Category Archives: Transparency/Secrecy

Can the Anti-Netanyahu Protests grow into a Larger Movement?

Israel is roiling with angry street protests that local observers have warned could erupt into open civil strife – a development Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be encouraging.

For weeks, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have been the scene of large, noisy demonstrations outside the official residences of Mr Netanyahu and his public security minister, Amir Ohana.

On Saturday night around 13,000 marched through Jerusalem shouting “Anyone but Bibi”, Netanyahu’s nickname. Their calls were echoed by tens of thousands more at locations across the country.

Turnout has been steadily growing, despite attacks on demonstrators from both the police and Netanyahu’s loyalists. The first protests abroad by Israeli expats have also been reported.

The protests, in defiance of physical distancing rules, are unprecedented by Israeli standards. They have bridged the gaping political divide between a small constituency of anti-occupation activists – disparagingly called “leftists” in Israel – and the much larger Israeli Jewish public that identifies politically as on the centre and the right.

For the first time, a section of Netanyahu’s natural supporters is out on the streets against him.

In contrast to earlier protests, such as a large social justice movement that occupied the streets in 2011 to oppose rising living costs, these demonstrations have not entirely eschewed political issues.

The target of the anger and frustration is decidedly personal at this stage – focused on the figure of Netanyahu, who is now Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. Protesters have renamed him Israel’s “crime minister”.

But also fuelling the protests is a larger mood of disenchantment as doubts grow about the state’s competence to deal with multiple crises unfolding in Israel. The virus has caused untold social and economic misery for many, with as much as one fifth of the labour force out of work. Netanyahu’s supporters in the lower middle-classes have been hit hardest.

Now well into a second wave, Israel has a per capita rate of infection that outstrips even the US. The shadow of a renewed lockdown amid government mishandling of the virus has undermined Netanyahu’s claim to be “Mr Security”.

There are concerns too about police brutality – starkly highlighted by the killing in May of an autistic Palestinian, Eyad Hallaq, in Jerusalem.

Police crackdowns on the protests, using riot squads, undercover agents, mounted police and water cannon, have underlined not just Netanyahu’s growing authoritarianism. There is a sense too that the police may be ready to use violence on dissenting Israelis that was once reserved for Palestinians.

After manipulating his right-wing rival, the former military general Benny Gantz, into joining him in a unity government in April, Netanyahu has effectively crushed any meaningful political opposition.

The agreement shattered Gantz’s Blue and White party, with many of his legislators refusing to enter the government, and has widely discredited the ex-general.

Netanyahu is reportedly preparing for a winter election – the fourth in two years – both to cash in on his opponents’ disarray and to avoid honouring a rotation agreement in which Gantz is due to replace him late next year.

According to the Israeli media, Netanyahu may find a pretext for forcing new elections by further delaying approval of the national budget, despite Israel facing its worst financial crisis in decades.

And, of course, overshadowing all this is the matter of the corruption charges against Netanyahu. Not only is he the first sitting prime minister in Israel to stand trial, but he has been using his role and the pandemic to his advantage, including by delaying court hearings.

In a time of profound crisis and uncertainty, many Israelis are wondering which policies are being pursued for the national good and which for Netanyahu’s personal benefit.

The government’s months-long focus on the annexation of swaths of Palestinian territory in the West Bank has looked like pandering to his settler constituency, creating a dangerous distraction from dealing with the pandemic.

Similarly, a one-off handout this week to every Israeli – over the strenuous objections of finance officials – looks suspiciously like an electoral bribe. As a result, Netanyahu is facing a rapid decline in support. A recent survey shows trust in him has fallen by half – from 57 per cent in March and April, when the Covid-19 pandemic began, to 29 per cent today.

Many Israelis increasingly see Netanyahu less as a father figure and more as a parasite draining resources from the body politic. Capturing the popular mood is a new art work called the “Last Supper” that was covertly installed in central Tel Aviv. It shows Netanyahu alone, gorging on a vast banquet by stuffing his hand into an enormous cake decorated with the Israeli flag.

In another move designed to highlight Netanyahu’s corrupt politics, better-off Israelis have been publicly organising to donate this week’s state handout to those in need.

Netanyahu’s repeated incitement against the protesters – disparaging them as “leftists” and “anarchists”, and suggesting they are spreading disease – appears to have backfired. It has only rallied more people to the street.

But the incitement and Netanyahu’s claims that he is the true victim – and that in the current climate he faces assassination – have been interpreted as a call to arms by some on the right. Last week five protesters were injured when his loyalists used clubs and broken bottles on them, with police appearing to turn a blind eye. Further attacks were reported at the weekend. Protest organisers said they had begun arranging defence units to protect demonstrators.

Ohana, the public security minister, has called for a ban on the protests and urged a heavy hand from the police. He has delayed appointing a new police chief – a move seen as incentivising local commanders to crack down on the protests to win favour. Large numbers of protesters have been forcefully arrested, with reports that police have questioned some on their political views.

Observers have wondered whether the protests can transcend party political tribalism and develop into a grassroots movement demanding real change. That might widen their appeal to even more disadvantaged groups, not least the one fifth of Israel’s citizens who belong to its Palestinian minority.

But it would also require more of the protesters to start drawing a direct connection between Netanyahu’s personal abuses of office and the wider, systemic corruption of Israeli politics, with the occupation its beating heart.

That may yet prove a tall order, especially when Israel faces no significant external pressure for change, either from the US or from Europe.

• First published in The National

COVID-19 Crisis Failure, People Must Save Themselves and the Economy

Positive COVID-19 Test (Shutterstock)

The US is at a moment of truth. This week, Congress has to face up to a pandemic that is out of control and an economy that is collapsing. The Republican’s and Democrat’s proposals show they will fail this test. The people will need to protect themselves and lead from below.

The pandemic is worsening with more than 60,000 new cases and approximately 1,000 new deaths daily. Deaths, now over 158,000, are spiking across the sunbelt and increasing across the Midwest. By Election Day, the US could have 250,000 deaths making COVID-19 the third largest killer after cancer and heart disease.

The economy shrank at a record 32.9% annual pace in the second quarter, the largest since records were first kept in 1947. Jobless claims increased for the second week in a row with 1.4 million new people seeking unemployment benefits and continuing claims have risen to 17.06 million. More than 35 million people have lost their jobs since March.

In the face of these depression-era numbers, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are planning enough spending to rebuild the economy. President Trump, who has botched the response to the pandemic, is unable to lead but seems willing to sign anything that passes Congress.

Boxes of food are distributed by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, at a drive thru distribution in downtown Pittsburgh, 10 April, 2020 (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar.)

Republican HEALS Act Will Spread the Virus, Deepen Economic Collapse

The Republican Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act seeks to push people back to work and reopen schools even if it is not safe to do so. Their proposals to cut unemployment benefits are designed to make workers desperate so they will work in conditions that put their health at risk. A large portion of school funding is restricted to schools that physically reopen forcing unsafe schools. Here are some of the details of the bill:

Health care: The inadequacy of for-profit healthcare has been magnified by the pandemic. The loss of jobs resulted in millions of people losing their health insurance on top of almost 30 million people who were already uninsured. Republicans do not include a funding increase for Medicaid, which 70 million people rely on. The National Governor’s Association reports states are experiencing budget shortfalls ranging between 5 and 20 percent. The Republicans do not provide any funding to state and local governments to make up for this loss of income. Without new funding, states will have to cut Medicaid eligibility, reduce benefits, or reduce payments to providers at a time when the economy and virus mean more people need it.

Food: The Census reports 26 million people do not have adequate food. Food banks are reporting shortages and 14 million children are going hungry but the Republicans did not extend funding for food assistance programs. The Republicans did not extend either the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as food stamps, or the Pandemic EBT program, a benefit for households with children who have temporarily lost access to free or reduced-price school meals, which ended in June. In contrast, they did propose a 100 percent deduction on business meals through the end of 2020.

Housing: The eviction moratorium expired last week. It protected an estimated 12 million renters in federally-backed properties. The HEALS Act does nothing to prevent evictions from restarting. There are 110 million Americans who live in rental households. Twenty percent of them, 23 million people, are at risk of eviction by September 30 according to the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. With the cut in unemployment benefits, the Census Bureau estimates 24 million people will be unable to pay next month’s rent, including 45 percent of Black and Latinx households.

Worker safety: As workers are being forced back to work, the HEALS Act cuts their ability to sue at a time when worker-safety is at its greatest risk in a century.  Senator McConnell calls this a “red line” that must be in the final bill. His proposal would preempt the few state workplace safety laws that exist and supersede such federal worker safeguards as the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, among others. The Republican proposal would erect almost insurmountable obstacles to lawsuits by workers who become infected at their workplaces and limit damages. To be immune, employers would merely have to show they were  “exploring options” to comply with federal law, or they found the risk of harm to health could not be “reduced or eliminated by reasonably modifying policies, practices, or procedures.” A worker whose lawyer issues a demand letter and settlement offer would find themselves potentially facing litigation by the employer against them. If employers sue workers, there is no limit to punitive damages. These provisions would be retroactive to December 1, 2019, and remain in effect at least until October 1, 2024.

Student debt: The HEALS Act doesn’t extend the interest-free payment pause on federal student loans or halt debt collection on government-held student debt, two forms of relief in the original CARES ACT. Without extending the relief Congress first granted to student loan borrowers through the CARES Act, 40 million people are likely to have to resume payments on September 30, 2020 at a time when there are Depression-like levels of unemployment.

Business support: The Act provides $100 billion more for the problematic Paycheck Protection Program, which has been rife with corruption as members of Congress and the administration as well as their friends, families, and donors got payouts. Big businesses got loans even though the program was intended for small businesses, making small business owners furious. Black and minority businesses were denied loans. Money is needed for main street businesses but PPP needs major changes rather than just pouring more money into the failed program.

The bill also includes $1.75 billion for the FBI building. This was added at the insistence of the Trump administration because the president’s hotel is across the street from the FBI. Without funding to refurbish the building, the FBI could move to Virginia or Maryland, leaving the current building to be torn down and likely replaced with a hotel that would compete with Trump’s hotel.

Military spending: Nearly $30 billion in the HEALS Act would be allocated in a brazen giveaway to the military. The bill includes billions for the Pentagon including $686 million for F-35 stealth fighters, $650 million for A-10 ground attack airplane wing replacements, $1.4 billion for four expeditionary medical ships, and $720 million for C-130J transport aircraft, $375 million for armored vehicles, $360 million for missile defense, and $283 million for Apache helicopters. This is reportedly being added to make up for money taken from the Pentagon for the border wall and comes after Congress recently passed a record military spending bill.

