Tag Archives: palestine

Canada’s NDP Suppresses Palestinian Solidarity Again

One side is playing for keeps. They oust elected representatives and block members from voting on efforts to challenge a brutal occupation. On the other side, members defending a morally righteous cause twist themselves in knots to avoid directly criticizing nakedly authoritarian party leaders.

Recently, the NDP national office overturned the vote of party members in Dartmouth-Cole Harbour after they elected Rana Zaman to represent the riding in the upcoming federal election. Party ‘leaders’ excluded the Muslim woman of Pakistani heritage from running because she defended thousands of Palestinians mowed down by Israeli snipers during last year’s “Great March of Return” in the open-air Gaza prison. A prominent local activist, Zaman represented the party provincially in 2017.

In May the leadership of the Ontario NDP blocked a resolution on Palestinian rights from being debated at their biannual convention. According to party member Moe Alqasem, the resolution “was pushed to the very bottom of its list of resolutions on block 4” despite having “as many endorsements as the top resolution on that same list … The appeals committee refused to re-prioritize it on the list, a speech was given in favor of the re-prioritization and the room erupted into cheers and chants for a few minutes. The committee’s decision was next to be challenged on the main floor of the convention, but the chair ‘conveniently’ decided that we were behind on time. There were several attempts to amend the agenda or the order-of-the-day to allow for the membership to challenge the committee’s decision again, conveniently however the chair decided that it was not possible. The chair spent 20 minutes refusing us the opportunity to speak for 1 minute on the resolution. Knowing full well that the membership was supportive of Palestine. Later on during that convention, somehow the order-of-the-day was amended in favour of another resolution and the committee’s decision was challenged in front of the general membership. Several other rules were amended, the same privileges were not afforded to the Palestinians and the Palestine-Solidarity members within the party.”

Recently, the NDP hierarchy undermined former Toronto mayoral candidate Saron Gebresellassi’s bid to represent the party in Parkdale-High Park possibly because she signed an open letter calling on the NDP to withdraw from the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group. The national office took 141 days to vet her candidacy, giving her only 23 days to sign up new members to vote. Then a good number of the 400 members she registered were disenfranchised beforehand and at the riding association vote. At the centre of the sordid affair was Parkdale-High Park president Janet Solberg who was maybe the loudest anti-Palestinian at the NDP’s 2018 federal convention.

According to Myles Hoenig, “Janet Solberg, sister of Stephen Lewis, leader of the Ontario NDP for most of the 70s who kicked out the leftist contingent known as The Waffle, played a leadership role in officiating this election. In a 3 way call to the candidates, she openly expressed her hostility to Saron by stating how she won’t support her.” A former Ontario NDP president, vice president and federal council member, Solberg pushed to suppress debate on the “Palestine Resolution: renewing the NDP’s commitment to peace and justice”, which was endorsed by more than two dozen riding associations before the federal convention. The motion mostly restated official Canadian policy, except that it called for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.”

Six months after suppressing the Palestine Resolution, NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière and party leader Jagmeet Singh participated in an unprecedented smear against one of Canada’s most effective advocates for Palestinian rights. After Dimitri Lascaris called on two Liberal MPs to denounce death threats made by B’nai B’rith supporters against a number of Liberal MPs and the Prime Minister, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs called on MPs to attack him, prompting Laverdière to call Lascaris “anti-Semitic” while Singh inferred as much.

In the lead up to the 2015 federal election the NDP leadership ousted as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations to be candidates because they publicly defended Palestinian rights. The most high-profile individual blocked from seeking an NDP nomination was Paul Manly, a filmmaker and son of a former NDP MP. Manly recently delivered a blow to the NDP by winning the Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection as a candidate for the Green Party.

In another Palestine-related development, four NDP MPs (quietly) withdrew from the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG). They did not do so because someone politely convinced them it was immoral to participate in a group promoting “greater friendship” with a belligerent, apartheid, state, but because they were directly challenged through an open letter signed by more than 200 prominent individuals, as well as other campaigning.

NDP MP Randall Garrison remains vice-chair of CIIG and a prominent anti-Palestinian voice within the party. Any NDP activist with an internationalist bone in their body should hope Victoria-area Palestine solidarity campaigners help defeat him in the October election. There must be a price to pay for egregious anti-Palestinianism. In a similar vein, individuals such as Solberg should be confronted on their anti-Palestinianism.

At the end of May I learned Jagmeet Singh was making a major announcement in Montréal. With a hastily drawn placard in my bag, I attended thinking of interrupting the event to decry NDP participation in CIIG and suppression of the 2018 Palestine Resolution. I hesitated for a series of reasons, notably a sense that disrupting a major announcement by the social democratic party was too extreme. I now regret not walking in front of the cameras to denounce NDP anti-Palestinianism at the launch of their climate plan. Unfortunately, this is the type of action required to force party leaders to have second thoughts about blithely ousting pro-Palestinian candidates and suppressing debate on resolutions opposing Palestinian subjugation. NDP leaders fear anti-Palestinian individuals and groups’ no holds barred brand of politics. They need to know the Palestine solidarity side is also prepared to ruffle feathers.

Enough of walking on egg shells. In Alqasem’s devastating report about the Ontario NDP suppressing discussion of a resolution upholding Palestinian rights he begins by letting the perpetrators off the hook. He writes, “the following is not an attack on the membership, the party or administrators within.” But, how can one not politically “attack” the NDP “administrators” who just suppressed internal democracy in order to enable the subjugation of a long-suffering people?

After the federal convention 18 months ago I wrote: “Over the next year NDPers who support Palestinian rights and care about party democracy should hound the leadership over their suppression of the Palestine Resolution. Every single elected representative, staffer, riding association executive and party activist needs to be prodded into deciding whether they side with Palestinian rights and party democracy or suppressing the Palestine Resolution and enabling ongoing Canadian complicity in Palestinian dispossession.” These words still ring true, even if they may trouble many pro-Palestinian elements within the party (recent developments should be added to the discussion, of course).

For those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but reluctant to openly challenge the party leadership, ask yourself these two questions:

Since polling reveals a higher percentage of Canadians support Palestinian rights than vote for the NDP federally, why won’t party officials allow a clear statement of support for Palestinian liberation?

Is there a point when explicitly antidemocratic behavior that contributes to Palestinian subjugation will no longer be tolerated in a party claiming the mantra of social justice?

It is time the NDP leadership listened to its membership.

It is not the Non-existent Iranian Bomb; it is the Other Existing Bombs

United States (US) demands that Iran promise to halt pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile developments distract from the real intent of the US actions. Knowing that the Islamic Republic is not pursuing nuclear weapons and will react aggressively to sanctions, the US ploy deters other nations from establishing more friendly relations with Iran and from changing their perspectives on the causes of the Middle East crises.

Adherence by all nations to the The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) had potential to stimulate extensive political, economic, and social engagements of the international community with Iran, Investments leading to long lasting attachments, friendships, and alliances would initiate a revitalized, prosperous, and stronger Iran. A new perspective of Iran could yield a revised perspective of a violent, unstable, and disturbed Middle East. Israel and Saudi Arabia would finally receive attention as participants in bringing chaos to the Arab region. Economies committed to Iran’s progress and allied with its interests could bring pressure on Israel and Saudi Arabia to change their destructive behaviors.

Because the demands on Iran can be approached in a less provocative and insinuating manner, the demands are meant to provoke and insinuate. Assuredly, the US wants Iran to eschew nuclear and ballistic weapons, but the provocative approach indicates other purposes — completely alienate Iran, destroy its military capability, and bring Tehran to collapse and submission. Accomplishing the far-reaching goals will not affect the average American, lessen US defense needs, or diminish the continuous battering of the helpless faces of the Middle East. The strategy mostly pleases Israel and Saudi Arabia, who have engineered it, share major responsibillty for the Middle East turmoil, and are using mighty America to subdue the princpal antagonist to their malicious activities. During the 2016 presidential campaign, contender Donald Trump said, Many nations, including allies, ripped off the US.” President Donald Trump has verified that statement.

Noting the history of US promises to leaders of other nations – give up your aggressive attitudes and you will benefit ─ the US promises make the Ayatollah skeptical. The US reneged on the JPOAC, sent Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to the World Court and eventual death (although his compromises allowed the Dayton Accords that ended the Yugoslavian conflict), directly assisted NATO in the overthrow of subdued Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, pulverized Iraq after sanctions could not drive that nation to total ruin, rejected Iranian pledge of  $560 million worth of assistance to Afghanistan at the Tokyo donors’ conference in January 2002, and, according to the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Dobbins, disregarded Iran’s “decisive role in persuading the Northern Alliance delegation to compromise its demands of wanting 60 percent of the portfolios in an interim government.”

Tehran senses it is in a lose-lose situation.  Regardless of its decisions and directions,the centuries old Persian lands will be pulverized.

If the US honestly wants to have Iran promise never to pursue nuclear and ballistic missile weapons, it would approach the issues with a question, “What will it take for you (Iran) never to pursue these weapons?” Assuredly, the response would include provisions that require the US to no longer assist the despotic Saudi Kingdom in its oppression of minorities and opposition, in its export of terrorists, and in its slaughter of the Houthis, and the response would propose that the US eliminate financial, military and cooperative support to Israel’s theft of Palestinian lands, oppressive conditions imposed on Palestinians, and daily killings of Palestinian people, and combat Israel’s expansionist plans.

The correct question soliciting a formative response and leading to decisive US actions resolves two situations and benefits the US — fear of Iran developing weapons of mass destruction is relieved and the Middle East is pointed in a direction that achieves justice, peace, and stability for its peoples.

