August 3, 2010

Academic Boycott against Israel? Umberto Eco misses the point: PACBI

This opinion piece has a story behind it. When Umberto Eco’s harsh opinion piece against the cultural boycott of Israel appeared in the Italian newspaper L’espresso [1], PACBI decided that a rebuttal was in order. Two PACBI members contacted the newspaper through an Italian colleague to ask that a rebuttal be published in the newspaper. After much negotiation and many emails exchanged with one of the editors, the rebuttal was pared down to a bare minimum, and the newspaper agreed to publish it on 2 July 2010 in the letters section of the paper [2]. However, it transpired that the published version had been further cut down, and that the identities of the authors had not been included. This is indeed a sad commentary on the state of press freedom in Italy, where influential figures are allowed freedom to defend Israel and its criminal acts while those with opposing views are not accorded the space to express their opposition to these views.

[1] http://espresso.repubblica.it/dettaglio/boicottiamo-i-latinisti-israeliani/2127031
[2] http://espresso.repubblica.it/dettaglio/per-posta-per-email/2130083

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On 14 May 2010, on the pages of L’espresso [1], Umberto Eco attacked the growing efforts in Italy in support of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), arguing that “any political position, any polemic against a government, should not involve a whole people and an entire culture.” We agree. But how is that relevant to the debate on the merits of an academic boycott against Israel? Our campaign has consistently targeted Israel and its complicit institutions, not individuals.

One of the most important lessons learned from the global struggle against apartheid South Africa is that refusing to deal on a business-as-usual basis with institutions that are complicit in grave and persistent human rights violations is not only justified; it is an ethical duty for conscientious intellectuals the world over. By colluding in policies that are contrary to international law and infringe fundamental rights, institutions become responsible and therefore accountable. All Israeli academic institutions, without exception, fall into this category, making a call to boycott them imperative in the struggle for upholding Palestinian rights and ending Israel’s occupation and system of racial discrimination that fits the definition of apartheid in the UN Convention for the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.

At a time when Israel is flouting international law with utter impunity, attacking civilian ships carrying humanitarian relief to 1.5 million Palestinians suffering under years of an illegal Israeli siege, killing and injuring scores of unarmed aid workers and other activists, the silence of the Israeli academy is louder than ever. This is quite predictable, though. At no time in their history have Israeli academic institutions, professional associations, or unions of academics condemned the occupation. They never voiced any opposition to repeated Israeli military closures of Palestinian universities, sometimes for four consecutive years, let alone to the denial of the UN-sanctioned rights of the Palestinian refugees. When Palestinian students were detained during the first intifada (1987-92) for carrying textbooks or lecturers arrested for conducting “clandestine” classes, the Israeli academy remained shamefully silent, and Israeli academics for the most part continued propagating a deceptive image of Israel as an enlightened “democracy.”

Israel has, in fact, imposed a strict siege upon Palestinian institutions of higher education for the past three decades. That these institutions have survived and are flourishing is a testimony to their determination and perseverance to resist in their own way an oppressive military regime bent on silencing the voice of the Palestinian academy. In Gaza, Israel imposes a blanket academic boycott, among other forms of siege, preventing almost all scholars from entering or leaving the Strip. The latest manifestation of the siege on Palestinian universities—boycott, in fact– was the disdainful and arrogant Israeli act of denying entry to renowned scholar Noam Chomsky to speak at Birzeit University.

Understanding the entrenched collusion of the Israeli academy with the structures of oppression in that country, prominent Israeli historian Ilan Pappe stated as early as 2005 that “the boycott reached academia because academia in Israel chose to be official.” [2] Citing research by a fellow Israeli academic that revealed that “out of 9,000 members of academia in Israel, only 30-40 are actively engaged in reading significant criticism, and a smaller number, just three or four, are teaching their students in a critical manner about Zionism and so on,” Pappe concludes, “academia has chosen to be the official Israeli propaganda. … Academia is Israel’s most important ambassador in making the claim that we are the only democracy in the Middle East.”

During Israel’s war of aggression on Gaza in 2008-2009, when more than 1400 people, predominantly civilians, were killed; thousands of homes were destroyed along with tens of schools and UN shelters, hospitals and clinics were targeted and the largest Palestinian university was bombed by F-16s, the Israeli academy was not just a “neutral observer.” Several universities contributed actively to the war crimes committed against Palestinians.

For instance, Tel Aviv University (TAU) directly collaborated in developing weapons and military doctrines that were used in Israel’s massive aggression against Gaza, a war that was condemned by the Goldstone Report and the UN General Assembly as constituting war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. [3]

Other universities in Israel fared no better. A study [4] commissioned by the Israeli Alternative Information Center (AIC) documents myriad facets of academic complicity in Israel. Ariel College is built on occupied Palestinian territory, making it an illegal “academic” colony. So is one of the two campuses of the Hebrew University, built in occupied East Jerusalem, in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Technion plays a key role in developing weapons systems used against Palestinian civilians. In fact, institutional complicity with Israel’s security and military establishment is the norm in the entire academy, which takes pride, openly, in this partnership.

Even speaking out for the most basic demands of academic freedom for Palestinians is opposed by an overwhelming majority of Israeli academics. Expressing “great concern regarding the ongoing deterioration of the system of higher education in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” four Jewish-Israeli academics in 2008 drafted a petition [5] calling on their government to “allow students and lecturers free access to all the campuses in the Territories ….” Although the petition was sent to all 9,000 plus Israeli academics, only 407 signed it – slightly over 4%.