Paramedics taking a patient into an Emergency Room at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

The Democrats Fail To Use Their Power

The Democrats control the House of Representatives. Nothing can pass the Senate without Democratic Party support. The Senate Republicans are divided and Trump is desperate to sign a bill. Polls show Republicans could lose the Senate so they need to pass a good bill. The political alignment favors the Democratic Party but it still isn’t doing what is needed.

The Democrats passed the HEROES (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) Act in May, a $3 trillion proposal compared to the $1 trillion HEALS Act. Two months ago this may have been adequate but now that figure needs to be increased as more jobs have been lost, state and city governments have lost income, and the cost of treating the virus has increased with more cases.

A “red line” for the Democrats should be funding state and local government with at least $1 trillion to continue basic services. More than 20 million people work for state and local governments such as firefighters, teachers, police, sanitation workers, and transportation workers. The Economic Policy Institute estimates 5.3 million jobs will be lost without state and local funding. President Trump and the Republicans do not want another massive increase in job loss, so the Democrats are in a strong position to make this demand.

The decrease in unemployment benefits should be another unacceptable “red line” as this will further shrink the economy. The Economic Policy Institute finds the loss of the extra $600 of unemployment benefits, which people are currently spending on basic needs, will result in the loss of an additional 3.4 million jobs.

One area where the Democrats can build on some agreement is the $1,200 COVID-19 relief payment to individuals. These payments are too small. A good COVID-19 relief package would increase payments to $2,000 per person monthly for the duration of the pandemic and recession for households earning under $150,000 as suggested by Sen. Bernie Sanders. This would slow the economic collapse and ease suffering.

It is essential to extend the moratorium on evictions not just for federally-subsidized housing, but the federal government should also cover rent and mortgage payments for the duration of the crises. Otherwise, millions of families will lose their homes in an election year, which should be politically unpalatable for both parties.

Health workers give people free Covid-19 tests in Arlington, Virginia, on May 26 (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

We Need a Plan

What is missing from both the Republican and Democratic bills is a strategy to control and stop the pandemic. The virus is 7 months old and still spreading rapidly. President Trump has failed to lead so Congress must do so. The bill should include a massive investment in making rapid testing available across the country. Every business and school should have rapid testing capability before they reopen. This should be combined with hiring 500,000 public health tracers so those who have been exposed to COVID-19 can be tracked to prevent further spread of the virus.

Everyone wants to restart the economy but this must be done safely. In addition to testing and tracing, workplaces and schools must be safe. School districts should decide whether to restart or continue web-based learning and should be supported by the federal government whatever they choose. Hundreds of thousands of tutors who can do one-on-one teaching to support web-based learning are needed. With high unemployment, especially among recent graduates and college students, there are people available to take on this task.

Congress should authorize OSHA to rapidly enact stringent standards for workplaces to reopen, along with funding for necessary safeguards. There should be increased funding for OSHA workplace inspections and investigations of inadequate safety. Employers who meet the standards for a safe workplace should have legal protection from frivolous lawsuits but employees should also have the right to sue if workplaces do not meet safety standards. This approach protects both workers and employers and will reduce the spread of the virus.

Neither party handled healthcare well even before the pandemic. COVID-19 has magnified the failure of for-profit healthcare. To stop the spread of the virus, Congress needs to break away from its privatized approach to healthcare. With the widespread job loss, 5.4 million workers lost their health insurance as did millions more family members. This is the largest decline in health insurance coverage in US history. The rapid response to this healthcare crisis should be the expansion of Medicare to everyone in the United States. Ideological opposition to publicly funded healthcare should not block this essential step. The long term failure of our healthcare system and widening health disparities demonstrate why we need a community-controlled, public, universal healthcare system.

Workers strike over safety (Yahoo Finance)

he People Must Rule, and Protect Ourselves

Congress and the President are unlikely to enact the laws needed to confront the pandemic and economic collapse. As a result, both will worsen. We will have to take action to protect ourselves and build popular power to win our demands.

We need to organize mutual aid to people meet people’s basic needs, such as for food and housing. Many cities have vacant buildings owned by the local and federal governments. As homelessness rises, these should be taken over to house people. We discuss the practical steps for taking over homes with Cheri Honkala this week on Clearing The FOG, (available as a podcast on Monday).

We build popular power by taking the streets as people have been doing for over two months now across the country, only buying essentials, refusing to pay rent or debt payments, blocking evictions and by building in our workplaces for a general strike.

Our actions must not be about which presidential candidate from the two parties of the millionaires to elect. Only one serious presidential campaign is right on COVID-19 and the economy, the Green candidates Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker. Our actions need to be about building a people’s movement that grows in power before and after the November elections. No matter who is elected, the people will need to resist, create new systems and rule from below.

Human Rights Defenders: Palestinian Eyewitness Testimony of the Execution of Abdul Fattah al-Sharif by Israeli Soldier, Elor Azaria

As illegal Jewish settlers increase their attacks on Palestinian civilians in the occupied city of Al Khalil (Hebron), the people of the Palestinian city continue to mount a campaign of popular resistance.

One of the channels of resistance is Human Rights Defenders, “a grass-roots, non-partisan Palestinian organization, working to support nonviolent popular resistance through popular direct action and documentation of human rights violations committed by the Occupation.”

To understand the situation in Hebron better, I spoke to Badee Dwaik, head of ‘Human Rights Defenders’, Raghad Neiroukh, a journalist, and Flora Thomas, a British solidarity activist.

The conversation included another member of HRD, Imad Abu Shamsiyah, the courageous activist who filmed the murder of a Palestinian young man, Abdul Fattah al-Sharif.

On March 24, 2016, Israeli army medic, Elor Azaria, killed al-Sharif in cold blood in Hebron. The Israeli army later claimed that al-Sharif, and another Palestinian, tried to stab an Israeli soldier.

The murder was rightly dubbed ‘extrajudicial execution’ by human rights organizations. Under international pressure, Israel tried Azaria in court, sentencing him to eighteen months’ imprisonment, but eventually released him fourteen months later, to be received as a hero by many Israeli politicians, his family and ordinary people.

I asked Abu Shamsiyah about the events that took place on that day, when he had personally witnessed and filmed the execution of the Palestinian young man.

“It was about 8 o’clock in the morning and I was having coffee with my wife. I heard the sound of shooting outside, very close to my house,” Abu Shamsiyah began.

“I immediately went out to see what was going on, and my wife followed me. She brought the camera with her.

“I found out that a person was lying in the street. He was wearing a black t-shirt and trousers.”

“I saw that there was also another person on the ground. I moved my camera to capture him on film and noticed that he was bleeding from his face.”

“I observed a few Israeli soldiers approaching one of the people on the ground; they were very close to me.”

“I realized that Abdul Fattah al-Sharif was a Palestinian only when I saw an Israeli soldier kicking him.”

“When the Israeli soldier kicked him, al-Sharif moved both of his legs and his hands; and I captured this with my camera.”

“At that moment, my wife started shouting, saying: ‘Haram, haram,’ and tried to help the wounded young man.”

“When the soldiers heard her screams, they noticed our presence in the street. So they forced us to leave the street; they chased us away.”

“I went home but I began to think of another way to continue filming. I climbed on to the roof of a neighbor’s house and resumed filming the execution.”

“I saw an Israeli ambulance arriving in the area, but it didn’t go towards al-Sharif; instead, it went towards the other person who was still lying on the ground. Only then, I realized that the other person was, in fact, an Israeli soldier.”

“So I zoomed in the camera to capture a better image of the soldier, who (looked as if) slightly injured. The ambulance gave him first aid and treated him, while they denied any treatment to al-Sharif and the other wounded Palestinian.”

“They carried the Israeli soldier into the ambulance; I zoomed in again, and he was already standing; as I said before, he was (clearly) only slightly injured.”

“The ambulance began to turn around to leave the area. It was then that I heard the sound of one of the soldiers loading his gun. He got closer and closer to where al-Sharif was (still lying down). When he was about one meter away, he pointed the gun at al-Sharif’s head.”

“Al-Sharif did not pose any threat to the soldier, whose name was revealed later in the media to be Elor Azaria. It was Azaria who shot the wounded Palestinian in the head.”

“I was still filming, and one of the Jewish settlers, who noticed me, told the soldiers about me. One of the soldiers turned towards me and ordered me to leave the area, but I was already leaving because I had filmed the entire scene.”

“I immediately went to the ‘Human Rights Defenders’, where I uploaded the video and many people watched it.”

“Israeli soldiers kill Palestinians in cold blood, while accusing Palestinians of trying to stab soldiers.”

Following the incident and, throughout Azaria’s trial, Abu Shamsiyah and his family experienced much harassment by the Israeli army for revealing the truth that Israel wishes to keep hidden: the brutality of its soldiers, and the intrinsic relationship between the occupation army and the illegal Jewish settlers.

Speaking to Abu Shamsiyah four years after the tragic death of al-Sharif, the Palestinian activist remains steadfast in his belief that the ongoing Israeli human rights violations must be exposed. His voice conveys determination, not hesitation nor fear.

‘Human Rights Defenders’, like many other Palestinian groups, continues to channel and guide the popular resistance of the Palestinian people in Hebron and many towns and villages across Palestine. They are a testament to the resolve of Palestinian society – brave, steadfast and unbroken.

List of Israeli Targets Leaked: Tel Aviv Fears the Worst in ICC Investigation of War Crimes

When International Court of Justice (ICC) Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, confirmed last December that the Court has ample evidence to pursue a war crimes investigation in occupied Palestine, the Israeli government responded with the usual rhetoric, accusing the international community of bias and insisting on Israel’s ‘right to defend itself.’

Beneath the platitudes and typical Israeli discourse, the Israeli government knew too well that an ICC investigation into war crimes in Palestine could be quite costly. An investigation, in itself, represents an indictment of sorts. If Israeli individuals were to be indicted for war crimes, that is a different story, as it becomes a legal obligation of ICC members to apprehend the criminals and hand them over to the Court.

Israel remained publicly composed, even after Bensouda, last April, elaborated on her December decision with a 60-page legal report, titled: “Situation in the State of Palestine: Prosecution Response to the Observations of Amici Curiae, Legal Representatives of Victims, and States.”