Despite the August 2018 report from the U.S. Department of State’s Iran Action group, which “chronicle  iran’s destructive activities,” and consists of everything from most minor to most major, from unsubstantiated to retaliatory, from the present time to before the discovery of dirt, (July 22, 1980 – Bethesda, MD, United States: An Iranian operative assassinated a former Iranian diplomat-in-exile, Ali Akbar Tabatabai, a vocal critic of then-Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.) Iranians will not rebel in sufficient numbers against their own repressive state until they note the end of hypocritical support by western powers of other repressive states. Halting international terrorism, ameliorating the Middle East violence, and preventing any one nation from establishing hegemony in the Arab world starts with President Trump sending Secretary Pompeo to confront Israel and Saudi Arabia, two nations whose records of injustice, aggression, oppression, and violation of human rights exceed that of the oppressive Iran regime.

Otherwise, it will occur on a Sunday morning; always occurs in the early hours on the day of rest. It will come with a roar greater than the sum of all shrieks and screams ever uttered by humankind, rip across fields and cities and burn through the flesh of a part of the world’s population.

Guilt of anti-semitism now needs no evidence

A deadly serious tweet at the weekend from Armando Iannucci, the comedy writer responsible for the hugely popular Westminster TV satire show The Thick of It, reveals something significant about the problem of resolving the so-called Labour anti-semitism “crisis”. In response to a tweet by a follower discussing my recent blog post entitled “The plot to keep Corbyn out of power”, Iannucci observed: “Fresh insight on the Labour antisemitism story. It’s all a lie stoked up by Jews.”

It is very unlikely that Iannucci had actually read my post beyond the headline. If he did, it would suggest he has significant problems with basic comprehension. More likely he was simply demonstrating his own misunderstanding of what those of us who challenge the narrative of a Labour anti-semitism “crisis” are actually saying.

There is much nonsense written about how we all now live in our own echo chambers. That may still be largely true if your opinions fit neatly inside the so-called Overton window, which in the UK spans the short leap from Blairism to Conservatism. Stick within this narrow manufactured consensus of supposedly rational policy – neoliberal orthodoxy at home, and neoconservative warmongering abroad – and you will rarely be exposed in depth to any other ideas unless you consciously seek them out.

Cocooned from real debate

But those of us whose politics are considered “radical” or “dissident” are confronted with the ideas of these consensus-enforcers almost every waking moment. There is no escape from the BBC, or the topical TV shows recycling the issues dominating the pages of the billionaire-owned press, or the policy agendas of a political class owned by the global corporations that now run our societies, or the conversations of friends and family shaped by these upholders of the status quo.

Unlike those in the political centre who are reassured each day by the consensus telling them that they are sensible, responsible, sane people, those on the supposedly “radical fringes” of politics must listen to a public discourse that characterises them as deluded and dangerous, as prey to wild conspiracy theories and populism, and now – after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has threatened to break one side of the Overton window’s frame by rejecting neoliberalism and endless foreign wars – as unconscionable anti-semites.

Those in the centre may have spent a lifetime cocooned from real political debate but in recent years they have faced two massive disruptions to their peace of mind: the entry of a “radical”, in the form of Corbyn, into mainstream politics; and the partial democratisation of public debate with the growth of social media. Both developments have proved most unwelcome to the centrists.

They are now horrified to hear other kinds or voices saying things that once would never have been allowed near a newspaper or micophone. When they are exposed to critical voices on new media platforms, they react by characterising them as “offensive”, “populism”, “fake news” or “demonisation”. Their instinct is to impugn their critics’ credibility and motives rather than engage with their arguments, and to shut down or limit the platforms where these alternative opinions can be aired.

Shouting into the wind

Although they have been brought superficially into contact with these ideas, like most people used to the comforts of privilege they can afford not to listen. They understand enough to know that we disagree with them, but they do not care to make sense of why. They hear our noise, they fear it even, but they do not stay quiet long enough to learn anything about what we have to say.

And for that reason we are shouting into the wind, our words carried far off where they can do no harm. When we fall silent, all we hear is a caricature of the arguments we have articulated clearly.

This could not be more evident than in the case of Chis Williamson, a political ally of Corbyn’s who like so many others has found himself consumed by the evidence-free consensus that, when Corbyn was elected party leader four years ago, Labour became “institutionally anti-semitic” overnight.

Corbyn’s commitment to tackling all kinds of racism, of course, risks smashing the consensus on Israel, a country that has been indulged by European and US leaders for decades. Israel has long been firmly in the west’s privileged fold – provided with diplomatic, financial and military assistance – even though, under Netanyahu, it no longer tries to conceal its ever more repressive policies towards the Palestinians.

Incredibly, Israel’s easily documented policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid are not only still unpunished but it has become ever harder to talk about them. Month by month, more western states move towards outlawing the world’s first major solidarity movement with the Palestinians – an entirely non-violent one – which calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it concedes the same rights to Palestinians as it does to Jews in the region.

Not daring to listen

The consensual public narrative about Williamson is that he made an anti-semitic remark to Labour party members. All wings of the UK media, including supposedly liberal outlets like the Guardian, have reported that Williamson was caught saying Labour had been “too apologetic” about anti-semitism. The fact that a video recording of his statement is all over social media, showing that he didn’t say anything of the sort, is of no significance to them. The centrists aren’t interested in the evidence. They are determined to keep the privilege of their echo chamber.

The problem for the so-called “radical” is that the unwillingness of the centrists to listen is compounded by a deeper problem – that like Iannucci, they dare not listen. The mischaracterisation of Williamson’s statement can help us understand why.

What Williamson said was not that Labour had been “too apologetic” about anti-semitism, but that Labour had been “too apologetic” in the face of smears that party members were anti-semitic. He wasn’t minimising anti-semitism, he was defending the membership from a campaign of demonisation that portrays them as anti-semites – something you might think delicate centrists, so ready to take offence, might have understood.

But the centrists aren’t listening to what Williamson actually said. They hear only what they need him to have said for their worldview to continue making sense.

Trapped in an echo chamber

Here is what Iannucci, Billy Bragg, Owen Jones, Tom Watson and Margaret Hodge apparently believe Williamson said:

We in Labour are not interested in the fact that Jews experience racism from our party. We are determined to ignore the problem of anti-semitism they have identified. Instead of taking responsibility for our racism, we are going to blame Jews for the problem. When we say anti-semitism has been weaponised, what we mean is that Jews are plotting against our party. We are writing a new Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Seen like this, Williamson and most of the Labour membership are anti-semites. But only someone trapped in their own echo chamber could really believe this is a view anyone in Labour has actually endorsed. Williamson and the members who support him aren’t saying Jews are behind the smearing of Labour. They are saying the dominant forces of our society are.

And this is where the real chasm between the centrists and the radicals opens up. The issue of anti-semitism has become a shadow play for centrists, offering them a supposed moral high ground, as they try to hold the fort against the ideological barbarians at the gate.

Two views of social conflict

There are two ways of understanding conflict in our societies.

The centrists have adopted as their own an understanding of the world cultivated for them by a lifetime of listening to, and trusting in, the state-corporate media. It presents conflict as a battle between personalities, individual and collective: between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt; between Republicans and Democrats; between Trump and Antifa; between Julian Assange and two Swedish women; between Apple Mac and Windows; between men from Mars and women from Venus; between social conservatives and the LGBT movement; between blacks and whites; between Brexiteers and Remainers; between Jews and anti-semites.

This understanding of the world – as a battle between personalities, and the ideas and values they embody – is the one we are encouraged to focus on by the political and media class. That is for three reasons. First, presenting politics as exclusively a battle between people and ideas keeps most of us divided and feuding rather in solidarity with each other. Second, it has been relatively easy to determine the winners of this kind of conflict when the narrative can be controlled through the state-corporate media. And third, the focus on personalities stops us thinking about a much more profound and meaningful way of viewing conflict – as a class-based, economic struggle.

This way of understanding conflict sees it as structural, as a battle between those with money and power and those without. On this view, society is structured by the powerful to maintain and expand their power. This theory of conflict regards the corporate media not as a neutral platform for debating ideas and values, but as a weapon, one designed to cultivate only those ideas and values that preserve the power of the existing elite. This is what Noam Chomsky and others have called “brainwashing under freedom” by the western media.

The brutal logic of power

The structural nature of power should be obvious, if we hadn’t been so brainwashed to think otherwise by our media. To gain some perspective, consider a different historical time such as the feudal period. It would sound preposterous to offer an analysis that society then was shaped chiefly by whether the king and his barons were nice people or bad. There weren’t dramatic, structural changes every time a new prince ascended to the throne. There was a great deal of continuity and consistency over many centuries because each king and his courtiers had the same economic motive to justify a system preserving their wealth and privilege. A king could tinker with the system in ways suited to his personality, but the ruthless, brutal core of the system had to be maintained. Any king who lacked these steely qualities would be toppled by someone who didn’t.

The same applies today to the heads of major corporations. So long as it proves profitable, Exxon is not going to stop despoiling the planet to extract hydrocarbons, whoever is appointed CEO. Exxon could never appoint a “nice” CEO in the sense of someone prepared to forgo profit and shareholder value – not so long as the current neoliberal economic model dominates. Even were a ruthless CEO to have a Damascene conversion in the job, suddenly becoming a serious  environmentalist, he or she would be removed before they could take any decisions that might jeopardise the corporation’s profits.

That is why genuine radical leftists are much less interested in who becomes the figurehead of a corrupt and corrupting political system than they are in finding ways to challenge the system and thereby highlight how power operates in our society. The goal is fundamental change, now of a kind that is needed to save us as a species, rather than continuing image management.

Corbyn’s rise is so important because he threatens to lift the veil on the power structure, either because he is forced into a clash with it as he tries to implement his policies or because he is crushed by it before he can pursue those policies. Corbyn offers a unique opportunity to hold up a mirror to British society, stripping away the beautified mask to see the ugly skeleton-face below. He risks making the carefully concealed structure of power visible. And this is precisely why he is so dangerous to the status-quo-supporting centrists.

