Friday, July 31, 2009

Mad Mel Philps on Racism...

There's no end to Mel's Madness or flippancy, who considers the British 'anti-Semitic hellhole' the modern equivalent of the Weimar Republic and rants against 'multiculturalism', now she had this to say about American racism and reactions to it [my emph.]:

America’s neuralgic conscience over its historic racism, the monstrously unjust over-reaction to that racism, and the election of a President who supposedly embodied, in both his identity and his approach, a post-racial New Man and an absolution for past national sins.

Yes, dear Darkies, a monstrously unjust over-reaction to our minor 'Judeo-Christian' transgressions, precisely. And when are you going to get off your lazy backsides and join the far More Worthy Cause of the fight against Rampant British Anti-Semitism, huh?

Current Holocaust Alert Status: AMBER, you know???

Next Viva Palestina Convoy: December!

From an email alert:

Viva Palestina goes international – D-day 5 December

Success in the US

The Viva Palestina US convoy achieved a remarkable success, but in the teeth of significant obstacles.

Two hundred people, almost all US citizens, passed through the Rafah crossing into Gaza on 15 July carrying with them a quarter of a million dollars worth of medical aid and supplies. The delegation reflected the great diversity of US society. There were Muslim-, Arab-, African-, Jewish-, Latino-, and Native-Americans as well as Christian ministers.

It was the largest such mission in terms of people and aid ever to leave the USPalestine. We were delighted that it could be joined by Cynthia McKinney, the former US Congresswoman and Presidential candidate, who arrived hot-foot after her detention on the high seas by Israeli forces and was able to enter Gaza for the first time, having joined George Galloway and the Viva Palestina convoy. Along with New York Councilman Charles Barron, her participation signalled a reforging of the alliance between Black American figures and Palestine that were a hallmark of the solidarity movement 30 years ago. for

The convoy did face great bureaucratic obstacles, however. They resulted in an original three day stay in Gaza being lopped to just 24 hours and in 47 new vehicles dedicated for medical use being prevented from crossing from Egypt to Gaza. They remain safely in the customs free zone in the port of Alexandria.

As with the British convoy in February and March, there is a great desire in the USGaza. to repeat the experience. This we must do. But we need to calibrate our response to take account of both logistical issues and the difficulties faced by the latest Viva Palestina convoy and other missions which have attempted to cross into

Pooling all our efforts

Viva Palestina representatives have had a series of extremely productive discussions with similar campaigns and initiatives – ranging from the Free Gaza movement to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Britain – over the last two weeks. We all agreed to even greater coordination of our efforts.

In addition, the Viva Palestina Venezuela convoy is picking up steam and will be taking place later this year.

Bigger, better, and more effective in December

All of this means we have the chance to organise a huge convoy, far more significant than either the British or the US ones. Given the various attempts to restrict aid to Gaza by sea and land, nothing less than a very significant increase in the size and impact of the next convoy will do.

That means an even bigger build up to a single mission in December. The reasons, emerging from discussions between the British and American convoy coordinators and others, are clear:

*December 27 marks the anniversary of the beginning of the Israeli assault on Gaza. Aiming to enter Gaza then will be part of focusing the world’s attention on the massacres. It is also when people in Gaza have said they wish to have maximum support.

*The second US convoy needs to be in December. It will be greatly strengthened by combining with the effort from Ireland the Britain. One mega convoy will have more impact than two smaller ones.

*A joint mission heading from London, with Americans flying in to take part, will form the core of a convoy heading through Europe, into the Balkans, northern Greece, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and into Egypt – picking up support along the way. Discussions are well advanced on organising major events – rallies, cultural and sporting – at strategic points on the way. This will be critical in both building momentum to cross the border and in raising the humanitarian crisis in Gaza along the way.

*We appreciate that for some it is easier to get time off work in October than December. But for many more, it is the other way around. In particular, on both sides of the Atlantic there are large numbers of young people and students who simply cannot go in October, but who can in December. Additionally, there will be mustering points along the route so those who can’t make the whole journey can join there.

*We want to get more high profile individuals to take part. This requires the extra time afforded by going in December. There are exciting initiatives to involve sporting and cultural figures. The will take some patience and time to make work.

*Everybody’s efforts in building both the British and US convoys were remarkable. With extra time in October and November, we believe we can far outdo what we’ve done before. We will have extra time to build up the regional structures and organisation of the convoy to make the mission both smoother and more effective.

*The two months of October and November should be used to reach out far further to potential support than we have already.

All this means that we are reorganising the next Viva Palestina convoy to be an international mission – spearheaded by people from Britain and America, leaving from London on the weekend of 5 and 6 December, aiming to be in Gaza on 27 December. Don't worry about the date moving again - we're setting the date in stone so we can all start planning and organising now.

The extra time we are giving ourselves should help ensure a great success. But that will only happen if push hard now, through summer and Ramadan, to build support. We also aim in that time to conclude discussions with the Charity Commission about the structure of Viva Palestina so that we will have a clear run through the autumn.

We do understand that some people in the UK have already made plans around an October convoy, but we hope you will understand why it is in the interests of the movement in support of the people of Gaza that we aim for a massive mission in December.

Further information and registration details for the convoy will be coming out in the next two weeks. In addition to organising events and to get vehicles and aid locally, please let us know if you would like to part of the regional and central organising for what promises to be a historic event. We want to get extensive national and regional coordination in place in the next two weeks.

With best wishes,

Kevin Ovenden

Viva Palestina

Thursday, July 30, 2009

WaPo: Don't just be tough on Israel

Snippets from WaPo, but via the JTA.