In the report, the ICC addressed many of the questions, doubts and reports submitted or raised in the four months that followed her earlier decision. Countries such as Germany and Austria, among others, had used their position as amici curiae — ‘friends of the court’ — to question the ICC jurisdiction and the status of Palestine as a country.

Bensouda insisted that “the Prosecutor is satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to initiate an investigation into the situation in Palestine under article 53(1) of the Rome Statute, and that the scope of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction comprises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza (“Occupied Palestinian Territory”).”

However, Bensouda did not provide definitive timelines to the investigation; instead, she requested that the ICC’S Pre-Trial Chamber “confirm the scope of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in Palestine,” an additional step that is hardly required since the State of Palestine, a signatory of the Rome Statute, is the one that actually referred the case directly to the Prosecutor’s office.

The April report, in particular, was the wake-up call for Tel Aviv. Between the initial decision in December till the release of the latter report, Israel lobbied on many fronts, enlisting the help of ICC members and recruiting its greatest benefactor, Washington – which is not an ICC member – to bully the Court so it may reverse its decision.

On May 15, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, warned the ICC against pursuing the investigation, targeting Bensouda, in particular, for her decision to hold war criminals in Palestine accountable.

The US slapped unprecedented sanctions against the ICC on June 11, with President Donald Trump issuing an ‘executive order’ that authorizes the freezing of assets and a travel ban against ICC officials and their families. The order also allows for the punishing of other individuals or entities that assist the ICC in its investigation.

Washington’s decision to carry out punitive measures against the very Court that was established for the sole purpose of holding war criminals accountable is both outrageous and abhorrent. It also exposes Washington’s hypocrisy — the country that claims to defend human rights is attempting to prevent legal accountability by those who have violated human rights.

Upon its failure to halt the ICC legal procedures regarding its investigation of war crimes, Israel began to prepare for the worst. On July 15, Israeli daily newspaper, Haaretz, reported about a ‘secret list’ that was drawn up by the Israeli government. The list includes “between 200 and 300 officials”, ranging from politicians to military and intelligence officials, who are subject to arrest abroad, should the ICC officially open the war crimes investigation.

Names begin at the top of the Israeli political pyramid, among them Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his current coalition partner, Benny Gantz.

The sheer number of Israeli officials on the list is indicative of the scope of the ICC’s investigation, and somehow is a self-indictment, as the names include former Israeli Defense Ministers — Moshe Ya’alon, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett; current and former army chiefs of staffs — Aviv Kochavi, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot and current and former heads of internal intelligence, the Shin Bet — Nadav Argaman and Yoram Cohen.

Respected international human rights organizations have already, repeatedly, accused all these individuals of serious human rights abuses during Israel’s lethal wars on the besieged Gaza Strip, starting with the so-called ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in 2008-9.

But the list is far more extensive, as it covers “people in much more junior positions, including lower-ranking military officers and, perhaps, even officials involved in issuing various types of permits to settlements and settlement outposts.”

Israel, thus, fully appreciates the fact that the international community still insists that the construction of illegal colonies in occupied Palestine, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the transfer of Israeli citizens to occupied land are all inadmissible under international law and tantamount to war crimes. Netanyahu must be disappointed to learn that all of Washington’s concessions to Israel under Trump’s presidency have failed to alter the position of the international community and the applicability of international law in any way.

Furthermore, it would not be an exaggeration to argue that Tel Aviv’s postponement of its plan to illegally annex nearly a third of the West Bank is directly linked to the ICC’s investigation, for the annexation would have completely thwarted Israel’s friends’ efforts aimed at preventing the investigation from ever taking place.

While the whole world, especially Palestinians, Arabs and their allies, still anxiously await the final decision by the Pre-Trial Chamber, Israel will continue its overt and covert campaign to intimidate the ICC and any other entity that aims to expose Israeli war crimes and to try Israeli war criminals.

Washington, too, will continue to strive to ensure Netanyahu, Gantz, and the “200 to 300” other Israeli officials never see their day in court.

However, the fact that a “secret list” exists is an indication that Tel Aviv understands that this era is different and that international law, which has failed Palestinians for over 70 years, may for once deliver, however small, a measure of justice.

UK Labour Party teeters on Brink of Civil War Over Antisemitism

Jeremy Corbyn, the former left-wing leader of Britain’s Labour party, is once again making headlines over an “antisemitism problem” he supposedly oversaw during his five years at the head of the party.

This time, however, the assault on his reputation is being led not by the usual suspects – pro-Israel lobbyists and a billionaire-owned media – but by Keir Starmer, the man who succeeded him.

Since becoming Labour leader in April, Starmer has helped to bolster the evidence-free narrative of a party plagued by antisemitism under Corbyn. That has included Starmer’s refusal to exploit two major opportunities to challenge that narrative.

Had those chances been grasped, Labour might have been able to demonstrate that Corbyn was the victim of an underhanded campaign to prevent him from reaching power.

Starmer, had he chosen to, could have shown that Corbyn’s long history as an anti-racism campaigner was twisted to discredit him. His decades of vocal support for Palestinian rights were publicly recast as a supposed irrational hatred of Israel based on an antipathy to Jews.

But instead Starmer chose to sacrifice his predecessor rather than risk being tarred with the same brush.

As a result, Labour now appears to be on the brink of open war. Competing rumors suggest Corbyn may be preparing to battle former staff through the courts, while Starmer may exile his predecessor from the party.

Rocketing membership

Corbyn’s troubles were inevitable the moment the mass membership elected him Labour leader in 2015 in defiance of the party bureaucracy and most Labour MPs. Corbyn was determined to revive the party as a vehicle for democratic socialism and end Britain’s role meddling overseas as a junior partner to the global hegemon of the United States.

That required breaking with Labour’s capture decades earlier, under Tony Blair, as a party of neoliberal orthodoxy at home and neoconservative orthodoxy abroad.

Until Corbyn arrived on the scene, Labour had become effectively a second party of capital alongside Britain’s ruling Conservative party, replicating the situation in the US with the Democratic and Republican parties.

His attempts to push the party back towards democratic socialism attracted hundreds of thousands of new members, quickly making Labour the largest party in Europe. But it also ensured a wide-ranging alliance of establishment interests was arrayed against him, including the British military, the corporate media, and the pro-Israel lobby.

Politicized investigation

Unlike Corbyn, Starmer has not previously shown any inclination to take on the might of the establishment. In fact, he had previously proven himself its willing servant.

As head of Britain’s prosecution service in 2013, for example, his department issued thinly veiled threats to Sweden to continue its legal pursuit of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who had sought political asylum in London’s Ecuadorian embassy, even as Swedish interest in the case waned.

With his background in realpolitik, Starmer appears to have grasped quickly the danger of being seen to share any common ground with Corbyn – not only should he pursue significant elements of his predecessor’s program, but by challenging the carefully crafted establishment narrative around Corbyn.

For this reason, he has refused to seize either of the two chances presented to him to demonstrate that Labour had no more of an antisemitism problem than the relatively marginal one that exists more generally in British society.

That failure is likely to prove all the more significant given that in a matter of weeks Labour is expected to face the findings of an investigation by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The highly politicized watchdog body, which took on the probe into Labour while refusing to investigate plentiful evidence of an Islamophobia problem in the Conservative party, is expected to shore up the Corbyn-antisemitism narrative.

Labour has said it will readily accept the Commission’s findings, whatever they are. The watchdog body is likely to echo the prevailing narrative that Corbyn attracted left-wingers to the party who were ideologically tainted with antisemitism masquerading as anti-Zionism. As a result, or so the argument goes, Jew hatred flourished on his watch.

Starmer has already declared “zero tolerance” of antisemitism, but he has appeared willing – in line with pro-Israel lobbyists in his party – to conflate Jew hatred with trenchant criticism of Israel.

The barely veiled intention is to drive Corbynite members out of Labour – either actively through suspensions or passively as their growing disillusionment leads to a mass exodus.

By distancing himself from his predecessor, Starmer knows no dirt will stick to him even as the Equality Commission drags Corbyn’s name through the mud.

Sabotaged from within

Starmer rejected the first chance to salvage the reputations of Corbyn and the wider Labour membership days after he became leader.

In mid-April, an 850-page internal party report was leaked, stuffed with the text of lengthy email exchanges and WhatsApp chats by senior party staff. They showed that, as had long been suspected, Corbyn’s own officials worked hard to sabotage his leadership from within.

Staff at headquarters still loyal to the Blair vision of the party even went so far as to actively throw the 2017 general election, when Labour was a hair’s-breadth away from ousting the Conservatives from government. These officials hoped a crushing defeat would lead to Corbyn’s removal from office.

The report described a “hyper-factional atmosphere”, with officials, including then-deputy leader Tom Watson, regularly referring to Corbyn and his supporters as “Trots” – a reference to Leon Trotsky, one of the leaders of a violent Communist revolution in Russia more than a century ago.

Corbynites were thrown out of the party on the flimsiest pretexts, such as describing those like Blair who led the 2003 attack on Iraq as “warmongers”.

But one early, favored tactic by staff in the disciplinary unit was to publicize antisemitism cases and then drag out their resolution to create the impression that the party under Corbyn was not taking the issue seriously.

These officials also loosened the definition of antisemitism to pursue cases against Corbyn’s supporters who, like him, were vocal in defending Palestinian rights or critical of Israeli policies.

This led to the preposterous situation where Labour was suspending and expelling anti-Zionist Jews who supported Corbyn on the grounds that they were supposedly antisemites, while action was delayed on dealing with a Holocaust denier.

The narrative against Corbyn being crafted by his own officials was eagerly picked up and amplified by the strong contingent of Blairites among Labour legislators in the parliament, as well as by the corporate media and by Israel lobbyists both inside and outside Labour.

Effort to bury report

The parties responsible for leaking the report in April did so because Labour, now led by Starmer, had no intention of publicizing it.

In fact, the report had been originally compiled as part of Labour’s submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, effectively giving Corbyn’s side of the story against his opponents.

But once Corbyn stepped down, the party bureaucracy under Starmer preferred to shelve it. That decision meant there would be no case for the defense, and Corbyn’s opponents’ claims would go unchallenged.

Once leaked, Starmer stuck to his position. Rather than use the report as an opportunity to expose the ugly campaign against Corbyn and thereby question the antisemitism narrative, Starmer did his level best to bury it from sight.

