Jeff Halper, a leader of the anti-demolitions movement, discusses the destruction of Palestinian homes, along with the history and politics that allows this violation of international law to continue.
Tariq’s innocent blood must not go in vain. For this to happen, we are morally obliged to understand the nature of Jewish settler violence, which cannot be viewed in isolation from the inherent racism in Israeli society as a whole.
We are all often guilty of perpetuating the myth that militant Jewish settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories are a different and distinct category from other Israelis who live beyond the so-called “Green Line”.
Undoubtedly, the violent mentality that propels Israeli society, wherever it is located, is not governed by imaginary lines but by a racist ideology, of which disciples can be found everywhere in Israel, not just in the illegal Jewish colonies of the West Bank.
Israel is a sick society and its ailment is not confined to the 1967 Occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
While Palestinians are imprisoned behind walls, fences and enclosed regions, Israelis are a different kind of prisoners, too. “A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness,” wrote the late anti-Apartheid hero and long-time prisoner, Nelson Mandela.
It is this racism and bigotry that makes Tariq invisible to most Israelis. For most Israelis, Palestinian children do not exist as real human beings, deserving of a dignified life of freedom. This callousness is a defining quality, common among all sectors of Israeli society — right, left and center.
An example is the terrorist attack carried out by Jewish settlers against the Palestinian Dawabshe family in the village of Duma, in the northern West Bank in July 2015, resulting in the death of Riham and Sa’ed, along with their 18-months old son, Ali. The only member of the family spared that horrific death was Ahmad, 4, who was severely burned.
This cruelty was further accentuated in the episodes that followed this criminal incident. Later that year, Israeli wedding guests were caught on tape while dancing with knives, chanting in celebration of the death of the Palestinian baby.
Three years later, as the Dawabshe family members were leaving an Israeli court, accompanied by Arab parliamentarians, they were greeted by a crowd of Israelis chanting “Where is Ali? Ali’s dead” and “Ali’s on the grill”.
The passing of time only cemented Israelis’ hatred of a little child whose only crime was his Palestinian identity.
The only survivor, Ahmad, was punished thrice: when he lost his whole family; with his severe burns and when he wasdenied compensation. The then Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, simply resolved that the boy was not a “terror victim.” Case closed.
Although the Dawabshes were killed by Jewish settlers, the Israeli court, army and political system all conspired to ensure the protection of the killers from any accountability.
This was no different in the case of Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, who, on March 24, 2016, killed an unconscious Palestinian man in Hebron. In his defense, Azaria insisted that he was following army manual instructions in dealing with alleged attackers, while top Israeli government officials came out in droves to support him.
When Azaria was triumphantly released following only nine months in jail, he was hailed by many Israelis as a hero. Possibly, he will have a successful career in politics should he decide to pursue that route. In fact, he was courted by Israeli politicians to help them garner more votes in April’s general elections.
Condemning solely Jewish settlers while sparing the rest of Israeli society is equivalent to political whitewashing, one that presents Israel as a healthy society prior to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This view presents Jewish settlements as a cancerous disease that is eating up at the otherwise proud and noble achievements of early Zionists.
It is convenient to classify Jewish settlers as right-wing extremists and to link them with Israel’s ruling right-wing political parties. But history proves otherwise.
It was Israel’s Labor Party that created the settlement projects originally, soon after the colonization of the West Bank. Some of Israel’s largest, and most militant colonial enterprises, in occupied East Jerusalem — Ramat Eshkol, Gilo, Ramot and Armon Hanatziv – are all the creation of the Labor Party, not the Likud.
Neither is the ‘settler’ a new phenomenon. Historically, the early settlers who preceded the establishment of Israel in 1948 were idealized as true Zionists, celebrated as “cultural heroes” — the Jewish redeemers, who eventually ethnically cleansed historic Palestine from its native inhabitants.
“The original Labor movement,” wrote Amotz Asa-El in the Jerusalem Post, “never thought settling beyond the Green Line was illegal, much less immoral.” If there was any debate in Israel regarding settlements, it was never truly concerned with the issue of legitimacy or legality, but practicality: whether these colonial projects can be sustained or defended.
Protecting the settlements is now the overriding task of the Israeli occupation army. The Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, which monitors the conduct of the Israeli army and Jewish settlers in the West Bank, explained the nature of this relationship in a report published in November 2017.
“Israeli security forces not only allow settlers to harm Palestinians and their property as a matter of course – they often provide the perpetrators escort and back-up. In some cases, they even join in on the attack,” B’Tselem wrote.
Another Israeli organization, Yesh Din, concluded in a report published earlier that 85% of cases involving settler violence against Palestinians are never pursued by law. Of the remaining cases, only 1.9% led to conviction, which is likely to be inconsequential.
Jewish settler violence should not be analyzed separately from the violence meted out by the Israeli army, but seen within the larger context of the violent Zionist ideology that governs Israeli society entirely.
This violence can only end with the end of the racist ideology that rationalizes murder, like that of little Tariq Zabania.
The strategy is clear. Whether Trump confronts Sleepy Joe, Crazy Bernie, Pocahontas or some other Democratic opponent in the presidential race, he will target the “Squad” of newly elected freshman congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley.
Trump has decided to (1) depict them as the real face of the Democratic Party; (2) attack them as socialists and radical leftists; (3) misrepresent their criticisms of Israel as egregious anti-Semitism, and (4) win the 2020 election by posing as the savior who revived the U.S. economy versus the party of people who hate America and Israel.
This strategy combines the racist, misogynistic, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim themes that have worked well for Trump so far, with Cold War-style red-baiting, fawning devotion to the Jewish state, and old-fashioned character assassination. “They hate our country,” Trump repeats. Why don’t they leave?
Those of us who grew up in the 60s recall the right-wing slogan, directed against critics of the Vietnam War, “America—love it or leave it!” The simple logic being that people complaining about the country didn’t belong in what should have been a solid landscape of pro-war nationalism. You’d think the stupidity of that slogan, implicitly a call for slavish devotion to the state, would be obvious in 2019. But no, it’s not. Trump has revived it, testing its resonance.
Some take comfort in the fact that Trump has walked back and stated that he did not in fact agree with the infamous chant at his June 19 rally: “Send her back, send her back, send her back!” (He just stood there frowning and nodding in apparent approval for 13 seconds.) This disavowal, they may think, somewhat mitigates the fascist threat. The president is not in fact calling for mass expulsion of dissidents, even Muslims who complain. He is not in fact encouraging the mob to demand the expulsion of an immigrant refugee who became a congresswoman.
Yet Trump stresses the innate goodness of the hateful mob–noting as always its amazing size–expressing its righteous outrage at the Squad members’ statements. Told many were unhappy with the fascistic chant, Trump blamed the victim, retorting: “I’m unhappy with the fact that a Congresswoman can hate our country.” (They started this, not me.)
The president arrogates to himself the right to define what constitutes hate speech. And racist speech, which he denies he’s ever used. What sort of hateful speech does he refer to, when he accuses Omar of anti-Semitism?
In a recent column on Mondoweiss, Philip Weiss lists the four statements for which Ilhan Omar has been faulted with that offense. (Trump implies to his followers that he has “pages and pages” of “vicious” anti-Semitic statements by the four congresswomen, but has been very vague on specifics. He is lying.)
(1) In 2012 while working as a nutritionist in the Minnesota public school system, during the Israeli assault on Gaza that killed over 100 Palestinian civilians, Omar tweeted: Israel “has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
(2) Five weeks after being elected to Congress after journalist Glenn Greenwald expressed puzzlement that Republicans in Congress would want to punish Omar and Tlaib for their criticisms of Israel Omar tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” The Israel Lobby has plenty of money and uses it to promote uncritical support for Israel and to discourage criticism. “Benjamins” refers to $ 100 bills, which bear the image of Benjamin Franklin. It is not an anti-Semitic reference. But Trump has frowningly noted this tweet, adding, “She should never have said that!” implying that he will be using this particular tweet against her so long as it fires up his followers.
(3) Asked to explain the tweet, Omar curtly replied: “AIPAC!” The American Israel Political Affairs Committee is of course the most significant group within the Lobby, and helps insure that Israel receives near-unconditional support from the U.S. Congress. It would be naïve to underestimate its importance. But the Lobby responds to any criticism of itself with accusations of anti-Semitism designed to intimidate.
(4) At a “progressive town hall” in Washington, D.C. in February, Omar said: “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” While awkwardly expressed, her point is apparently that the Israel Lobby promotes the idea that the U.S. and Israel are so closely allied and so bound together through “common values” and religious tradition that loyalty to the one cannot conflict with loyalty to the other, and that indeed to be a good American you need to support Israel. This would be an accurate depiction of the problem. Surely Trump is conflating love of Israel with Americanism as he seeks to isolate and vilify the Squad.
He wants to promote patriotic and pro-Israel outrage, posturing as both the flag-kissing nationalist and best friend of Netanyahu while wages a Hermann Göring-like campaign against his sharpest critics. As the New York Times keeps reminding us, there is no end to his lies.
In fact, none of these four brief statements by Omar attacks or disparages Jews as Jews. But she has hit nerves. Nancy Pelosi berated her for promoting “anti-Semitic tropes”–a fancy way of saying that anytime you associate support of Israel with money, you reduce the dream of the Holocaust victims for a homeland, and the Christian Zionist’s dream of the Rapture, to mere material considerations, feeding bad stereotypes. It’s just politically unwise to mention money in the same sentence as Israel. Trump and Pelosi unite in their acceptance of Zionist ideological hegemony within U.S. politics. In their view, Israel was either created out of existential necessity, or in the fulfillment of biblical prophecy; in any case, its legitimacy must never be questioned.
No U.S. politician is allowed to frankly note that Israel was created through racist violence in 1948. No one stands up in Congress reminding its members that 711,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homeland, in part through naked terrorism, to make way for the Jewish state formed mainly by recent European settlers claiming–with U.S. Evangelicals’ support–that “God gave this land to me.” A serious critique of Zionism is not possible within the constricted U.S. political universe. Exploitation of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment is on the other hand infinitely possible, as Trump knows full well.
“They hate our country, and they hate Israel.” Trump is probably going to combine these two allegations, crudely courting Jewish support, throughout the campaign. Thus the growing U.S. fascist trend supersedes earlier anti-Semitic fascisms in upholding the expansionist Jewish settler-state (that occupies the West Bank and East Jerusalem and maintains the open-air concentration camp of Gaza); its anti-Semitism consists of support for the vicious oppression of the Palestinian Arabs at the hands of their fellow (Jewish) Semites.