Rather than pocketing Mr. Netanyahu's initial concessions -- he gave a speech on Palestinian statehood and suggested parameters for curtailing settlements accepted by previous U.S. administrations -- Mr. Obama chose to insist on an absolutist demand for a settlement "freeze." Palestinian and Arab leaders who had accepted previous compromises immediately hardened their positions; they also balked at delivering the "confidence-building" concessions to Israel that the administration seeks. Israeli public opinion, which normally leans against the settler movement, has rallied behind Mr. Netanyahu.

If that's true I might consider converting to Judaism myself and pray to YHWH to intervene on behalf of that strange folk, the Israeli Zionists. I mean, lemmesee, they 'normally lean against the settler movement' except when a settlement freeze is demanded, then they 'rally behind Mr. Netanyahu'. They can't have been 'leaning against the settler movement' all that much: one demand by the Prez and a chilled mocha latte later and they're rallying behind Mr Yahoo, just like that. And a fourty plus year old demand is now, in the eyes of WaPo, an 'absolutist' demand. No one beats Zionists at Orwellian NewSpeak...

And Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which were active during the Bush administration's final year, have yet to resume.

U.S. and Israeli officials are working on a compromise that would allow Israel to complete some housing now under construction while freezing new starts for a defined period. Arab states would be expected to take steps in return. Such a deal will expose Mr. Obama to criticism in the Arab world -- a public relations hit that he could have avoided had he not escalated the settlements dispute in the first place. At worst, the president may find himself diminished among both Israelis and Arabs before discussions even begin on the issues on which U.S. clout is most needed. If he is to be effective in brokering a peace deal, Mr. Obama will need to show both sides that they can trust him -- and he must be tough on more than one country.

So, in the name of 'balance', Obama is expected not just to be 'tough' on the burglars, but equally so on the burglarised and the onlookers (quasi) sympathetic to them. This, we consider 'justice'... No wonder they hate us...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Calling all Americans...

Via email alert.

President Obama has made his views on the siege of Gaza and on the continued Israeli settlement construction very clear:

"... Gaza's border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce." (January 22, 2009)

"The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop." (June 4, 2009)

What has Israel's response been? Forbidding humanitarian assistance from entering Gaza and insisting on additional settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Clearly Israel is not paying attention. We are asking Congress, why is Israel being rewarded with almost 3 billion dollars in aid when it ignores American policies and continues to use our money to build settlements and maintain the blockade of Gaza?

Further, as Israeli soldiers report so many cases of indiscriminate and disproportionate targeting of civilians in Gaza--reports that corroborate what Palestinians and human rights organizations have been saying for some time--we are reminding Congress that our tax dollars should come with strings attached; this means that Congress must investigate how our military aid has been used and whether it will be used legally and ethically.

We've organized delegations to Congresspeople across the country carrying out our message, but these delegations are not enough. We need to show larger numbers of support among their constituents. We need to keep the pressure on all of our legislators to take a serious stance for human rights. That's where you can help. We are trying to get as many phone calls as possible before the end of the month--calls to your U.S. Senators and Representatives to keep this issue fresh in their minds.

If you are in the U.S., click here to get in touch with your Congressperson and find out how you can positively impact our foreign policy.


With Strings Attached Campaign Team

Jewish Voice For Peace

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Land speaks Arabic

Yesterday and today, Al Jazeera's Witness Special segment aired the award winning documentary 'The Land speaks Arabic', which deals with early Zionism from the end of the 19th century up to and including 1948 and its devastating consequences for the indigenous Palestinian people living on the land of Palestine. I cannot find the entire film on the Net. Below is a short clip:

From Menassat:

TURIN, July 16, 2008 (MENASSAT) – Last week, a distinguished panel of judges from the Mediterranean Center for Audiovisual Communication (CMCA) gave Palestinian Maryse Gargour's film, The Land Speaks Arabic, the prestigious Memories of the Mediterranean documentary prize for 2008 in this year's 13th annual award ceremony.

The president of the international jury, Thierry Fabre, said the film earned the award for its clear presentation of facts.

"We awarded the film this year's prize because of Gargour's innovative documentation techniques and the importance of the historical facts presented, which are related to events on the ground in historic Palestine between 1917 and 1948. Many things presented in the film are unique historical records and unknown by even an informed public."

Film-goers universally praised the documentary because of the simple presentation. Gargour's film garnered two other awards including the Arab States Broadcasting Union (ASBU) prize for best film and the Special Broadcasting prize presented by Algerian television after they decided to air the movie on state television.

Rare history revealed

Bad Movies in Greece produced the 61-minutes film in collaboration with a French production house, Rose Productions. CMCA jury member and Greek film producer Pandora Mouriki told MENASSAT that she cast her vote for Gargour's film because it is commonplace in conflicts for crimes to be glossed over because the lack of historical documentation.

Gargour unearthed rare photos in order to add a new form of historical record to the interpretation of that period in Palestinian history. She told MENASSAT that this was in part to reveal a new body of photographic work to contrast the record of events washed over by the volume of pictures broadcast daily about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"There are great injustices in this part of the world. I can't just stand by helplessly and not say something about this injustice – in other words the way the Palestinians were kicked out of their country," she said.

"All the movies I have directed have been about the period that preceded 1948. All that is happening today is the consequence of injustice practiced against the Palestinians of before 1948."

1948 is simultaneously hailed as the year of Israeli independence and of the event Palestinians call the "Nakba," or the great catastrophe, in which some 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly removed from their land.

Confronting the past

Gargour’s film directly confronts the aims of the Zionist leaders who were behind Israel's creation as a state.

She told MENASSAT, "I talk about the mind of the Jewish leaders who wanted to create a state for the Jews in a country that was already populated by its Palestinian citizens. This is what pushed me to say, "The Land speaks Arab," meaning that before these people came, there was a place called Palestine where people were living and still live albeit under Israeli occupation."

Critical points of the movie's appeal don't simply come from the rare archives and documents alone.