No single Jewish view

But still, aren’t Williamson and Labour members suggesting that “Jews” are the ones behind this, as Iannucci infers? When we speak of plots by the powerful, global corporations, the banks and capitalists, aren’t we really using coded language for “Jews”? And if we aren’t, how do we explain the fact that Jews are so certain that Labour is mired in “institutional anti-semitism”?

“Jews”, however, are not of one mind on this issue, except in the imagination of centrists pursuing the “Labour is institutionally anti-semitic” narrative. Certainly, there are lots of different views among British Jews about Labour. It’s just that only one strand of opinion is being given a platform by the political and media class – the one against Corbyn. That should hardly surprise us if, as I explained, the corporate media are not there to reflect different constituencies of opinion, but to enforce a consensus that serves the powerful.

The problem with Iannucci’s implicit argument that Jews should be left to decide whether Labour is anti-semitic – and that denying them that right is itself anti-semitic – is not only that it assumes Jews are of a single view. It makes two further dubious assumptions: that those who have been given a voice on the subject have actually experienced anti-semitism in Labour, and that they have no other identifiable motives for making such a claim. Neither assumption withstands scrutiny.

When the largely conservative leadership of the Board of Deputies is given centre-stage as spokesperson for British Jews on the issue of Labour and Corbyn, it can speak with no meaningful authority. Its previous leader, Jonathan Arkush, was not only an unabashed supporter of the Conservative Party, but openly welcomed its governing alliance with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, extreme Protestant loyalists, as “positive news” for Jews. His successor, Marie van der Zyl, argues that the Board exists “to promote a sympathetic understanding of Israel” – a position that necessarily drives her and the Board into a profound ideological clash with Corbyn and much of the Labour membership behind him.

Examples crumble on inspection

Those Jews inside Labour vociferously promoting claims of a supposed anti-semitism “crisis” in Labour, chiefly the Jewish Labour Movement and a handful of Labour MPs,  have been much less forthcoming with actual examples. There is no doubt, as we are often reminded, that former Labour MP Luciana Berger received death threats, but it is much less often noted that those threats did not come from Labour members, they came from the far right. Dossiers like the one submitted by MP Margaret Hodge have shown to be cluttered with cases of alleged anti-semitism that have nothing to do with the Labour party. And MP Ruth Smeeth’s infamous claims of an anti-semitic remark against her by black anti-racism activist Marc Wadsworth crumbled on closer inspection, as did her claim to have received 25,000 anti-semitic comments in a matter of days.

The motives of the leadership of the Jewish Labour Movement need questioning too, as an Al-Jazeera undercover investigation revealed two years ago. It exposed the fact that the JLM was working closely with Shai Masot, an agent inside the Israeli embassy whose job was to help mobilise opposition to Corbyn. Again unsurprisingly given that the media serves the interests of power, Al-Jazeera’s investigation received negligible coverage and made almost no impression outside pro-Palestinian circles despite its shocking findings.

As self-confessed Zionists, and hardline ones at that, the leaders of the JLM – representing only a few hundreds members, some of them not Jewish – regard Israel as a supremely important issue, and seem largely indifferent to what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. The JLM and its allies in Labour Friends of Israel have been central to efforts to force the Labour party to adopt a new definition of anti-semitism that conflates strong criticism of Israel with Jew hatred. Jewish supporters of Corbyn inside Labour, who have been highly critical the JLM and Labour Friends of Israel, such as Jewish Voice for Labour, have been mostly sidelined in media coverage or dismissed as the “wrong kind of Jews”.

In other words, when we hear from Jewish organisations, it is specifically the ones that have an agenda deeply at odds with Corbyn’s – either for his left wing politics or for his adamant opposition to Israeli oppression. Supposed “Jewish” opinion on Labour has simply become another echo chamber, one selected for amplification because its message is the one centrists want to hear: that Corbyn and his supporters are very bad people who must not be allowed near power.

Polls reveal ugly racism

But even if all that is true, polls suggest a significant number of ordinary Jews think there is a problem with anti-semitism in Labour. How can we dismiss or denigrate their views?

Well, if only one view of Labour and anti-semitism is being aired in the media, it is almost certain that a majority of Jews will end up believing the truth of a supposed “Corbyn threat”. Jews are no different from the rest of us. No smoke without fire, they’ll say. If the media keep telling them that Williamson said Labour was “too apologetic” about anti-semitism, even though it is documented that he didn’t, then most – those who listen to the BBC and read the papers rather than doing the hard work of their own research – will come to believe it must be true he said it. The evidence is irrelevant if a consensus has been manufactured in spite of the evidence.

Further, the fact that a majority believe something is true quite obviously doesn’t make it true – or right. And that applies to Jews just as much as any other group. If you doubt me, consider this. Polls of Israeli Jews consistently show them holding views that would appall most people in Britain, including British Jews. One survey published in December and conducted by Israeli Channel 10 TV showed that 52 per cent of Israeli Jews are prepared to admit that they think Jews are better than non-Jews, with only 20 per cent disagreeing with the statement. Some 88 per cent are disturbed at the idea of their son befriending a girl from the fifth of Israel’s population who are Arab. And three-quarters are worried by hearing a public conversation held in the mother tongue of this large, quiescent Arab minority.

So if Israeli Jews can be so obviously wrong in their beliefs and values, if the ugliest forms of racism are rife in their society after long exposure to simple-minded Arab hatred from their own political and media class, why should we expect more from British Jews – or from ourselves – after long exposure to a similar media-constructed consensus? To believe otherwise would be to assume that most of us are capable of building our own value systems from scratch, that we can develop a worldview in total isolation from the information and narratives we are bombarded with every day by the media and our politicians.

Whipping up fear

There is a plot against Corbyn to stop him getting anywhere near power. It is a very obvious one, as I documented in my last post. It has taken many forms over the past four years, but has settled on anti-semitism as the most effective smear because it is such a difficult accusation to deny if the actual evidence is not taken into account, as in Williamson’s case – and so many other examples – illustrate.

Is it not telling that the media, while going to such lengths to alert audiences to the Jewish identity of those offended by Labour anti-semitism, have so rarely mentioned that many of those supposedly doing the offending – including those suspended and expelled by Labour for anti-semitism – are Jewish themselves?The media and status-quo-enforcing politicians on both sides of the aisle have whipped up fear over anti-semitism among a portion of British Jews, just as their US equivalents did among a majority of Americans during the McCarthy witch hunts for Communists and during round-ups of Asians during World War Two.

They have done so because Corbyn poses a genuine threat, not to Jews but to a power structure the political and media establishment are deeply invested in – ideologically, financially and emotionally. This class is at war with ordinary people, Jews and non-Jews alike. And it will use any means necessary to prevent disrupting the continuing dominance of turbo-charged neoliberalism, an economic system that threatens all our futures on this planet.

One day, if we survive as a species, when neoliberalism looks as archaic and outmoded as feudalism does to us today, all of this will look much clearer. By then, we may finally understand that we were played for fools – all of us.

Canada’s Justin Trudeau’s Anti-Palestinism

Is Justin Trudeau a racist? He and his government certainly accept and promote anti-Palestinianism. Two recent moves reaffirm his government’s pattern of blaming Palestinians for their dispossession and subjugation.

Last week the government released its updated terrorist list. An eighth Palestinian organization was added and the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy (IRFAN) was re-designated. The first ever Canadian-based group designated a terrorist organization, IRFAN was listed by the Stephen Harper government for engaging in the ghastly act of supporting orphans and a hospital in the Gaza Strip through official (Hamas controlled) channels.

Recently, the Liberals also announced they were formally adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism as part of its anti-racism strategy. The explicit aim of those pushing the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism is to silence or marginalize those who criticize Palestinian dispossession and support the Palestinian civil society led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. The PM has repeatedly equated supporting Palestinian rights with hatred towards Jews and participated in a unprecedented smear against prominent Palestinian solidarity activist Dimitri Lascaris last summer.

Alongside efforts to demonize and delegitimize those advocating for a people under occupation, the Trudeau government has repeatedly justified violence against Palestinians. Last month Global Affairs Canada tweeted, “Canada condemns the barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel by Hamas and other terrorist groups, which have killed and injured civilians. This indiscriminate targeting of civilians is not acceptable. We call for an immediate end to this violence.” The statement was a response to an Israeli killed by rockets fired from Gaza and seven Palestinians killed in the open-air prison by the Israeli military. In the year before 200 Palestinians were killed and another 5,000 injured by live fire in peaceful March of Return protests in Gaza. Not a single Israeli died during these protests.

The Trudeau government has repeatedly isolated Canada from world opinion on Palestinian rights. Canada has joined the US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Micronesia and Palau in opposing UN resolutions in favour of Palestinian rights that nearly every other country supported. In fact, the Trudeau Liberals may have the most anti-Palestinian voting record of any recent Canadian government. In August Liberal MP Anthony Housefather boasted in a Canadian Jewish News article: “We have voted against 87% of the resolutions singling out Israel for condemnation at the General Assembly versus 61% for the Harper government, 19% for the Martin and Mulroney governments and 3% for the Chrétien government. We have also supported 0% of these resolutions, compared to 23% support under Harper, 52% under Mulroney, 71% under Martin and 79% under Chretien.”

Further legitimating its illegal occupation, the Liberals “modernized” Canada’s two-decade-old Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Israel that allows West Bank settlement products to enter Canada duty-free. To promote an accord that recently received royal assent, International Trade Minister Jim Carr traveled to Israel and touted its benefits to Israel lobby organizations in Toronto and Winnipeg. “Minister Carr strengthens bilateral ties between Canada and Israel”, explained a June 20 press release.