Despite this widespread complicity, PACBI has consistently made a clear distinction between targeting institutions and individual academics; we rejected the latter, focusing all our energies on an institutional boycott. This stems from our opposition, on principle, to political tests or “black-listing.”

Inspired by the South African struggle for freedom, PACBI and the increasing number of academic boycott campaigns around the world believe that the Israeli academy should not be automatically exempted from the boycott, especially when its role in whitewashing and perpetuating war crimes is beyond doubt.

[1] http://espresso.repubblica.it/dettaglio/boicottiamo-i-latinisti-israeliani/2127031
[2] Meron Rapoport, “Alone on the Barricades” (interview with Ilan Pappe), Haaretz. 6 May 2005
[3] http://www.electronicintifada.net/downloads/pdf/090708-soas-palestine-society.pdf
[4] http://alternativenews.org/images/stories/downloads/Economy_of_the_occupation_23-24.pdf
[5] http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=792&key=407

Boycott of Israel 2, by Carlos Latuff

Editor: Preparations for another war?

It is customary for Israel to destroy South Lebanon and Beirut every couple of years, as we all know. The last time it was done for Summer 2006, so it is high time for the next madness to begin. The activities which led to this latest incident may well be part of the preparation for the next war.

Four die as Lebanon and Israel clash: The Independent

Tuesday, 3 August 2010
Toops exchanged fire on the border today in a battle which started over the trimming of a tree

Four people died when Lebanese and Israeli troops exchanged fire on the border today in a battle which started over the trimming of a tree.

It was the most serious clashes in four years, the victims included two Lebanese soldiers and an Israeli army officer.
The violence apparently erupted after Israeli soldiers went to cut down a tree along the fence dividing the two countries, a sign of the level of tensions in an area where Israel fought a war in 2006 with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

The UN urged “maximum restraint” and said it was working with both sides to restore calm. After an initial clash of about five minutes, intermittent shelling and gunfire went on for several hours until the fighting stopped by mid-afternoon.

A Lebanese army officer said the battle started when Israeli troops tried to remove a tree from the Lebanese side of the border.

“It was over the fence but still within Israeli territory,” a military spokesman said.

Ronith Daher, 32, a Lebanese journalist who was at the scene, said she saw a UN peacekeeper ask Israel not to allow the Israeli soldier to cross the fence and warned them the Lebanese troops would open fire. The Israelis proceeded, however, and Lebanese soldiers fired into the air. She said the Israelis fired back directly at the Lebanese soldiers.

The Israeli military’s northern commander, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, however, accused Lebanese forces of shooting toward forces inside Israeli territory without any provocation.” He said that while soldiers were removing bushes by the fence, Lebanese military snipers shot two officers who were more than 300 yards away from the fence.

The military announced that a 45-year-old battalion commander was killed and a captain was critically wounded.

A spokesman said Israel responded with infantry, tanks and artillery fire, and later sent helicopters and artillery fire at a Lebanese army base and command centre.

Residents near the Fatima Gate, a one-time border crossing with Israel, briefly blocked a road as UN peacekeepers tried to pass, shouting: “Are you here to protect us or are you here to run away?”

Many in the area view the international force with mistrust, and there have been skirmishes between residents and the peacekeepers in the past.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman denounced the fighting and urged the army commander to “confront any Israeli aggression whatever the sacrifices.”

A Lebanese officer said one of the Israeli shells hit a house in the Lebanese border town of Adeisseh. One civilian was wounded in the shelling, he said. A security official also said a Lebanese journalist working for the daily Al-Akhbar newspaper, Assaf Abu Rahhal, was killed when an Israeli shell landed next to him in Adeisseh.

The border has been relatively quiet since the summer 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war that left 1,200 Lebanese and about 160 Israelis dead.

EDITOR: Academic Freedom Israeli style

Academics can say anything they wish, in Israel – it is of course a Jewish democracy – a democracy for Jews only – but even Jews are to be targeted if they speak; They will still be able to say whay they wish, for the time being, but will lose their livelihood. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Head of Israeli University Demands Ouster of Professors Who Support Boycott: PACBI

The president of Bar-Ilan University has called for Israeli professors who support an academic boycott of their country to quit or be fired.

The statement comes as Israel’s parliament debates legislation that would allow lawsuits against academics and others who support various boycotts of the Jewish state. The bill is not expected to become law, but it is generating questions about the role of scholars at public universities in Israel.

Bar-Ilan’s Moshe Kaveh, a former chairman of Israel’s Committee of University Presidents, is the first leader of an Israeli university to back the dismissal of the handful of Israeli professors who publicly expressed support for a boycott. Last year the president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev had no kind words for Neve Gordon, a professor of politics and government, for advocating an international academic boycott, but did not fire him.

“It’s easy to be brave when criticizing, but someone who has the courage to criticize the institution where he works should also have the courage to quit—and, if not, I as president will make it happen,” Mr. Kaveh told a Jewish education-and-culture festival on Thursday during a panel discussion with the education minister, Gideon Sa’ar, on the nature of Jewish identity.

“How can it be that a faculty member can stand in class and say to his students, ‘Boycott the State of Israel?’ Someone who criticizes the place where he works is ethically obliged to resign,” said Mr. Kaveh.

His remarks were greeted with warm applause from the audience and from the education minister, Israel Army Radio reported.

