May 8, 2009

A most welcome development is the establishment of a strong and well-organised campaign in the Land of the Free… we waited a long time to see this starting to roll ahead!

US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

Responding to the call of Palestinian civil society to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement against Israel, we are a U.S. campaign focused specifically on a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions, as delineated by PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel):
“In light of Israel’s persistent violations of international law, and Given that, since 1948, hundreds of UN resolutions have condemned Israel’s colonial and discriminatory policies as illegal and called for immediate, adequate and effective remedies, and Given that all forms of international intervention and peace-making have until now failed to convince or force Israel to comply with humanitarian law, to respect fundamental human rights and to end its occupation and oppression of the people of Palestine, and In view of the fact that people of conscience in the international community have historically shouldered the moral responsibility to fight injustice, as exemplified in the struggle to abolish apartheid in South Africa through diverse forms of boycott, divestment and sanctions;
Inspired by the struggle of South Africans against apartheid and in the spirit of international solidarity, moral consistency and resistance to injustice and oppression, We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era. We appeal to you to pressure your respective states to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel. We also invite conscientious Israelis to support this Call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace.

Just look at how things are really decided for Obama, by hundreds of US lawmakers at the best show in town… Of course, we all know there is NO Israeli or Jewish lobby, and that Jews in the US do NOT exert their influence, such as it may be, on the administration in ANY way…

Recap of 2009 AIPAC Policy Conference:YouTube

But behind the glitz, AIPAC knows they are loosing the argument in the US:

AIPAC HEAD fears the growing movement to sanction Israel could fundamentally change US policy towards Israel. He’s right.

One of the most interesting speeches given at the AIPAC Policy Conference was one that received the least media attention. AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr addressed the capacity crowd Sunday night before Newt Gingrich, and he came with a stern and clear warning – there is a growing movement to de-legitimize Israel in the eyes of its allies. He warned it’s growing, it’s successful and it’s coming to the US. In a conference full of fire and brimstone bluster about Iran and the omnipresent threat of annihilation, when it came to this speech Kohr was exactly on the mark.

Kohr moved beyond simply focusing on the familiar bogeymen of Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez and the Durban II conference, and took on what is clearly viewed as a grave threat – the growing movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. During his rundown of the gathering storm he included “400 British academics demanded that Britain’s Science Museum cancel an event highlighting the work of Israeli scientists” and an Italian “trade union calls for a boycott of Israeli products.” He also included the increasing comparisons between Israel and apartheid South Africa. As part of this trend he mentioned Israel Apartheid Week (twice) which he explained,”Its aim, to build boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns as part of a growing global movement.” He’s right.

More impressively, he gave real attention to this movement. Rather than attempting to simply de-legitimatize it with charges of anti-Semitism, he recognized its true motivation: “This is more than the simple spewing of hatred. This is a conscious campaign to shift policy, to transform the way Israel is treated by its friends to a state that deserves not our support, but our contempt; not our protection, but pressured to change its essential nature.” And even more, he knows the movement is building steam:

“No longer is this campaign confined to the ravings of the political far left or far right, but increasingly it is entering the American mainstream: an ordinary political discourse on our T.V. and radio talk shows; in the pages of our major newspapers and in countless blogs, in town hall meetings, on campuses and city squares . . .

And I want to be clearly understood here. I’m not saying that these allegations have become accepted. But they have become acceptable. More and more they are invading the mainstream discourse, becoming part of the constant and unrelenting drumbeat against Israel. These voices are laying the predicate for a abandonment.”

Finally, Kohr threw down the gauntlet:

“There is a battle for basic perception underway, a fight to focus the lens through which our policy makers will receive and perceive all events in Israel and the broader Middle East. And the stakes in that battle are nothing less than the survival of Israel, linked inexorably to the relationship between Israel and the United States. In this battle we are the firewall, the last rampart.”