In mid-2017 the federal government said its FTA with Israel trumps Canada’s Food and Drugs Act after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency called for accurate labelling of wines produced in the occupied West Bank. After David Kattenburg repeatedly complained about inaccurate labels on two wines sold in Ontario, the CFIA notified the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) that it “would not be acceptable and would be considered misleading” to declare Israel as the country of origin for wines produced in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Quoting from longstanding official Canadian policy, CFIA noted that “the government of Canada does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied in 1967.” In response to pressure from the Israeli embassy, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and B’nai Brith, CFIA quickly reversed its decision. “We did not fully consider the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement,” a terse CFIA statement explained. “These wines adhere to the Agreement and therefore we can confirm that the products in question can be sold as currently labelled.”

Each year Canadian taxpayers subsidize hundreds of millions of dollars in charitable donations to Israel despite that country having a GDP per capita only slightly below Canada’s. (How many Canadian charities funnel money to Sweden or Japan?) Millions of dollars are also channeled to projects supporting West Bank settlements, explicitly racist institutions and Israel’s powerful military, which may all contravene Canadian charitable law. In response to a formal complaint submitted by four Palestine solidarity activists and Independent Jewish Voices Canada in fall 2017, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) began an audit of the Jewish National Fund for contravening Canadian charitable law. Despite the JNF openly supporting the Israeli military in explicit contravention of charitable law, the audit has been going on for a year and a half. The CRA is undoubtedly facing significant behind-the-scenes pressure to let the JNF off with little more than a slap on the wrist. In 2013 Trudeau attended a JNF gala and other Liberal cabinet ministers have participated in more recent events put on by an explicitly racist organization Liberal MP Michael Leavitt used to oversee. (In a positive step, the Beth Oloth Charitable Organization, which had $60 million in revenue in 2017, had its charitable status revoked in January for supporting the Israeli military.)

Of course, the Trudeau government would deny its racism towards Palestinians. They will point to their “aid” given to the Palestinian Authority. But, in fact, much of that money is used in an explicit bid to advance Israel’s interests by building a security apparatus to protect the corrupt PA from popular disgust over its compliance in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement building. The Canadian military’s Operation Proteus, which contributes to the Office of the United States Security Coordinator, trains Palestinian security forces to suppress “popular protest” against the PA, the “subcontractor of the Occupation”.

In a recently published assessment of 80 donor reports from nine countries/institutions titled “Donor Perceptions of Palestine: Limits to Aid Effectiveness” Jeremy Wildeman concludes that Canada, the US and International Monetary Fund employed the most anti-Palestinian language. “Canada and the US,” the academic writes, “were preoccupied with providing security for Israel from Palestinian violence, but not Palestinians from Israeli violence, effectively inverting the relationship of occupier and occupied.”

At a recent meeting, BDS-Québec decided to launch a campaign targeting Justin Trudeau in the upcoming federal election campaign. The plan is to swamp his Papineau ridding with leaflets and posters highlighting the Prime Minister’s anti-Palestinianism. It’s time politicians pay a political price for their active support of Israel’s racism.

Africa and Palestine: A Noble Legacy That Must Never Be Betrayed

Europe’s “Scramble for Africa” began in earnest in 1881, but never ended. The attempt at dominating the continent using old and new strategies continues to define western relationship with this rich continent.

This reality was further validated when I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya on June 23. Although my objective was to address various Kenyan audiences at universities, public forums and the media, I also came here to learn. Kenya, like the rest of Africa, is a source of inspiration for all anti-colonial, liberation movements around the world. We, Palestinians, can learn a great deal from the Kenyan struggle.

Although African countries have fought valiant battles for their freedom against their western colonizers, neocolonialism now defines the relationship between many independent African countries and their former occupiers. Political meddling, economic control and, at times, military interventions, as in the recent cases of Libya and Mali, point to the unfortunate reality that Africa remains, in myriad ways, hostage to western priorities, interests and dictates.

In the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884, western colonial regimes attempted to mediate among the various powers that were competing over Africa’s largesse. It assigned each with a share of the African continent, as if Africa was the property of the west and its white colonists. Millions of Africans died in that protracted, bloody episode unleashed by the west which, shamelessly, promoted its genocidal oppression as a civilizational project.

Like most colonized countries in the Southern hemisphere, Africans fought disproportionate battles to gain their precious freedom. Here in Kenya, which became an official British colony in the 1920s, Kenya’s freedom fighters rose in rebellion against the brutality of their oppressors. Most notable among the various resistance campaigns, the “Mau Mau” rebellion of the 1950s remains a stark example of the courage of Kenyans and the cruelty of colonial Britain. Thousands of people were killed, wounded, disappeared or were imprisoned under the harshest of conditions.

Palestine fell under Brtish occupation, the so-called British Mandate, around the period that Kenya also became a British colony. Palestinians, too, fought and fell in their thousands as they employed various methods of collective resistance, including the legendary strike and rebellion of 1936.

The same British killing machine that operated in Palestine and Kenya around that time, also operated, with the same degree of senseless violence, against numerous other nations around the world.

While Palestine was handed over to the Zionist Movement to establish the State of Israel in May 1948, Kenya achieved its indepedence in December 1963.

At one of my recent talks in Nairobi, I was asked by a young participant about “Palestinian terrorism”. I told her that Palestinian fighters of today are Kenya’s “Mau Mau” rebels of yesteryear. That, if we allow western and Israeli propaganda to define the discourse of national liberation on Palestine, then we condemn all national liberation movements throughout the Southern hemisphere, including Kenya’s own freedom fighters.

We, Palestinians, however, must shoulder part of the blame of why our narrative as an oppressed, colonized and resisting nation is now misunderstood in parts of Africa

When the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) committed its historical blunder by signing off Palestinian rights in Oslo in 1993, it abandoned a decades-long Palestinian discourse of resistance and liberation. Instead, it subscribed to a whole new discourse, riddled with carefully-worded language sanctioned by Washington and its European allies. Whenever Palestinians dared to deviate from their assigned role, they were decreed by the west to return to the negotiating table,” as the latter became a metaphor of obedience and submission.

Throughout these years, Palestinians mostly abandoned their far more meaningful alliances in Africa. Instead, they endlessly appealed to the goodwill of the west, hoping that the very colonial powers that have primarily created, sustained and armed Israel, would miraculously become more balanced and humane.

However, Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, etc., remained committed to Israel and, despite occasional polite criticism of the Israeli government, continued to channel their weapons, warplanes and submarines to every Israeli government that has ruled over Palestinians for the last seven decades.

Alas, while Palestinians were learning their painful lesson, betrayed repeatedly by those who avowed to respect democracy and human rights, many African nations began seeing in Israel a possible ally. Kenya is, sadly, one of those countries.

Understanding the significance of Africa in terms of its economic and political potential (support for Israel at the UN General Assembly), right wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has launched his own “Scramble for Africa”. Netanyahu’s diplomatic conquests on the continent have been celebrated by Israeli media as “historic”, while the Palestinian leadership remained oblivious to the rapidly changing political landscape.

Kenya is one of Israel’s success stories. In November 2017, Netanyahu attended the inauguration of Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, who supposedly received an astonishing 98% of votes in the last elections. While Kenyans rose in rebellion against their corrupt ruling classes, Netanyahu was seen embracing Kenyatta as a dear friend and ally.

Netanyahu’s strategy in Kenya – and the rest of Africa – has been based on the same logic, where Israel would use its security technology to support corrupt and undemocratic regimes, in exchange for their political support.

Tel Aviv had hoped that the first-ever Israel-Africa summit in Togo would usher in a complete paradigm shift in Israeli-African relations. However, the October 2017 conference never actualized, due to pressure by various African countries, including South Africa. There is still enough support for Palestine on the continent to defeat Israeli stratagem. But that could change soon in favor of Israel, if Palestinians and their allies do not wake up to the alarming reality.

The Palestinian leadership, intellectuals, artists and civil society ambassadors must shift their attention back to the Southern hemisphere – Africa, in particular – rediscovering the untapped wealth of true, unconditional human solidarity that is provided by the peoples of this ever-generous continent.

The legendary Tanzanian freedom fighter, Mwalimu Nyerere – who is also celebrated in Kenya – knew too well where his solidarity lay. “We have never hesitated in our support for the right of the people of Palestine to have their own land,” he once said, a sentiment that was repeated by the iconic late South African leader, Nelson Mandela, and many other African liberation leaders.

This generation of African leaders should not deviate from that noble legacy. If they betray it, they betray themselves, along with the righteous struggles of their own peoples.

Quebec Movement for Peace disrupts a Speech by Irwin Cotler on “Canada as a Human Rights Leader”

Last week members of Quebec Movement for Peace disrupted a speech by Irwin Cotler on “Canada as a Human Rights leader” (at the last-minute ‘deputy’ foreign minister, Rob Oliphant, canceled his participation). With “Free Palestine” signs in hand, filmmaker Malcolm Guy and I took the stage to denounce Cotler’s anti-Palestinian positions and support for intervention in Venezuela and Iran. After we were ushered off the stage lawyer Dimitri Lascaris rose to interrogate the supposed human rights activist for refusing to criticize injustices inflicted upon Palestinians. Part of the way through Lascaris’ grilling a handful of us at the back of the room began chanting “Cotler, Cotler, you will see Palestine will be free”, as one can hear in this video viewed over 10,000 times.