"There are many archives about the transfer and the deportation of the Palestinians, but what is more important is to choose what to put in a movie, and the ideas to move logically from one scene to another till the end. This movie demanded a lot of time during the research phase."

Gargour told MENASSAT that she obtained film footage and pictures documenting Palestinian villages before 1948 – views of their lifestyle as if captured in a time capsule, footage of how people in these villages were living, with women wearing their traditional dresses going about their daily business.

"Without all this, it would have been impossible for me to make this movie, for all this footage allowed me to recreate the Palestinian space, and this is very precious for me," she said.

Yet the past lives on

The documentary also has interviews with Palestinians who were born and lived in Palestine, and who still vividly remember what it was like at that time, before they were expelled.

CMCA jury members praised these live testimonies because they were not just calls to victimhood but records of Palestinians who, according to one jurist, "could be gone in a few years."

Gargour herself lived through the Nakba in her early childhood; her family left left the coastal city of Jaffa, where her father was a wealthy merchant, 1948.

"First, I'm Palestinian. My parents and grandparents lived in Jaffa. During my childhood, I constantly heard stories about Palestine and what life was like for my family in Jaffa. I heard how the British were first against the Jews creating a state in historic Palestine, and how my mother went to the streets screaming down the Balfour Declaration, which granted Jews a state," she said.

Gargour now lives between Beirut and Paris. Other documentaries to her credit include A Palestinian Looks at Palestine (1998), Blanche's Homeland (2001), and My Jaffa (1997) and Far from Palestine (1998), both of which she wrote and directed.

After receiving her award for best documentary, Gargour told the audience that European broadcasters rarely screen Palestinian movies, and called upon media workers and station managers at European TV stations to do more to make the Palestinian voice heard.

"Rarely do Europeans get to hear Palestinians' version of history during those dark years," she told MENASSAT.

Here's another clip:

Monday, July 27, 2009

UK MPs urge talks with Hamas

Al Jazeera

British legislators have urged the government to talk to Hamas, saying that the West's policy of shunning the Palestinian group was showing little sign of success.

Russia is the only member of the Quartet of Middle East peace brokers, which also comprises the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, that is talking to Hamas.

The British parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee said in a report on Sunday it stood by a recommendation it first made two years ago that the government should engage politically with moderate elements within Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

"We conclude that there continue to be few signs that the current policy of non-engagement is achieving the Quartet's stated objectives," the committee said.

"We further conclude that the credible peace process for which the Quartet hopes, as part of its strategy for undercutting Hamas, is likely to be difficult to achieve without greater co-operation from Hamas itself."

'Ongoing risk'

The committee, made up of MPs from all the main political parties, said it was dismayed that, six months after the end of fighting in Gaza, there was still no ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.

There had been little change to several issues that contributed to the conflict, it said.

"We conclude that this situation makes for an ongoing risk of insecurity and a renewed escalation of violence," it said.

Herb Keinon, the diplomatic correspondent for the Jersualem Post newspaper, told Al Jazeera that the even if Britain did engage with Hamas it was unlikely to change Israel's position.

"Israel's position has been consistent on this issue for a number of years," he said.

"If Hamas accepts the three preconditions: If they recognise Israel, the they foreswear terrorism, if they recognise the previous agreements, there is something to talk about. If they don't do that then Israel won't talk with them."


The committee's report also said that the MPs were concerned that the Quartet was failing to provide Hamas with greater incentives to change its position.

It said Britain should talk to Hamas moderates as a way of encouraging the group to meet the Quartet principles.

Zaki Chehab, the author of Inside Hamas and editor of Al Hayat newspaper, said that Hamas needed the West to enter into dialogue with the movement.

"They are cornered in Gaza, Israel to one side, the sea behind them, and Egypt is in complete control of the border," he said.

"At the end of the day Hamas want to see the outside world talking to them, but the problem here is not Hamas accepting to talk, it is what the West is going to offer Hamas."

In March, the British government changed its policy by saying it was open to talks with the political wing of Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah, but it remains opposed to talking to Hamas.

The committee said that "the government should set out the relevant differences between the cases of Hezbollah and Hamas that lead it to conclude that engagement with moderate elements within Hamas is not currently worth attempting".

The British foreign ministry said it would "consider carefully" the recommendations in the report.

It said that the government was "making progress on the peace process, which remains a high priority for the Government, and we shall continue to work hard to bring about a just and lasting peace.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rachel Corrie Flap: San Fran Jewish Film Festival

Oh dear, a bit of a much ado about nothing situation has arisen from the screening of a film that investigates the death of the American peace activist Rachel Corrie at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival...

Snippets from JTA:

SAN FRANCISCO (J. Weekly) -- If the Academy handed out an Oscar for community turmoil, the Rachel Corrie flap at this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival would win handily.

Dissension in the local Jewish community continued unabated over the festival’s upcoming screenings of “Rachel,” a film that investigates the death of anti-Israel activist Rachel Corrie, and the festival's invitation to her mother, Cindy Corrie, to speak afterward.

On July 20, festival board president Shana Penn resigned from her post, citing “healthy differences on how to approach sensitive issues,” with five months left on a two-year term.

This came as a pro-Israel speaker was hastily added to the July 25 screening in San Francisco and as some sponsors criticized the festival’s program. Penn will continue to serve on the board. Vice president Dana Doron, a marketing and product development executive, has assumed the post of president.

Clearly the good Jews of San Fran (and anybody else who might attend the Festival) cannot trusted to watch such a film without being chaperoned by a pro-Israel speaker, undoubtedly there for the sole purpose of providing 'context' and 'balance' to Rachel 'Pancake' Corrie's already so much maligned death... Heaven forbid that anyone might draw the conclusion that Rachel died protesting a military occupation that is the root of much evil in the I-P conflict.