“When you call for an academic boycott of Israel, you don’t just do harm to the institution that pays your salary. You also harm academic freedom,” Mr. Sa’ar responded.

Menachem Klein, a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan who is firmly opposed to a boycott, said nonetheless that Mr. Kaveh “disregards the fundamental element of academic research.”

“I wish to remind Professor Kaveh.” he said, “that university researchers’ primary responsibility and loyalty are to universal-humanistic values that direct their scientific research, not to their employer.”

http://chronicle.com/article/Head-of-Israeli-University/123679/

Israeli officer killed in clash on Israel-Lebanon border: Haaretz

3 Lebanese soldiers, one journalist killed as Israeli and Lebanese soldiers exchange fire at border; second Israeli officer seriously wounded.
One Israeli officer was killed during clashes between Israel and the Lebanese army along the border on Tuesday. 45-year-old Lt. Col. Dov Harari, from Netanya, was a reserves battalion commander in the engineering corps.
Another Israeli officer sustained severe wounds and has been admitted to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. He is in stable condition.

Lebanese and Israeli troops exchanged fire on the border Tuesday in the most serious clashes since a fierce war four years ago, and Lebanon said at least three of its soldiers and a journalist were killed in shelling.

The violence apparently erupted over a move by Israeli soldiers to trim some hedges along the border, a sign of the level of tensions at the frontier where Israel fought a war in 2006 with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Harari, father of four, was killed by sniper fire directed at his post. The other officer at the post was captain Ezra Lakia, who was seriously wounded. The two were situated some 300 meters from the border within Israel in a position to oversee the trimming of the bushes along the border fence.

Israel Defense Forces GOC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot announced Tuesday that the two Israeli officers had been very seriously hit during the exchange of fire. Eizenkot said that the incident had been a “deliberate ambush.”

Eizenkot told Israeli media that “a routine operation was carried out during the afternoon near Misgav Am – an operation whose purpose was to trim some bushes near the border, in our [Israeli] territory. It was on both sides of the border but still within [Israeli] territory. Officers oversaw the operation from a permanent position. Sniper fire was directed at the officers, and two of them were wounded as a result.”

The GOC Northern Command stressed that “this was a pre-planned event, aggression by the Lebanese army who shot at soldiers inside Israeli territory without any provocation. We view this as a very severe incident.”

Hollywood stars snub film festival: PACBI

Hollywood actors Meg Ryan and Dustin Hoffman backed out of attending this year’s annual Jerusalem Film Festival, which is set to kick off this coming Thursday, following the international outcry over Israel’s attack on a Turkish-led flotilla that attempted to break the Gaza blockade on May 31, The Jerusalem Post learned Monday.

According to Cinematheque associate director Yigal Molad Hayo, while neither gave the political climate as a direct reason for canceling their participation in the festival, “it became quite clear that this was the reason,” he said.

“Meg Ryan was supposed to come here, it had all been closed with her people,” said Molad Hayo, adding “a day after the flotilla incident we got an email saying she was not going to attend, and although they claimed it was because she was too busy, it was clear to me that it probably had something to do with what had happened.”

In addition to Ryan, who has starred in such movies as Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally and, more recently, Kate and Leopold, Molad Hayo said that the Cinematheque had also reached “advanced negotiations” with Jewish actor Dustin Hoffman.

“We were very close to reaching an agreement with him, then the flotilla happened and correspondence was ended,” said Molad Hayo.

Ryan and Hoffman are not the only high-profile names to decline participation in this year’s festival.

Prince Albert of Monaco, son of legendary actress Grace Kelly, was also slated to attend.

“I’d already made arrangements for a tribute to Grace Kelly to appear in the festival program,” said Molad Hayo, adding that he believed Prince Albert’s cancellation could have come from pressure in his own country not to make an official visit to Israel at this time.

“I think they believed it could have been very negative for him and even dangerous,” he said.

“Many people from the Gulf States have their bank accounts in Monte Carlo and they might not have approved of him coming to a festival in west Jerusalem.”

“Sadly, even though we are a well-known event, it is obvious that the State of Israel has more influence than we do,” continued Molad Hayo, adding “many people are swayed by the political situation.”

Despite the obvious boycotting by high-profile guests, this year’s festival will still bring in some 150 official guests from all over the world, including heads of other international festivals, actors, producers and directors. It will also debut roughly 50 homegrown movies, documentaries and short films.

“Our guests this year might not be as famous as Dustin Hoffman, but there will be some well-known producers and directors,” said Molad Hayo. “Many of those attending took it upon themselves to pay their own way. This, to me, is very impressive and a compliment to the festival.”

He added that the festival, as in past years, will continue to provide an avenue for coexistence between Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers, and a delegation from the Cinematheque in Ramallah will attend.

“We are well known for encouraging cooperation between Palestinian and Israelis in the area of film,” said Molad Hayo.

More than 70,000 people are expected at the two-week event, which will take place at the Cinematheque and at various other locations around the capital.

http://www.jpost.com/ArtsAndCulture/Entertainment/Article.aspx?ID=180671&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

EDITOR: Crying Wolf again…

The ultimate weapon of Israel against any criticism, the baseless accusation of anti-semitism, is used again by the war criminal Shimon Peres. The automatic accusation and its indiscriminate, frequent use, has now lost the power it once had, and is now seen to be what it is – a way of covering the war crimes of the Israeli regime.

Fury As Israel President Claims English Are ‘Anti-semitic’: ICH

Israel’s president has accused the English of being anti-semitic and claimed that MPs pander to Muslim voters.