He vowed to investigate “the circumstances in which the report was put into the public domain”. That sounded ominously like a threat to hound those who had tried to bring to light the party’s betrayal of its previous leader.

Rather than accept the evidence presented in the leaked report of internal corruption and the misuse of party funds, Starmer set up an inquiry under QC Martin Forde to investigate the earlier investigation.

The Forde inquiry looked like Starmer’s effort to kick the damaging revelations into the long grass.

The British media gave the leaked report – despite its earth-shattering revelations of Labour officials sabotaging an election campaign – little more than perfunctory coverage.

Labour ‘whistleblowers’

A second, related chance to challenge the Corbyn-antisemitism narrative reached its conclusion last week. And again, Starmer threw in Labour’s hand.

In July last year – long before the report had been leaked – the BBC’s prestige news investigation show Panorama set out to answer a question it posed in the episode’s title: “Is Labour Antisemitic?

John Ware, a reporter openly hostile to Corbyn and well-known for supporting Israel and his antipathy towards Muslims, was chosen to front the investigation.

The program presented eight former staff as “whistleblowers”, their testimonies supposedly exposing Corbyn’s indulgence of antisemitism. They included those who would soon be revealed in the leaked report as intractable ideological enemies of the Corbyn project and others who oversaw the dysfunctional complaints process that dragged its heels on resolving antisemitism cases.

The Panorama program was dismal even by the low standards of political reporting set by the BBC in the Corbyn era.

The show made much of the testimony of pro-Israel lobbyists inside the Labour party belonging to a group called the Jewish Labour Movement. They were not identified – either by name or by affiliation – despite being given the freedom to make anecdotal and unspecified claims of antisemitism against Corbyn and his supporters.

The BBC’s decision not to name these participants had nothing to do with protecting their identities, even though that was doubtless the impression conveyed to the audience.

Most were already known as Israel partisans because they had been exposed in a 2017 four-part al-Jazeera undercover documentary called The Lobby. They were filmed colluding with an Israeli embassy official, Shai Masot, to bring down Corbyn. The BBC did not identify these pro-Israel activists presumably because they had zero credibility as witnesses.

One-sided coverage

Nonetheless, a seemingly stronger case – at least, at the time – was made by the eight former Labour staff. Their testimonies to the BBC suggested they had been hampered and bullied by Corbyn’s team as they tried to stamp out antisemitism.

Panorama allowed these claims to go unchallenged, even though with a little digging it could have tapped sources inside Labour who were already compiling what would become the leaked report, presenting a very different view of these self-styled “whistleblowers”.

The BBC also failed to talk to Jewish Voice for Labour, a group of Labour party members supportive of Corbyn who challenged the way the Jewish Labour Movement had manipulated the definition of antisemitism in the party to harm Palestinian solidarity activists.

And the BBC did not call as counter-witnesses any of the anti-Zionist Jews who were among the earliest victims of the purge of supposed antisemites by Labour’s apparent “whistleblowers”.

Instead, it selectively quoted from an email by Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s chief adviser, to suggest that he had interfered in the disciplinary process to help antisemites avoid suspension.

Proper context from the BBC would have revealed that Milne had simply expressed concern at how the rule book was being interpreted when several Jews had been suspended for antisemitism – and that he had proffered his view only because a staff member now claiming to be a whistleblower had asked for it.

This section of the Panorama show looked suspiciously like entrapment of Milne by Labour staff, followed by collusion from the BBC in promoting their false narrative.

Flawed reporting

Despite these and many other serious flaws in the Panorama episode, it set the tone for subsequent discussion of the “antisemitism problem” in Labour.

The program aired a few months before a general election, last December, that Corbyn lost to Boris Johnson and the ruling Conservative party.

One of the key damaging, “gotcha” moments of the campaign was an interview with the veteran BBC interviewer Andrew Neil in which he repeatedly asked Corbyn to apologize for antisemitism in the party, as had been supposedly exposed by Panorama. Corbyn’s refusal to respond directly to the question left him looking evasive and guilty.

With the rest of the media amplifying the Panorama claims rather than testing them, it has become the accepted benchmark for judging the Corbyn era. The show has even been nominated for a Bafta award, the British equivalent to an Oscar.

Shortly after the program aired, Corbyn’s team disputed the Panorama narrative, saying it had contained “deliberate and malicious misrepresentations designed to mislead the public”. They also described the “whistleblowers” as disaffected former staff with “political axes to grind”.

Ware and seven of the former staff members who appeared in the program launched a defamation action against the Labour party.

After the internal report was leaked in April, the legal scales tipped decisively in Labour’s favor. Starmer was reportedly advised by lawyers that the party would be well-positioned to defeat the legal action and clear Corbyn and the party’s name.

But again Starmer preferred to fold. Before the case could be tested in court, Starmer issued an apology last week to the ex-staff members and Ware, and paid them a six-figure sum in damages.

Admitting that “antisemitism has been a stain on the Labour Party in recent years”, the statement accepted the claims of the ex-staff to be “whistleblowers”, even capitalizing the word to aggrandize their status.

It said: “We acknowledge the many years of dedicated and committed service that the Whistleblowers have given to the Labour Party … We unreservedly withdraw all allegations of bad faith, malice and lying.”

Threat of bankruptcy

With typical understatement, Corbyn said he was “disappointed” at the settlement, calling it a “political decision, not a legal one”. He added that it “risks giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations about action taken to tackle antisemitism in the Labour party in recent years.”

Starmer’s decision also preempted – and effectively nullified – the Forde inquiry, which was due to submit its own findings on antisemitism in Labour later in the year.

Many in the party were infuriated that their membership dues had been used to pay off a group of ex-staff who, according to the leaked report, had undermined the party’s elected leader and helped to throw a general election.

But in what looked disturbingly like a move to silence Corbyn, Ware said he was consulting lawyers once again about launching a legal battle, personally against the former Labour leader, over his criticism of the settlement.

Mark Lewis, the solicitor acting for Ware and the whistleblowers, has said he is also preparing an action for damages against Labour on behalf of 32 individuals named in the leaked report. Among them is Lord Iain McNichol, who served as the party’s general secretary at the time.

Lewis reportedly intends to focus on staff privacy breaches under the Data Protection Act, disclosure of private information and alleged violations of employment law.

Conversely, Mark Howell, a Labour party member, has initiated an action against Labour and McNichol seeking damages for “breach of contract”. He demands that those named in the leaked report be expelled from the party.

He is also reported to be considering referring named staff members to the Crown Prosecution Service under the 2006 Fraud Act for their failure to uphold the interests of party members who paid staff salaries.

This spate of cases threatens to hemorrhage money from the party. There have been warnings that financial settlements, as well as members deserting the party in droves, could ultimately bankrupt Labour.

Corbyn to be expelled?

Within days of the apology, a crowdfunding campaign raised more than £280,000 for Corbyn to clear his name in any future legal actions.

Given his own self-serving strategy, Starmer would doubtless be embarrassed by such a move. There are already rumors that he is considering withdrawing the party whip from Corbyn – a form of exile from the party.

Pressure on him to do so is mounting. At the weekend it was reported that ex-staff might drop the threatened case over the embarrassing revelations contained in the leaked report should Starmer expel Corbyn.

Quoting someone it described as a “well-placed source”, the Mail on Sunday newspaper set out the new stakes. “Labour says they have zero tolerance to anti-Semitism. Zero tolerance means no Corbyn and no Corbynistas,” the source said.

There are already reports of what amounts to a purge of left-wing members from Labour.

Starmer has committed to upholding “10 Pledges” produced by the Board of Deputies – a conservative Jewish leadership organization hostile to Corbyn and the left – that places it and the pro-Israel lobbyists of the Jewish Labour Movement in charge of deciding what constitutes antisemitism in the party.

Selective concern

Starmer’s decision about who can serve in his shadow cabinet is a reminder that the storm over Corbyn was never about real antisemitism – the kind that targets Jews for being Jews. It was a pretext to be rid of the Corbyn project and democratic socialism.

Starmer quickly pushed out the last two prominent Corbynites in his shadow cabinet – both on matters related to criticism of Israel.

By contrast, he has happily indulged the kind of antisemitism that harms Jews as long as it comes from members of his shadow cabinet who are not associated with Corbyn.

Starmer picked Rachel Reeves for his team, even though earlier this year she tweeted a tribute to Nancy Astor, a supporter of Hitler and notorious antisemite. Reeves has refused to delete the tweet.

And Steve Reed is still the shadow communities secretary, even though this month he referred to a Jewish newspaper tycoon, Richard Desmond, as a “puppet master” – the very definition of an antisemitic trope.

Starmer’s “zero tolerance” appears to be highly selective – more concerned about harsh criticism of a state, Israel, than the othering of Jews. Tellingly, Starmer has been under no serious pressure from the Jewish Labour Movement, or from the media or from Jewish leadership organizations such as the Board of Deputies to take any action against either Reeves or Reed.

He has moved swiftly against leftists in his party who criticize Israel but has shrugged his shoulders at supposed “moderates” who, it could be argued, have encouraged or glorified hatred and suspicion of Jews.

But then the antisemitism furor was never about safeguarding Jews. It was about creating a cover story as the establishment protected itself from democratic socialism.

All Confusion and Contradictions in Trump’s Apocalyptic America

In front of White House

Americans are angry. I suspected they would be, but I got confirmation that they are, all over the place: in Miami, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Minneapolis, New York, and Boston. Basically, everywhere I went, while “taking pulse and temperature” of this country where I used to live, cumulatively, for more than a decade, I felt frustration and bewilderment.

“What is your job?” Shouted an African-American lady, right in the middle of the Union Station in the nation’s capital. Obviously, it was a rhetorical question, as she almost immediately answered her own query: “There are no jobs!”

Mr. Floyd got murdered by perverse, sadistic police officers. The economy is collapsing, at least for the poor and the middle class. The COVID-19 pandemic is like a rollercoaster, up and down, up and down, with no end in sight.

People are confused, while the government is increasingly aggressive. Much of the so-called “progressive media” is suddenly not behaving progressively at all. Racism is sometimes fought against with brand new types of racism. Anti-racist movements get periodically infiltrated by the extreme right-wing groups, as I witnessed in Minneapolis.

The U.S. government is basically confronting countries like China, Venezuela, Russia and Iran. Not just verbally, but militarily. And the reason why our world is not in the middle of WWIII, yet, is because of tremendous restrain and wisdom of the U.S. adversaries.