It makes good sense for Trump to wage an electoral campaign based on the vilification of the opposing party as radical left, socialist and anti-Semitic, its key standard-bearers angry, foul-mouthed young women of color who hate their country and Israel. It makes sense to make, for your largely moronic racist base, the terms of the battle simple: us versus them.
Real Americans, happy smiling and free, versus the angry people who don’t belong here. With all the clear logic of a 10-year-old, Trump suggests that they love it or leave it.
If Omar can accuse Israel of “evil doings” just because it killed 100 Palestinians, and suggest that money influences Congressional votes on Israel, and that dual nationals may feel dual loyalties, she arouses Trump’s keen moral indignation. He adopts the Evangelical preacher’s soaring prophetic oratorical mode, and simplistic distinction between good and evil, and actually declares (to Omar) that “You can’t talk that way about our country–not while I’m president!”
So what is he gonna do about it? Trump will use attacks on her and the other three to further normalize the political culture of schoolyard bullying that he has brought to Washington, integrating both fascistic elements and abject deference to Israel, proving there’s no inherent contradiction between the two. And he will retain a base that will seize the next chance to chant “Send her back! Send her back!” so that Trump can smile, pause, shake his head, say, no, no… then let it go on longer, saying, okay, no, no…
Trump will now walk a fine line between encouraging and harnessing the racist energies of his worst adherents. He loves to rile them up, to hear them go crazy. To think you can do that just by demanding the death penalty for the Central Park Five, or questioning Obama’s birthplace, or advocating a Muslim ban, or building a wall and abusing children and separating families to discourage Hispanic immigration, or attacking elected Congresswomen because they are not white and they don’t love U.S. imperialism and criticize Israel!
Trump must rejoice in a world in which the pure stupidities he spews receive support that must exceed his expectations. I suspect that he tests the waters, wondering: how fascist can I go and make this still work for me? The occasional call from Steve Bannon might help. The present course is to attribute hatred of the country to any who criticize it for what it is (a capitalist, imperialist country with a deeply-rooted sexist and racist culture that must be changed) and/or criticize Israel for what it is (a settler-state built on Palestinian suffering). And then to sit back and watch how society responds.
“You can’t talk that way about our country,” says Trump, “not while I’m president!” And who will rid me of this meddlesome monk? Trump is positively inviting violence against those who do not embrace his MAGA vision, deliberately exacerbating contradictions. The effort could backfire and blow up in his face; this country’s youth are generally progressive, hate Trump and are very open to interpretation that is administration is fascistic. But his steady 40% support rate, never faltering whatever he does, is frightening–in part because it is so pro-Israel, and Israel under the leadership of Binyamin Netanyahu is hell-bent on sparking a war between the U.S. and Iran.
The greatest fear of those holding the most power and wealth is that they will lose their exalted position in the world. They will resist any changes to the grossly unequal and unjust class structure that causes grievous damage to so many people; and to the planet itself. Even the threat of real change must be crushed. This, in a nutshell, underpins the astonishing and relentless campaign to stop Jeremy Corbyn, a moderate leftist, from ever becoming Prime Minister.
On July 10, BBC broadcast an episode of Panorama that purported to be an impartial investigation into the loaded question, ‘Is Labour Anti-Semitic? It quickly became clear that the programme makers were not interested in a serious appraisal of the evidence and that the question was merely rhetorical. The thrust of the programme was that Labour is anti-semitic. The Labour Party response was scathing:
The Panorama programme was not a fair or balanced investigation. It was a seriously inaccurate, politically one-sided polemic, which breached basic journalistic standards, invented quotes and edited emails to change their meaning. It was an overtly biased intervention by the BBC in party political controversy.
An honest investigation into antisemitism in Labour and wider society is in the public interest. The Panorama team instead pre-determined an answer to the question posed by the programme’s title.
The programme was presented by BBC journalist John Ware who had previously made clear his antagonism towards Corbyn’s politics. As journalist Jonathan Cook wrote:
That Panorama made no attempt at even-handedness or fairness in its programme on Labour should have come as no surprise. The man in charge of the investigation was John Ware, a former Sun journalist. He cannot be considered dispassionate either about Corbyn or the prospects of Labour defeating the Conservative Party at a general election, which may be just around the corner.
Two years ago, Ware wrote a lengthy article for a right-wing magazine warning of the danger of Corbyn reaching power. He was a politician, wrote Ware, “whose entire political career has been stimulated by disdain for the West, appeasement of extremism, and who would barely understand what fighting for the revival of British values is really all about”.
Shortly after Corbyn’s leadership election victory in 2015, Ware headed a Panorama documentary that sought to malign the new leader. Ware is also a strident supporter of Israel and of its state ideology, Zionism. In a 2005 edition of Panorama he suggested that Muslims in Britain who spoke out about Israel’s crimes against Palestinians were “extremists”.
In an article in the Jewish Chronicle last year Ware concluded that anti-Zionism had “morphed into antisemitism – itself a Corbyn legacy”.
The Panorama programme was immediately followed by BBC News at Ten which gave it extensive coverage, pumping up the propaganda value of the fake ‘investigation’. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg intoned gravely:
Many party members have left, and if Labour can’t get a grip of racism in its own ranks, what might they lose next?
Consider her choice of words: ‘Many party members have left’ and ‘Labour can’t get a grip of racism in its own ranks’. The public is supposed to swallow the BBC’s implication of endemic Labour anti-semitism as impartial, objective reporting.
This is a problem that has dogged the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, not for a few weeks, not just for a few months, but for several years now.
Many commentators, including Media Lens, have long argued that the issue of anti-semitism has been exploited to inflict as much damage on Corbyn as possible. But that rational perspective is systematically excluded from BBC News ‘journalism’. Instead, as ever, the BBC political editor continued to hammer home the requisite propaganda bullet points:
Corbyn has been unable, it seems, to crack down on it [anti-semitism] in the way he has promised to do, again and again.
In the BBC version of ‘neutral’ news reporting, there is no hint that Corbyn’s opponents – not least the corporate media, including the BBC – wish to destroy him and what he stands for. But then, from the very beginning, the BBC has been on the side of the establishment and the government of the day. As BBC founder John Reith confided in his diary during the 1926 General Strike:
They know they can trust us not to be really impartial.1
The experienced journalist Peter Oborne said via Twitter:
I proposed to the BBC a documentary on Tory Islamophobia three years ago. Zero interest.
It is possible that in over-reaching themselves, and presenting such a skewed perspective, Panorama and the BBC had inadvertently highlighted the manufactured nature of the ‘anti-semitism crisis’. As Asa Winstanley observed:
All the program proved was just how dishonest the British establishment and the Israel lobby have been in manufacturing this “Labour anti-Semitism crisis” for the past four years.
In a piece for The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah gave crucial background context, observing that the Israel lobby is working hard to split the left:
Influential Israel lobby groups are offering “rules” for how Jewish communal organizations can divide the left and break up emerging intersectional coalitions.
They also advocate for “delegitimizing” Jews deemed too supportive of Palestinian rights.
Israel and its lobby see the strengthening solidarity between Palestinians and other oppressed groups, especially Black people in the United States, as a major threat and they are determined to fight back.
Indeed, last year, Al Jazeera’s leaked undercover documentary The Lobby–USA revealed how the Israeli government and its lobby worked to disrupt the Black Lives Matter movement in retaliation for Black solidarity with Palestine.’
A central strategy of this pro-Israel campaign is to repeatedly state a false equivalence between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism. Abunimah explained:
Zionism, Israel’s state ideology, is racist because it grants superior rights to Jews enshrined in dozens of Israeli laws and holds that Palestinians expelled and exiled from their homeland should not be allowed to return to it solely and exclusively because they are not Jews.
Anti-Zionism, therefore, is not prejudice against Jews as Israel and its lobby groups claim.
Anti-Zionism, based in universal human rights principles, is anti-racism.
A new report by Israel’s Reut Institute and the US-based Jewish Council for Public Affairs warned ominously that ‘”Corbynization” is spreading through segments of the political left’ and that ‘UK-based anti-Israel groups have been inspiring liberal and progressive elite circles worldwide.’
This, says Abunimah, ‘underlines why Israel and its lobby view discrediting and removing Corbyn as a paramount priority.’
An ‘Unconstitutional Animas’ Against A Corbyn Government
Two weeks before the Panorama programme, The Times published a leak revealing that Corbyn is alleged by senior UK civil servants to be ‘too frail’ to become Prime Minister. He was not up to the job, ‘physically or mentally’. One anonymous figure at the Civil Service reportedly said:
When does someone say [he] is too ill to carry on as leader of the Labour Party, let alone prime minister? There must be senior people in the party who know that he is not functioning on all cylinders.
Corbyn promptly rebutted the ‘scurrilous’ story, dismissing it as ‘a farrago of nonsense’ and insisting he was a ‘very fit, very healthy, very active person’. Corbyn’s call for an independent investigation into the Civil Service leak to the press was predictably rejected by the government.
an unconstitutional animus against a potential Corbyn government and has been briefing against it one way or another through various agencies for some time now.
counter Russian disinformation and malign influence by harnessing existing expertise and establishing a network of experts, opinion formers and policy makers to educate national audiences in the threat and to help build national capacities to counter it.
In an article for the Morning Star, Labour MP Chris Williamson, pointed out that this supposed charitable body had ‘strayed into smearing Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party’. Its official Twitter account had promoted tweets and articles attacking Corbyn, the Labour Party and their officials. One tweet quoted a newspaper article calling Corbyn a ‘useful idiot’. The article then continued:
His open visceral anti-Westernism helped the Kremlin cause, as surely as if he had been secretly peddling Westminster tittle-tattle for money.
The chilling manipulations of the Institute for Statecraft are straight out of the cold war playbook.
Through a series of parliamentary questions, Williamson discovered that the Foreign Office has given more than £2.2 million to the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative. As David Miller says, ‘the use of taxpayers’ money to interfere in domestic politics [is] an affront to democracy’. A report by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media – an independent network of academics that includes Miller – found that Facebook and Nato had provided funding too.
Establishment opposition to Corbyn also comes from UK military forces. In 2015, the Sunday Times published comments by a senior serving British Army general that Corbyn would face a mutiny as Prime Minister if he ever tried to cancel the Trident nuclear weapons system, withdraw from Nato or reduce the armed forces:
The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.