By David Harrison and Adrian Blomfield in Jerusalem

August 01, 2010 “The Telegraph” – -Shimon Peres said England was “deeply pro-Arab … and anti-Israeli”, adding: “They always worked against us.”

He added: “There is in England a saying that an anti-Semite is someone who hates the Jews more than is necessary.”

His remarks, made in an interview on a Jewish website, provoked anger from senior MPs and Jewish leaders who said the 87-year-old president had “got it wrong”.

But other groups backed the former Israeli prime minister and said the number of anti-semitic incidents had risen dramatically in the UK in recent years.

The controversy follows the furore last week over David Cameron’s remark that Gaza was a “prison camp”, as he urged Israel to allow aid and people to move freely in and out of the Palestinian territory.

Mr Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who is three years into his seven-year term as president and was awarded an honorary knighthood by the Queen in 2008, said that England’s attitude towards Jews was Israel’s “next big problem”.

“There are several million Muslim voters, and for many members of parliament, that’s the difference between getting elected and not getting elected,” he said.

“And in England there has always been something deeply pro-Arab, of course, not among all Englishmen, and anti-Israeli, in the establishment.

“They abstained in the [pro-Zionist] 1947 UN partition resolution … They maintained an arms embargo against us in the 1950s … They always worked against us. They think the Arabs are the underdogs.”

By contrast, relations with Germany, France and Italy were “pretty good”, he added.

He made the comments in an interview with the historian Professor Benny Morris of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev published last week in Tablet, a Jewish news website.

The wide-ranging interview covered Mr Peres’ role as one of Israel’s longest-serving political leaders – an MP for 48 years, twice prime minister, and holder of other ministerial posts over the decades. He is firmly on the Israeli Left.

He was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 jointly with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat for his part as foreign minister in the peace talks which produced the landmark Oslo Accords.

But following his comments, James Clappison, the Conservative MP for Hertsmere and vice-chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, said: “Mr Peres has got this wrong.

“There are pro- and anti-Israel views in all European countries. Things are certainly no worse, as far as Israel is concerned, in this country than other European countries.”

The MP added that he could “understand the frustration” that people in Israel felt with “certain elements of the British broadcast media” which present an unbalanced view of Israel.

He said: “I can understand Mr Peres’ concerns, but I don’t recognise what he is saying about England.”

Yet in Israel, Mr Peres is far from alone in holding such views, which have gained a wider following, particularly on the Right, since the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat over accusations that Mossad sent agents using British passports to assassinate a Hamas commander in Dubai.

Aryeh Eldad, a right-wing member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, accused Britain of working against Israeli interests for decades – ever since it “betrayed” its promises to build a Jewish homeland when it governed Palestine under a League of Nations mandate.

“Both governments from the right and the left prefer Arab interests over Israeli interests,” said Mr Eldad, whose father Israel was a leading figure in the Stern Gang, the most radical of the Jewish terror groups that fought British mandatory rule.

“The other layer is an ongoing, subtle form of anti-semitism. It is not as overt as it was in Germany, it is a quiet, polite form.”

Some leading Jewish commentators in Britain disagreed. Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, minister of Maidenhead synagogue and a writer and broadcaster, said: “I am surprised at Peres. It is a sweeping statement that is far too one-sided.

“Britain has supported both Israel and Arab causes at different periods over the last 50 years. There are elements of anti-semitism but it is not endemic to British society.

“The tolerance and pluralism here make Britain one of the best countries in the world in which to live.”

Mr Peres found support, however, from other pro-Israeli groups. Jacob Vince, the director of Christian Friends of Israel, said there was anti-semitism in the UK although many people had a positive view of Israel but were unwilling to express it publicly.

Mr Vince said it was “difficult to see how many MPs would not be influenced by the number of Muslim voters in their constituencies”.

The Government was not treating Arabs as the underdogs but rather was trying to appease them, he said. “The question is how well they understand those with whom they are seeking conciliation.”

Mr Peres is “measured and moderate,” he added.

He said: “His comments have serious connotations and I am sure would not be said lightly.”

One Israeli politician expressed disbelief that the doveish Mr Peres had launched such a broadside against the British.

Benny Begin, a cabinet minister whose father Menachem was prime minister and before that leader of Irgun, the group that killed 91 people in an attack on Jerusalem’s King David Hotel in 1946, said: “Peres? I simply can’t believe he said that.”

The latest figures show that the number of anti-semitic incidents in Britain is rising, according to the Community Security Trust (CST), a charity set up in 1984 to monitor such incidents.

The situation in Britain had worsened “significantly” in the past decade, a spokesman said.

In 2009 there were 924 anti-semitic incidents, the highest figure since CST began keeping records in 1984, and 55 per cent higher than the previous record in 2006.

The figures include reports, accepted only when backed by evidence, of physical assaults, verbal abuse and racist graffiti.

The monthly figure has soared from 10-20 incidents in the 1990s to 40-50 now.

Last year nearly half of the 924 anti-semitic race attacks recorded by the CST showed a political motivation, with 66 per cent of those including some reference to Israel and the Middle East.

A 2009 report by the US-based Anti-Defamation League found one in five Britons admitted Israel influences their opinion of British Jews, and the majority of those said that they felt “worse” about Jews than they used to. It found, however, that Britain was less anti-semitic than other European countries.