Kohr said, “in the moment – we find our mission.” And in many ways the threat Kohr identified was an undercurrent throughout the conference. This was seen in the effort by AIPAC to co-opt the divestment mantle by pushing divestment from Iran. Not only is this a focus in Congress, but on campuses and in municipalities as well. After Kohr’s speech it was difficult to see these as anything but a diversionary tactic to keep attention on the real movement for divestment Kohr outlined growing across the world.

As with almost everything at the AIPAC convention, Kohr’s speech was one part theater, one part policy. I do think his presentation was a bit overblown in an effort to light a fire under his troops as they headed into battle. But he could have chosen many other topics to do that with. Kohr understands that the fight is over themes and frames and that regardless of the millions put into the AIPAC convention or the thousands of lobbyists that head off for the Hill, once the discourse shifts and Israel is a pariah, the battle is lost. He explained to the crowd:

“You know, we’ve all heard many times Israel accused of being a Western outpost in the Middle East. To those who make that accusation I say you are right. Israel is the only democratic country in the region that looks West, that looks to the values and the vision we share of what our society, our country should aim at and aspire to. If that foundation of shared values is shaken, the  rationale for the policies we pursue today will be stripped away. The reasons the United States would continue to invest nearly $3 billion in Israel’s security; the willingness to stand with Israel, even alone if need be; the readiness to defend Israel’s very existence,all are undermined and undone if Israel is seen to be unjust and unworthy. . .

Yes, we must lobby for the particulars –Iran sanctions, peace process principles, foreign aid –but our mission now is to do more than work our talking points. We must add context and foundational arguments that help America’s leaders understand the rightness of our cause.”

That is the fight at hand, and it’s a fight that AIPAC and others have been incredibly good at fighting. But Kohr can see the ground is shifting. And in the end, the influence AIPAC holds over the US policy towards Israel/Palestine may end up disintegrating as the myth of shared values is revealed, and more people realize that funding a “Western outpost in the Middle East” is not only no longer in our interest, but is not in the interests of Israelis and Palestinians as well.

Well, we will certainly give them a fight for their money…


New boycott threat from UCU: The Jewish Chronicle

May 7, 2009
Anti-boycott campaigners fear that a fresh attempt could be made to implement sanctions against Israeli universities when higher education lecturers meet at their annual union congress at the end of the month.

The University and College Union refused to comment on whether any debate on Israel would take place, saying that the agenda for the meeting in Bournemouth in three weeks will be published next week. But the JC has learned that the union’s national executive has approved the submission of three motions on “Palestine”, raising the alarm among anti-boycott activists. David Hirsh, editor of Engage, the website which counters antisemitism and anti-Zionism, said that academic unions had been “obsessively discussing whether to exclude scholars at Israeli universities from the academic community” for six years. He said: “The boycott proposal violates antidiscrimination law, the core anti-racist and academic freedom commitments of the union, and it imports an antisemitic culture into internal discussion. “The leadership does not oppose antisemitism even within its own structures, and so will allow the annual Jew-baiting circus to go ahead again this year at congress.”
A number of UCU branches have submitted resolutions attacking Israel over its Gaza campaign with one calling for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador, according to early published drafts. But none of these urged an academic boycott of Israel.
However, information posted on an internal email forum for union academics says that “a number of motions on Palestine” had not yet appeared on the agenda owing to legal advice on the potential risks. The post said that the national executive — which met last Friday — agreed to restore three Palestine motions to the agenda and narrowly voted against seeing the legal advice.
In 2007, UCU dropped moves to implement any boycott against Israeli lecturers after receiving legal advice that it would infringe racial discrimination laws. Jeremy Newmark, Joint chair of the Stop the Boycott Campaign, said: “Whether you are a trade unionist wanting a powerful union or whether you are a long-standing campaigner for peace, it is clear that the UCU has taken leave of its senses. These motions show that the UCU is more bent on small minded retribution than in really making a difference.”