‘Failing The Test Of Leadership’ = Failing To Protect Power
The fear of a ‘maverick’ ending up as leader of the country extends to the ‘liberal’ end of the permissible ‘spectrum’ of viewpoints. In our previous media alert, we highlighted the fakery behind accusations of anti-semitism levelled at Labour MP Chris Williamson, mentioned above. On July 8, a letter signed by more than one hundred prominent members of the Jewish community, including Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, was published by the Guardian. The letter stated:
Chris Williamson did not say that the party had been “too apologetic about antisemitism”, as has been widely misreported. He correctly stated that the Labour party has done more than any other party to combat the scourge of antisemitism and that, therefore, its stance should be less apologetic. Such attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters aim to undermine not only the Labour party’s leadership but also all pro-Palestinian members.
The mass media have ignored the huge support for Chris both within and beyond the Labour party. Support that includes many Jews. The party needs people like him, with the energy and determination to fight for social justice. As anti-racist Jews, we regard Chris as our ally: he stands as we do with the oppressed rather than the oppressor. It should also be noted that he has a longer record of campaigning against racism and fascism than most of his detractors.
However, the letter was swiftly taken down following a complaint later the same day by the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD). The placeholder Guardian page initially said the letter had been removed, ‘pending investigation’. By the following day, the letter had been permanently deleted with this text given as the explanation:
A letter was removed from this page on 9 July 2019 due to errors in the list of signatories provided. We were contacted by an organisation which had not agreed to sign the letter; the organisers of the letter also acknowledge that there were other inaccuracies in the list of signatories.
The ‘explanation’ lacked detail, would have nonplussed many readers, and notably made no mention of the complaint from BoD. In a piece for The Canary, John McEvoy said that the complaint from BoD had:
rightly highlighted that one of the signatories – “Michael Morgan” – had made past racist and abhorrent remarks.
One of the letter’s co-authors, who wished to remain anonymous, told McEvoy that they regretted a lack of oversight over the signatories:
We were clear that the letter was supposed to be signed by only Jewish people. It was made public a couple of days ago, and received 292 signatures shortly after.
We tried to confirm which of the signatories were Jewish by contacting them. If we received no response, we took them off the list.
Michael Morgan replied and told us he was not Jewish, so we took him off the list. His name ended up back on it after transferring the document through different file formats, mistakenly using older files.
The inclusion of Michael Morgan was an accident and an oversight. His views do not reflect ours.
But, while there were issues with a few of the signatories, it was clear that the contents of the letter were entirely justified and appropriate. As the co-author of the letter told The Canary:
I think the letter itself is important, and also whether the Board of Deputies think the likes of Chomsky etc. are the “right kind of Jews” is neither here nor there.
Of course these Jews are not prominent in the Board of Deputies’ circles, but this is the issue: The Board of Deputies seem to want to define what “prominent Jew” means. And a lot of people who are Jewish and, like me, on the left, find that difficult to accept. Why is our Jewish identity being erased, and why do they get to define who is a Jew?
That the Guardian refused to reinstate the letter is deplorable; a symptom of the paper’s appalling role in fuelling the fake anti-semitism ‘crisis’. As journalist John Pilger noted via Twitter:
The Guardian has yet to apologise for two major fabrications: that Julian #Assange conspired with Moscow to escape Britain; and that he met Trump crony Paul Manafort plus Russians. The paper’s descent quickens with this censorship.
Last month, journalist Matt Kennard revealed the Guardian‘s collusion with UK security services in media censorship. Deputy editor Paul Johnson had been personally thanked by the Defence and Security Media Advisory Notice (or D-Notice) committee for ‘re-establishing links’ with the paper in the wake of its publication of material from CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013. Johnson was one of three Guardian staffers who took part in the subsequent destruction of computer hard drives containing Snowden files in the Guardian‘s basement, overseen by two security officials from GCHQ. He then joined the D-Notice committee in 2014. The committee, run by the Ministry of Defence, issues ‘advisory warnings’ that are essentially attempts to gag the media from publishing information that might harm state interests.
D-Notice meeting minutes reveal that Air Vice-Marshal Andrew Vallance reported that the committee’s relationship with the Guardian has ‘continued to strengthen’ and that there were ‘regular dialogues’ with its journalists. Kennard suggested that the Guardian was rewarded for its acquiescence with security interests by being granted an unprecedented exclusive interview with a serving head of MI5 in 2016.
Yet another clear indication of the paper’s plummeting descent was the Guardian‘s publication of a full-page advertisement on July 17 from more than sixty Labour peers lambasting Corbyn:
You have failed to defend our party’s anti-racist values. You have therefore failed the test of leadership.
The party was ‘no longer a safe place for all members and supporters’, claimed the peers, ‘whatever their ethnicity or faith.’ The signatories, comprising around one-third of the party’s members in the House of Lords, included former Cabinet members Peter Mandelson, Peter Hain and John Reid from the discredited, blood-soaked years of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
The advert was headed:
The Labour Party welcomes everyone* irrespective or race, creed, gender identity, or sexual orientation (*except, it seems, Jews). This is your legacy, Mr Corbyn.
In publishing the advert, the Guardian was once again complicit in promoting a false, elite-friendly narrative about an institutionally anti-semitic Labour Party under Corbyn. The advert itself generated considerable media coverage, just as the peers no doubt intended, with around thirty articles in the press. ‘Jews feel unsafe in “toxic” Labour, say 67 of party’s own peers’, blasted the Daily Mail. The Evening Standard carried the headline: ‘Corbyn “must show his shame on anti-Semitism”: Labour ex-minister Lord Robertson joins peers’ attack on leader’. The Express said: ‘Labour civil WAR: Corbyn accused of “failing leadership” by peers over anti-Semitism’. The overall message was clear: Labour is anti-semitic under Corbyn, and he is not fit to become Prime Minister.
Shredding any semblance of ‘impartiality’, Robert Peston, ITV’s political editor, tweeted:
What has it come to in the Labour Party when the only way Labour peers feel they can communicate with their leader @jeremycorbyn is to pay to take out an advert in @guardian! No major party has ever been this dysfunctional
Jonathan Cook responded appropriately:
What has it come to in the Labour party when its most establishment figures decide to destroy their party from within by fuelling the corporate media smears against a leader twice elected by members! No major party has ever been this leftwing before. (Fixed that for you Pesto!)
Thinking along similar lines to Peston, Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murty observed via Twitter:
The Labour Party is now unable to find anyone prepared to come on #c4news tonight to answer questions about antisemitism and the ad taken out by over 60 Labour Peers today telling Jeremy Corbyn he had failed to defend the party’s values.
As so often happens when a corporate journalist ventures forth into the world of social media, rebuttals flew in. Twitter user Jon Harding replied:
Members support Corbyn because he supports our values – community, equality, responsibility, solidarity and fairness
The media attack us everyday, calling us anti-Semitic. But Corbyn remains steadfast, and support for Corbyn is solid, because we can see through the smears
Another Twitter user replied to Guru-Murty:
Perhaps you should do a segment on how left wing Corbyn supporting Jews are being at best ignored, at worst, harassed, doxed & vilified by people who don’t agree with them, and how many are afraid to voice their opinions because of it!
As far as we could tell, the Channel 4 News man had nothing to say in response.
An article on the Skwawkbox website quoted Labour activists on Twitter saying that ‘the list of signatories reads like a “Who’s Who” of Blairite leftovers’. The article also noted that of the 64 Lords who signed the advert:
At least twenty-four are corporate lobbyists or on boards of hedge funds, banks, “global security consultancies” and, particularly, private health firms. Others have family links to similar enterprises.
In other words, these are the primary interests which are being protected in attacking Corbyn.
More Guardian Censorship
On the same day (July 17) that the Lords advert was published, a remarkable email from Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell was circulated on social media. Bell had sent it to a Guardian editor, possibly Katharine Viner herself. It is worth quoting in full:
After our bizarre telephone conversation yesterday, I feared you might not publish today’s strip, but still cannot understand why the attached should be more liable to legal challenge from Tom Watson than either of the previous two strips that you have already published. You said the ‘lawyers were concerned’, but what about? It’s not antisemitic nor is it libellous, even though it includes a caricature of Binyamin Netanyahu. If Watson chose to object it would make him look far sillier than he does in the cartoon.
I suspect that the real problem is that it contravenes some mysterious editorial line that has been drawn around the subject of antisemitism and the infernal subject of ‘antisemitic tropes’. In some ways this is even more troubling for me than specious charges of antisemitism. Does the Guardian no longer tolerate content that counters its editorial line?
Why in today’s paper has the Guardian published a highly partisan and personally insulting (to the leader of the Labour Party) advert on page 20 that uses the Labour Party logo, but is clearly not a Labour Party approved advert? I would have thought that there would be far more reason to expect a legal challenge on that than on my cartoon. Or is it that you don’t want to offend poor Tom but are quite happy to offend poor Jeremy?
Why on earth did the Guardian publish, then unpublish, a letter in support of Chris Williamson, signed by 100 people identifying themselves as Jewish, including Noam Chomsky? Were they the wrong kind of Jews? The paper’s contortions on this subject do not do it any credit. If there is a reasoned position on this contentious issue, then I would dearly like to see it laid out clearly so we can all see where we stand. Or are there some subjects that we just can’t touch?
In his previous two strips on July 15 and July 16 of his long-running cartoon series, ‘If…’, Bell had depicted Labour deputy leader Tom Watson as the ‘Antisemite Finder General’, harking back to the Witchfinder General of the 17th century English Civil War. As Bell said in his email, these two earlier strips were obviously considered fit for publication. In the censored strip for July 17, deemed unacceptable by the Guardian, but then published exclusively by Socialist Worker, Watson’s horse sniffs out an ‘antisemitic trope’. Watson encounters Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu along with caricatures clearly meant as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.
As James Wright observed in a Canary piece about the Guardian‘s censorship, Bell appeared to be ridiculing a fundamental contradiction of the pro-Israel establishment. It is anti-semitic to suppose that a Jewish person must be a supporter of Israel. And yet, Netanyahu regularly claims that Israel speaks for all Jewish people. Thus, for example:
On this day, on behalf of the Jewish people, I say to those who have sought and still seek to destroy us: You have failed and you will fail.
Moreover, Netanyahu’s embrace of far-right nationalist leaders around the world (not least Trump), actually makes Jews ‘more vulnerable to anti-Semitism and hate crimes in their own countries’, warned racism researcher Rachel Shenhav-Goldberg. And author Zeev Sternhell noted in a piece for Foreign Policy that Israel under Netanyahu:
sees itself as an integral part of this anti-liberal bloc led by nativist xenophobes who traffic in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
Boris Johnson, of course, has a long record of sexist, homophobic and racist remarks. He has referred to black people as ‘piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’ and likened Muslim women to letterboxes. As for Trump, he told US Jews that Netanyahu is ‘your Prime Minister’, thus conflating Jews with Israelis. It is worth adding that Trump recently told four Congresswomen of colour – Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashia Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley – to ‘go back’ and ‘help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came’. This is racism. Three of the politicians were born in the United States. The fourth, Omar, moved to the US with her family when she was ten years old after fleeing war in Somalia. Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson, the two contenders to become Tory leader and thus the next Prime Minister, both refused to call Trump’s remarks racist, in stark contrast to Jeremy Corbyn.