*****

At home, no jobs, no coherent policy on how to fight against the COVID-19; no national unity in the moment of disaster.

What I have been witnessing so far were some jerky, inconsistent moves on the part of the governments (the federal and the state ones), as well as the ensuing confusion, complimented by half-hearted, and patchy solutions. Quite the opposite of what I experienced in Asia, be it in socialist China and Vietnam, but also in the far from the socialist nations such as Thailand, South Korea, the Philippines.

Just a quick reality check, and it becomes clear that the U.S. system already failed, squarely and patently: 30 million people out of jobs since the pandemic began. Three million infected, and probably, by now, much more. Over 130.000 U.S. citizens lost their lives. Of course, it all depends on how the total number of victims is calculated. Still, no matter how it is done, even if the lowest numbers are correct, the United States is the most affected country on Earth, which is an absolute shame, considering that it is still one of the richest.

The Trump Administration is, of course, aware of all this, and just a few months before the Presidential elections, it is desperately searching for someone else to blame for this enormous national disaster. The President and his men are frantically pointing fingers in all directions: from China (P.R.C.) to the World Health Organization (WHO). From the Communist Party of China, from President Maduro to the U.S. state governors and those very few “disobedient” members of the mass media who still dare, at least occasionally, to challenge the official narrative.

Conspiracy theories are abundant. Demonstrations and protests are taking place all over the nation. In New York City, the murder rate is up. Sirens are howling. People are uttering clichés. “Follow the money,” I hear everywhere.

Who is to blame? Inept regime? Monstrous outdated capitalism? Corporatism? Shitty education system? People don’t now. While ‘false prophets’ are thriving.

Government, mass media, as well as a great majority of the so-called ‘progressive’ media (do not confuse it with left-wing media, which hardly exists in the United States, anymore), are blaming socialist China, as they are blaming Russia, Iran, and other independent-minded countries.

*****

This is clearly a political fight. The pandemic is there, of course, but for the White House, it is nothing else other than background noise and stench. On all fronts, the U.S. regime is fighting for its survival. Trump is clashing with various foreign countries, those which have a real, left-wing ideology.

Much is at stake. The survival of the entire repulsive system is now in question. If this terrible scheme collapsed, the whole world would rejoice; it would benefit. But the majority of North Americans would lose. Even those who like to paint themselves as ‘progressives’ or ‘different’ or “also victims”. And so, there are thousands of conspiracies aimed at discrediting the fury which followed the killing of Mr. Floyd. There are countless theories about the origins of the pandemic, as well as its management, or, more precisely, mismanagement.

For both the Trump and his Democratic Party opponents, it is now absolutely essential to discredit morally and socially much more successful countries like China, Russia, even Cuba.

Monstrous propaganda tsunami has been unleashed in the United States, but also the U.K. It is unprecedented and overwhelming. Alternative voices are silenced. Censorship, even amongst the so-called ‘alternative’ Western publications, is becoming bulletproof. And it all happened literally overnight. While my essays used to be reprinted just 2-3 months ago by at least 20 major outlets in the United States and Canada, now it is at most five which dare to publish me. My internationalist, unconditionally left-wing angle did not change at all. But true colors of the U.S. and Canadian “progressive” and “independent” media got exposed. Simultaneously, my work has been gaining great support in non-Western countries. This says a lot about the situation!

Back to Trump. He is attacking foreign countries, horrified that people could notice how optimistic and compassionate some other nations are. And how nihilist, over-rated, empty and depressing is the United States.

He is also antagonizing those who are now bringing down statues of Western bigots, genocidal cadres, slave owners, and conquerors.

He is clearly soiling his pants.

In the same breath he is smearing the health officials, who dare to paint bleak (read: realistic) picture, and urging him to put people’s interests above those of the economy, particularly the private sector.

On July 8, 2020, even pro-regime CNN reported:

Five months into a still-raging pandemic that has killed more than 130,000 Americans, the long-simmering tensions between President Donald Trump and the health experts who staff his government have escalated from private griping to shrugging disagreement to now open dispute.

The result, people at those agencies say, is a new sense of demoralization as they continue their attempts to fight a once-in-a-generation health crisis while simultaneously navigating the whims of a President who has shown little interest or understanding of their work.

That Trump does not trust nor follow the advice of experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, is hardly new. The President has not attended a meeting of his coronavirus task force in months, and recently its sessions have been held outside the White House, including on Wednesday at the headquarters of the Department of Education. Fauci was told to participate in the meeting remotely by videoconference, preventing him from participating in a midday task force press briefing…

Precisely, nothing new. Except that even CNN, one of the mouthpieces of the empire, is finally noticing!

*****

It is all about spreading nihilism, on both domestic and foreign fronts.

China is getting attacked in the most extreme, unreasonable, and even bizarre fashion by both President Trump and his team, but also by their adversaries. After winning the fight against the COVID-19, the P.R.C. has been blamed for virtually everything, from withholding data, negatively influencing the WHO, and even for the manufacturing of the virus in one of its laboratories based in Wuhan, and then spreading it to all corners of the world. “Chinese Virus,” the White House has been calling it, while no one knows yet for certain, where it actually really originated. Naturally, Beijing and entire China have been indignant.

None of the U.S. government accusations have been proven. Allegations after allegations have been ridiculed by the U.S. medical, scientific community, and often by the academia. But the administration already went too far, and it is clearly unable to stop its own attacks anymore. Trump ignores ridicule, hoping that his macho, vulgar and provincial rhetoric would appeal to certain group of uneducated, extremist part of the population, and win him the second term.

Even some individuals related to the U.S. diplomatic community in China, such as Tzu-i Chuang Mullinax and Roseanne Freese, are voicing disagreement with the official White House narrative.

Analyzing the uprising which followed the murder of Mr. George Floyd (who happened to be COVID-19 positive), I spoke to dozens of Americans of all races and social standings. The majority of them have been outraged by the government’s handling of the epidemy and the unrest. Not one person that I spoke to actually blamed China or any other foreign country, directly, for the dire situation in the United States.

Minneappolis burning

Anti-Chinese rhetoric is clearly a political football played by both Republicans and Democrats. The same goes for the anti-Russian sentiments, including belittlement of the Russian foreign aid sent to the United States, at the very beginning of the pandemic.

The strategy of the U.S. government is simple; some would say primitive: “Whatever terrible is happening inside the country, just counterattack and blame everything on the political opponents, and if you can’t, attack the foreign countries; China, Russia, even Iran or Venezuela. Or smear the United Nations agencies, like WHO.  Guide insults to all corners of the world, but also don’t forget to send the battleships.”

There is much that is going wrong in the U.S., very, very wrong. Tents with homeless people could now be spotted all around the downtown Washington D.C. The White House has been converted into a fortress. And while millions of American people are marching, protesting against the endemic racism and discrimination, the K.K.K. and its affiliates like Proud Boys, are burning cities and infiltrating legitimate anti-racist demonstrations (something that I will soon be addressing in my essays).

Images are apocalyptic. The situation is explosive.

This is one of the most dangerous moments in world history. But, shockingly, not much is being written about the urgency and threat which our planet is facing!

• Originally published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook (a journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences)

An Israeli Charity Group is uprooting Palestinians not planting Trees

The Jewish National Fund, established more than 100 years ago, is perhaps the most venerable of the international Zionist organisations. Its recent honorary patrons have included prime ministers, and it advises UN forums on forestry and conservation issues.

It is also recognised as a charity in dozens of western states. Generations of Jewish families, and others, have contributed to its fundraising programmes, learning as children to drop saved pennies into its trademark blue boxes to help plant a tree.

And yet its work over many decades has been driven by one main goal: to evict Palestinians from their homeland.

The JNF is a thriving relic of Europe’s colonial past, even if today it wears the garb of an environmental charity. As recent events show, ethnic cleansing is still what it excels at.

The organisation’s mission began before the state of Israel was even born. Under British protection, the JNF bought up tracts of fertile land in what was then historic Palestine. It typically used force to dispossess Palestinian sharecroppers whose families had worked the land for centuries.

But the JNF’s expulsion activities did not end in 1948, when Israel was established through a bloody war on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland – an event Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe.

Israel hurriedly demolished more than 500 cleansed Palestinian villages, and the JNF was entrusted with the job of preventing some 750,000 refugees from returning. It did so by planting forests over both the ruined homes, making it impossible to rebuild them, and village lands to stop them being farmed.

These plantations were how the JNF earned its international reputation. Its forestry operations were lauded for stopping soil erosion, reclaiming land and now tackling the climate crisis.

But even this expertise was undeserved. Environmentalists say the dark canopies of trees it has planted in arid regions such as the Negev, in Israel’s south, absorb heat unlike the unforested, light-coloured soil. Short of water, the slow-growing trees capture little carbon. Native species of brush and animals, meanwhile, have been harmed.

These pine forests – the JNF has planted some 250 million trees – have also turned into a major fire hazard. Most years hundreds of fires break out after summer droughts exacerbated by climate change.

Early on, the vulnerability of the JNF’s saplings was used as a pretext to outlaw the herding of native black goats. Recently the goats, which clear undergrowth, had to be reintroduced to prevent the fires. But the goats’ slaughter had already served its purpose, forcing Bedouin Palestinians to abandon their pastoral way of life.

Despite surviving the Nakba, thousands of Bedouin in the Negev were covertly expelled to Egypt or the West Bank in Israel’s early years.

It would be wrong, however, to imagine that the JNF’s troubling role in these evictions was of only historical interest. The charity, Israel’s largest private land owner, is actively expelling Palestinians to this day.

In recent weeks, solidarity activists have been desperately trying to prevent the eviction of a Palestinian family, the Sumarins, from their home in occupied East Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers.

Last month the Sumarins lost a 30-year legal battle waged by the JNF, which secretly sold their home in the late 1980s by the Israeli state.

The family’s property was seized under a draconian 1950 law declaring Palestinian refugees of the Nakba “absent” so that they could not reclaim their land inside the new state of Israel.

The courts have decreed that the law can be applied in occupied Jerusalem too, in violation of international law. In the Sumarins’ case, it appears not to matter that the family was never actually “absent”. The JNF is permitted to evict the 18 family members next month. To add insult to injury, they will have to pay damages to the JNF.

A former US board member, Seth Morrison, resigned in protest in 2011 at the JNF’s role in such evictions, accusing it of working with extreme settler groups. Last year the JNF ousted a family in similar circumstances near Bethlehem. Days later settlers moved on to the land.