The Israeli regime is now waging war against pacifists, not for the first time. The current target is “New Profile” and the attack on them was reported here over the last forthnight. Read Rela Mazali in the Guardia about it:

Israel’s war against youth: The Guardian CiF

Protesters, activists and draft evaders are being targeted by a broad programme of state repression

Rela Mazali, 5 May 2009
About six months after Israel’s attorney general publicly announced an effort to criminalise dissent, state authorities have upped the ante in their “war” – as the daily Ha’aretz called it last September – against Israel’s youth and against the broad, grassroots protest movement of young Israelis who avoid serving their compulsory time in the military – slandered by officials as “draft shirkers”.
On 26 April, a day before Israel’s Memorial Day, Israeli police produced an absurd piece of political theatre – as Dimi Reider first reported here last Thursday. As if facing down dangerous organised criminals, they raided the homes of six activists in different parts of Israel, who were then detained for interrogation. Exploiting the emotions roused on a day of mourning for military dead, the police action singled out and branded anti-military activists as outside the legitimate Israeli community.
At the time of writing, police have summoned 10 additional activists for interrogation. The activists targeted are members of New Profile, a feminist movement working for over a decade to reverse the militarisation of state and society in Israel. I have been a member since its inception. New Profile intends to uphold the right to open discourse on the crucial issues young people face and we work to change the militarised thinking holding us, all the residents of Israel and Palestine, hostage. Our activism may enrage some, but our activities are totally legal.
The reality is that rising numbers of young Jewish Israelis – as well as the Druze minority who are also subject to conscription – find themselves unwilling to accept the Israeli dictate “There’s no other choice”. Four generations and over six decades of failed “military solutions” have engendered a broad social movement of young people who have severe internal struggles when asked to serve in the military.
Israeli law offers virtually no legal provision for conscientious objectors and Israel’s courts – both military and civil – class the reason for refusing service as “political”, “psychological” and only very rarely “conscientious”. The soul-searching brought on by deciding to serve has caused many young people real distress. In recent years, Israeli soldiers’ suicides have accounted for more deaths than all the other types of military casualties combined.
According to Ha’aretz, the criminal investigation of New Profile is motivated by “growing concern at the defence establishment of a growing trend of draft evasion”. It is not New Profile that is worrying them, we are just an easy scapegoat through which they hope to sow fear and intimidate future draft dodgers. The state has thus declared a war against the many thousands who resist the draft and refuse to place their bodies, their minds, and their morality at the disposal of visionless politicians.
For years now, the army has regularly been exempting tens of thousands from service without difficulty. In fact, several years ago the military and the (very same) defence minister declared a downsizing programme, towards creating “a small, smart army”. Their worry today is rather the popular vote of no-confidence in their easy use of the lives of soldiers – an anger no longer limited to alienated, impoverished parts of society but spreading deep into the middle class as well.
The growing legitimisation of the draft resisters in the Israeli mainstream is also evidence of the weakening of the hold fear has on our society. Those in power, both the right and the so-called “left”, are struggling to keep in place this longstanding means of obscuring political corruption and of feeding the notion of “national unity” in the form of “the people’s army”.

UN laments choking of Bethlehem: BBC

The UN has accused Israel of restricting development of the Bethlehem region in the West Bank.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) said just 13% of land around Bethlehem was open for use by the Palestinian population. It said the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ was hemmed in by Israeli settlements and military zones as well as Israel’s West Bank barrier.
An Israeli foreign ministry official said the issue was beyond Ocha’s remit. Next week, Pope Benedict is due to celebrate Mass in Bethlehem , a Palestinian governorate which is home to 175,000 inhabitants, including many Christians. Two-thirds of the governorate’s 660 sq km (255 sq miles) has been under Israeli control and about 86,000 Israelis live in settlements and outposts in the governorate, Ocha says. Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 war and its settlement activity is regarded as illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.
Cut off
“Israeli measures have radically reduced the space available to the inhabitants of Bethlehem, compromising the future economic and social development of the governorate,” the Ocha report says.
The report says that in addition to the land put under Israeli control under past interim agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), 20% of the remainder is an Israeli-controlled “nature reserve”.