“Rachel” is a sympathetic portrait of the American pro-Palestinian activist who was killed in 2003 in Gaza while protesting a home demolition in front of an Israeli bulldozer.

Booking the film and Cindy Corrie for the festival has struck a nerve with some in the Jewish community, who believe the festival crossed a line into overtly anti-Israel propaganda. Some have called for a boycott of the festival, saying Corrie, and now her parents, worked to ostracize and delegitimize Israel.

In a statement released July 21, festival executive director Peter Stein apologized “for not fully considering how upsetting this program might be,” though he added that the festival stands by its decision to screen the film.

The apology was not good enough for many, who flooded local Jewish leaders and this newspaper with protest letters.

Screening a film about the death of a peace activist is 'overtly anti-Israel propaganda'... Tell me again how many Zionists and Israel apologists (Jewish or non-Jewish alike) aren't hell bent on suppressing any information that doesn't portray Israel in the We Rock! mode.

But it gets richer:

Sponsors of the festival also voiced their concerns. The Koret Foundation and the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, each headed by philanthropist Tad Taube and self-described as “sister philanthropies,” issued a joint statement July 21. Koret and Taube, among dozens of sponsors of the S.F. Jewish Film Festival, criticized the festival for working with the American Friends Service Committee and Jewish Voice for Peace -- “two virulently anti-Israel, anti-Semitic groups” -- in co-presenting the film, for inviting Cindy Corrie to speak and for booking “Rachel” in the first place.

Jewish Voice for Peace, a virulently anti-Israel, anti-Semitic group...

Read the rest of the Rachel Corrie flap here, if you have the stomach for it...


Mondoweiss on the actual screening of the film and reactions to it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Loewenstein/Dana: feeling the love (of settlements)

Joseph Dana and Anthony Loewenstein provide background.

Brazil: calling a spade a spade...

Viva Brazil! Taragana blog, via As'ad AbuKhalil (Angry Arab).

SAO PAULOIsrael’s foreign minister ran into controversy on the first day of a Latin American trip Tuesday when an official of Brazil’s ruling party reportedly called him a “fascist.”

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported that Valter Pomar, secretary of international relations for the Workers Party, said that Avigdor “Lieberman is a racist and a fascist” during an interview.

Haaretz reported that Pomar also said that “the Brazilian left is organizing protests” against Lieberman “and against the policy he represents.”

The left-leaning Workers Party has long been sharply critical of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians, and Lieberman has advocated a tough line on Israel’s Arab minority.

He has suggested redrawing Israel’s borders to push areas with heavy concentrations of its Arab citizens outside the country and under Palestinian jurisdiction, while requiring those who remain to sign an oath of loyalty to the Jewish state. Some 20 percent of Israel’s 7 million citizens are Arabs.

Also via Angry Arab: meanwhile the Israeli Government's descent into totalitarianism continues: the Israeli government will remove references to what Palestinians call the "catastrophe" of Israel's creation from textbooks for Arab schoolchildren, the education minister said Wednesday.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Waiting for the Rapture - Starting in Iran

H/T Richard Silverstein - Yes, it's that time of the year again, where the equally comical and frightening Christians United for Isra-ul (CUFI, note Texan drawl), led by John Hagee, hold their annual conference in Washington DC. Max Blumenthal reports (and gets 'escorted' off the premises). CUFI lobbies Washington for expansion of Israeli territory (one delegate claimed the broker of a ME peace deal would be the anti-Christ - and I thought George '666' Mitchell had his work cut out as it is) and a unilateral attack on Iran.

Apart from a few hundred (thousands?) Bible thumping numpties, more notable attendees are Tom Delay, Joe Lieberman (I kid you not) and Rick Santorum (yawn).

A couple of years ago I saw the CUFIs line-dancing (Texas!) to ersatz Jewish tunes on YouTube, white Star of David studded Stetsons and all. Priceless but no such luck this year.

More background on CUFI and John Hagee's Megachurch by Justin Vogt and this satirical snippet:

At this year’s CUFI gala, beneath a stage framed by massive American and Israeli flags, the country-music star Randy Travis belted out The Star-Spangled Banner. Cornerstone’s choir performed a Dixiefied version of Hava Nagila, the celebratory Hebrew folk-song (“Chicken in the barn, pickin’ up grain/ It don’t matter if it’s sunny or rain / Next year in Jerusalem! / Ve nis’mecha!”) And a jumbo-sized cinema screen bombarded the audience with an infomercial touting the work of the evening’s proud corporate sponsor, Zion Oil & Gas, a company founded by a Hagee supporter who believes that the Bible contains clues that point the way to plentiful deposits of oil in Israel. (“The geology has confirmed the theology,” explained one executive.)

And here's some more CUFI nonsense, from the conference, brought to us by the JTA:

Far and away the most forceful came from U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), one of the more hard-line Democrats in Congress. Berkley told the group of Christian Zionists on Tuesday that “to pin the peace process” on the settlement issue “is absolutely foolhardy.”

“To publicly dress down the State of Israel is a huge mistake,” she said to a huge ovation from the 4,000 delegates at the group’s fourth annual conference.

CUFI founder and chairman Pastor John Hagee also weighed in when he introduced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who appeared via satellite Tuesday to speak to the crowd. Hagee told Netanyahu that "50 million Christians" support "Israel's sovereign right to grow and develop the settlements of Israel as you see fit and not yield to the pressure of the United States government." (The prime minister did not address the settlement dispute.)

A few hours after Netanyahu’s speech, Hagee reiterated his criticism of the Obama administration, although he refrained from identifying the president by name.

"America is singling out Israel" in the Middle East, the pastor said. "Despite all of the risks Israel has taken for peace, our government is pressuring Israel to take more risks. Hello Congress, we're putting pressure on the wrong people here. You want to get tough, get tough with the terrorists, not the only democracy in the Middle East."