The Electronic Intifada, Media Coop, Algemeiner and Canadian Jewish News (twice) reported on the intervention (CPAC was purportedly live streaming the event). Prominent anti-Palestinian activists such as Gerald Steinberg, Hillel Neuer, Avi Benlolo and Bernie Farber decried our challenge of their hero. Head of the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG), Michael Levitt created the Twitter hashtag StandWithCotler and called on other MPs to support it, which was duly followed by his CIIG colleagues, including disgraceful NDP MP Randall Garrison. In the House of Commons CIIG Vice-Chair David Sweet asked the government to condemn our disruption of Cotler. The Conservative MP noted, “on Monday he was disrupted and berated during a speech at Concordia University in an attempt by protesters to shut him down.” (After 10 minutes we voluntarily left the room and Cotler spoke extensively.) Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Oliphant, who was scheduled to speak alongside Cotler, expressed the government’s solidarity with the former Liberal party justice minister.

Cotler is a vicious anti-Palestinian who aggressively criticizes “enemy” states while largely ignoring rights violations committed by Canada and the US. In “Canadian apologist for Israeli war crimes nominated for Peace Prize” I detail Cotler’s long-standing devotion to Israeli violence and recent promotion of war on Iran and regime change in Venezuela. But, since that story was published in March more details have emerged about Cotler’s ethno-centrism and promotion of violence. In recent days Cotler has been widely quoted criticizing the use of the term “genocide” in the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

According to an Israel National News story, Cotler supports relocating Canada’s embassy to Jerusalem. During “Keep Jerusalem” leader Chaim Silberstein’s visit to Canada last month, Cotler reportedly “expressed enthusiasm” for moving the Canadian embassy and “promised to help promote” the idea within the Liberal party.

In response to our action activist Ron Saba shared a photo of Cotler at last year’s Jewish National Fund fundraiser in Toronto. The explicitly racist JNF excludes the 20-25% of non-Jewish Israelis from its vast landholdings mostly stolen from Palestinians in 1948. In 2017 the Canada Revenue Agency initiated an (ongoing) audit of the JNF for supporting the Israeli military in contravention of Canadian charitable law.

For his part, Masud Sheikh responded to our action by uploading a video — apparently scrubbed from the Internet after previously reaching a Canadian audience — of the Nobel Peace Prize nominee advising Israel on planning a war. Just after Israel killed 1,200 Lebanese in the summer of 2006 Cotler spoke to a conference of top Israeli military officials on the importance of managing the message in modern war.

He did something similar after an earlier Israeli invasion of its northern neighbour. In an April article retired Guelph professor Michael Keefer wrote: “In the wake of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, in the course of which some 15,000 civilians were killed and several thousand Palestinians massacred in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, Cotler participated in a 1984 Jerusalem conference on Hasbara: Israel’s Public Image. Alluding to two of the lesser PR disasters of the war—the IDF’s violation of the Canadian ambassador to Lebanon’s diplomatic immunity, and a Canadian Red Cross doctor’s allegations of Israeli atrocities—Cotler recommended, not that Israel change its behaviour, but rather that it ‘make Hasbara a priority’ and enhance its capacity to offer ‘an authoritative rebuttal’ to such stories.”

In that article Keefer points out that Antony Lerman, founding editor of Antisemitism World Report, called Cotler “one of the key figures” promoting the idea of a “new antisemitism”. Since the 1970s he’s been arguing that criticism of Israel is the “new antisemitism”.

In a remarkable 2002 essay titled “Human Rights and the New Anti-Jewishness” Cotler lays out his thinking, suggesting a confrontation between the “secular religion” of human rights and Jewish “civil religion” of Zionism. He argues that criticizing Israeli human rights violations is “the contemporary analogue to the medieval indictment of the Jew as the ‘poisoner of the wells.’ In other words, in a world in which human rights has emerged as the new secular religion of our time, the portrayal of Israel as the metaphor for a human rights violator is an indictment of Israel as the ‘new anti-Christ’ — as the ‘poisoner of the international wells’ encompassing all the ‘teaching of contempt’ for the ‘Jew among the Nations,’ this new antisemitism implies.”

Cotler further argues that antisemitism has retained its consistent essence as “an assault upon whatever is the core of Jewish self-definition at any moment in time—be it the Jewish religion at the time of classical antisemitism, or the State of Israel as the ‘civil religion’ of the Jewish people under this new anti-Jewishness.” So, because most Jews identify with Israel criticizing that country’s violence or dispossession of Palestinians is anti-Semitic.

Challenging Cotler is important. All high-profile anti-Palestinians should be asked tough questions and hopefully our intervention inspires others to take similar actions. But, it’s also about de-mystifying an individual who retains a progressive gloss. Last month NDP MP Hélène Laverdière and Green Party leader Elizabeth May attended a press conference organized by Cotler calling on Canada to impose sanctions on Iranian officials and list the country’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. New NDP foreign critic Guy Caron participated in a subsequent event on Iran and NDP MP Murray Rankin and May regularly attend events led by Cotler. May and Rankin are also part of the Cotler-led Raoul Wallenberg All-Party Parliamentary Caucus for Human Rights.

The Cotler ‘brand’ should be toxic on the Left. Politicians need to know that many Canadians — as Lascaris put it in his concluding statement to Cotler — consider him “a fraud when it comes to human rights.”

A Second Israeli Election proves Netanyahu’s Grip on Power is Slipping

In a sign of how politically vulnerable he has rapidly become, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu plunged Israel into new elections last week – less than two months after his far-right bloc appeared to win at the ballot box.

Netanyahu was forced to dissolve the 120-member parliament to block his chief rival, Benny Gantz, from getting a chance to assemble an alternative governing coalition.

Gantz, a former army general who heads the Blue and White party, won 35 seats, the same number as Netanyahu’s Likud party, in the April election, but had fewer potential allies to form a majority. So in September, Israelis will cast their votes afresh.

The ostensible reason for the parliament’s dissolution is a stand-off between Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, his former defence minister. They clashed over Lieberman’s insistence that ultra-orthodox Jews be drafted into the army.

But Lieberman, it seems, chose to turn a relatively marginal issue into a full-blown crisis as a way to unseat the prime minister.

To win a far-right majority, Netanyahu needed not only Lieberman’s small Yisrael Beiteinu party but also the ultra-Orthodox parties, which vehemently oppose conscription.

Netanyahu grew so desperate that at the last moment he tried – unsuccessfully – to woo Avi Gabbay, leader of the centrist Labour party. Labour was crushed in April, receiving just six seats, its lowest-ever result.

Netanyahu’s panic was fully justified. He is due to face a hearing in October, when it is widely expected he will be indicted on multiple corruption charges.

With parliament’s dissolution, he no longer has time to pass two pieces of legislation that could have absolved him of charges before the October deadline. First, he needed an immunity law exempting him from trial, and then a so-called “override law” to prevent Israel’s supreme court from using its powers of judicial review to rule the immunity law unconstitutional.

Gabbay objected to Netanyahu insisting on support for the immunity law as the price for Labour’s inclusion in the coalition.

Ayman Odeh, leader of the biggest party representing Israel’s Palestinian minority, one-fifth of the population, mocked Netanyahu’s frantic bargaining.

He provoked much mirth from other legislators by joking that Netanyahu had offered an “end to the occupation” and a promise to “recognise the historic wrongs of the Nakba”, the Palestinians’ dispossession by Israel in 1948, in return for Palestinian parties supporting the immunity law.

Lieberman also humiliated Netanyahu, albeit without the humour. He understood that the prime minister was in no position to haggle.

The gain for Lieberman is that by proposing a bill to draft ultra-orthodox Jews into the army, he appealed to secular Jews. That, he hopes, will win him new supporters in the September election, setting him up again to be kingmaker.

Netanyahu will not be able to count on Lieberman’s support and that in turn puts pressure on Likud to drop its leader.

But there is another, less obvious, way that Lieberman can strengthen his own hand.

The battle lines in the new election, like the last, are between the far-right parties, led Netanyahu, and the centre-right parties, led by Gantz.

Lieberman can now hedge his bets. The far-right has become more overtly religious, with the rise of ideological settlers to prominence and rapid growth of the ultra-orthodox electorate.

Lieberman’s appeal, meanwhile, has been restricted to a declining constituency of disgruntled immigrants from the former Soviet Union, whose politics is ultra-nationalist but implacably secular.

And this gives him reason to want to influence Gantz’s Blue and White party, which is largely secular too.

In recent weeks, a political “resistance” movement has emerged in Israel against Netanyahu, echoing the one against Donald Trump in the US. With Gantz as its figurehead, it has mobilised over the threat Netanyahu poses to Israel’s system of checks and balances.

The chief concern has been the far-right’s intensifying assault on the supreme court, the last relatively liberal institution. The override law, which would neuter the court, has epitomised, for the centre-right, the intensifying erosion of even the most superficial of democratic norms.

Tens of thousands of Israelis attended a protest last month against Netanyahu and his legal manoeuvres.

But Odeh, the most prominent of the Palestinian minority’s leaders, was not invited – not until Gantz had a last-minute change of heart.

Without the Palestinian parties’ 10 or more seats in the parliament behind him, Gantz currently has little hope of tipping the balance in his favour against Netanyahu at the forthcoming election.

Lieberman, a settler, has a special loathing for Palestinian legislators. He has even called for them to be executed. One option is for him to lure Gantz away from Odeh, promising that his Yisrael Beinteinu party can serve up the the keys to the castle after September’s election.

What does all this jostling mean for the Palestinians?

If he can win again, Netanyahu will doubtless scheme to avert a trial and hope to carry on as before.

If he is felled, a successor from his Likud party is unlikely to prove either more moderate or more amenable to Palestinian ambitions for statehood. Likud has lurched significantly to the far-right over the past decade.

But Gantz, the only plausible alternative, is no peacenik either. He oversaw the terrible destruction of Gaza in 2014, supports keeping most of the settlements in place and seems unlikely to pay more than lip service to a peace process.

Should he find himself reliant on Lieberman to build a government, Gantz will have to emphasise the more right-wing elements of his party’s already hawkish programme.