UN experts discuss Gaza mission: BBC

UN investigators are beginning a week-long meeting in Geneva, ahead of a mission to Israel and the Gaza Strip.
The team is mandated to investigate possible war crimes committed by Israel and Hamas during Israel’s incursion into Gaza last December and January. But it remains unclear whether Israel will grant the investigators access to the former conflict zone.
The team, which is led by South African judge Richard Goldstone, was appointed by the UN’s Human Rights Council.
Other team members include a military specialist and a human rights lawyer.
‘Impartial’
In Geneva, the investigators will finalise the details of their mission – their task is to investigate, on the ground, possible human rights violations.This includes allegations that the Israeli military deliberately targeted civilians during the conflict in Gaza, and that the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, used civilians as human shields.
Richard Goldstone has said his team will be impartial, but it is not yet clear whether Israel will co-operate. It refused to work with an earlier UN mission led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Mr Goldstone’s team hopes to leave for Israel shortly, possibly as soon as the end of this week. But unless Israel grants visas, access will be difficult.

UN retreats after Israel hits out at Gaza report: The Independent

Secretary General rejects further investigation into ‘reckless’ military offensive

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

he UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon bowed to pressure from Israel yesterday by trying to limit the impact of a comprehensive critique accusing its military of “recklessness or negligence” in this year’s Gaza offensive. The official UN report – which Mr Ban himself commissioned – criticised the Israel Defence Forces for breaching the inviolability of UN premises, causing deaths, injuries and damage in seven incidents involving UN installations, and on occasions issuing untrue statements about what had happened. But in a covering letter attached to his own 27-page summary of the report, leaked last night, the secretary-general bluntly rejected its recommendations for further investigations into whether Israel had breached international law during the offensive, including by its use of white phosphorus.
Mr Ban’s efforts to draw a line under the report – compiled by a UN board of inquiry headed by Ian Martin, the British former head of Amnesty and UN envoy to East Timor – followed an intensive diplomatic effort by Israel to minimise the damage of its findings.
The report says that the IDF was “involved in varying degrees of negligence or recklessness with regard to United Nations premises and to the safety of United Nations staff and other civilians within those premises, with consequent deaths, injuries, and extensive physical damage and loss of property”.
The incidents examined in depth by the inquiry include the mortar attack on 6 January which killed up to 40 civilians outside a UN school in Jabalya being used as a shelter, and the devastating white phosphorus assault on the UN’s field office compound on 15 January which caused extensive damage.
In both cases, says Mr Ban’s summary, the UN is seeking “formal acknowledgement” by the government of Israel that its public statements claiming that Palestinian militants fired from the installations, were “untrue and regretted”. The report also recommends pressing Israel for compensation for the families of dead and injured UN personnel in the attacks.
The report says that the co-ordinates of the Jabalya school had been given to the IDF and that it had been notified of its planned use as a shelter even before Operation Cast Lead began. It notes that at the time of the rport’s drafting a claim that Hamas militants had fired mortars from within the compound and that the school was booby trapped was still on the Israeli foreign ministry website. It adds: “The Board found that there was no fire from within the compound and no explosives within the school.”
The report effectively accuses Israeli forces of repeatedly breaching the principle that “UN personnel and all civilians within UN premises, as well as civilians in the immediate vicinity of those premises, are to be protected in accordance with the rules and principles of international humanitarian law”.
The report also says that the deaths of two children and the injuries caused to 13 other civilians at another UN school used as an improvised shelter on 17 January were “undisputedly” caused by the artillery firing of 155mm shells which contained white phosphorus wedges.
The report also examines other hitherto little reported incidents, including an attack on the Asma UNRWA school in Gaza City, in which three young men, all members of a families taking shelter, were killed as a result of an “undisputed” single aerial missile. In another on a building opposite a UN health centre in the Bureij refugee after which one patient died, there was no warning, the report says. It says that one attack, on an installation in Karni, was probably the work of Hamas.
The report recommends further investigation of other both UN and non-UN related civilian deaths which have given rise to allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law by both the IDF and Hamas.
But in his covering letter Mr Ban says he is “carefully considering” what actions “if any” to take on the 11 recommendations by the inquiry team. Mr Ban goes out of his way to thank Israel for its co-operation in the inquiry. He makes a point – urged on him by Israeli ministers and officials – of speaking out against “continued and indiscriminate” attacks by Hamas. And he said: “I do not plan any further enquiries.”
Israel yesterday rejected the report’s findings and its Foreign Ministry says the inquiry board “has preferred the claims of Hamas, a murderous terror organisation, and by doing so has misled the world”. Defence Secretary Ehud Barak repeated that Israel has “the most moral army in the world” and laid full responsibility for casualties on Hamas.