On the same day that the Guardian censored the Bell cartoon strip, it provided Labour MP Margaret Hodge with a platform to once again abuse Jeremy Corbyn as ‘a racist and an antisemite’. The Guardian‘s editorial bias could hardly be more glaring.
Our searches of the ProQuest media database showed that not a single UK newspaper reported the Guardian‘s censorship of Steve Bell. Nobody should be surprised. After all, silence about uncomfortable topics is one of the operating principles of the corporate media.
We asked John Pilger to comment on Bell’s email. He told us:
Steve Bell’s reasoned protest to a gatekeeper on the Guardian, a newspaper often given credibility by his brilliance, is a warning. I wanted to write that it was a warning to journalists — but there are few who are not now cowed into silence or collaborators. They are not journalists any more, but functionaries, even awarded prizes for holding the line. Steve Bell’s memo is a warning to the wider society. His wonderfully anarchic satire is needed more than ever in this corporate, conformist world with its ever present intimidation.
The Guardian advertisement he refers to in effect demands the outlawing of dissent; in the United States, the firing of political cartoonists who cross the line is now routine. The accusation of anti-Semitism thrown at principled opponents of the longest, most brutal military occupation in modern times and the racism of the Israeli state, now enshrined in Israeli law, ought to be beyond contempt. Yet the Guardian’s “contortions”, as Steve Bell calls them, effectively peddle the lie that criticism of Israel and its Zionist ideology is anti-Semitic.This is no different from the lies the Guardian has told about Julian Assange. So beware. Not only is the campaign to destroy Jeremy Corbyn well advanced, so, too, is the consignment of real journalism, and truth, to a permanent underground.2
The root cause of this campaign to destroy Corbyn is to block any hope of systemic change for the benefit of the general population. Such a prospect is deemed unacceptable to established power. For the sake of society, and the larger battle to prevent climate breakdown, we urgently need to take back power from those who have stolen it.
- ‘The Reith Diaries’, edited by Charles Stewart, Collins, 1975; entry for 11 May, 1926.
- Email to Media Lens, July 19, 2019.
JERUSALEM — Israeli police forced out the Siyam family from their home in the heart of occupied East Jerusalem last week, the final chapter in their 25-year legal battle against a powerful settler organisation.
The family’s defeat represented much more than just another eviction. It was intended to land a crushing blow against the hopes of some 20,000 Palestinians living in the shadow of the Old City walls and Al Aqsa mosque.
Dozens of families in the Silwan neighbourhood have endured the same fate as the Siyams, and the Israeli courts have approved the imminent eviction of many hundreds more Palestinians from the area.
But, unlike those families, the Siyams’ predicament briefly caught public attention. That was because one of them, Jawad Siyam, has become a figurehead of Silwan’s resistance efforts.
Mr Siyam, a social worker, has led the fight against Elad, a wealthy settler group that since the early 1990s has been slowly erasing Silwan’s Palestinian identity, in order to remake it as the City of David archeological park.
Mr Siyam has served as a spokesman, drawing attention to Silwan’s plight. He has also helped to organise the community, setting up youth and cultural centres to fortify Silwan’s identity and sense of purpose in the face of Israel’s relentless oppression.
However, the settlers of Elad want Silwan dismembered, not strengthened.
Elad’s mission is to strip away the Palestinian community to reveal crumbling relics beneath, which it claims are proof that King David founded his Israelite kingdom there 3,000 years ago.
The history and archeological rationalisations may be murky, but the political vision is clear. The Palestinians of Silwan are to be forced out like unwelcome squatters.
An Israeli human rights group, Peace Now, refers to plans for the City of David as “the transformation of Silwan into a Disneyland of the messianic extreme right wing”.
It is the most unequal fight imaginable – a story of David and Goliath, in which the giant fools the world into believing he is the underdog.
It has pitted Mr Siyam and other residents against not only the settlers, but the US and Israeli governments, the police and courts, archaeologists, planning authorities, national parks officials and unwitting tourists.
And, adding to their woes, Silwan’s residents are being forced to fight both above and below ground at the same time.
The walls and foundations of dozens of houses are cracking and sinking because the Israeli authorities have licensed Elad to flout normal safety regulations and excavate immediately below the community’s homes. Several families have had to be evacuated.
Late last month Elad flexed its muscles again, this time as it put the finishing touches to its latest touristic project: a tunnel under Silwan that reaches to the foot of Al Aqsa.
On Elad’s behalf, the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, wielded a sledgehammer to smash down a symbolic wall inaugurating the tunnel, which has been renamed the Pilgrimage Road.
Elad claims – though many archaeologists doubt it – that in Roman times the tunnel was a street used by Jews to ascend to a temple on the site where today stands the Islamic holy site of Al Aqsa.
The participation of the two US envoys in the ceremony offered further proof that Washington is tearing up the peacemaking rulebook, destroying any hope the Palestinians might once have had of an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Mr Friedman called the City of David complex – at the core of occupied Palestinian Jerusalem – “an essential component of the national heritage of the State of Israel”. Ending the occupation there would be “akin to America returning the Statue of Liberty”.
While Israel, backed by the US, smashes Silwan’s foundations, it is also dominating the sky above it.
Last month Israel’s highest planning body approved a cable car from Israeli territory in West Jerusalem into the centre of Silwan.
It will connect with the City of David and a network of boardwalks, coffee shops and touristic tunnels, such as like the Pilgrimage Road, all run by Elad settlers, to slice apart Silwan.
And to signal how the neighbourhood is being reinvented, the Israeli municipality enforcing the occupation in East Jerusalem recently named several of Silwan’s main streets after famous Jewish rabbis.
Former mayor Nir Barkat has said the goal of all this development is to bring 10 million tourists a year to Silwan, so that they “understand who is really the landlord in this city”.
Few outsiders appear to object. This month, the tourism website TripAdvisor was taken to task by Amnesty International for recommending the City of David as a top attraction in Jerusalem.
And now, Elad has felled the family of Jawad Siyam in a bid to crush the community’s spirits and remaining sense of defiance.
As it has with so many of Silwan’s homeowners, Elad waged a decades-long legal battle against the family to drain them of funds and stamina.
The Siyams’ fate was finally sealed last month when the Israeli courts extended the use of a 70-year-old, draconian piece of legislation, the Absentee Property Law, to Silwan.
The law was crafted specifically to steal the lands and homes of 750,000 Palestinian refugees expelled in 1948 by the new state of Israel.
Ownership of the Siyams’ home is shared between Jawad’s uncles and aunts, some of them classified by Israel as “absentees” because they now live abroad.
As a result, an Israeli official with the title Custodian of Absentee Property claimed ownership of sections of the house belonging to these relatives, and then, in violation of his obligations under international law, sold them on to Elad. Police strong-armed the family out last week.
To add insult to injury, the court also approved Elad seizing money raised via crowdfunding by more than 200 Israeli peace activists, with the aim of helping the Siyams with their legal costs.
Palestinians such as Jawad Siyam exist all over the occupied territories – men and women who have given Palestinians a sense of hope, commitment and steadfastness in the face of Israel’s machinery of dispossession.
When Israel targets Jawad Siyam, crushes his spirits, it sends an unmistakable message not only to other Palestinians, but to the international community itself, that peace is not on its agenda.
It is difficult to describe as anything other than a hatchet job the BBC Panorama special this week that sought to bolster claims that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has become “institutionally antisemitic”.
The partisan tone was set from the opening shot. A young woman whose name was not revealed tearfully claimed to have been abused with antisemitic taunts at a Labour Party conference.
The decision not to disclose the interviewee’s identity is understandable. It would have discredited the whole narrative Panorama was trying so hard to build.
The woman’s name is Ella Rose, a senior official in the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), an organisation representing Jewish and non-Jewish members of Labour at the forefront of attacks on Corbyn. Rose has a secret past too: she once worked at the Israeli embassy in London.
Two years ago she and other JLM officials were exposed collaborating with Shai Masot, an Israeli embassy official. He had to be hurriedly removed from the UK after an undercover Al Jazeera documentary showed him plotting with activists in the Labour and Conservative parties to discredit British politicians seen as a threat to Israel.
Most observers believe that Masot was operating within the embassy as part of Israel’s strategic affairs ministry, which in turn has been running black ops against western critics of Israel. Corbyn, we can safely assume, is high on that list.
Rose is on record as saying she was a close friend of Masot’s.
Her emotional, quavering voice as she spoke to Panorama presented a very different image from her appearances in Al-Jazeera’s undercover footage. There she is shown threatening to use physical violence – employing Krav Maga, a martial arts technique developed by the Israeli army – against another Jewish party member prominent in support of Corbyn.
Panorama chose to follow in the footsteps of the rest of the British media in ignoring Al Jazeera’s revelations, even though they provide vital context for challenging claims of a supposedly growing “antisemitism crisis” in Labour. For the past three years, the media have produced little more than anecdotal evidence, like Ella Rose’s, to support this narrative.
In a self-fulfilling prophecy, however, the more the media has fear-mongered about antisemitism in Labour – despite the absence of objective data to back up such claims – the more polls have shown British Jews panicking at the propsect of Corbyn reaching power.
The Panorama investigation, titled “Is Labour Anti-Semitic?”, will undoubtedly have further stoked such fear by interviewing a handful of disgruntled former employees involved in the party’s handling of antisemitism complaints.
Stripped of context, these testimonies offer a superficially plausible argument that the Labour leadership sought to minimise, or even indulge, antisemitism in the party. But the comments made by these ex-staff have to be viewed in terms of a wider power-play raging in Labour since Corbyn was elected leader.
The party has been riven by bitter, very public feuds between an old guard, which dominated under Tony Blair, and the rapid rise of the party’s left wing under Corbyn, buoyed by massive support from the wider membership.
Panorama referenced these rifts only to dismiss them as a conspiracy theory. Instead, the programme refashioned the split as a culture war between those presented as anti-racist centrists, like the disputes team’s former staff, and a supposed influx of anti-Israel, Jew-hating “Marxists” cultivated by Corbyn.
The mass purge
Some of the former members of the disputes staff interviewed by Panorama appear to have served effectively as a Trojan horse within Labour’s head office, assisting the Blairites in damaging Corbyn.