Faced with the current political turmoil, however, the Trump administration might prefer to abandon efforts to press ahead with its “deal of the century” peace plan – at least beyond an initial investment conference scheduled for late June.

That is a reprieve of kinds. All indications were that the plan would prove catastrophically bad for the Palestinians and might have included annexing parts of the West Bank.

But even if that specific threat is lifted, the next Israeli government – whether led by Netanyahu, his successor or Gantz – is not likely to depart from Israel’s long-term consensus, one that the Trump plan was simply set to accelerate.

The settlements will continue their relentless expansion and more Palestinian land will be stolen, eroding any prospect of a viable state for Palestinians emerging.

• First published in the National

It is the Indifference of Israelis that is Killing People

In the past, whenever I went to (or more precisely, ‘through’) Israel, it was for some antagonistic purpose: to write about the brutal suppression of the intifada in Gaza or Hebron, to comment on the insanity of the land grab around Bethlehem, or to report from the eerie and de-populated Golan Heights, which Israel occupies against all international rules and the UN resolutions. You name it and I worked there: Shifa Hospital or Rafah Camp in Gaza, ‘Golans’, border with Jordan, Bethlehem.

I used to arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, sleep one night in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or Haifa, meet my contacts (my left-wing friends), hastily, and in the morning, dash towards the ‘front’, or towards one of the ‘fronts’ that the so-called ‘Jewish State’ sustains for decades at its ‘peripheries’.

But this time I decided to do exactly the opposite.

As it became evident that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lost all his restraint and shame, as it has got clear that the United States will take full advantage of his madness, and as I was convinced that Europe as well as most of the Arab countries will do absolutely nothing to defend Palestine, Syria or Iran, being ‘in the neighborhood’ (Egypt), I bought my tickets to Tel Aviv, for just a 48 hour ‘visit’ and for one simple purpose: to observe Israeli citizens, talk to them, and to try to figure out how and what they think and want; how they see the world, and particularly how they perceive the region where they live, fight and kill.

And so, I flew to Israel, from Cairo and via Amman. Once there, for two days I commuted between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in a brand new, fast and elegant double-decker train. I talked to many people, provoking them to describe the conditions in which they have been existing; to describe their political system, and the apartheid which most of them keep upholding through (as they constantly point out – ‘democratic’) elections.

*****

Of course, the more ‘democratic’ Israel really is, the more shameful the state into which it reduces the Palestinians, other Arabs and, in fact, the entire region. Israeli citizens are continuously voting in the governments that are locking millions inside the camps. They are electing those who are igniting wars and military conflicts in various countries of the Middle East.

Gaza Shifa Hospital — wounded by Israeli soldiers

Naturally, if you live in Beirut or Aleppo, it is easy to imagine that all this horror is happening because the Israeli citizens are simply ‘evil’; in fact, a bunch of blood-thirsty Rottweilers who have been let off the leash by their North American masters.

But when one interacts with Israelis, he or she quickly realizes that, bizarrely, this is not the case.

Many Israelis appear to be slightly confused, shy, and introverted.

They are ‘into themselves’. It appears that they ‘don’t give a damn about the world around them’.

The most shocking thing is not their brutality, but their detachment, indifference and selfishness.

But all of this is not ‘because most of them are Jews’, but because they are Europeans.

In fact, very little is known about the fact that most of the non-European Jews living in Israel (those originally from Morocco, Yemen, Ethiopia and elsewhere) are treated like second-class citizens, or even worse.

Israel is a European ‘outpost’ in the Middle East. The mindset of most of its inhabitants is predominantly European. Talk to people in Tel Aviv, Haifa, even Beersheba as well as in the non-religious parts of the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and you will most likely come to the same conclusion.

The ‘political awareness’ of the white, European Israeli Jews, is precisely on the same level as that of the Europeans, meaning near zero.

The US and UK military are involved in several ‘projects’ – occupations and attempts to overthrow foreign governments, and these ‘projects’ are killing millions of innocent people, annually. But go to Tate Modern or the Covent Garden Opera House, or just to one of those countless funky nightclubs in London or New York, and try to engage people in conversations about their nation’s murderous legacy. They will laugh at you, or confront you, or simply would not understand what are you talking about, and why.

Do the same in France, and most likely, the results would be identical. France is involved in the neo-colonialist projects in Africa, and millions of ‘lower humans’ are being ruined in the process. But how many French people know, and if they do, how many of them care, let alone try to stop it. Look at the Yellow Vests: how many of them are demanding justice for the French neo-colonies?

The mindset of Israelis is very similar.

Classic music at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem

Take Tel Aviv – the biggest city in Israel: it is one of the richest places on earth, with infrastructure better than that in North America or the United Kingdom, with cultural institutions like the Museum of Modern Art, a masterpiece built by the architect Preston Scott Cohen. The green areas of Tel Aviv, public spaces, all this could rank it as one of the most livable cities on earth.

But for whom? At what price to the enslaved, exiled and exploited people of the region?

Does it sound familiar? Like all those museums, cathedrals, parks, public hospitals, universities that Europe constructed on the bones, on the corpses and misery of the Congolese, Indonesian, Indian and other people. All for the benefit of the Europeans, but paid for by the slave labor of “The Others”, as well as by the looted resources of “The Others”.

Talk about all of this in Madrid, Brussels, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Lisbon or London. The chances are, you will not be understood. Chances are, you will get confronted: thrown out of cab or a pub, insulted, or even physically attacked (it happened to me in London, for instance).

Talk about it in Haifa or Tel Aviv, and the outcome would be similar; a bit milder (in Israel there is greater number of self-critical people than in Europe), but those who may disagree with you could be extremely unpleasant, and sometimes even violent.

And then, when all the other arguments are exhausted, the Holocaust would almost certainly be mentioned.

*****

And Holocaust is one word that is, when pronounced, simply supposed to end all arguments and criticism of Israel. It is like a password, to shut everyone up.

The Holocaust is then connected to the exodus of the Jews from Europe to the Middle East, after the end of the WWII. “Millions of Jews were killed, therefore they had full right to move, or to be moved, to the Middle East”, the argument goes.

It is bizarre, and powerful proof of how intellectually obedient and ‘shy’ the Western, as well as the Israeli public, has become.

Mentioning Holocaust should not be ‘the end’: this is precisely where the discussion should begin!

The Holocaust was committed by the Europeans (Germans, but also by several of its allies) against the Jews, the Roma and Communists. Millions of people died atrocious, unimaginably terrible deaths.

And then?

In a typically cynical and sinister British colonialist way, the perpetrators got rewarded, and then new victims created.

Germany got fully rebuilt, while Palestinians (un-people in the British minds), were singled out as those who were supposed to pay for the European crimes.

Why not award the Jews with the entire Bavaria? That’s where Hitler came from. That’s where his early supporters were living. This is where some terrible killings were perpetrated.

Bavaria, Germany, Central Europe, is where millions of Jews felt at home, before the Nazi madness began. For example, the greatest writer of the 20th Century – Franz Kafka: he often described himself as a Czech, of Jewish origin, who wrote in the German language.

Before they realized the gravity and monstrosity of the situation, most of the Jews in Germany simply felt ‘betrayed’. As far as they were concerned, they were Europeans, not any less than that perverted freak Adolf Hitler, or his beer-guzzling buddies.

So, why not Bavaria, as compensation? Why Palestine?

The unpronounced truth has been: because the UK and US wanted that mighty Middle Eastern outpost, and because they wanted a powerful, industrialized Germany again, precisely where it was before and during the war.

Because the Allies knew: in terrible pain, full of outrage, the European Jews would come to Palestine and almost in unison declare: “Never Again!” “We will fight for our survival right now and right here!”

The sad reality was, however, that it was not Arabs, not Palestinians, who burnt the Jewish people in the concentration camps. The Arabs were actually fellow victims, suffering from different horrors – the horrors of European colonialism.

Instead of uniting the two groups of people, two victims, against European racism, colonialism and imperialism, the Brits and others succeeded in ‘dividing and ruling’ them; a horrid imperialist tactic they have been using all over the world, for the long centuries.

*****

Of course, after the horrors of WWII, many Jews went to the Middle East as Communists, or anarchists. They wanted to build a new world. They wanted to turn deserts into gardens, and to live in harmony with the Palestinians and other Arabs, in a wonderful and tolerant state. This dream never came through. Communism in Israel was defeated, and so was internationalism.

Militarism, nationalism and religious extremism (conservative religious parties in Israel are always a political minority, but no government, it appears, can be formed, without taking them into a coalition).

Then came the tsunami of the anti-Communist Soviet Jews, (and those who claimed to be Jews, but often weren’t). Accepting them was clearly a political decision of the Israeli elites – they moved Israel towards the right, and ‘rejuvenated’ “the Israeli struggle for ‘exclusive Jewish rights’, and against the rights of the Arab population. Cynical; tremendously cynical, but it all worked perfectly well – for the nationalists and the conservatives.

For the Palestinians, it was yet another disaster; the end of all hopes.

Like in Europe and North America, the Israeli political landscape has become fully re-defined: extreme right, right, and center-right. The left – Communists, internationalists and real socialists – can only be found in a few avant-garde theatres and at the ‘margins of society’.

*****

So, back to the Israeli life. Its Human Development Index (HDI) is the 22nd highest in the world, above that of France, South Korea and Italy. Not bad, is it?

The question is again – for whom?

The interesting thing was that whenever I tried to discuss Palestine, Golan Heights, Syria, Iran, I encountered no anger. Do the white, European Israelis really hate Palestinians, Arabs, Iranians? My conclusion is: no, they don’t! They don’t, because these people do not exist. You cannot hate what doesn’t exist, can you?

Israeli tank being moved towards Occupied Golan Heights

The bombing of Syrians, shooting at Palestinians – it all has become like a video game. Nothing personal – something that ‘has to be done’ in order to preserve privileged status of European Jews. The same as building the settlements.