Adam Keller: Is Israel singled out – and why?: IOA

By Adam Keller, The Other Israel – 1 Aug 2010
Googling for “Israel singled out” + “anti-Semitism” would immediately get you many thousands of results. All over the world, supporters of the policies enacted by the government of Israel are busily churning out article after article, repeating with minor variations the same message – Israel is being unfairly singled out, harshly criticized for the kind of acts which others are allowed to get away with, and the motive is anti-Semitism.
In a way, this is a second line of defense. There had been a time when this kind of people took the line that Israel can do no wrong. That it is an utterly wonderful place, little short of an utopia, a vibrant democracy and the only one in the Middle East, the home of tireless and dauntless pioneers who made the desert bloom. But this way of looking at things had become increasingly difficult to sustain. There has been too much unsavory TV footage of Israeli soldiers broadcast into every home around the globe, too many nasty revelations, quite a few of them by Israel’s own dissident citizens…
It is far easier to freely admit that Israel is not blameless, that some of its actions and policies do deserve criticism – but as a matter of fact, “everybody does it”. Many others all over the world also violate human rights and/or international law, others discriminate against ethnic or religious minorities, others launch military offensives which claim the lives of innocent civilians. Muslims, it is quite true, have been killed by other Muslims as well as by Israel. So, why pick on Israel, specifically? Why, if not out of anti-Semitism? “Anti-Israelism is the New anti-Semitism”, period.
True, as far as formal international diplomacy is concerned, it is easy to show that – if Israel is singled out at all – it is singled out for a rather lenient treatment.
Should Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir land in any European country, he is bound to be arrested by the local police and extradited to the International Criminal Court in the Hague to stand trial for the misdeeds of his army, and of militias backed by his army; in Darfur. Binyamin Netanyahu need fear nothing of the kind. When private groups attempted to start criminal proceedings against Israeli civil or military officials, the governments of Belgium and Spain enacted legislation to make this impossible, and the British government is about to follow suit.
Iran is facing increasingly tough international sanctions – and increasingly vocal threats of war – for its attempts to produce a nuclear bomb. Israel faced nothing of the kind for its own highly successful enterprise in the same field. (Instead, the Government of Germany provided to Israel, free of charge, several submarines so modified that nuclear-tipped missiles could be installed on them and create a “second-strike capacity”.
Many countries violate human rights in one way or another – but few have the consistent backing a Permanent Member in the UN Security Council. Most proposed resolutions condemning acts by the government of Israel get aborted by the US veto. And even when a resolution gets past this barrier (invariably, after having been considerably watered down), the Government of Israel can (and often does) ignore it brazenly and with complete impunity. Non-compliance by Israel would never entail a second Security Council Resolution, and a third and fourth and a fifth each tougher than its predecessor – such as heralded the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and eventually the end of Saddam’s own life.
Still, even if baseless when directed at diplomats and ministers and heads of state, the charge of “singling out Israel” cannot be dismissed out of hand when much of civil society in the world today is concerned. It is a fact – which can be easily proven statistically – that there are intellectuals and university lecturers who write more articles condemning Israeli actions than they write against comparable actions in other countries. It is an easily proven fact that a considerable number of activist groups, and student organizations, and militant trade unionists, and a host of others, are busy passing sharply worded resolutions, and holding protests, and sometimes calling for a boycott against Israel – while falling short of acting as vehemently against each and every culpable country around the world.
For the likes of Alan Dershowitz and Nathan Sharansky and Ben Dror Yemini, this is a clear and sufficient proof of anti-Semitism. The proper course for a genuine upholder and defender of Human Rights should be to compile a full and comprehensive list of all violators (Amnesty International used to be a fairly reliable source for such, except that nowadays Amnesty has also become stained with “singling out Israel”). Then, a rota of pickets should be set up in front of all relevant embassies, with the Israeli one visited for three-quarters of an hour every third Monday, and anyone overstaying this quota by more than ten minutes would stand condemned as an anti-Semite (or a self-hater if a Jew oneself, or a traitor if an Israeli citizen, or all three combined…)
In practice, of course, the government of Israel and its adherents are well aware that public campaigns, to achieve any result, must be focused on a specific issue – which necessarily means that somebody is “singled out”. To cite one prominent example, the eminently successful worldwide campaign of the 1970’s and 1980’s, conducted under the slogan “Let My People Go!” was based on singling out the Soviet Union as against all other countries violating the Human Rights of their citizens; and on singling out Soviet Jews as against all other oppressed Soviet citizens; and singling out Soviet Jews wanting to leave their country as against those wanting to stay and have their rights respected at home; and on singling out Soviet Jews wanting to go to Israel as against those wanting to go somewhere else (the latter were the target of a particularly vituperative campaign…).
The result of all these forms of singling out is that Russian has become Israel’s de-facto second language, with Russian-speakers comprising some 20% of its population (a large part of them not being recognized as Jews, and not being able to get married in Israel – but this is a subject for another article…) An unfocused general campaign , against all forms of injustice everywhere, singling out nobody, would hardly have achieved this (or any) result.
Still, granted that focusing on a specific issue is the indispensable precondition of a successful campaign, the reason why it is particularly Israel which has become the target of such a campaign still needs to be looked at. It is my contention that the singling out of Israel for a special consideration and a treatment different from that given to anybody else is nothing new, nor has it always been directed against Israel. In fact, it has been actively initiated and promoted by Israel itself, or rather by the Zionist movement at the very inception of the project which would culminate in the creation of Israel. Zionism very specifically and explicitly asked the international community to be singled out for a very specific and very unique privilege, which was never ever granted to any other group anywhere else. Namely, the right to claim a land as its “National Home” on the basis of ancestors having lived in this land 2000 years ago.
***
In 1897, when Theodore Herzl and his fellows held the First Zionist Congress in Basle, national movements have already been a regular feature on the international agenda for about a century. Zionism has taken up many of the tenets and practices of European Nationalism – in particular East European Nationalism.