Ir Amim, an Israeli human rights group focusing on Jerusalem, warned that these cases create a dangerous legal precedent if Israel carries out its promise to annex West Bank territory. It could rapidly expand the number of Palestinians classified as “absentees”.

But the JNF never lost its love of the humble tree as the most effective – and veiled – tool of ethnic cleansing. And it is once again using forests as a weapon against the fifth of Israel’s population who are Palestinian, survivors of the Nakba.

Earlier this year it unveiled its “Relocation Israel 2040” project. The plan is intended to “bring about an in-depth demographic change of an entire country” – what was once sinisterly called “Judaisation”. The aim is to attract 1.5 million Jews to Israel, especially to the Negev, over the next 20 years.

As in Israel’s first years, forests will be vital to success. The JNF is preparing to plant trees on an area of 40 sq km belonging to Bedouin communities that survived earlier expulsions. Under the cover of environmentalism, many thousands of Bedouin could be deemed “trespassers”.

The Bedouin have been in legal dispute with the Israeli state for decades over ownership of their lands. This month in an interview with the Jerusalem Post newspaper, Daniel Atar, the JNF’s global head, urged Jews once again to drop money into its boxes. He warned that Jews could be dissuaded from coming to the Negev by its reputation for “agricultural crimes” – coded reference to Bedouin who have tried to hold on to their pastoral way of life.

Trees promise both to turn the semi-arid region greener and to clear “unsightly” Bedouin off their ancestral lands. Using the JNF’s original colonial language of “making the desert bloom”, Mr Atar said his organisation would make “the wilderness flourish”.

The Bedouin understand the fate likely to befall them. In a protest last month they carried banners: “No expulsions, no displacement.”

After all, Palestinians have suffered forced displacement at the JNF’s hands for more than a century, while watching it win plaudits from around the world for its work in improving the “environment”.

• First published in The National

The Marginalist Counter-Revolution, Science and Medical Social Management

By the time Alfred Marshall became prominent, the theory of capitalism formulated in Marx’s Capital had become a theoretical pillar of organised working class politics in Europe. Remarkably the so-called “marginalist revolution”, of which Marshall became a leading figure, coincides roughly with the abolition of slavery in Brazil (1886) and a major economic depression.1  Thus the shift from economics, for the allocation of surplus to that of managing scarcity is not a purely theoretical development. Following later scholars like Eric Williams, who argued that the “surplus” for industrialisation in Europe — that which had to be allocated through struggle or Adam Smith’s “invisible (whip) hand”– was derived from slavery and would now under the terms of marginalism become a “scarcity” of resources that theoretically had to be shared with liberated slaves and organising industrial labour.2

One of the objectives of political struggle in the 19th century was to appropriate the wealth held by the Church and the State and subject it to community/popular control. This meant also a struggle to find forms of governance adequate to this task. The opposition of marginalism, closely linked to progressivism and the emergence of “science” as religion (Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer), was a denial that the economic relationships between classes could be defined in any way, which would permit popular/communal control.3  Marginalism not only rejected the existence of a surplus to be allocated but also the idea that social benefit could be measured and therefore allocated through communal/popular governance. Since every economic relationship was reduced to implicit contracts between individuals there was no way to create scientifically reliable economic knowledge of classes, only tentatively for individuals, so-called methodological individualism.

What came to be social policy at the outbreak of WWI was, in fact, a denial that there was anything social at all. The entire history of the State’s promotion of adventurers, who in turn bought or leased the instruments of the State for the creation of monopoly wealth, was reduced to a footnote at best. Marginalism was conceived to explain — apologetics — what, in fact, had led to its creation as an ideology to counter democratic economic forces.

This is important in order to understand how the US religious doctrine of “free enterprise” was concocted and how the marketing strategy of the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) became the dominant ideology of the end of the 20th century and the formal unquestioned dogma of the 21st. What is often alternatively called “neo-liberal” and “neo-conservative” is better understood if one looks at the history of the Roman Catholic Church. The 18th and 19th centuries were something like the Reformation, culminating in Marxism — itself a spectrum as broad as that between Lutheranism and Calvinism. The 20th century began the “Counter-Reformation”. Despite the successes of the October Revolution, the Chinese Revolution and the Cuban Revolution, the effect of this counter-revolution was to isolate these revolutions from the rest of the Church. In 1989, the Russian Revolution was no longer merely isolated but largely defeated — not surprisingly with a Polish pope in the van. The bullet in the neck was the NATO war against Yugoslavia.

The Counter-Reformation had two principal effects in Christendom. One was that it defeated the Reformation in the core Catholic dominions. In the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, for example, there was no Reformation. In the rest of the realms, the political content of the Reformation was purged. Luther and Calvin sided with the State and preserved their own versions of clericalism, inheriting, but not abandoning, the economic wealth and privilege established by centuries of Church theft.

The three great revolutions of the 20th century and to a far lesser extent the failed Mexican Revolution were the first to successfully transfer the socially generated wealth that had been appropriated by the Church and the corporate class (whether aristocratic or plutocratic) to a political structure based on popular/communal ownership and forced, for a brief period, the “Capitalist Church” to share at least symbolically some of its hoarded loot to provide facilities called “public” (as opposed to popular) and create a veneer of reform. The Church did the same thing in the Counter-Reformation — terrorising with the Inquisition and extending educational access through schools for the working class and poor and allowing local languages and some minor concessions to national preference in the clergy. From 1949 until 1989 the strategy was fierce repression and selective gradual openings:  social democracy in Western Europe (except Spain and Portugal, of course) on the “front” and death squads everywhere else.

1989 put an end to the biggest competitive alternative system and restored Russia to Orthodoxy if not to Catholicism. Since then the entire veneer of social democracy has been scraped away in the Western front-line states.  Seventy-odd years of pacification reduced the forces of class struggle — meaning those who supported popular/communal control of social wealth rather than corporate monopoly of the State — to less than a shadow of their former selves.

Nowhere, and at no time, has this become more evident than in 2020 when not a single political party of the “class struggle” tradition was able or willing to respond to the coup de grace against public space, social wealth and humanism that was administered in March past. The conspicuous silence at the massive theft that was orchestrated — untold trillions — while the bulk of the Western population was under house arrest — is beyond shameful.4 This was not an act to restrain a viral pandemic but an act culminating in the final expropriation, not only of the last scraps of social democracy but of the entire public space in which such struggles took place but also could take place. In Portugal, the quality might be called “Salazar light”, not the “new normal” but the “Estado Novissimo“.5

What we hear, for example, from the curia in Brussels, with its quasi-dual pontificate comprising the German Chancellor and her former rival now the president of the European Commission or the World Economic Forum, is something comparable — but, of course, on a global scale — a homily like that delivered by Martin Luther in support of the violent suppression of the Peasants’ Revolt. (Here I am only talking about those who are members of the “Left”.)

The Counter-Revolution/Counter-Reformation, whose spokespersons convene in the conclaves at Davos, has clear objectives. The euphemism is the great “reset”.6 What is described euphemistically as “growth” has always meant growth in power and control. By declaring an end to public space — anywhere — they are returning us to the closed world whose creation and maintenance was the objective of the Roman papacy. (I republished the bull Unaam Sanctam earlier this year for a reason!7  I do not want to repeat here everything I have tried to describe elsewhere. 8  At this writing the conclave in Brussels is deciding what to do with the residue of Christendom in the Western Empire.

Habemus Reset!

Somewhere I read in a history of China that at least the Confucians were amazed at the Roman Catholic Church’s organizational power and wondered that there was nothing equivalent to it in China. The Rockefeller Foundation was so concerned about China that it started very early (ca. 1914) to fund and train Chinese physicians in the Rockefeller model of industrial medicine and social engineering.9

The West compensates for its relatively small population with an extraordinary level of violence and organization. It was that “catholic” organisational capacity that shut down the West and its dependencies in March — and including the Shrine in Fatima, defies the strength of the Holy Virgin.

(What we have been told is the 18 months in the race to a “vaccine” should probably be seen as a planning parameter — adopted at least as early as 2015 — in the pacification program for which the vaccine is both a decoy and a weapon, by no means a toy.)

  1. For a discussion of the so-called “marginalist revolution” see, for example, Nuno Martins, “Interpreting the capitalist order before and after the marginalist revolution”, Cambridge Journal of Economics 2015, 39, 1109-1127.
  2. See Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, and Gerald Horne, The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism, reviewed by this author.
  3. What most people understand as “Darwinism” is actually “social Darwinism” as taught by Herbert Spencer et al. Charles Darwin did not consistently argue for the “survival of the fittest”. Rather he suggested that species’ variations could explain why some members of a species proliferated in an environment or survived changes in the environment. Unlike Spencer and vulgar Darwinists, Darwin claimed no teleology or interest in nature that could predict or promote any species or variation thereof. For a brief discussion of the difference between Darwin and vulgar Darwinism, see Morse Peckham, “Darwinism and Darwinisticism” in The Triumph of Romanticism (1970) pp. 176-201.
  4. While it is a matter of record that the US Federal Reserve gave away some USD 4 trillion on a single day at the beginning of the so-called pandemic, with no questions asked, both the US regime and its vassals in Brussels feel that any assistance to Europe’s SME sector must be endlessly debated and so structured that only the administering banks profit from it.
  5. For example, under Salazar’s Estado Novo that ended by revolution in 1974, three persons meeting in public spaces; e.g., on the street, constituted a “demonstration” requiring police authorisation. For those old enough to remember, the similarity to masks and social distancing is hard to overlook.
  6. World Economic Forum: The Great Reset; see also here:
  7. There is One God, One Faith, and One ChurchDissident Voice, May 2020.
  8. See my Dissident Voice articles this year if interested.  See, among others, “Re-Orientation”, 3 February 2020, and “The First Circle”, 24 April 2020.
  9. E. Richard Brown, Rockefeller Medicine Men, Medicine and Capitalism in America. It is just a coincidence that it was also a man named Gates, Frederick T, a Baptist preacher and not a physician, who initiated the tradition of plutocrats using medical institutions to design society in their particular interests. Rockefeller money turned the Peking Union Medical College from a missionary endeavour into a scientific medical school. Rockefeller money also seeded the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, now under the patronage of billionaire Michael Bloomberg, where it hosts such exciting séances like Event 201.

Liberal Zionism begins the Journey Towards a One-State Solution

Peter Beinart, an influential liberal commentator on Israel and Zionism, poked a very large stick into a hornets’ nest this month by admitting he had finally abandoned his long-cherished commitment to a two-state solution.