Hagee and his organization have been a source of much debate in recent years. AIPAC and some other Jewish organizations have embraced their efforts to create an Evangelical Christian pro-Israel lobby. But some critics complain that CUFI supporters hold ultra-conservative views on abortion, gay rights and church-state separation, and fear the organization could end up working to oppose Israeli peace moves. (CUFI leaders insist they would never work against the decisions of the elected government.)

During the presidential campaign last year, Republican nominee John McCain accepted an endorsement from Hagee, but later renounced it after revelations regarding past comments made by the pastor, including his claim that the Holocaust was divine punishment. Hagee offered explanations for several of the most incendiary comments and denied claims that he was anti-Catholic, and several of his Jewish allies firmly rejected efforts to paint him as anti-Semitic.

The "Swiftboating" of Human Rights Watch

By Daniel Levy

Last week witnessed a concerted attack against the credibility of the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), seeking to link supposed fundraising activities in Saudi Arabia with that organization’s criticism (“bias”, according to its detractors) of Israeli practices in the occupied territories, also claiming HRW is soft peddling on Saudi violations. It started in a Wall Street Journal piece, the Israeli prime minister’s office and spokespeople weighed in, and then AIPAC and the rightwing blogosphere got onboard. The attack on HRW has now been ratcheted up according to today’s Jerusalem Post.

The former right-wing Israeli Government Minister, Natan Sharansky (also an ex-Prisoner of Zion, President George W. Bush’s favorite author and occupation apologist) claims that HRW “has become a tool in the hands of dictatorial regimes to fight against democracies.” Ron Dermer, director of policy planning in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office adds: “We are going to dedicate time and manpower to combating these groups; we are not going to be sitting ducks in a pond for the human rights groups to shoot at us with impunity".

The apparent trigger for this assault on a group that represents the global gold standard in human rights monitoring, analysis, and advocacy, was a visit by HRW’s Middle East-North Africa director, Sarah Leah Whitson, to the Saudi kingdom. I happened to find myself on a panel at The Century Foundation discussing the Middle East with Whitson just days before this storm broke—I went back and watched tapes of that panel discussion. To accuse Whitson of being soft on the Saudis or somehow singling out Israel for criticism is quite astonishing as I’m sure you’ll agree if you take ten minutes to listen to her presentation—of that, more in a moment.

According to reports Whitson was hosted one evening in Riyadh by prominent businessman and intellectual, Emad bin Jameel Al-Hejailan, for a private dinner which included business leaders, civil society leaders, and well-connected Saudis. It was not a fundraising event. HRW was certainly not fundraising from the Saudi government. Spencer Ackerman of The Washington Independent quotes Whitson—“We have never raised any money from the Saudi government or any other agency in the world.” That HRW does not take government money is something that is already well-known.

HRW does, of course, receive contributions from individuals and foundations—something that does not prevent them from producing releases and reports critical of the states from whence donors hail.

Does HRW’s fundraising from private sources in the US prevent it being critical of American human rights violations (and I obviously acknowledge the differences between the US and Saudi Arabia)? Apparently not. Yes, donors have agendas, but as long as the organization adheres to standards of fact-checking and objectivity, its credibility is sustained.

Sadly, these attacks on HRW demonstrate no such objectivity or credibility—they come from a narrow and misguided right-wing Israel advocacy agenda. One group that has been plowing this terrain for some years is Gerald Steinberg’s odiously named “NGO Monitor,” in the attacks on HRW he is being joined by bigger guns. Steinberg accuses HRW of being “linked to the terrorist campaign” (of Hamas …etc), and whines that "Human Rights Watch is an organization with a budget of $40 million a year; they are a superpower”. Poor Mr. Steinberg, his supporters in the anti-HRW campaign over at AIPAC only had an “$80 million purse” at their disposal.

Ms. Whitson at HRW is not rolling over, this was her response: "Please, if there is something we got wrong, if one of the incidents or attacks we described is wrong, I would love to hear it. Because the Gerald Steinbergs of this world, and I guess now the Sharanskys of this world, love to give blanket denials, love to give blanket dismissals. But let's get down to the facts and let me know, did we get the fact wrong on any of these cases."

Whitson had also been accused of using HRW’s criticism of Israel and the hits that it takes on that score in order to curry favor with potential Saudi backers. According to reports, Whitson discussed HRW’s work on both Saudi practices and on the Israeli occupied territories among other issues. Jeffrey Goldberg in his Atlantic blog shares a thoughtful exchange on this with the executive director of HRW, Ken Roth.

I would suggest that Human Rights Watch is not at fault here, but rather those whose agenda is to smear its good name. The event held in Riyadh that has come under scrutiny is undoubtedly replicated by HRW in similar venues around the world and is crucial to their work in sensitizing elites—especially in countries where violations occur—to a broad human rights agenda, including its applicability to the venue in question.

The most perfunctory fact-checking debunks the claim of HRW having an anti-Israel obsession as being patently absurd. As Ali Gharib of IPS has pointed out, of more than 30 releases in June and July (so far) about the region, Israel was criticized three times, Saudi Arabia five times, and Iran on nine occasions.

And here’s how cuddling up to the Saudis and perhaps even seeking private Saudi money led to self-censorship by Sarah Leah Whitson in her criticism of Saudi Arabia at that TCF event: Whitson attacked the lack of due process in the recent Saudi terror trials. She described Saudi Arabia, along with Syria and Libya, as being on the less free side in terms of “the most basic human rights” violations in the region. She attacked Saudi Arabia’s lack of a penal code, and Whitson had this to say about women’s rights in the kingdom: “Saudi Arabia is the absolute worst. Women are treated as legal minor, as children.” Two of HRW’s recent releases are about women’s rights and domestic worker abuses in the kingdom.