After all, many of the founders of Zionism had started out as patriotic Poles, or patriotic Magyars, or patriotic Germans, people who had wanted nothing more than to be accepted as equal citizens of the country where they lived – and who, faced with a painful and humiliating anti-Semitic rejection, recoiled into forming a national movement of their own. And naturally enough, it was modelled on the kind of nationalism they had known. And still, there was a major difference.
It is all too common for national movements to gain widespread international sympathy for the plight of the oppressed ethnic group they seek to represent – and once gaining state power, to engage in discrimination and oppression of other groups. And it is common for national movements to make sweeping territorial claims, often based on the narrative (historical or mythical) of some ancient warrior king. The Biblical King David, whom ardent Zionists cited, was far from the first such.
Still, the essential aim of all other national movements I ever heard of was to get control of a core area where their own ethnic group constituted the whole of the population, or at least an overwhelming majority. None but Zionists had ever put forward a claim for a country in whose entirety its ethnic group constituted at the time less than ten percent of the population, making implementation of its aspirations dependent upon a radical change of the status quo in that country.
Many factors converged to make possible the Zionist success in getting such a claim endorsed by the international community – utterly unique, and sharply singling out Zionism and Israel from everybody else in the world.
There was a widespread, genuine sympathy for the persecuted Jews and horror at the Russian pogroms in the early days of Zionism, later dwarfed by the Nazi genocide. But side by side with this was the frankly racist wish to “get rid” of what were often portrayed as “the flood of East European Jewish hordes” – and Zionism seemed to offer a convenient way of getting these “hordes” as far away as possible, out of sight and out of mind for respectable Europeans.
Even so, it would have likely been impossible but for the fact that the land claimed by Zionists was the well-known “Holy Land”, a land whose Biblical past was widely seen as far more important than its present. For centuries, Christian pilgrims had gone there to look for the shades of the past, “to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ”. Often, they regarded present-day inhabitants of the land as an unimportant appendage, shadows fleeting through the ruins of past glory.
Such was the mind-set of Christian Zionism which preceded and heralded the Jewish one. A mind-set which made plausible for this one specific country an idea that would have seemed the strangest of lunacies anywhere else: to turn the clock back two or three thousand years and restore the land to remote descendants of those who lived in it in past millennia. And in turn, the idea became plausible to mainstream opinion makers and decision makers in key Western countries, not all of them devout Christians themselves.
For all that, the Zionist movement never gained an unconditional international endorsement for its demands and aspirations. Throughout his career, Herzl dreamed of gaining for Zionism an International Charter. By considerable effort and quite a bit of luck, later Zionists got two of them – both of crucial importance, but neither providing an unrestricted license to dispossess and displace the people which Zionism found in the land, who would become known as Palestinians.
In the 1917 Balfour Declaration, His Majesty’s Government declared that it would “view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” – but “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. Thirty years later, the United Nations at last explicitly authorized fulfillment of the Zionist dream by the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine – but with an Arab State at its side. In effect, Zionism can be seen to have signed a contract with the international community. Fair treatment of the Palestinians and respect of (at least some of) their rights as the clear condition for the recognition of its own national aspirations.
It took very long before Zionism would be seriously accused of defaulting on its part of this deal. In 1948, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, the young Israel was internationally applauded as a plucky David defeating a vicious Goliath. It is hardly remembered that at this time Zionism and the young Israel had been a progressive cause, supported worldwide by much the same kind of people who would nowadays support the Palestinians, and for much the same reason – sympathy for the underdog.
In 1949 Israel was accepted as a member of the UN without being asked to give up the territory which was not assigned to it in the partition plan, and the Palestinian refugees were regarded mainly as a humanitarian problem to be given a humanitarian solution. The Israeli position – that what the Palestinians lost in 1948 was forfeited due to their intransigence – was generally accepted on the international arena (and is in fact still so accepted). It was only after 1967 that Israel started to be seen as a Goliath rather than a David.
It is now 2010 – 113 years after the First Zionist Congress, 93 years after the Balfour Declaration, 63 years after the UN Partition Resolution, 43 years after the beginning of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It would be very difficult for even the most brilliant lawyer to seriously assert that the leaders of Zionism and of the State of Israel had kept their part of the deal made with the International Community. By every possible standard, the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish communities which existed in Palestine in 1917 have been grossly prejudiced, over and over again. The Jewish State in Palestine was created in 1948 and greatly overstepped the boundaries set for it by the United Nations, while the Arab State in Palestine is yet to come.
And thus, to go back to the question posed at the beginning of this article: Is Israel singled out, by international civil society if not (yet?) by international diplomacy? Yes, it is. Is it unfair and biased? To my view, it is not. It is but a quite fair demand upon Israel to pay at least part of a long-overdue debt, and keep their part of a contract which Israel’s Founding Fathers solemnly signed.
Yes, there are many countries whose conduct fully deserves condemnation – but none was given such a unique privilege as the Zionist movement was given, none had made such a binding obligation in return for being given such a privilege, and which it failed to keep.
In recent years the State of Israel has been vociferously criticized for planting settlers in the occupied territories – which it can be argued that China is also doing in Tibet; and for killing civilians in the bombings of Gaza, which it can shown that Americans and Europeans are also doing in Iraq and Afghanistan; and for lethally raiding the Gaza Aid Flotilla, for which some apologists also tried to find various precedents and parallels. Yet Israel is singled out because it, and it alone, is in obvious default of a fundamental obligation, an obligation which was the condition for Israel coming into being in the first place.
The plan which is now on offer – and had been on offer for quite a long time – gives Israel the possibility of settling this debt on quite comfortable conditions. The West Bank and Gaza Strip, which are to be given up and become the State of Palestine, are after all little more than 22% of what was Mandatory Palestine, and by giving them up Israel would be intentionally recognized as having at last discharged its debt and kept its obligation. But continued persistence in refusing to pay the debt – continuing it until the international balance of power has fundamentally changed, some years or decades from now – might put Israel at the risk of what happens to those who fail to pay their debts: going into liquidation.