Though it was not mentioned by Panorama, these staff members were caught repeatedly violating the party rulebook by excluding thousands of Corbyn supporters during the two leadership contests, in 2015 and 2016. These mass purges had nothing to do with antisemitism. People were ousted for “offences” such as retweeting posts by the Green Party or, in one case, praising the band the Foo Fighters.
It was the enormous backlog created by these exclusions that overwhelmed the party machinery, leaving it incapable of handling disciplinary matters involving antisemitism.
Labour officials note that, even after Corbyn was secure as leader, the obstruction continued. A small number of staff – the people Panorama interviewed – actively blocked the rapid resolution of high-profile antisemitism cases, dragging them out to embarrass the leadership.
Since a new general secretary, Jennie Formby, was brought in and a new and larger disputes team appointed, including staff with legal training, the speed of handling antisemitism complaints is reported to have increased four-fold.
The paradox is that those telling Panorama that Labour is “institutionally antisemitic” are the very people who failed to deal effectively with antisemitism complaints when they were in charge.
Fears of a stitch-up
The most astounding and intentional omission from the programme, however, are the countervailing voices in support of Corbyn. The Labour leader himself and senior staff like his chief strategist, Seumas Milne, declined to be interviewed. That is understandable. They had strong grounds to suspect that Panorama planned a stitch-up.
Interviews of Labour leaders denying “institutional antisemitism” set against footage of tearful Jewish party members like Ella Rose speaking of abuse would have been a bad look.
But what was undoubtedly inexcusable was Panorama’s failure to interview even one of the many Jewish Labour members who deny the antisemitism narrative, or to note that many of the most high-profile party members suspended or expelled for antisemitism are, in fact, themselves Jewish.
Jewish members expelled
One of the expulsions briefly mentioned by Panorama was Jackie Walker, who is herself Jewish, as well as black.
The fact that Jewish activists have been disciplined for their criticisms of Israel or disputing the Labour antisemitism narrative suggests that the furor, in part at least, represents the redrawing of battle-lines within the Jewish community about who gets to speak for Jews about Israel.
This was vital, but missing, context for understanding one of Panorama’s central charges: that Corbyn’s inner circle had interfered in the complaints process by offering advice to the disputes team.
What Panorama failed to mention was that the advice was actually sought by the disputes staff. And it related to the need to handle sensitively the issue of the party being seen to take disciplinary action against Jewish members accused of antisemitism by other Jewish members.
Labour administrators were effectively being asked to take sides in an ideological fight between different kinds of Jewish activists – hardline Zionists and anti-Zionists.
‘Wrong kind of Jews’
Why, one can reasonably ask, did Panorama ignore Jewish Voice for Labour in this supposed “investigation” of Labour and anti-semitism? The group was specifically set up by Jewish members to counter the claims being made by activists like Rose.
Groups like the Jewish Labour Movement have implied that Jewish supporters of Corbyn are the “wrong kind of Jews” – an extremely ugly insinuation that Panorama appeared to endorse by entirely sidelining them. This was one of the reasons the Labour leadership censured the programme-makers in a 50-page document presented to BBC boss Tony Hall, in which it argued that Panorama had “pre-determined the outcome of its investigation”.
As Corbyn’s office noted, Panorama had cherrypicked and distorted evidence, presented only one side of the story, and relied almost exclusively on staff who have very large axes to grind.
Score-settling may make for lively TV, but it is execrable journalism.
As a public service broadcaster, the BBC is subject to an editorial policy requiring it to be impartial. Its guidelines also state that audiences should not be able to infer “the personal prejudices of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.”
But the fact that Panorama made no attempt at even-handedness or fairness in its programme on Labour should have come as no surprise. The man in charge of the investigation was John Ware, a former Sun journalist. He cannot be considered dispassionate either about Corbyn or the prospects of Labour defeating the Conservative Party at a general election, which may be just around the corner.
Strident supporter of Israel
Two years ago, Ware wrote a lengthy article for a right-wing magazine warning of the danger of Corbyn reaching power. He was a politician, wrote Ware, “whose entire political career has been stimulated by disdain for the West, appeasement of extremism, and who would barely understand what fighting for the revival of British values is really all about”.
Shortly after Corbyn’s leadership election victory in 2015, Ware headed a Panorama documentary that sought to malign the new leader.
Ware is also a strident supporter of Israel and of its state ideology, Zionism. In a 2005 edition of Panorama he suggested that Muslims in Britain who spoke out about Israel’s crimes against Palestinians were “extremists”.
In an article in the Jewish Chronicle last year Ware concluded that anti-Zionism had “morphed into anti-Semitism – itself a Corbyn legacy”.
But that claim – that criticism of Israel is equivalent to antisemitism – needed to be interrogated rather than, as it was, assumed to be true by the Panorama special. It lies at the heart of both the split between the right and left wings of Labour, and the divisions within Labour’s Jewish membership.
‘Witch-hunt against Muslims’
Equally disturbing is Ware’s apparent view that some kinds of racism matter far more than others. This appears to be what he means by “British values”.
While he has repeatedly expressed concern about criticism of Israel, and has himself conflated it with antisemitism, his work has shown an apparent indulgence of Islamophobia. Over nearly two decades Ware has produced reports for the BBC that have antagonised Britain’s Muslim community.
In 2003 David Blunkett, Labour’s home secretary of the time and no ally of Corbyn’s, compared a programme by Ware on asylum seekers to the notoriously racist hate speech of Enoch Powell back in the 1960s.
Two years later the Muslim Council of Britain accused a Panorama documentary headed by Ware of amounting to a “witch-hunt against British Muslims”.
In 2013 Ware claimed that Islamophobia, or what he called the “I-word”, was stopping people – though not himself, it seems – from talking about Muslim “extremism”. Ware argued that Islamophobia, unlike antisemitism, was rational and justified – or in his words, hatred of Muslims was simply “reactive”.
He wrote in the Jewish Chronicle newspaper: “It is surely Muslim radicals who have brought it [anti-Muslim bigotry] on their fellow Muslims – by their promotion of Islam as a political ideology, and by invoking Islamophobia to close down criticism of this ideology.”
Imagine how that would sound if one replaces “radical Muslims”, “political Islam” and “Islamophobia” with the equivalents of “Israel zealots”, “hardline Zionism” and “anti-semitism”. Let’s try it:
“It is surely Israel zealots who have brought it [anti-Jewish bigotry] on their fellow Jews – by their promotion of hardline Zionism as a political ideology, and by invoking anti-semitism to close down criticism of this ideology.”
Suggesting that Jews are to blame for the racism they face because some extremists among them are fanatical supporters of Israel and its oppression of Palestinians would surely amount to antisemitism in most people’s view.
Skewed political priorities
The relevance of this is that Ware and the BBC made a highly politicised decision to choose to focus exclusively on Labour and antisemitism, while ignoring the well-documented racism of the Conservative Party. That choice matches Ware’s own skewed political priorities.
The BBC’s flagship political documentary assumed that Labour suffers from an “antisemitism crisis” so severe that it needed to be the sole focus of an investigation into racism in British politics.
The decision to ignore the more visible issue of racism in the Conservative Party smacks of dangerous interference by the state broadcaster in the democratic process.
Panorama’s choice is even more astonishing given that the objective data – again overlooked by the programme – indicates that Labour has much less of a racism problem than the ruling Conservative party.
A survey this week confirmed what was already widely known: that Islamophobia – racism towards Muslims and Arabs – is rampant in Conservative ranks. A YouGov poll showed an astounding 56 per cent of party members believe Islam threatens the “British way of life”.
The Tory party’s former chair, Sayeeda Warsi, has long been ringing the alarm about senior officials, warning that they are indifferent to, or supportive of, Islamophobia in the party.
Rampant Tory racism
In addition to rampant Islamophobia, figures show that the Conservatives also have a greater problem than Labour with antisemitism.
While Corbyn has been critical of antisemitic world leaders, the Conservative leadership has been cosying up to figures like Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, who is known for his Jew-baiting and expressions of support for former Hungarian pro-Nazi leaders.
Boris Johnson, the Conservative MP widely expected to become the next prime minister when Theresa May steps down, has a long track record of making inciteful, racist statements.
Anti-semitism data ignored
While the Conservatives’ undeniable racism problem has failed to attract any sustained media attention, the Labour Party’s much less serious antisemitism problem has been blown out of all proportion.
The Panorama team ignored the most elementary facts undermining the now-pervasive narrative of a Labour “antisemitism crisis”.
First, surveys show Labour voters are less likely to hold antisemitic views than the wider general public or Conservative voters, and the proportion of Labour supporters expressing such views has fallen dramatically under Corbyn. The data clearly refute suggestions that Corbyn has made the party more attractive to antisemites.
Second, Labour’s disciplinary process has found that instances of discernible antisemitism is marginal, at 0.06 per cent of its half a million members. And that is after Corbyn’s political enemies have been scouring party members’ accounts seeking evidence of antisemitism.
And third, much of the media coverage has attributed often anonymous hate speech on social media targeting Jews, including Labour MPs, to Labour activists when no evidence exists to support such attribution. The politicised climate is such now that far-right antisemitism is also being blamed on Corbyn.
Questions for the BBC
Corbyn’s critics, of course, have been trying to deflect criticism of the BBC, Panorama and Ware by arguing that Labour’s complaint is some kind of Trumpian attack on journalism. That is patent nonsense.
The BBC is a public service broadcaster paid for by British taxpayers. Its credibility and legitimacy depends on it being seen to maintain strict neutrality and a commitment to evidence, not become a media attack dog in the hands of the ruling party.
The question is why did the BBC’s flagship political investigations show decide that the marginal problem of racism in Labour was a much more urgent matter than the provable and significant racism in the Conservative Party?
Unlike Labour, the Conservatives are actually in power and, through policy-making, are in a position to improve or damage the fabric of life for minority communities in Britain.
This isn’t about protecting Corbyn. It is an expectation that the BBC sticks by its commitment to assess dispassionately British political life rather than interfere, as it did with the Panorama special, in an overt, partisan manner.
• First published in Middle East Eye.
The recent arrival of Africa’s most popular televangelist preacher, TB Joshua, to address thousands of foreign pilgrims in Nazareth produced a mix of consternation and anger in the city of Jesus’s childhood.
There was widespread opposition from Nazareth’s political movements, as well as from community groups and church leaders, who called for a boycott of his two rallies. They were joined by the council of muftis, which described the events as “a red line for faith in religious values”.
Joshua’s gatherings, which included public exorcisms, took place in an open-air amphitheatre on a hill above Nazareth that was originally built for papal masses. The site was used by Pope Benedict in 2009.