So, why this coordinated attack on HRW all of a sudden? It pains me to say it, but this is all about Israel. The Israeli prime minister’s office was shameless enough to announce that it has decided to wage a battle with human rights NGOs and started with Human Rights Watch. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, (apparently without irony) accused HRW of having “seriously lost its moral compass.”

AIPAC then promoted the attack on HRW. The timing is not a coincidence. Human Rights Watch, similar to other global, respected human rights NGOs, obviously follows developments in the occupied Palestinian territories and obviously had something to say about Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” in Gaza six months ago. Their recent Gaza report focused on the use or, rather, misuse of drones during these military attacks. Amnesty International has been similarly critical of the use of drones, asserting that Israeli forces did not employ insufficient care in preventing civilian casualties.

Or maybe, just maybe, something troubling from a human rights perspective might be taking place in Gaza and the rest of the occupied territories. This is a case of “shoot the messenger” on steroids. What happened to Gaza during Operation Cast Lead is being revealed not only by international sources, but also by Israeli sources, including this latest report from Israeli combat soldiers of the Breaking the Silence group, a collection of testimonies by Israeli combatants who served in Gaza.

Unfortunately, Israel did not—as was recommended by Israeli human rights groups including B’tselem—conduct its own credible state inquiry into the GazaIsrael has sent the signal to the international community, and notably to the human rights NGO community, that it will not do the job - that they will have to. events. By leaving the Israeli Defense Forces to conduct their own cursory, closed, and, ultimately, not credible investigation,

The logic of Israel’s continued occupation is such that the steps Israel is taking to maintain and entrench its presence in the territories are leading to ever-greater human rights violations. Often these practices are exposed, obviously human rights’ NGO’s do a lot of that exposing. In that context, one can expect the attacks on the human rights community to be ratcheted up. As Matt Yglesias has pointed out, there is “an increasing tendency by the Israeli government and by hawkish Jewish organizations to respond to criticism of Israel’s human rights record by lashing out against human rights groups.”

Attempts to defend the indefensible do not make for pretty viewing, even when beloved Israel is the subject (for another example see The Israel Project’s recent defense of settlements in the West Bank). Surely, one can both be a supporter of Israel and it’s security while at the same time, defending human rights by, for instance, advocating an end to the conflict, a two-state solution, and an end to the occupation. Surely, supporting Israel cannot be about undermining efforts to advance human rights around the world. That is not just fundamentally wrong, it strikes me as being fundamentally un-Jewish, and goes beyond the pale of what is legitimate or ethical.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Jewish state -- or Jewish values?

H/T Mondoweiss

By Tema Okun

I am a Jew. I am a religious Jew. I am an anti-Zionist Jew. I realize that to make this last claim is to risk that you will stop reading, as often any claim of anti-Zionism brings with it a label of traitor, anti-Semite, self-hating Jew. I hope, however, that you will give me the benefit of the doubt, at least for the few minutes that it will take you to read what I have to say.

I’ve been a Jew all my life although I was not raised with a Jewish education. In my late 40s, I began to study. I read, I joined a synagogue, I helped start a Talmud study group. I was and am drawn to the essential command, attributed to the great Rabbi Hillel, that our task as Jews is essentially to “not do to others that which is hateful to you.” I love how, in very Jewish fashion, Hillel tells us what not to do. I love and am daily challenged by how extremely difficult such a simple command can be.

I did not know much about Israel until I became more engaged as a religious Jew. The organized Jewish community teaches us that the Israeli narrative is the Jewish narrative. Support for Israel, the story goes, is synonymous with being a good Jew.

Now, some ten years and four trips to Israel/Palestine later, I invite you, if you think you can bear it, to hear why I care more about Hillel’s commandment than I do about a state.

With my partner who is also Jewish, I have just returned from 15 days of staying with friends, a family who lives in Samiramis, technically a JerusalemPalestine side of the Wall, less than a mile from the infamous Qalandia checkpoint. neighborhood, but one that sits on the

Unlike previous years where we participated in delegations, house rebuilding, or activism related to our work with ICAHD-USA (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions-USA), this time we frequently walked the streets of Ramallah, stopping for homemade ice cream at Baladna’s, shopping for shoes and handmade embroidery. We traveled north to Nablus and Tulkarem to visit family members and share succulent meals that left us bursting. We took one late night trip to Jericho to sit in the local park, drink cola, and talk; another to Jaffa Beach where we shared a picnic, conversation, laughter; we went to multiple weddings where men and women danced late into the night to the beat of loud, pulsing music.

We were privileged to see again what we have seen before -- how rich and full and engaging life in Palestine can be, how the people here are like people everywhere, attempting to live with some degree of happiness in a culture that deeply values familial relationships, good food, education, meaningful work, laughter.

We also bore witness, as we do on each trip, to encroaching apartheid. As we drove deep in the West Bank along the road snaking north to Nablus from Ramallah, we could look up and see virtually every hillside topped by a Jewish settlement. In some cases, the settlement is recent, a few caravans dotting the hilltop, their electric lights strung from pole to pole, glowing bright yellow through the night, a display of dominance. More often, the settlements are permanent, neat rows of identical houses with their prototypical orange roofs, poised on the top of the hill, ready to dip down onto the Palestinian farmland below. These are announced by the row of modern streetlights on the two-lane road we are traveling, beacons proclaiming the presence of Israeli Jews on the landscape. The lights illuminate the stretches of Arab road where Jewish settlers have to drive because the infamous “bypass” roads (the Palestinians call them apartheid roads) have yet to be built, the ones that allow only Jews to travel from mainland Israel into the West Bank without encountering Palestinians.

The omnipresence of these smaller settlements on the road to Nablus is new since our last trip in 2005; a look at the latest UN map shows the Palestinian landscape dotted with them like an x-ray showing a virulent, spreading cancer.