Variously described as the “pope of liberal Zionism” and a “bellwether for the American Jewish community”, Beinart broke ranks in two essays. Writing in the New York Times and in Jewish Currents magazine, he embraced the idea of equality for all – Israelis and Palestinians.

Beinart concluded:

The painful truth is that the project to which liberal Zionists like myself have devoted ourselves for decades – a state for Palestinians separated from a state for Jews – has failed. … It is time for liberal Zionists to abandon the goal of Jewish-Palestinian separation and embrace the goal of Jewish-Palestinian equality.

Similarly, the Times article was headlined: “I no longer believe in a Jewish state.” Beinart’s main point – that a commitment to Israel is now entirely incompatible with a commitment to equality for the region’s inhabitants – is a potential hammer blow to the delusions of liberal Jews in the United States.

Long journey

His declaration is the apparent culmination of a long intellectual and emotional journey Beinart has conducted in the public eye – a journey many American liberal Jews have taken with him.

Once the darling of the war-mongering liberal establishment in Washington, he supported the illegal attack on Iraq in 2003. Three years later, he wrote a largely unrepentant book titled The Good Fight: Why Liberals – and Only Liberals – Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again.

There is no heavyweight publication in the US that has not hosted his thoughts. Foreign Policy magazine ranked him in the top 100 global thinkers in 2012.

But his infatuation with Israel and Zionism has been souring for years. A decade ago, he published a seminal essay on how young American Jews were increasingly alienated from their main leadership organisations, which he criticised for worshipping at the altar of Israel even as Israeli governments lurched ever further rightwards. His argument later formed the basis of a book, The Crisis of Zionism.

The tensions he articulated finally exploded into physical confrontation in 2018, when he was detained at Israel’s main airport and nearly denied entry based on his political views.

Beinart has not only written caustically about the occupation – a fairly comfortable deflection for most liberal Zionists – but has also increasingly turned his attention to Israel’s behaviour towards its large Palestinian minority, one in five of the population.

Recognition of the structural racism towards these 1.8 million Palestinian citizens, a group whose identity is usually glossed over as “Israeli Arabs”, was a clear sign that he had begun poking into the dark recesses of Zionism, areas from which most of his colleagues shied away.

Disappointment and distrust

Beinart’s two essays have been greeted with hesitancy by some of those who might be considered natural allies.

Understandably, some Palestinians find reason to distrust Beinart’s continuing description of himself as a Zionist, even if now a cultural rather than political one. They also resent a continuing western colonial mentality that very belatedly takes an interest in equality for Palestinians only because a prominent liberal Jew adopts the cause.

Beinart’s language is problematic for many Palestinians too. Not least, he frames the issue as between Palestinians and Jews, implying that Jews everywhere still have a colonial claim on the historic lands of Palestine, rather than those who live there today as Israelis.

Similarly, among many anti-Zionists, there is disappointment that Beinart did not go further and explicitly prescribe a single democratic state of the kind currently being advanced in the region by small but growing numbers of Israelis and Palestinians.

Tested to breaking point

But the importance of Beinart’s intervention lies elsewhere. He is not the first prominent Jewish figure to publicly turn their back on the idea of a Jewish state. Notably, the late historian Tony Judt did the same – to much uproar – in a 2003 essay published by the New York Review of Books. He called Israel an “anachronism”.

But Judt had been chiefly associated with his contributions to understanding European history, not Zionism or Israel. And his essay arrived at a very different historical moment, when Israelis and Jews overseas were growing more entrenched in their Zionism. The Oslo Accords had fizzled into irrelevance at the height of a Palestinian uprising.

Beinart’s articles have landed at a problematic time for his main audience. The most fundamental tenet of liberal Zionism – that a Jewish state is necessary, verging on sacred – is already being tested to breaking point.

The trigger for the articles is the very tangible threat from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, backed by the Trump White House, to annex swaths of the West Bank.

Meagre alibi lost

The significance of Netanyahu’s position on annexation, as Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard has noted, depends not simply on whether annexation is realised on the ground, now or later. The declaration itself crosses a Rubicon.

Netanyahu and the right-wing faction who now control Israel unchallenged have made it explicit that they do not consider the occupation to be a temporary arrangement that will eventually be resolved in peace talks.

The intent to annex, whether or not the US allows such a move, now taints everything Israel does in the occupied territories. It proves beyond any doubt – even to liberal Jews who have been living in deep denial – that Israel’s goal is to permanently seize the occupied territories.

That, in turn, means that Israel has only two possible approaches to the Palestinian populations living in those territories as long as it denies them equality: It can either carry out ethnic cleansing operations to expel them, or rule over them in a formal, explicit arrangement of apartheid. That may not constitute much of a tangible difference on the ground, but it marks a legal sea change.

Occupation, however ugly, is not in breach of international law, though actions related to it, such as settlement-building, may be. This allowed many liberal Jews, such as Beinart, a small comfort blanket that they have clung to tightly for decades.

When challenged about Israel’s behaviour, they could always claim that the occupation would one day end, that peace talks were around the corner, that partition was possible if only Palestinians were willing to compromise a little more.

But with his annexation plan, Netanyahu ripped that comfort blanket out of their clutches and tore it to shreds. Ethnic cleansing and apartheid are both crimes against humanity. No ifs, no buts. As Sfard points out: “Once Israel began officially striving for annexation – that is, for perpetuating its rule by force – it lost this meagre alibi.”

Apartheid state

Sfard makes a further important legal observation in a report written for the human rights group Yesh Din. If Israel chooses to institute an apartheid regime in parts of the occupied West Bank – either formally or through creeping legal annexation, as it is doing now – that regime does not end at the West Bank’s borders. It would mean that “the Israeli regime in its entirety is an apartheid regime. That Israel is an Apartheid state.”

Of course, one would have to be blind not to have understood that this was where political Zionism was always heading – even more so after the 1967 war, when Israel’s actions disclosed that it had no intention of returning the Palestinian territories it had seized.

But the liberal Zionist condition was precisely one of willful blindness. It shut its eyes tight and saw no evil, even as Israel debased Palestinian life there for more than half a century. Looking back, Beinart recognises his own self-inflicted credulousness. “In practice, Israel annexed the West Bank long ago,” he writes in the New York Times.

In his two articles, Beinart denies liberal Jews the one path still available to them to rationalise Palestinian oppression. He argues that those determined to support a Jewish state, whatever it does, are projecting their own unresolved, post-Holocaust fears onto Palestinians.

In the Zionist imagination, according to Beinart, Palestinians have been reinvented as heirs to the Nazis. As a result, most Jews have been manipulated into framing Israel’s settler-colonialism in zero-sum terms – as a life-or-death battle. In that way, they have been able to excuse Israel’s perpetual abuse of Palestinians.

Or as Beinart puts it: “Through a historical sleight of hand that turns Palestinians into Nazis, fear of annihilation has come to define what it means to be an authentic Jew.” He adds that “Jewish trauma”, not Palestinian behaviour, has ended in “the depiction of Palestinians as compulsive Jew-haters”.

Forced into a choice

Annexation has forced Beinart to confront that trauma and move beyond it. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of Israel’s supporters have been reluctant to follow suit or discard their comforting illusions. Some are throwing tantrums, others sulking in the corner.

The Zionist right and mainstream have described Beinart as a traitor, a self-hating Jew, and a collaborator with Palestinian terrorism. David Weinberg of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security called Beinart “a shill for Israel’s enemies” who “secretes poison”.

Dan Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel, described Beinart’s advocacy of equality as a “disaster in the making”, while Dani Dayan, Israel’s consul general in New York, accused Beinart of wanting Israel to “drop dead”.

The liberal Zionist establishment has been no less discomfited. Aaron David Miller, a former US Middle East envoy, warned that Beinart’s prescription was “an illusion tethered to a fantasy wrapped in an impossibility”.

And Beinart’s friend, Jeremy Ben Ami, head of the two-state lobby group J Street, snatched back the ragged remains of the comfort blanket, arguing that peace talks would be revived eventually. In a standard Zionist deflection, Ben Ami added that Israel was no different from the US in being “far from perfect”.

But to understand how quickly liberal Zionist reasoning may crumble, it is worth focusing on a critique of Beinart’s articles by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz’s in-house liberal Zionist, Anshel Pfeffer.

Collapse of support

Pfeffer makes two highly unconvincing arguments to evade Beinart’s logic. Firstly, he claims that a one-state solution – of any variety – is impossible because there is no support for it among Palestinians and Israelis. It is, he argues, a conceit Beinart has absorbed from Jews and Palestinians in the US.

Let’s overlook Pfeffer’s obvious mistake in ignoring the fact that a single state already exists – a Greater Israel in which Palestinians have been living for decades under a highly belligerent system of apartheid, laced with creeping ethnic cleansing. Still, his claims about where Israeli and Palestinian public opinion currently lies are entirely misleading, as is his assumption about how Beinart’s attack on liberal Zionism may impact regional possibilities.

The views of Palestinians in the occupied territories (Pfeffer, of course, ignores the views of refugees) have been undergoing radical and rapid change. Support for the two-state solution has collapsed. This is far from surprising, given the current political context.

Among Palestinians, there are signs of exasperation and a mirroring of Israeli Jewish intransigence. In one recent poll, a majority of Palestinian respondents demanded a return of all of historic Palestine. What can be inferred from this result is probably not much more than the human tendency to put on a brave show when faced with a highly acquisitive bully.

In fact, increasingly Palestinians understand that if they want to end the occupation and apartheid, they will need to overthrow their compromised leaders in the Palestinian Authority (PA), effectively Israel’s local security contractor. It is an uprising against the PA, not polls, that will seal the fate of the two-state solution. What may inspire Palestinians to take on the risk of a major confrontation with their leaders?

A part will be played, however small, by Palestinians’ understanding of how a shift from a struggle for statehood to a struggle for equal rights in one state will be received abroad. Liberal Jewish opinion in the US will be critical in changing such perceptions – and Beinart has just placed himself at the heart of that debate.

Journey to ‘self-immolation’

Meanwhile, a majority of Israeli Jews support either Greater Israel or an “end-of-the-rainbow” two-state solution, one in which Palestinians are denied any meaningful sovereignty. They do so for good reason, because either option perpetuates the status quo of a single state in which they prosper at a heavy cost to Palestinians. The bogus two-state solution privileges them, just as bantustans once did white South Africans.