The Nigerian pastor, who has millions of followers worldwide and calls himself a prophet, aroused local hostility not only because his brand of Christianity strays far from the more traditional doctrines of Middle Eastern churches. He also represents a trend of foreign Christians, driven by apocalyptic readings of the Bible, interfering ever more explicitly in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories – and in ways that directly aid the policies of Israel’s far-right government.
Much-needed tourism boost
Nazareth is the largest of the Palestinian communities in Israel that survived the Nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948, which forced most of the native population out of the bulk of their homeland and replaced it with a Jewish state. Today, one in five Israeli citizens are Palestinian.
The city and its immediate environs include the highest concentration of Palestinian Christians in the region. But it has long suffered from the hostility of Israeli officials, who have starved Nazareth of resources to prevent it from becoming a political, economic or cultural capital for the Palestinian minority.
The city has almost no land for growth or industrial areas to expand its income base, and Israel has tightly constrained its ability to develop a proper tourism industry. Most pilgrims pass through briefly to visit its Basilica of the Annunciation, the site where the angel Gabriel reputedly told Mary she was carrying Jesus.
Nazareth’s municipal officials leapt at the chance to exploit the publicity, and income, provided by Joshua’s visit. The municipality’s longer-term hope is that, if the city can attract even a small proportion of the more than 60 million Christian evangelicals in the US and millions more in Africa and Europe, it will provide an enormous boost to the city’s economy.
Recent figures show evangelical tourism to Israel has been steadily rising, now accounting for about one in seven of all overseas visitors.
Playing with fire
But as the fallout over Joshua’s visit indicates, Nazareth may be playing with fire by encouraging these types of pilgrims to take a greater interest in the region. Most local Christians understand that Joshua’s teachings are not directed at them – and, in fact, are likely to harm them.
The Nigerian pastor chose Nazareth to spread his gospel, but faced vocal opposition from those who believe he is using the city simply as the backdrop to his bigger mission – one that appears entirely indifferent to the plight of Palestinians, whether those living inside Israel in places such as Nazareth, or those under occupation.
Political factions in Nazareth noted Joshua’s “ties to far-right and settlers circles in Israel”. He is reported to have had meetings about opening operations in the Jordan Valley, the reputed site of Jesus’ baptism but also the agricultural backbone of the West Bank. The area is being targeted by the far-right government of Benjamin Netanyahu for settlement expansion and possible annexation, thereby dooming efforts to create a Palestinian state.
A view of Armageddon
During his visits to Israel, Joshua has also enjoyed access to key government figures such as Yariv Levin, a close ally of Netanyahu’s, who has been in charge of two portfolios viewed as critical by the evangelical community: tourism, and the absorption into Israel of new Jewish immigrants from the US and Europe.
Many in the evangelical community, including Joshua, believe it is their duty to encourage Jews to move from their home countries to the Promised Land to bring forward an end-times supposedly prophesied in the Bible.
This is the Rapture, when Jesus returns to build his kingdom on earth and righteous Christians take their place alongside him. Everyone else, including unrepentant Jews, it is implied, will burn in Hell’s eternal fires.
The cliff above the Jezreel Valley where Joshua and his disciples congregated offers views over Tel Megiddo, the modern name of the biblical site of Armageddon, where many evangelicals believe the end of the world will soon happen.
Speeding up the second coming
These Christians are not simply observers of an unfolding divine plan; they are active participants trying to bring the end-times closer.
In fact, the traumas of the Israel-Palestine conflict – the decades of bloodshed, violent colonisation and expulsions of Palestinians – cannot be understood separately from the interference of Western Christian leaders in the Middle East over the past century. In many ways, they engineered the Israel we know today.
The first Zionists, after all, were not Jews, but Christians. A vigorous Christian Zionist movement – known then as “restorationism” – emerged in the early 19th century, predating and heavily influencing its subsequent Jewish counterpart.
The restorationists’ peculiar reading of the Bible meant that they believed the Messiah’s second coming could be accelerated if God’s chosen people, the Jews, returned to the Promised Land after 2,000 years of a supposed exile.
Charles Taze Russell, a US pastor from Pennsylvania, travelled the world from the 1870s onwards imploring Jews to establish a national home for themselves in what was then Palestine. He even produced a plan for how a Jewish state might be created there.
He did so nearly 20 years before the Jewish Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl published his famous book outlining a Jewish state.
The secular Herzl didn’t much care where such a Jewish state was built. But his later followers – deeply aware of the hold of Christian Zionism in western capitals – focused their attention on Palestine, the biblical Promised Land, in the hope of winning powerful allies in Europe and the US.
Rallying cry for Herzl’s followers
Imperial Britain’s support was especially prized. In 1840, Lord Shaftesbury, who was connected through marriage to Lord Palmerston, a later prime minister, published an advert in the London Times urging the return of Jews to Palestine.
Christian Zionism was an important factor influencing the British government in 1917 to issue the Balfour Declaration – effectively a promissory note from Britain that became the blueprint for creating a Jewish state on the ruins of the native population’s homeland.
Writing of the declaration, Israeli historian Tom Segev has observed: “The men who sired it were Christian and Zionist and, in many cases, anti-Semitic.” That was because Christian Zionism took as its premise that Jews should not integrate into their own countries. Rather, they should serve as instruments of God’s will, moving to the Middle East so that Christians could achieve redemption.
Edwin Montagu was the only British cabinet minister to oppose the Balfour Declaration, and he was also its sole Jewish member. He warned – for good reason – that the document would “prove a rallying ground for anti-Semites in every country in the world”.
‘Struggle until the Rapture’
While Jewish Zionists looked to the imperial powerhouse of Britain for sponsorship a century ago, today, their chief patron is the US. The standard-bearers of Christian Zionism have been enjoying growing influence in Washington since the Six-Day War of 1967.
That process has reached its apotheosis under President Donald Trump. He has surrounded himself with a mix of extreme Jewish and Christian Zionists. His ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, are fervent Jewish supporters of the illegal settlements. But so too, it seems, are key Christians in the White House, such as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Before he entered government, Pompeo was clear about his evangelical beliefs. Back in 2015, he told a congregation: “It is a never-ending struggle … until the Rapture. Be part of it. Be in the fight.”
This past March, he backed the idea that Trump might have been sent by God to save Israel from threats such as Iran. “I am confident that the Lord is at work here,” he told the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Pence, meanwhile, has said: “My passion for Israel springs from my Christian faith … It’s really the greatest privilege of my life to serve as vice-president to a president who cares so deeply for our most cherished ally.”
Sleeping giant awakens
Trump’s relocation last year of the US embassy to Jerusalem, pre-empting any negotiated settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, was designed to pander to his Christian Zionist base. Some 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for him in 2016, and he will need their support again in 2020 if he hopes to be re-elected.
Not surprisingly, the new US embassy in Jerusalem was consecrated by two prominent televangelist pastors, John Hagee and Robert Jeffress, known for their fanatical support for Israel – as well as occasional antisemitic outbursts.
More than a decade ago, Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel, told delegates at a conference organised by AIPAC, Israel’s main political lobby in Washington: “The sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awakened. There are 50 million Christians standing up and applauding the state of Israel.”
The Hagee group’s activities include lobbying in Congress for hardline pro-Israel legislation, such as the recent Taylor Force Act that slashes US funding to the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians’ government-in-waiting. The group is also active in helping to push through legislation at the state and federal levels, penalising anyone who boycotts Israel.
For US evangelicals, and those elsewhere, Israel is increasingly a key issue. A 2015 poll showed some three-quarters believe that developments in Israel were prophesied in the Bible’s Book of Revelation.
Many expect Trump to complete a chain of events set in motion by British officials a century ago – and more and more of them are getting directly involved, in hopes of speeding along that process.
Closer ties to settlers
Israel’s vision of an “ingathering of the exiles” – encouraging Jews from around the world to move to the region under the Law of Return – fits neatly with Christian Zionism’s beliefs in a divine plan for the Middle East.
The efforts of extremist Jewish settlers to colonise the West Bank, the bulk of any future Palestinian state, also chimes with Christian Zionists’ understanding of the West Bank as the “biblical heartland”, an area Jews must possess before Jesus returns.
For these reasons, evangelicals are developing ever-closer ties with Israeli Jewish religious extremists, especially in the settlements. Recent initiatives have included online and face-to-face Bible studies programmes run by Orthodox Jews, often settlers, targeted specifically at evangelical Christians. The tutorials are designed to bolster the settlers’ narrative, as well as demonising Muslims and, by extension, Palestinians.
The most popular course offered by Root Source, one such venture, is titled “Islam – Insights and Deceptions”. It uses the Old and New Testaments to make the case that Islam “is extremely dangerous”.
A few months ago, Haaretz, Israel’s leading liberal newspaper, published an investigation into the growing flow of evangelical volunteers and money into the West Bank’s illegal settlements – the chief obstacle to achieving a two-state solution.
One US organisation alone, Hayovel, has brought more than 1,700 Christian volunteers over the past 10 years to help in a settlement close to Nablus, in the heart of the West Bank.
Evangelical money pours in
An increasing number of similar initiatives have been aided by new rules introduced last year by the Israeli government to pay Christian Zionist groups such as Hayovel to advocate abroad for the settlements.
It is much harder to know exactly how much evangelical money is pouring into the settlements, because of a lack of transparency regarding US donations made by churches and charities. But the Haaretz investigation estimates that over the past decade, as much as $65m has flowed in.
Ariel, a settler town sitting in the very centre of the West Bank, received $8m for a sports centre from John Hagee Ministries a decade ago. Another evangelical outfit, J H Israel, has spent $2m there on a national leadership centre.
Other Christian charities that have historically funded projects inside Israel are reported to be increasingly considering assisting the settlements too.
Should a Trump peace plan – touted for publication later this year – back annexation of parts of the West Bank, as is widely expected, it would likely unleash a new and even greater wave of evangelical money into the settlements.
Immune to reason
This is precisely the problem for Palestinians, and the wider Middle East. Christian Zionists are meddling yet again, whether they be government officials, church leaders or their congregations. Evangelical influence is to be found from the US and Brazil to Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia.
Western governments typically have more practical and pressing concerns than realising biblical prophecy to justify divide-and-rule policies in the Middle East. Chiefly, they want control over the region’s oil resources, and can secure it only by projecting military power there to prevent rival nations from gaining a foothold.
But the uncritical support of tens of millions of Christians around the world, whose passion for Israel is immune to reason, makes the job of these governments selling wars and resource grabs all the easier.
Both Israel and the West have benefited from cultivating an image of a plucky Jewish state surrounded by barbaric Arabs and Muslims determined to destroy it. As a result, Israel has enjoyed ever greater integration into a Western power bloc, while Western governments have been offered easy pretexts either to interfere in the region directly or delegate such interference to Israel.