What the Pope won’t see…: The Independent

t is 5.45am, just a few minutes before sunrise, when the bottleneck at the entrance to the narrow, fenced-in checkpoint path in Bethlehem is at its worst. There is scuffling when the tempers of the men, many of whom have been up since 3am, begin to fray as they compete to squeeze into the alley to queue for a lengthy series of Israeli security checks of their IDs, work permits, and biometric palm prints.
A sort of order is restored when Mohammed Abed, 48, standing in the queue that snakes back along the grey eight-metre concrete slabs that make up the separation wall, remonstrates. Pressed by the jostling crowd against an older man who by now is wincing and distinctly pale, Mr Abed warns in a loud authoritative voice: “People are coming in without waiting in line.”
This is the first stage of a journey that will – just over an hour later if all goes smoothly, but up to three hours (or not at all) if it doesn’t – land the Palestinian men in Jerusalem with the highly-prized prospect of a day’s hard labour on an Israeli building site, earning between £32 and £40 a day. Though he will enter the nativity city through the wall at this same Gilo checkpoint during his five-day trip to the Holy Land next week, this is a scene that Pope Benedict will not see. By the time he arrives around 8am, the thousands of workers will have long gone; the food vendors will have packed up their barrows, along with the coffee urns, sesame loaves and tins of tuna – up to 75p cheaper than in Israel – that the men sometimes stop to buy for lunch.
Yet if he came a few hours earlier and saw these 2,000 plus men passing through this pen between 5am and 6.30am (every weekday that the military does not order a security closure), the Pope might learn a lot about day-to-day life in the West Bank. If nothing else, the dawn rush at Gilo testifies to the continued weakness of the Palestinian economy and the privations the men consequently endure to provide for their families.
“This is a struggle,” says Azed Attallah, 45, “I don’t see my children. They are asleep when I leave and asleep when I get back.” Many of the men come from the Bethlehem district, but many others come from across the southern West Bank, piling into taxis in the small hours. Mr Attallah, for example, hails from Yatta and spends around £30 a week on transport to and from the checkpoint; others come from as far afield as Ramadin, a village 70km away.
They start arriving at 3am – some with sheets of cardboard to sleep fitfully on – to be sure of getting through in time to work. To qualify for a permit they have to be over 30, married and with at least one child. Once across the other side of the checkpoint, they wait for a labour contractor, an Israeli employer or simply take a bus, or several buses, to the job itself.
The need not to miss the job invariably prompts several men to jump the queue each day by running up one of the other two parallel “lanes” – there is one for returning workers and another “humanitarian” one dedicated to women, children, the elderly and the sick – and clambering over the fence, through the narrow gap under the roof and into the dense crowd. As one such “parachutist” drops over the fence, another worker explains his urgency by pointing to his own mobile phone which is showing a call from an Israeli contractor asking where he is.
Mr Attallah would very much like to see the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas or other Fatah leaders join the queue and see what conditions are like. “As long as there is a wall there will be no economic solution,” he says. But beyond that, he adds, “I have no time for politics. I am just trying to live”. Mohammed Abed, also from Yatta, says: “We have no alternative. The solution is to provide work in the West Bank.”

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