime fast.

It was Israeli police who triggered the current explosive mood in Jerusalem by erecting barriers at Damascus Gate to seal the area off at the start of Ramadan. The pretext was to prevent overcrowding, but – given their long experience of occupation – Palestinians understood the barriers as another “temporary” measure that quickly becomes permanent, making it ever harder for them to access the Old City and their holy sites. Other major gates to the occupied Old City have already been effectively “Judaised”.

The decision of Israeli police to erect barriers cannot be divorced from a bigger context for Palestinians: the continuing efforts by Israeli authorities to evict them from areas around the Old City. In recent weeks, fresh waves of armed Jewish settlers have been moving into Silwan, a Palestinian community in the shadow of al-Aqsa Mosque. They have done so as Israel prepares to raze an entire Palestinian neighbourhood there, using its absolute control over planning issues.

Similarly, the Israeli courts have approved the eviction of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, another neighbourhood under belligerent occupation close to the Old City that has been subjected to a long-running, state-backed campaign by Jewish settlers to take it over. Last month, Jerusalem officials added insult to injury by approving a plan to build a memorial to fallen Israeli soldiers in the midst of the Palestinian community.

The decision to close off the Damascus Gate area was therefore bound to provoke resistance from Palestinians, who fought police to take down the barriers. Police responded with tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon.

Those scenes – of uppity natives refusing to be disappeared back into their homes – were part of the trigger that brought the Jewish gangs out onto the streets in a show of force. Police largely let the mob rampage, as youths threw stones and bottles and attacked Palestinians.

Tired of half measures

The sight of Jewish gangs roaming central Jerusalem to hurt Palestinians has been described as a “pogrom” by some progressive US Jewish groups. But the difference between the far-right and the Israeli state in implementing their respective violent agendas is more apparent than real.

Smotrich, Ben Gvir and these street gangs are tired of the half-measures, procrastination and moral posturing by Israeli elites who have hampered efforts to “finish the job”: clearing the native Palestinian population off their lands once and for all.

Whereas Israeli politicians on the left and right have rationalised their ugly, racist actions on the pretext of catch-all “security” measures, the far-right has no need for the international community’s approval. They are impatient for a conclusion to more than seven decades of ethnic cleansing.

And the ranks of the far-right are likely to swell further as it attracts ever-larger numbers of a new generation of the ultra-Orthodox community, the fastest-growing section of Israel’s Jewish population. For the first time, nationalist youths from the Haredi community are turning their backs on a more cautious rabbinical leadership.

And while the violence in Jerusalem has subsided for the moment, the worst is unlikely to be over. The final days of Ramadan coincide this year with the notorious Jerusalem Day parade, an annual ritual in which Jewish ultra-nationalists march through the besieged Palestinian streets of the Old City chanting threats to Palestinians and attacking any who dare to venture out.

Turning a blind eye

Human Rights Watch’s detailed report concludes that western states, by turning a blind eye to Israel’s long-standing abuses of Palestinians and focusing instead on a non-existent peace process, have allowed “apartheid to metastasize and consolidate”.

Its findings echo those of B’Tselem, Israel’s most respected human rights organisation. In January, it too declared Israel to be an apartheid regime in the occupied territories and inside Israel, towards its own Palestinian citizens.

Despite the reluctance of US and European politicians and media to talk about Israel in these terms, a new survey by B’Tselem shows that one in four Israeli Jews accept “apartheid” as an accurate description of Israel’s rule over Palestinians. What is far less clear is how many of them believe apartheid, in the Israeli context, is a good thing.

Another finding in the survey offers a clue. When asked about recent talk from Israeli leaders about annexing the West Bank, two-thirds of Israeli Jews reject the idea that Jews and Palestinians should have equal rights in those circumstances.

The mob in Jerusalem is happy to enforce Israel’s apartheid now, in hopes of speeding up the process of expulsion. Other Israelis are still in denial. They prefer to pretend that apartheid has not yet arrived, in hopes of easing their consciences a little longer.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Jerusalem protests: The mob “breaking faces” learned from Israel’s establishment first appeared on Dissident Voice.