You know, when I was there, Tel Aviv was obsessed with new electric pushbikes. Bicycle lanes were full of them. Who gives a damn about the Palestinians?

Modern Art Museum in Tel Aviv

The museums were packed, people waiting in lines for hours for the latest exhibitions. Concerts everywhere. The best stuff. Syria? Screw Syria! Falafel fusion has reached new heights, in countless cafes. Classical musicians were practicing, in front of the public, on grand pianos, at the new train station in Jerusalem; a station so deep that one could have no doubt – it is a posh, high tech nuclear shelter.

Another, even newer station will soon be called “Donald Trump”, as a big thank you for moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

Pianist practicing in front of public at new train station in Jerusalem

In Israel, hardly anyone practices religion, yet on Shabbat, the entire country comes to a standstill. And that is just a few hours after those countless pubs, bars and clubs were regurgitating drunkards, until the wee hours.

Iran? Israeli politicians are professionals. They know what the West wants. And they go out of their way to please. Same as the Saudis, great allies of Washington, and secret cohorts of Israel.

After one day, everything began to feel extremely familiar. I couldn’t help it: I felt that I was in Europe. The same cynicism, opportunism, indifference.

“As long as we live well, we will do anything to keep it like that! If millions ‘elsewhere’ have to die for our wellbeing, who cares? Let them die!”

Opera performances, top notch public transportation (German), luxury cars (mostly German), and classical music (big chunk of it, German again). Top European brands at local luxury boutiques. Cute pet dogs in public parks.

Palestinians do not exist. Arabs exist mainly as a nuisance. Non-European Jews are good for cleaning latrines.

Seriously, have you heard about a Moroccan or Yemeni Jew commanding a battalion, giving orders to open fire on Palestinian women and children? Then ask a question: is it really about ‘Jewishness’ or about European colonialist legacy?

An Ethiopean Jewish reservist … whom is she ready to defend, really?

Actually… Really familiar, isn’t it? The only difference between the UK or France and Israel, is that the distance between London, Paris and the devastated neo-colonies can be counted by thousands of kilometers. From Tel Aviv to the ruined lives of the Palestinian people, it is often just a few minutes’ drive.

*****

Before the holocaust in Europe, Germans perpetrated their very first holocaust in their colony – in Southwest Africa, what is now called Namibia. They murdered over 85% of the native people there, including the Herero tribe. Almost no one knows about it. I went there to investigate, wrote and published reports.

German doctors like Mengele, those who tortured and experimented on Jews in the concentration camps during WWII, were trained by the doctors who previously murdered and beastly tortured African people.

‘Holocaust-deniers’ hate this information. It totally contradicts their ‘discoveries’ that ‘the Holocaust did not happen’, or that “humiliated Germany, after the unjust peace after WWI, just went ‘overboard’.” No, Germany had proven that it could easily exterminate almost an entire population. But African people do not matter to the Europeans, do they? Holocaust is only what occurred on the European continent (although Gypsies/Roma somehow do not qualify as victims, either. In Czech Republic, extermination camps for Roma have been converted to pig farms, with no monuments). They – non-European victims – do not matter to most of the Israelis, either.

When the Holocaust in Europe began, most of the Jews could not believe that their good neighbors – Germans – could commit such barbarity. They did not know their own history, obviously. Germany and other European countries have been committing holocausts all over the world; on all continents. For centuries. The victims, however, were not white, and so they did not qualify as fellow victims.

After WWII was over, and after (mainly) the Soviet Union defeated the German Nazis, many Jews who survived, went to Palestine. As we mentioned before, the murderers were never really punished. Those who had to pay for the German slaughterhouses, were the innocent Palestinians.

But who were those Jews who arrived first? Most of them were those who at the beginning of WWII ‘could not believe that Germans were “capable of committing such crimes”. Let’s face it; they were Europeans, maybe more European than the French, Italians, Dutch, Czechs or even the Germans.

Like Kissinger, who ended up in the United States, instead of Israel. His “Jewish blood” is totally irrelevant. What matters is his “culture”. And his culture is that of a European colonialist, imperialist bigot!

The suffering apart, European Jews were earlier, before WWII, educated in Europe. Their cultural references were those of the Europeans. Most of them saw Arabs with the same eyes as the Europeans observed Arabs in the late 1940’s. Should I say more?

*****

And now, 64 years after the fall of the Reichstag, Israel is an inseparable part of the “Western civilization”. Which means; it is obsessed with its complex of superiority. It is fully convinced, fanatically, that the only truth is the European and North American truth. It would not hesitate to sacrifice millions of non-Western/non-Jewish lives, for the advancement of their own cause. Justice exists only for the white Jews, as well as for the Europeans, and North Americans.

Israel is not a ‘fascist country’. But it is an apartheid state, the same as the West, which treats the entire planet in an apartheid-style manner. It is what it is. Apartheid is used in order to guarantee a great life for its own people, and to hell with the rest.

Israel is fully integrated into the horrible imperialist adventures of the West, all over the Middle East, in Africa and Kashmir, in the Philippines and many other parts of the world.

And, like in the West, its people know nothing, want to know nothing, care about nothing except themselves.

Vacation in Australia, Thailand or Mexico? It can be discussed for long hours. That matters. But not the lives of conquered and colonized people.

I did not like what I saw and heard in Israel. As I do not like what I see and hear in Amsterdam, Hamburg, Paris or Madrid.

The same self-righteousness, hypocrisy, arrogance and brutality:

“You do it our way, or we will break your legs. We can bomb your cities, steal your land, but you shoot back at us, and we will bomb you back to the Stone Age. Why? Because, we simple can, because, we are part of that omnipotent Western world. Because you know what we can do if you start defending yourself! Because you are scared, frightened into submission. And above all: because our people are only ones who matter.”

Yes, this is the way the colonies were controlled, first by the Europeans and then by the United States. Israel learned; it learned quickly. From the victims, people can swiftly convert themselves into victimizers.

The Laws of any country are clear on this: Just because many of your family members and relatives were brutally murdered, does not give you any right to start beating, robbing and killing totally different groups of people.

Just because you were victim of racism, does not justify your colonialist behavior towards others.

Yes, as always, I was impressed by Israel’s infrastructure, but not by whom it serves. South Africa, during apartheid, built some of the greatest highways in the world. For the whites. Others were forced to live in the gutter. Israel does the same.

To make it worse, Israel’s Prime Minister is behaving like a war criminal. And he has been re-elected by his own people as a reward.

I believe in collective guilt. The indifference of people, who tolerate theft and murder committed on their behalf, becomes a terrible crime itself.

For long awful centuries, Jews were tortured, humiliated and killed by the racist fanatic Europeans. Now, instead of joining internationalist, progressive forces, Israeli Jews of European origin, have changed their identity, and firmly joined the ranks of the imperialist oppressors. They joined their former torturers.

Now they are committing crimes against humanity not because they are Jews, but because they are Europeans.

First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Was that the Next Palestinian President You Just Banned, Mr Trump?

Hanan Ashrawi, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee Member, speaks to journalists at UN Headquarters. (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

Grandma Ashrawi is more than a match for Israel’s stooges in the White House and whatever ‘deal of the century’ they have cooked up for the Holy Land

So the Trump administration will no longer allow Hanan Ashrawi into the US even though she’s a top diplomat, has family there and visits regularly. Why?

A US State Department spokesperson told Haaretz that “visa records are confidential under US law; therefore, we cannot discuss the details of individual visa cases”, adding that the law “does not authorize the refusal of visas based solely on political statements or views if those statements or views would be lawful in the United States.”

Ashrawi is reported as saying, in her forthright way, that refusal to let her in was a political act and full of “pettiness and vindictiveness.”

Ashrawi, a Palestinian Christian, is something of a hot potato. She was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council representing Jerusalem in 1996 and again in 2006. She has been a member of the Executive Committee of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) for 20 years, becoming the first woman to hold a seat in the highest executive body in Palestine. It is recognised as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people by the 137 states with which it has diplomatic relations. Ashrawi’s father, a physician, was a founder of the PLO.

She has a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Literature from the Department of English at the American University of Beirut and completed her education with a PhD in Medieval and Comparative Literature from the University of Virginia. She is also an Honorary Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford.

Ashrawi has been an official spokes of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace process starting with the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991. In 1996, she was appointed as the Palestinian Authority Minister of Higher Education and Research. Before that she was Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Birzeit University.

In 2003 Ashrawi received the Sydney Peace Prize, an award praised by, among others, Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State. Albright called Ashrawi “a brilliant spokeswoman for her cause”.

Ashrawi, now 72, is a grandmother, and several of her grandchildren live in the United States. So why is America hostile towards her?

Israeli occupation “a most pervasive form of oppression, dispossession and denial”

In a recent article in Al Jazeera, Marwan Bishara reminds us that for the past year and a half Trump and his administration have been showering Benjamin Netanyahu and his apartheid regime with anti-Palestinian ‘gifts’…. like recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv, ending US assistance to UNRWA (the agency that supports millions of Palestinian refugees), quitting the UN Human Rights Council and shutting down the PLO’s office in Washington.

As if that wasn’t enough the Trump administration has stopped describing the West Bank and East Jerusalem (which are Palestinian) as “occupied” and instead calls them “Israeli-controlled”. This gives Netanyahu all the encouragement he needs for expanding Israel’s illegal settlements and pledging to annex them. To cap it all Trump then delivered Netanyahu a splendid election present in recognising Israel’s illegal annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights. Of course, whatever Trump says that territory is still Syria’s.