The payoff for Israel has been unstinting support from the US and Europe, as it oppresses and drives the Palestinians off their lands.
With an evangelical base behind him, Trump has no need to offer plausible arguments before he acts. He can move the US embassy to Jerusalem, or approve the annexation of the West Bank, or attack Iran.
Standing against Israel’s enemies
Seen this way, any enemy Israel claims to have – whether the Palestinians or Iran – automatically becomes the sworn enemy of tens of millions of evangelical Christians.
Netanyahu understands the growing importance of this uncritical overseas lobby as his and Israel’s standing drops precipitously among liberal US Jews, appalled by the rightward lurch of successive governments.
In 2017, Netanyahu told a crowd of evangelicals in Washington: “When I say we have no greater friends than Christian supporters of Israel, I know you’ve always stood with us.”
For Palestinians, this is bad news. Most of these evangelicals, such as T B Joshua, are largely indifferent or hostile to the fate of the Palestinians – even Palestinian Christians, such as those in Nazareth.
A recent editorial in Haaretz noted that Netanyahu and his officials were now “endeavoring to make evangelicals – who support Israel’s hawkish rejectionism regarding the Palestinians – the sole foundation of American support for Israel.”
The truth is that these Christian Zionists view the region through a single, exclusive prism: whatever aids the imminent arrival of the Messiah is welcomed. The only issue is how soon God’s “chosen people” will congregate in the Promised Land.
If the Palestinians stand in Israel’s way, these tens of millions of foreign Christians will be quite happy to see the native population driven out once again – as they were in 1948 and 1967.
• Previously published in Middle East Eye
Those who are still hoping that the new American agenda on Palestine and Israel is temporary, or reversible, should abandon this false hope. Washington’s complete adoption of Israel’s messianic, extremist policies regarding Occupied Palestine has been a long time in the making. And it is here to stay.
Despite the unmistakable clarity in the American political discourse regarding Palestine, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is still trapped in a 25-year long, ineffectual political paradigm. Unable to move past their disproportionate reliance on American validation, and lacking any real strategic vision of their own, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his men are operating within a clichés-centered trajectory of a ‘negotiated peace’ – a discourse that was, itself, invented and championed by Washington and its allies.
Newly-appointed (not elected) Palestinian Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, conveyed this very sentiment in his June 24 interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “If you look at the literature, if you look at the statements, our President has been working by the book,” he said.
What book was Shtayyeh referring to? Certainly not the book of international and humanitarian law, which has devised a clear path aimed at achieving Palestinian freedom, rights and territorial sovereignty.
It is, rather, a book that is written by Washington, from which brazen pro-Israel agenda has preceded the Donald Trump administration by decades.
This is, in fact, the core ailment of Palestinian politics, as practiced by the PA. Throughout the years, the PA has received hundreds of millions in American funds, in exchange for sidelining the UN in favor of a complete American hegemony over the so-called ‘peace process’. Abbas’ recent attempts at reviving the role of the UN and its affiliated institutions is a belated attempt at correcting a historical mistake.
What will it take for Shtayyeh, and his boss in Ramallah, to abandon the American option and, instead, to develop a rounded strategy that is founded on national unity, democratic representation and international solidarity? Much precious time has been lost subscribing to the one-sided American book, which has no room for a Palestinian discourse of national liberation, unconditional freedom and basic human rights.
While Trump’s advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was referring to Palestinians as “hysterical and erratic,” following the two-day Bahrain economic conference (June 25-26), US Middle East ‘peace envoy’, Jason Greenblatt, was challenging the very terminology used by the entire international community regarding the illegal Israeli Jewish colonies in Occupied Palestine.
“People (should) stop pretending (that) settlements, or what I prefer to call ‘neighborhoods and cities,’ are the reason for the lack of peace,” the American envoy told participants at the ‘Israel Hayom Forum for US-Israeli Relations’.”
For the record, the widely-circulated right wing Israeli newspaper, ‘Israel Hayom’ which sponsored the conference, is financed by pro-Israel American casino mogul, Sheldon Adelson. The latter is known to be the primary advocate behind Trump’s misguided policies in Palestine, including Washington’s recognition of Occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem as part of Israel’s capital.
Greenblatt is but one of several unabashedly pro-Israel American politicians, who have taken the already biased US foreign policy to a whole new low. This clique also includes former US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, and Washington’s Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.
In an interview, also with ‘Israel Hayom’ on June 11, Haley tried to assure Israelis that “Israel should not be worried,” about having to make any political concessions in exchange for Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or of Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
“Through the Middle East plan (so-called ‘Deal of the Century’), one of the main goals that Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt focused on was to not hurt the national security interests of Israel,” Haley said. “They understand the importance of security; they understand the importance of keeping Israel safe.”
While Haley’s, Kushner’s and Greenblatt’s statements can be viewed as part of the ever-skewed, pro-Israel language emanating from Washington, one must not be too hasty. The fact is, Washington has now fully embraced the Zionist Israeli discourse without the slightest attempt at playing the role of the impartial arbitrator.
It is as if Haley et al are now members of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s right wing Likud party.
But no one represents this blatant American realignment into the Israeli camp better than Ambassador Friedman, who has, in an interview with the New York Times, on June 8, backed any future Israeli annexation of parts of the Occupied West Bank.
A few weeks later, in a disturbing and highly symbolic gesture, the American Ambassador carried a sledgehammer and broke open a tunnel that snakes underneath the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. The tunnel, part of Israel’s expansionistic policy in Occupied Jerusalem, has already damaged the foundation of over 80 Palestinian homes.
The determined and gratified look on Friedman’s face spoke volumes about the ‘hysterical, erratic’ and extremist US foreign policy under Trump.
So what hope is left for the PA in Ramallah, now that Washington has taken all the political, financial and every other practical step to sideline Palestinians, to marginalize their rights and push them into submission? And what good will appealing to American sensibilities through CNN and any other platform do, considering that Washington’s strategy is deeply entrenched and irrevocable?
Much can be said about Palestinian failure to change course when it became repeatedly clear since the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993, that Washington has no interest in pressuring Israel to end illegal settlement construction and to respect international law. Worse, while Washington paid lip service to ‘peace’, it supported the Israeli war machine, military occupation and settlement construction with billions of dollars.
While it is good that the PA is finally waking up to the fact that subscribing to Washington’s foreign policy book is a historic mistake, mere awareness is simply not enough.
It is time for the Palestinians to write their own book, one that is guided by the concept of national liberation, not endless negotiations; one that is predicated on unity, not mortifying factionalism; one that appeals to the whole global community, not to American handouts.
Donald Trump’s supposed “deal of the century”, offering the Palestinians economic bribes in return for political submission, is the endgame of western peace-making, the real goal of which has been failure, not success.
For decades, peace plans have made impossible demands of the Palestinians, forcing them to reject the terms on offer and thereby create a pretext for Israel to seize more of their homeland.
The more they have compromised, the further the diplomatic horizon has moved away – to the point now that the Trump administration expects them to forfeit any hope of statehood or a right to self-determination.
Even Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and architect of the peace plan, cannot really believe the Palestinians will be bought off with their share of the $50 billion inducement he hoped to raise in Bahrain last week.
That was why the Palestinian leadership stayed away.
But Israel’s image managers long ago coined a slogan to obscure a policy of incremental dispossession, masquerading as a peace process: “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
It is worth examining what those landmark “missed opportunities” consisted of.
The first was the United Nations’ Partition Plan of late 1947. In Israel’s telling, it was Palestinian intransigence over dividing the land into separate Jewish and Arab states that triggered war, leading to the creation of a Jewish state on the ruins of most of the Palestinians’ homeland.
But the real story is rather different.
The recently formed UN was effectively under the thumb of the imperial powers of Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. All three wanted a Jewish state as a dependent ally in the Arab-dominated Middle East.
Fueled by the dying embers of western colonialism, the Partition Plan offered the largest slice of the Palestinian homeland to a minority population of European Jews, whose recent immigration had been effectively sponsored by the British empire.
As native peoples elsewhere were being offered independence, Palestinians were required to hand over 56 per cent of their land to these new arrivals. There was no chance such terms would be accepted.
However, as Israeli scholars have noted, the Zionist leadership had no intention of abiding by the UN plan either. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s founding father, called the Jewish state proposed by the UN “tiny”. He warned that it could never accommodate the millions of Jewish immigrants he needed to attract if his new state was not rapidly to become a second Arab state because of higher Palestinian birth rates.
Ben Gurion wanted the Palestinians to reject the plan, so that he could use war as a chance to seize 78 per cent of Palestine and drive out most of the native population.
For decades, Israel was happy to entrench and, after 1967, expand its hold on historic Palestine.
In fact, it was Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who made the biggest, unreciprocated concessions to peace. In 1988, he recognised Israel and, later, in the 1993 Olso accords, he accepted the principle of partition on even more dismal terms than the UN’s – a state on 22 per cent of historic Palestine.
Even so, the Oslo process stood no serious chance of success after Israel refused to make promised withdrawals from the occupied territories. Finally, in 2000 President Bill Clinton called together Arafat and Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak to a peace summit at Camp David.
Arafat knew Israel was unwilling to make any meaningful compromises and had to be bullied and cajoled into attending. Clinton promised the Palestinian leader he would not be blamed if the talks failed.
Israel ensured they did. According to his own advisers, Barak “blew up” the negotiations, insisting that Israel hold on to occupied East Jerusalem, including the Al Aqsa mosque, and large areas of the West Bank. Washington blamed Arafat anyway, and refashioned Israel’s intransigence as a “generous offer”.
A short time later, in 2002, Saudi Arabia’s Peace Initiative offered Israel normal relations with the Arab world in return for a minimal Palestinian state. Israel and western leaders hurriedly shunted it into the annals of forgotten history.
After Arafat’s death, secret talks through 2008-09 – revealed in the Palestine Papers leak – showed the Palestinians making unprecedented concessions. They included allowing Israel to annex large tracts of East Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ expected capital.
Negotiator Saeb Erekat was recorded saying he had agreed to “the biggest [Jerusalem] in Jewish history” as well as to only a “symbolic number of [Palestinian] refugees’ return [and a] demilitarised state … What more can I give?”
It was a good question. Tzipi Livni, Israel’s negotiator, responded, “I really appreciate it” when she saw how much the Palestinians were conceding. But still her delegation walked away.
Trump’s own doomed plan follows in the footsteps of such “peace-making”.
In a New York Times commentary last week Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, candidly encapsulated the thrust of this decades-long diplomatic approach. He called on the Palestinians to “surrender”, adding: “Surrender is the recognition that in a contest, staying the course will prove costlier than submission.”