South Africa’s lessons for Gaza: The Electronic Intifada

Haidar Eid,  2 August 2010
Does Gaza today resemble South Africa under apartheid? (Matthew Cassel)
The Palestinian national movement has overlooked this question: does the Gaza Strip resemble the racist Bantustans of apartheid South Africa? During the apartheid era, South Africa’s black population was kept in isolation and without political and civil rights. Is Gaza similar? The answer is yes and no.

What is apartheid? As defined by the 1973 United Nations convention, apartheid is a policy of racial or ethnic segregation founded on a set of discriminatory practices that favor a specific group in order to ensure its racial supremacy over another group (“International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the crime of Apartheid,” 30 November 1973). In Israel, institutionalized racial discrimination is unequivocally founded on ensuring the primacy of a group of Jewish settlers over the Palestinian Arabs. When comparing the applications of the apartheid policy, it is difficult to identify any differences between white rule in South Africa and its Israeli counterpart in Palestine in terms of the segregation and designation of certain areas to Israeli Jews and others to the Arabs, the delineation of certain laws and privileges for Jews and a discriminatory set of laws that apply only to Palestinians.

Currently, in both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories there are two road systems, two housing systems, two educational systems and different legal and administrative systems for Jews and non-Jews. Every law enacted during the South African apartheid system has a corresponding law in Israel. This includes the Group Areas Act, the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, the Law on Movement and Permits, the Public Safety Act, the Population Registration Act, the Immorality Act, the Land Act and, of course, the Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act. The corresponding Israeli laws are the Law of Return, the 2003 “temporary” laws prohibiting mixed marriages, the Population Registry Law, the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, the Israeli Nationality Law and land and property laws.

Like South Africa, Israel’s brand of apartheid is mixed with settler colonialism. As in the United States and Australia, settler colonialism in Israel and South Africa has also involved the ethnic cleansing or genocide of the indigenous people influenced by a racist and/or religious ideology of supremacy.

When evaluated along these lines, the term apartheid clearly applies to Israeli policies in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians of the Gaza Strip are isolated from the rest of the population in historical Palestine, and do not enjoy minimum political rights and basic living conditions available to Jewish residents because they were born to mothers from the “wrong” religion. In this context, it should be recalled that 80 percent of the population in the Strip were ethnically cleansed in 1948 and are barred from returning to the villages and cities from which they were driven.

The Bantustans were part of the South Africa apartheid regime’s racist formula to separate the black population and preserve “white supremacy.” Although the Bantustans were called “independent homelands,” their inhabitants were not granted equal rights or even independent political decision-making power — a harbinger of what is planned for the so-called independent Palestinian state within the June 1967 borders. In South Africa, the debate was about 11 states that could live side by side in peace. In spite of Pretoria’s best efforts, the Bantustans gained no international recognition save from Israel.

Gaza is deprived of even this racist formula. Israel appears to have learned a lesson from South Africa. It did not appoint local leaders to provide “limited self-government” over the West Bank and Gaza. Rather, in coordination with the United States and shielded by the international community, Israel allowed “free” elections to take place so that the Bantustanization process could gain “legitimacy” and international approval with the consent of the indigenous people. Although hailed internationally, the elections which took place under occupation were a Palestinian tragedy. Israel succeeded in enticing the indigenous people in Palestine to promote the illusion of potential “independence” for segments of 22 percent of historical Palestine. These parcels of land without sovereignty would be sold to the world as an independent Palestinian state.

Gaza under siege

At the same time, the answer to the question of whether “apartheid” applies to Gaza is also no. The Gaza Strip has devolved from being a Bantustan between the Oslo accord years (1993-2002) into a large concentration camp. Several South African anti-apartheid activists, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said during their visits to the occupied Palestinian territory that what they saw was far worse than what South Africans witnessed during apartheid. The difference between the two kindred regimes — Israel and apartheid South Africa — is the difference between inferiority and dehumanization. As Palestinian intellectual and author Saree Makdisi has explained it is a difference between exploitation and genocide (“A racism outside of language: Israel’s apartheid,” Pambazuka News, 11 March 2010).

Never, throughout the history of apartheid in South Africa, did racist forces use the full force of their military against the civilian population in townships. In contrast, since the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in September 2000 and culminating in the 2008-09 winter invasion, Gaza has been attacked by F-16s, Apache helicopter gunships, warships, Merkava Tanks and internationally prohibited phosphorus bombs.