The view of Israeli Jews will change, just as white South Africans’ did, when they suffer a harsher international environment and the resulting cost-benefit calculus has to be adjusted.

In that sense, the issue isn’t what Israeli Jews think now, when they are endlessly indulged, but what Israel’s sponsors – chiefly the US – eventually demand. That is why Beinart’s influence on the thinking of liberal American Jews cannot be discounted. Long term, what they insist on may prove critically important.

That was why Beinart’s harshest critics, in attacking his two essays, also warned of the current direction of travel.

Jonathan Tobin, editor of the Jewish News Syndicate, argued that Beinart’s views were “indicative of the crisis of faith within much of American Jewry”. Weinberg described the two essays as “frightening” because they charted liberal Jews’ “intellectual journey towards anti-Zionism and self-immolation”.

Both understand that, if liberal Jews abandon Zionism, one leg of the Israeli stool will be gone.

Mocked as utopianism

The other problem Pfeffer inadvertently highlights with liberal Zionism is contained in his mocking dismissal of Beinart’s claim that the justification for a “Jewish home” needs to be rooted in morality.

Pfeffer laughs this off as utopianism, arguing instead that Israel’s existence has always depended on what he vaguely terms “pragmatism”. What he means, once the euphemism is stripped out, is that Israel has always pursued a policy of “might is right”.

But Pfeffer’s suggestion that Israel does not also need to shape a moral narrative about its actions – even if that narrative bears no relation to reality – is patently implausible.

Israel has not relied solely on its own might. It has needed the patronage of western states to help it diplomatically, financially and militarily. And their enthusiastic support has depended on domestic perceptions of Israel as a moral agent.

Israel understands this only too well. It has presented itself as a “light unto the nations”, a state that “redeemed” a barren land, and one that has the “most moral army in the world”. Those are all moral claims on western support.

Beinart has demonstrated that the moral discourse for Israel is a lost cause. And for that reason, Israel’s chief allies now are states led by covert, and sometimes overt, antisemites and proud authoritarians.

Beinart is doubtless ahead of most liberal Jews in the US in rejecting Israel as a Jewish state. But it would be foolish indeed to imagine that there are not many others already contemplating following in his footsteps.

• First published in Middle East Eye

WOLA’s David Smilde Advocates a more Efficient Regime Change Strategy against Venezuela

Common Dreams, a liberal-left website, reposted an article by David Smilde of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA): “Joe Biden Should Not Try to Out-Hawk Trump on Venezuela.” It starts off well with the subtitle: “The first task for a Biden administration would be to take military intervention off the table.” The US has no business invading Venezuela. But Smilde’s approach is that the military option is ill-advised because there are more efficient ways of removing the Maduro government.

Smilde criticizes the US unilateral sanctions as “doing more harm than good,” something of an understatement, and later says “sanctions pinch the Maduro government, they bludgeon the Venezuelan people.” This rings of hypocrisy, as WOLA has str­­ongly defended these sanctions. In fact, Common Dreams has twice published open letters (here and here) criticizing Smilde and WOLA for not opposing Washington’s regime change effort in Venezuela.

The purpose of Smilde’s article is to advise Biden that Trump’s strategy against Venezuela is counterproductive, that the US needs a better regime change policy. Smilde seems to forget this economic warfare against Venezuela originated when Biden was Vice President, and that Biden now attacks Trump for being soft on Venezuela.

To fact check Smilde’s three major criticisms of the Venezuelan government:

  1. “The Maduro government has presided over a governance disaster that has forced over 5 million Venezuelans to leave.”  Smilde does not connect the increased “bludgeoning” of the Venezuelan people with increased emigration due to the economic hardship. The 2018 UN Report by Alfred de Zayas stated, “While the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is undergoing a severe economic crisis, the Government is not standing idle; it is seeking international assistance to overcome the challenges, diversifying the economy and seeking debt restructuring. Sanctions only aggravate the situation by hindering the imports necessary to produce generic medicines and seeds to increase agricultural production. Sanctions have also led to emigration.”

Rather than point out the economic warfare of US sanctions helped cause emigration, Smilde ambiguously states Maduro presided over a governance disaster that has forced them to leave. Maduro forced no one to leave. In fact, the government welcomes those who return, as they are now, due to the even worse conditions they faced in the countries they emigrated to.

  1. “Maduro has not only undermined democratic institutions, he has repressed protestors, and jailed, tortured and disappeared opponents in what could qualify as ‘crimes against humanity.’ As such, Venezuela might seem ripe for an intervention justified in terms of the ‘responsibility to protect.’”

The link in Smilde’s article takes us to the New York Times, which refers to a report by the NGO Foro Penal. Its executive director, Gabriel Gallo, claims “Venezuela has the greatest quantity of political prisoners in the Americas. Including more than Cuba.”  We may question the criteria used to determine Venezuela has more political prisoners than Colombia, Honduras, Brazil, Bolivia or Mexico.

Who is Gabriel Gallo and Foro Penal? Gallo was a leader of the right wing Venezuelan political party Voluntad Popular (VP), the most violent and anti-democratic party in the anti-Chavista bloc. The most prominent leaders of VP include Leopoldo Lopez, Juan Guaido, the person the US appointed head of Venezuela, Freddy Guevara, and Carlos Vecchio.  Leopoldo López launched the attempted coup against President Maduro in 2014. VP activists formed the shock troops of that year’s “guarimbas” protests that left 43 Venezuelans dead, 800 hurt and millions of dollars in property damage. Dozens more were murdered in a new wave of VP-backed violence in 2017. Leopoldo Lopez and Juan Guaido were leaders of the April 2019 failed military coup attempt and contracted this year’s mercenary hit squad invasion.

In May 2014 Diosdado Cabello, head of the Venezuelan National Assembly, revealed that Foro Penal, along with others, had received funds from the United States and Panama to instigate violent actions in the country. He accused 14 people, including the director of Foro Penal, Alfredo Romero, of participating in a destabilization plan against the Venezuelan government.

In 2017 Human Rights Watch organized a letter to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights condemning Venezuela. But as Venezuelanalysis noted, “Among the signatories are several usual suspects such as Provea or Foro Penal, whose president Alfredo Romero was a recent speaker in a [Freedom House organized] ‘US Democracy Support’ forum….Human Rights Watch  has a long and documented history of bias and outright lies in their reports on Venezuela, which is no surprise given their blatant revolving door with the US government.”

Both Freedom House and Human Rights Watch are “human rights” NGOs closely allied to US government foreign policy objectives.

Venezuelanalysis reported in 2019, “Guaidó’s representative in the Czech Republic is also the international coordinator for human rights NGO Foro Penal (Penal Forum), which the US State Department has decorated with numerous awards for its work in Venezuela. According to WikiLeaks cables from 2006, Foro Penal has been bankrolled by Freedom House and the Pan-American Development Foundation (PADF) through a USAID-supported project.”

Thus, WOLA and the New York Times rely for information on Venezuelan human rights from agents of Venezuela’s most violent right wing political party, allied with US government NGOs, all committed to overthrowing the Venezuelan government.

Human rights abuses have been committed by state agents, but a fair minded assessment would include the fact that the Maduro government has taken considerable corrective action. On June 15, Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab reported on human rights abuse charges against its security force members. A total of 540 had been charged since August 5, 2017, with 426 actually imprisoned. Charges against them include homicide, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and illegitimate deprivation of liberty. Saab called for improved training of police in protection of human rights.

This report by Saab came out ten days before Smilde’s Common Dreams article, yet Smilde made no mention of it.

  1. “Venezuelans would love to solve this crisis on their own at the voting booth; but they can’t because their country’s electoral institutions have been undermined by the Maduro government.”

In reality, the primary threat to Venezuelan democracy comes from US-backed coup attempts, going on for 18 years, and which began back in 2002. The US has even threatened sanctions against opposition leaders for simply choosing to run in presidential elections against Nicolas Maduro, rather than boycotting elections and advocating actions to overthrow the elected government. The US went further when it gave the green light to Juan Guaido to appoint himself president of Venezuela in January 2019, which the US and its European Union allies then validated.

The US was the only country in the world not to recognize the legitimacy of Maduro’s 2013 election. This reflected Obama’s strategy of regime change, which could not be achieved by democratic electoral means. Instead, the US sought to bring down the new government by supporting violent protests.

Stories of Venezuelan electoral fraud became more widespread, even among defenders of Venezuela, with their disputes over the July 30, 2017 vote for members of the National Constituent Assembly. The Venezuelan opposition has always charged fraud over any election result, unless they won.

The US then escalated its campaign of accusing Venezuela of electoral fraud during its  presidential elections of May 20, 2018. However, the international Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America (CEELA) observed both the 2017 and 2018 elections. It issued a report on the 2017 vote, not questioning that over 8 million did vote.

Concerning the 2018 election CEELA concluded:

CEELA Mission is of the opinion that the process was successfully carried out and that the will of the citizens, freely expressed in ballot boxes, was respected. The electoral process for the Presidential and State Legislative Council Elections 2018 complied with all international standards….The CEELA Electoral Accompaniment Mission upholds that the electoral process has consolidated and reaffirmed strengthening of the electoral institutionalism that supports the democratic system.

Indeed, it is remarkable that the Venezuelan government has maintained its democratic institutions as well as it has under this constant US-European Union campaign to overthrow it. 

WOLA provides liberal cover for regime change

As Alexander Rubenstein writes, “WOLA provides information and analysis for the White House and Congress and receives wide circulation in the media as an authority on Latin America, characteristics more indicative of a foreign policy think tank than a human rights NGO.”  Its largest funders include Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

The Open Letter to WOLA that Noam Chomsky and others signed notes that WOLA opposed the Vatican’s, and then Mexico and Uruguay’s proposals for mediation between the Maduro government and the opposition.

Lucas Koerner recently wrote WOLA: Media’s ‘Left’ Source for Pro-Coup Propaganda in Venezuela. In spite of what Smilde writes in Common Dreams against sanctions, Koerner notes that WOLA has defended Trump’s sanctions. WOLA even found four “virtues” in the August 2017 sanctions responsible for an estimated 40,000 deaths over the following year.

In short, Smilde’s beef with both Biden and Trump is that they could do a better job of regime change in Venezuela. WOLA is not a human rights organization, but serves to rationalize, not criticize, US regime change attempts. Why Common Dreams provides a sounding board for this is a good question.