The peace process was always leading to this moment. Trump has simply cut through the evasions and equivocations of the past to reveal where the West’s priorities truly lie.
It is hard to believe that Trump or Kushner ever believed the Palestinians would accept a promise of “money for quiet” in place of a state based on “land for peace”.
Once more, the West is trying to foist on the Palestinians an inequitable peace deal. The one certainty is that they will reject it – it is the only issue on which the Fatah and Hamas leaderships are united – again ensuring the Palestinians can be painted as the obstacle to progress.
The Palestinians may have refused this time to stumble into the trap, but they will find themselves the fall guys, whatever happens.
When Trump’s plan crashes, as it will, Washington will have the chance to exploit a supposed Palestinian rejection as justification for approving annexation by Israel of yet more tranches of occupied territory.
The Palestinians will be left with a shattered homeland. No self-determination, no viable state, no independent economy, just a series of aid-dependent ghettos. And decades of western diplomacy will finally have arrived at its preordained destination.
• First published in The National
Israel has controlled East Jerusalem and the walled Old City since the 1967 war in which it also occupied the adjacent West Bank. It has effectively treated them as annexed territory ever since.
To consolidate its grip on the Old City, Israel has demolished homes and expelled Palestinian residents, empowered Jewish settlers, and imposed sweeping restrictions that make it virtually impossible for most Palestinians to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam.
The final status of the Old City has been the subject of various proposals ever since the United Nations’ 1947 partition plan, which proposed that it should fall under a special international regime, separate from the division of historic Palestine into Arab and Jewish states because of its shared importance to Muslims, Jews and Christians.
The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as the capital of a future state, while Israeli leaders have claimed Jerusalem as the state’s “eternal capital” since 1949.
The Old City has huge historic, economic, religious and now national symbolism for both Palestinians and Israelis, particularly because of the Al-Aqsa compound, known as Haram al-Sharif to Muslims and Temple Mount to Jews. This is the most explosive issue in an already incendiary conflict.
But US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in May 2018 appeared to pre-empt negotiations determining Jerusalem’s status by implying US recognition of exclusive Israeli sovereignty over the city.
Washington’s endorsement for such a move in any proposed peace plan – including Trump’s infamous “deal of the century” – would not, however, mark the first time it has suggested that the Palestinian claim to the Old City should be brought to the negotiating table.
At talks in 2000 between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, hosted by US President Bill Clinton at his Camp David residence, US mediators proposed dividing sovereignty over the Old City.
According to the US proposal, Israel would take the Jewish and Armenian quarters, with the Palestinians getting the Muslim and Christian quarters.
Israel, however, demanded exclusive sovereignty over East Jerusalem, with the Palestinians having merely administrative authority over the Old City’s Muslim and Christian Quarters.
Seven years later, at Annapolis, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert evaded the sovereignty issue by proposing instead a temporary international trusteeship administered by Israel, a Palestinian state, the US, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
More than half a century of Israeli occupation has left its physical and political mark on the Old City. Along with East Jerusalem, the Old City is ruled over by a Jerusalem municipality run by Israeli officials.
After occupying the Old City in 1967, Israel quickly sought to secure control of the area immediately next to the Western Wall, demolishing dozens of homes in a Moroccan neighbourhood and expelling many hundreds of Palestinian inhabitants to create a large prayer plaza.
The Jewish Quarter was also re-established, though Israel converted many former homes into synagogues and seminaries for religious Jews.
Shrinking Palestinian population
Palestinians have been unnerved by the number of physical changes around Al-Aqsa and the neighbouring Muslim Quarter that appear to be designed to strengthen Israel’s control not only over the Western Wall but the mosque compound too.
This has included extending tunnels under homes in the Muslim Quarter to make more of the Western Wall accessible. Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to open a Western Wall tunnel exit in 1996 led to clashes that killed dozens of Palestinians and 15 Israel soldiers.
Israel has denied the Old City a master plan, making it all but impossible for Palestinians to expand their homes to cope with population growth.
In fact, rather than growing over the past decade, the Palestinian population has shrunk by 2,000, now down to 32,000 residents. Most have left for other areas of Jerualem or the West Bank.
The lack of vacant space in the Muslim and Christian Quarters has prevented Israel from building Jewish settlements there, as it has done elsewhere in East Jerusalem. It has therefore assisted settler organisations in taking over existing Palestinian homes.
There are now about 1,000 Jewish settlers living in the Muslim and Christian Quarters, according to Ir Amim, an Israeli organisation campaigning for equal rights in Jerusalem. These settlers constitute a quarter of the Jews living in the Old City.
Ateret Cohanim, a settler group, has been at the forefront of these incremental takeovers of Palestinian homes, threatening blackmail, using Palestinian collaborators as middlemen to make purchases, and seeking evictions in the Israeli courts.
Currently, 20 Palestinian families in the Old City face evictions, according to Ir Amim.
Settlers have also been taking over properties in the Christian Quarter owned by the Greek Orthodox church, apparently using each new Patriarch’s dependence on Israel’s approval of his appointment as leverage to force through the sales.
‘Death to the Arabs’
Every Jerusalem Day, an Israeli holiday celebrating the capture of Jerusalem in 1967, settlers march in force through the Muslim Quarter, chanting “Death to the Arabs” and intimidating local residents.
A rally by Palestinians inside the Al-Aqsa compound this year was broken up by Israeli security forces who entered the site firing rubber bullets and stun grenades. Settlers were able to march through the site.
Aviv Tartasky, of Ir Amim, notes that the expansion of Jews living in the Muslim and Christian Quarters brings more aggressive and invasive policing operations that make life harder for Palestinians, further pressuring them to leave.
Over the years, Israel has made it even harder for Palestinians to access the Old City.
Despite Al-Aqsa’s central place in Islamic worship, almost none of the two million Palestinians from Gaza have been able to reach Jerusalem since the mid-1990s, when the coastal enclave was sealed off by Israel with a fence.
Israel’s wall and checkpoints have separated Palestinians in the West Bank from Jerusalem, leaving most struggling to reach the Old City too.
And while Palestinians within Jerusalem have traditionally accessed the Old City via the northern Damascus Gate, Israel has made the gate less appealing by increasing the presence of armed police there, providing them with a guard tower, and conducting regular security checks on Palestinian youths.
Banned from al-Aqsa
After 1967, Israel and Jordan agreed on a so-called “status quo” for Al-Aqsa: the Waqf, a Jordanian-led Islamic trust, would administer the compound while Israel would be responsible for security outside. In addition, only Muslims would be allowed to pray at the site.
In practice, Israel’s interpretation of that agreement has strengthened its hand by allowing it to control who has access to the compound. Sweeping restrictions mean only older Palestinians, and a few who receive permits, are now allowed to access Al-Aqsa for Friday prayers.
Israel has regularly operated inside the compound too. It shuttered a prayer room, Bab al-Rahmeh, in 2003 after it was renovated by a popular Palestinian religious leader in Israel, Sheikh Raed Salah. Despite holding Israeli citizenship, Salah has been banned from entering the Al-Aqsa compound for more than a decade.
Israel blocked Waqf-led efforts to reopen Bab al-Rahmeh in February, leading to clashes with Israeli security forces and a temporary bar on Waqf leaders entering Al-Aqsa.
In 2015, Israel also banned volunteer male and female civil guards, the Mourabitoun, from the compound after confrontations with Jewish visitors to the site. But Israel had to climb down in 2017 after it installed surveillance cameras and tried to force Palestinian worshippers to pass through metal detectors.
Meanwhile, Israelis have been staking ever stronger claims to control of the compound. In 2000, Ariel Sharon, then opposition leader, marched into the site backed by hundreds of armed guards, triggering the Second Intifada.
And since the ban on the Mourabitoun, Israeli police have failed to enforce rules banning Jews from praying in the compound, according to watchdog groups.
Israeli politicians, including government ministers, have become increasingly sympathetic to settler demands to divide the site to allow for Jewish prayer.
Even more hardline groups wishing to destroy Al-Aqsa and build a new Jewish temple in its place have become more mainstream in Israeli society in recent years.
In the two years from 2016 to 2018, the number of Jews reported entering the compound more than doubled, from 14,000 to 30,000.
Christians squeezed out
Christian residents suffer similar problems to Muslims, including planning restrictions and efforts by settlers to take over properties.
But Christians also face specific pressures. As a very small community, they have been severely isolated by Israel’s policy cutting off Jerusalem from West Bank Christians in Bethlehem and the Ramallah area.
Israel’s denial of the right of Jerusalemites to live with a West Bank spouse in the city, or register their children, has hit the Christian community particularly hard, forcing many to move into the West Bank.
Also, a dramatic downturn in tourism for many years after the eruption of the Second Intifada in 2000 left many Christian families in the Old City in financial trouble because they depend on income from souvenir shops and work as tour guides.
A move last year by Israel to tax Church property in Jerusalem was reversed after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was shuttered in protest.
But it was seen by Christians as a further sign that their community is under assault and that Israel views them as an obstacle to its efforts to “Judaise” the Old City, said Yousef Daher, of the Jerusalem Interchurch Centre, located in the Old City.
Daher noted that rather than growing, as would be expected, Jerusalem’s wider Christian population has declined from 12,000 in 1967 to a total of 9,000 today.
Although there are no official figures, he estimated that no more than 2,400 Christians remained in the Old City. He added that Palestinian Christians find it easier to leave the region because of their connections to overseas churches and the fact that they often have relatives abroad.
Shopping mall and a cable car
Israeli access to the Old City, traditionally via the Jaffa Gate on the western side between the Christian and Armenian quarters, has been facilitated by the new luxury Mamilla shopping mall, which effectively serves as a bridge from West Jerusalem’s city centre.
Israel is now seeking to turn Dung Gate, on the south-eastern side and leading into the Jewish Quarter, into the main entrance. The difficulty is that Dung Gate abuts the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan.
Ir Amim notes that Dung Gate is seen by Israel as an important gateway for the settlers as they intensify their takeover of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, part of efforts to encircle the Al-Aqsa compound.
Israel is therefore building a cable car that will carry visitors from West Jerusalem over Silwan directly to a settler-run compound. From there, visitors will be able to enter above ground through Dung Gate or underground through tunnels running below the Old City walls to surface at the foot of the Western Wall.
Palestinians and Israeli activists are concerned that the purpose is to direct Jewish and foreign visitors away from the Muslim and Christian quarters, both to conceal the Palestinian presence in the Old City and to starve Palestinian shopkeepers of the traditional trade from those passing through Damascus and Jaffa gates.
• First published in Middle East Eye