When President Obama talks about stopping the spread of settlements most people probably have little idea of what he means. Somehow the word “settlement” invokes an image of tents, a kind of unstable, fragile community. The first settlement I ever saw had to be pointed out to me because it looked like any modern suburb in the U.S., row upon row of contemporary houses set along well paved roads. I certainly did not expect what I saw – a solidly interwoven infrastructure common to any town or city – housing, water, lights, streets, stores planted immutably on the landscape. I soon came to understand their function. The massively large ones, housing hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers, are designed to penetrate deep into the West Bank. Pisgat Ze’ev, Mod’in, Ma’eleh Adumim – each is protected by the Wall whose crooked path illegally pilfers huge swaths of Palestinian land. Each functions to divide Palestine into separate cantons making a contiguous state impossible. The newer smaller ones, the ones I see on the hilltops between Ramallah and Nablus, act like beachheads, strategically positioned to continue the slow but sure process of Israeli land grab.

The stories about how these settlers take over this territory deep in the West Bank are horrible. These are Jewish ideologues, often newly arrived from the U.S. Once they seize a hilltop, they move down the hill by harassing the unfortunate Palestinians who happen to live or farm the valleys below, sometimes poisoning their water and fields, killing their animals, introducing hostile plant and animal life, burning precious olive trees. Their goal is to intimidate farmers and families physically until they leave, making room for more settlement construction in their place. What you could not know, because no one ever says so, is that whenever a group of Jews establish a settlement, soldiers come in to protect them, making it possible for the Israeli government to hide this theft of land in plain sight.

As I ride along the road, any road, I realize that a Palestinian cannot drive from here to there anywhere in the West Bank now without encountering a settlement, or two, or three. I begin to take in how it feels to be surrounded, literally, by entitlement and hostility. I think about the ubiquitous story told in the Jewish community, crafted carefully by the ideology makers, painting Israel victim to a hostile Arab population that wants nothing more than to drive us into the sea. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the irony of such a story, for it’s not us, the Jews, who are being driven out. It’s us, the Jews, it’s Israel, the state designed for us the Jews, that is driving Palestinian people off of their land and into exile.

I think too, of the irony in the Israeli mantra that the Palestinians, the PLO, the PA, Hamas, all Arab nations, must recognize Israel, something that each of these groups has done in one way or another, although Israel refuses to acknowledge it. Again, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this recurring argument for the incursion of Gaza, the killing of innocent men, women, and children, the essential incarceration of a culture for over 40 years of Occupation. We have to do these awful things, the story goes, until they, the hated Other, recognize us, declare our right to exist. From my seat in the car, traveling to Nablus, looking up at settlement after settlement, it is not Israel’s right to exist that is in question.

The only way to justify this literal occupation of other people’s lives and land is to make them inhuman. Israel, with the help of AIPAC, B’nai Brith, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federations, and a myriad of other mainstream Jewish organizations, have done this well. In conversation after conversation here in this country, I witness their success as otherwise compassionate Jews deftly generalize about Palestinian men, women, and children in ways that we swiftly condemn when done about us. An elderly couple almost spits their anger at me, describing the fear their Israeli daughter feels living in such close proximity to the threat of rockets and suicide bombs.

I want to invite them to consider that their daughter’s fear is shared, often many times over, by daughters and mothers and sisters and sons in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. I want to invite them, and any of you who have never been, to come and live, as I did, for two weeks in Occupied Palestine. Come with me to the checkpoints, where you will be herded into metal troughs so narrow you can’t turn around, through turnstiles designed specifically to be too small for the average human body, yelled at by young 18, 19, 20 year olds whose contempt and disregard for those they control reeks off their skin like sweat. Come with me as we attempt to travel the short trip to Nablus on a Saturday to meet up with friends and family, only to find that Israel has closed all the roads leading out of Ramallah, a city of over 25,000 people, trapping us here on the Jewish Sabbath day without explanation or care.

Come and hear the stories, told at every gathering of Palestinians, of the latest injustice endured by a family member, a friend, at the hands of an Israeli soldier or settler. Point as I did, to inquire about a man dancing, full of joy, in a wedding picture. Hear the story of how he was taking his pregnant wife to Gaza to meet his parents, how he was stopped by Israeli soldiers, forcibly taken to Gaza while his wife was sent back to Ramallah. Two years have passed and he has yet to meet his young child because Israel will not give him the identity papers they require so he can see his family. Meet Fadi, a member of the family we are visiting, a young man in his late twenties who spends his days and many of his nights working, trying to make a living as we all have to do. Fadi cannot go with us to Jaffa Beach, next to Tel Aviv, literally half an hour from his home on the Palestinian side of the Wall, because he does not have and will never get Israel’s permission to go. These two people, and millions like them, are not a security risk of any kind; their crime is to be Palestinian.

Come with me and talk to the family whose home, built on their own land, was demolished for lack of a permit that Israel will not give, a family who has only to raise their eyes to see Jewish homes constructed at a fervid pace on a Palestinian hillside a half mile away. Come with me to the fields of a man, the mayor of a local village, who has been separated from his fields by the Wall, forbidden to ever reach them again by an Israel who tells the world that all he has to do is petition for permission to get to them, when the reality is that his petition has been permanently denied without explanation. Come meet the grieving father and mother whose young boy was killed when Israeli tanks parading through the town sprayed bullets sending one through their gate and into their son’s back. These people, and millions like them, are not a security risk of any kind; their crime is to be Palestinian.

Come with me, I beg you, and tell me that your safety, mine, depends on treating people this way. I have not even spoken the worst of it. I have not described the legalized theft of water, land, crops, trees; the complex system of laws that rob Palestinians of both livelihood and a future. I grew up as a white girl in the Jim Crow South and I have spent my adult life in the study of racism; what I see when I go to Palestine is Jim Crow on steroids. What I’m saying to you, although I’m not supposed to say it, is that Zionism is indeed racism – the supremacy of one race over another for the benefit of the first.