Western media, when providing ‘balance’ to news on the Israel/Palestine conflict, usually wheel in a Palestinian spokesperson who is unintelligible. Israeli spokespeople on the other hand are media trained and sound very British/American, giving them a huge advantage. Ashrawi has perfect English and is a highly articulate and persuasive woman – an unrivaled expert in Middle East affairs — and capable of reducing Trump and his entourage to mincemeat in any broadcast encounter. Therefore she poses a clear and present danger to their hopes of putting across and maintaining the false narrative that sustains Israel’s rogue dominance in the Middle East.

Haaretz reproduces some of Hanan Ashrawi’s recent tweets. In one she says:

I despise hypocrisy, misogyny, absolutist fundamentalism, populism, racism of all kinds, exclusivity, arrogance & condescension, power politics & militarism, cruelty in any form, & any sense of entitlement & exceptionalism…

In another:

Most of all, I have no tolerance for the Israeli occupation in all its manifestations as a most pervasive form of oppression, dispossession & denial; I have no respect for the enablers of this inhuman condition nor for its apologists…

She tells it straight. And in her tweets she adds:

I’ve met (and even negotiated with) every Sec. of State since Shultz, and every President since George H. W. Bush (present administration excluded); I’ve been a vocal critic of this administration and its underlings; I believe in freedom of speech.

This is one formidable lady! I have her down as the next Palestinian president, head and shoulders above any male candidates. But will the good people of Palestine have a say in the matter? The presidency of Mahmoud Abbas, the quisling loser, should have ended in 2009. But the corrupt system he presides over has allowed him to cling to power indefinitely, to his people’s great detriment.

Jerusalem Cable Car Project Passes Over Objections from Many Quarters

East Jerusalem has received new impetus from the rise of the Israeli far right and Washington’s decision to move its embassy to the city. But if completed, critics say, the long-running proposal would contribute to erasing the visibility of Palestinians in the city they hope to make their capital.

Planning for the $55 million tourism project continues despite unifying archaeologists, architects, Palestinians, and a tiny community of Jews against it – in a sign of Israel’s ever-growing confidence in making unilateral moves in occupied parts of Jerusalem.

Critics say the cable car will help hide the local Palestinian population from the roughly 3 million tourists who visit Jerusalem each year, turning the city into a “Disneyland” focused on promoting Israeli interests.

“The advantage for Israel is that visitors can be prevented from having any dealings with Palestinians,” said Aviv Tartasky, a researcher with Ir Amim, an Israeli organisation that campaigns for equal rights in Jerusalem.

“The local population will be largely erased from the experience of visiting Jerusalem. Tourists will pass over Palestinian residents, via the cable car, and then pass under them via tunnels.”

Israel’s Ministry of Tourism dismissed the criticism. In a statement to The National, the ministry said the cable car project was “a significant milestone in the promotion of Jerusalem and the strengthening of its status as a world tourism capital”.

Settler-run tours

The cable car, the largest project of its type undertaken by Israel, could be completed as early as in two years, its destination the slopes in occupied East Jerusalem just below the Old City, next to Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Some 72 cabins have the capacity to ferry up to 3,000 visitors an hour above mainly Palestinian homes.

Tourists will be channelled from the cable car into a visitor centre run by Jewish settlers in the heart of the crowded Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan. They will be led by settler-approved guides underground, through tunnels under Palestinian homes to the foot of the Western Wall.

Blueprints show that visitors will be able to shop in the tunnels, bypassing local Palestinian traders in the Old City market who have long depended on tourism. Israeli officials accelerated the project by bypassing routine planning procedures, even though urban planning specialists warn that it will damage the Jerusalem skyline and archaeological sites revealing the origins of modern civilisation.

Equally important, critics say, the Benjamin Netanyahu government and settler groups view the cable car as helping block any possibility of a Palestinian state emerging with East Jerusalem as its capital. They have been emboldened by President Donald Trump’s 2017 decision to transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“It should set off alarm bells that a huge state project like this is being intertwined with a private settler organisation, physically forcing visitors to go through its visitor centre, channelling them into its attractions and activities,” Mr Tartasky said.

He said the cable car was one of the ways Israel was connecting disparate settler compounds in the Palestinian neighbourhoods of occupied Jerusalem.

“It will physically strengthen these settler areas, and mean their organisations have an even greater influence on Israeli authorities.”

Encircling Al-Aqsa

The project has been forcefully promoted by the Israeli tourism ministry, headed by Yariv Levin, an ally of Mr Netanyahu, and Jerusalem’s mayor, Moshe Lion. Tenders will be issued as soon as the National Planning Council approves the project, which is expected to be a formality.

In violation of international law, Israel has treated East Jerusalem as annexed territory since it occupied the city in 1967. More than 200,000 Jewish settlers have moved there over subsequent decades

Hanna Swaid, a Palestinian planning specialist and former member of the Israeli parliament, said the cable car was illegal because international law allows major changes in occupied territory only out of military necessity or for the benefit of the population under occupation.

“Even in its own planning justifications, the Israeli authorities are clear the cable car is designed only for the benefit of tourists, Israeli developers and the settler groups overseeing it, not the local Palestinian population. In fact, it will serve to actively harm Palestinians in Jerusalem,” Mr Swaid said.

“It will parachute tourists to Jewish sites like the Western Wall, and marginalise Muslim and Christian sites,” he added.

Palestinians are concerned that the cable car will serve to tighten Israel’s control over access to the Al Aqsa mosque compound, the highly sensitive holy site in the Old City. For decades Israeli authorities have moved to weaken the control of Islamic religious authorities, the Waqf, on Al Aqsa, contributing to repeated clashes at the site.

Jews believe the mosque is built over the ruins of a major Jewish temple. The Western Wall, which supports the mosque compound, was originally a retaining wall of the long-lost temple.

“The cable car looks suspiciously like another means for encircling Al Aqsa, for laying siege to it,” Mr Swaid said.

Tunnels under Palestinians

According to official plans, dozens of cabins will run hourly along a 1.5-kilometre route from West Jerusalem, inside Israel’s recognised borders, to the occupied Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, just outside the Old City walls and in the shadow of Al Aqsa.

Tourists will disembark in Silwan into a large visitor centre, the Kedem compound, to be run by a settler organisation called Elad that has close ties with the Israeli government.

The Kedem centre is the latest venture in the City of David complex, an archaeological site that the settlers of Elad have been using for more than two decades as a base to seize control of the Palestinian neighbourhood.

Visitors will be taken on tours to explore Jerusalem, moving through ancient sewage tunnels that run under Palestinian homes and reach to walls of Al Aqsa.

Additional plans will eventually see the cable car alight at other sites in East Jerusalem. Among them are the Mount of Olives, which includes an ancient Jewish cemetery; the Church of Gethsemane, at the reputed site where Judas betrayed Jesus; and the Pool of Siloam, a bathing area referred to in the Old and New Testaments.

Yonatan Mizrahi, the director of Emek Shaveh, a group of Israeli archaeologists opposed to the misuse of archaeology and tourism by Israel, said: “The purpose is to offer tourists a one-dimensional narrative about Jerusalem and its history. They should see all layers of the city’s rich history. Instead they will hear only the parts that relate to Jewish history.”

Mr Mizrahi has been among those leading the criticism of the project. “No other historic city in the world has built a cable car – and for very good reason,” he said.

Jerusalem ‘not Disneyland’

In March about 30 international architects – some of whom have worked on projects in Jerusalem – wrote to Mr Netanyahu urging him not to pursue what they called short-term interests.

“The project is being promoted by powerful interest groups who put tourism and political agendas above responsibility for safeguarding Jerusalem’s cultural treasures,” the letter said.

The letter followed a statement by 70 Israeli archaeologists, architects and public figures against the cable car in November, when the project was speeded up. They said: “Jerusalem is not Disneyland, and its landscape and heritage are not for sale.”

A French firm, Safege, which worked on the initial feasibility study, pulled out in 2015, reportedly under pressure from the French government over concerns that the project violated international law.

In an apparent bid to ensure the project would go through, the previous Netanyahu government changed planning laws to remove the cable car from local and regional oversight. It also ensured the public could not submit objections.

Instead the scheme is being treated as a “national infrastructure” project, similar to a new railway line or gas pipeline. The National Planning Council offered a curtailed period for organisations to lodge reservations that ended on March 31.

Mr Swaid, who is the director of the Arab Centre for Alternative Planning, drew up a list of reservations on behalf of the Supreme Religious Council of Muslims in Israel.

Other critical comments were submitted by lawyers for the Silwan neighbourhood, the archaeologists of Emek Shaveh, the planning group Bimkom, a Palestinian merchant association in the Old City, and a tour guides group.

The Karaites, a small Jewish sect whose ancient cemetery lies in the path of the cable car, in the Biblical Hinnom Valley, said the project showed “contemptuous disregard for the dignity of the deceased and the Karaite community in general”.

Benjamin Kedar, a former chairman of the Israel Antiquities Authority, lodged a protest too.

Loss of all privacy

One of the Silwan homes in the path of the cable car belongs to the Karameh family. The cabins may pass only four metres above the flat roof where toddlers play and the family of 20 hang their washing. Support columns for the cable car may end up being driven into the family’s garden, one of the few green spots in Silwan.

“Nowhere in Israel do cable cars travel over houses, let alone a few metres above,” said Mr Mizrahi. “It seems clear why in this case. Because the houses belong to Palestinians.”

Samer Karameh, a 24-year-old lorry driver, said everyone in Silwan was opposed to the cable car, as it would be helping settler groups like Elad trying to take over their neighbourhood. But he was shocked to learn that it would pass so close to his house.

“We’ll lose all privacy. We won’t be able to open the windows without being seen by thousands of strangers. And it can’t be safe to have these cars travelling just over the heads of our children,” Mr Karameh said.

“We know we won’t be the beneficiaries,” he added. “The authorities won’t give us a permit to build anything here, so all the business will go to the settlers.”

• A version of this article first appeared in The National