Israel’s siege on Gaza was imposed after Palestinians elected Hamas in internationally sanctioned and observed elections in 2006. It was tightened after Hamas defeated forces loyal to the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007. Since then, the list of items banned from entering Gaza covered more than 200 articles including cement, paper, cancer medications and even pasta and chocolate! According to the Israeli organization Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Israel granted access to only 97 articles, compared to 4,000 before the blockade. About 80 percent of the Gaza Strip’s population survive on humanitarian aid. More than 90 percent of Gaza’s factories have been shut down.

When the 18-month-old siege was unable to break the will of Palestinians in Gaza, Israel launched its deadly invasion at the end of 2008. According to the human rights organizations and the UN-sanctioned Goldstone report, more than 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 300 children, were killed and thousands wounded. Israel destroyed at least 11,000 homes, 105 factories, 20 hospitals and clinics as well as 159 schools, universities and technical institutes. Furthermore, it resulted in the displacement of 51,800 persons of whom 20,000 remain homeless.

Commenting on this situation, Karen Abu Zayd, former Commissioner-General for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, said: “Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution with the knowledge, acquiescence and — some would say — encouragement of the international community.”

Learning from South Africa

There is an urgent need, at this historic moment after Israel’s 2008-09 winter invasion of Gaza, to reshape international public opinion that is supportive of the Palestinian cause with emphasis on the multiple similarities between Zionism and the apartheid regime in South Africa. This can be accomplished by focusing on the common suffering of the indigenous black population and the Palestinians today, not only in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but also in the Palestinian Diaspora and inside Israel.

It is unfortunate that the “official” Palestinian leadership has not studied and learned lessons from the South African experience. On the contrary, they almost unanimously accepted the creation of a type of bantustan-based system that the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa rejected. One wonders about the real reason behind this deliberate disregard of a very rich experience. Does it derive from the same misguided notion as that of the bantustan leaders who claimed African racial nationalism? Does it involve chauvinism and lack of openness to other people’s experiences? Is our cause really so exceptional from a historical point of view that we must exceptionally accept racist solutions promoted as an “autonomous” solution?

Unfortunately, the struggle for liberation has been reduced to one for bantustans. In other words, the consciousness of the Palestinian struggle has split as a result of fetishizing the concept of state at the expense of liberation, nullifying the right of return without saying so, and the tiresome reiteration of the “Palestinian national project.” This stands in conflict with the aspirations of the vast majority of the Palestinian people who are refugees guaranteed the right of return under international law.

The option of an independent Palestinian state has become impossible for several reasons, including Israel’s endeavors to transform settlements into cities, increase the number of settlers to more than half a million, build the apartheid wall in the occupied West Bank, expand Greater Jerusalem and cleanse it of its Palestinian inhabitants, and systematically turn Gaza into the largest detention center on the face of the Earth. It is obvious that the Palestinian national movement as a whole has been infected with the virus of Oslo. The Oslo virus creates false consciousness that transforms the struggle for liberation, the return of refugees, human rights and full equality, into a struggle for “independence” with limited sovereignty: a flag, a national anthem and a small piece of land on which to exercise municipal sovereignty and establish ministries, all with the permission of the occupier. It is not very surprising, then, that first former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman no longer oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The other side of the Palestinian leadership frequently proposes 10-year and 20-year truces, arguing that the truce is an “alternative” to the demise of the two-state solution. Although there are no significant differences in terms of the principle of accepting a pure nationalist solution to the Palestinian cause between these two sides, this minor disagreement has gained greater prominence and has been employed to serve the racist solution. The so-called “alternative” of a 20-year truce bets that the pragmatic nature of this call will “persuade” the international community. In fact, it lacks a clear strategic vision to resolve the conflict in a way that ensures the return of refugees. What does a 20-year truce mean? Isn’t this a message to the refugees to endure another 20 years until the balance of power shifts? What happens if it does not shift?

The two-state solution has unfortunately become the prevailing political discourse over the past two decades. Some traditionally leftist intellectuals, having been transformed into a socially and politically right-wing or “neo-liberal” left, defend this solution as the only one available given the prevailing balance of power. They also defended it as a transitional — i.e., an interim — scheme. They occasionally threaten to espouse the one-state settlement, using this as a scarecrow not only to frighten Israel but also against us, the indigenous population. These attempts reveal an ideological decline and a lack of faith in the ability of the Palestinian people and the broader international solidarity movements to make revolutionary changes like those that took place against the apartheid regime.

In a short story entitled “The Music of the Violin,” South African writer Njabulo Ndebele, one of the characters comments on the “concessions” made by the apartheid regime to indigenous people: “”That’s how it is planned. That we be given a little of everything, and so prize the little we have that we forget about freedom.” In that same story, a black revolutionary intellectual says that “”[he’d] rather be a hungry dog that runs freely in the streets, than a fat, chained dog burdened with itself and the weight of the chain” (Fools and Other Stories, 1983). These two examples from South Africa summarize the lessons we should learn from Gaza 2009. There was no potential for coexistence with apartheid in South Africa, and we must accept no less.

Haidar Eid is Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at Gaza’s al-Aqsa University. He has written widely on the Arab-Israeli conflict, including articles published at Znet, Electronic Intifada, Palestine Chronicle, and Open Democracy. He has published papers on cultural Studies  and literature in a number of journals, including Nebula, Journal of American Studies in Turkey, Cultural Logic, and the Journal of Comparative Literature.

This article was originally published by Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network and is republished with permission.


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