The Jewish community is not in danger from Palestinians or Arab nations. We are in danger because we interpret “never again” to mean never again for us when we should mean anyone and everyone. We are in danger because we continue to engage in a community-wide denial about what Israel is doing in our name.

I remember the time when a respected member of the Jewish community in my town called me a “shonda” (shameful) when, with my partner, I talked to a Jewish Sunday school class about what we had witnessed in Palestine (an unusual occurrence, for few synagogues will allow us to speak). I was struck, as I have been when attempting to address racism here in the U.S., that the focus of his anger was not Israel’s transgressions but the fact that we were speaking about them.

What does it mean that we are silent while the very meaning of what it means to be Jewish is becoming irreparably damaged? Our survival does not depend on a state that violates our fundamental values; our survival depends on honoring those values, the ones that instruct us “not to do to others that which is hateful to you.”

I invite you to consider what I’ve witnessed, or, if you can, to go and witness for yourself. I invite you to consider what it means to be a Jew today, when literally millions of people experience us as a people who control their every movement, their ability to access water, farm their land, build houses, live their lives. I invite you to consider what you hope it will mean tomorrow and the day after. For me, the question is not what are we willing to do for the sake of Israel. The question is what are we going to do for the sake of Judaism?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Security boss: 'Hamas wants an end to conflict.' Netanyahu: 'Shut up'

From Mondoweiss.

A report in Haaretz on a Cabinet meeting yesterday at which Netanyahu rebuked Shin Bet security service head Yuval Diskin when he started talking about the peace process and Hamas's shifting public stance. The piece hints at a closeted Netanyahu, with a Strangelove aide, Uzi Arad, whispering into his thick ear.

Oh, yes, the lovely Uzi Arad, who can forget him? The man who famously exclaimed “It is territory we want to preserve, but populations we want to rid ourselves of”.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Vatican teaching Hezbollah how to kill Jews, says pamphlet for IDF troops

Shit you couldn't make up, if they paid you a million dollars for it, is how I'd describe the stuff reported in Ha'aretz. Over at the excellent JSF, Levi9909 calls it 'The Protocols of the Elders of Islamo-Catholicism'.

Perhaps that 'Judeo-Christian' thingy hasn't been completely consolidated yet? Or is the real Jew-murdering and New Axis of Evil an unexpected purple-green cross and crescent alliance between Rome and Mecca? Increasing numbers will believe it. Benedict and Nasrallah: brothers in arms. Who'd have thunk it?

The Pope and the cardinals of the Vatican help organize tours of Auschwitz for Hezbollah members to teach them how to wipe out Jews, according to a booklet being distributed to Israel Defense Forces soldiers.

Officials encouraging the booklet's distribution include senior officers, such as Lt. Col. Tamir Shalom, the commander of the Nahshon Battalion of the Kfir Brigade.

The booklet was published by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, in cooperation with the chief rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, and has been distributed for the past few months.

The booklet, titled "On Either Side of the Border," purports to be the testimony of "a Hezbollah officer who spied for Israel."

"The book is distributed regularly and everyone reads it and believes it," said one soldier. "It's filled with made-up details but is presented as a true story. A whole company of soldiers, adults, told me: 'Read this and you'll understand who the Arabs are.'"

The copy obtained by Haaretz included a Pesach greeting from Shalom, "in the name of the Nahshon Brigade."

The story is narrated by a man named Avi, who says he changed his name from Ibrahim after he left Hezbollah and converted to Judaism. Avi says he was once close to Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, and describes Hezbollah's purported close relationships with the Vatican and European leaders.

The IDF Spokesman's Office said in a statement: "The book was received as a donation and distributed in good faith to the soldiers. After we were alerted to the sensitivity of its content, distribution was immediately halted."

According to the book, Nasrallah was invited to join a delegation to tour France, Poland and Italy, including the Vatican. Nasrallah could not refuse an invitation from the Vatican, Avi explained: "We knew [the Pope] identified with Hezbollah's struggle."

The book describes the alleged visit of Hezbollah officials to Auschwitz, led by the Vatican: "We came to the camps. We saw the trains, the platforms, the piles of eyeglasses and clothes ... We came to learn ... Our escort spoke as he was taught. We quickly explained to him: Every real Arab, deep inside, is kind of a fan of the Nazis."

The booklet also describes how European politicians and journalists ostensibly work against Israel.

"Our escort introduced us to important figures who identify with our causes. Rich people, people with authority ... They allocate big budgets to all sorts of Israeli organizations that erode the standing of the IDF ... We have a special budget for encouraging politicians and journalists who serve our purposes. Every opinion piece that conforms to our position is rewarded generously."

Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, the son of former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, is known for his extremist views, and was once charged with incitement to racism after calling for the expulsion of all Arab students from Safed College after a terror attack in the area.

The younger Eliahu was also behind an online video in which he described the "miracle of our matriarch Rachel," whom he claims appeared before Israeli soldiers in Gaza to warn them of booby-trapped buildings during Operation Cast Lead.

"In some of the places we went in Gaza there was a woman who warned them ... 'Did they tell you who I am,' she said, 'I am the matriarch Rachel," Eliahu says in the video. He claims his father confirmed the veracity of the story, and told him that he had prayed to Rachel: "I told her: Rachel, there's a war... Go to God, Blessed Be He, pray over the soldiers who sacrifice themselves for the People of Israel, so that they will strike and not be struck."

David Menahemov, an aide to Eliahu, claims the book is not fiction. "Avi is a real person and everything in the book is absolutely true," insists Menahemov. "It's a totally true story, I know the guy personaly. He's an Arab, who even though he converted still acts like an Arab. We helped him to write and to translate it. We changed a few details to protect him and his family."