The Israelisation of British politics

It should be a matter of the gravest concern. A concern for the integrity of British politics.  A concern over and above those we have about the diverse causes we support.  

When it comes to thinking about, speaking about, using one’s best judgment about Israel and Palestine, too many of our politicians behave with the integrity of a pre-programmed talking machine. Forget human rights, international and humanitarian law, the evidence of any number of authoritative witnesses; and even the testimony of one’s own eyes and knowledge, all this counts for nothing once the censoring pro-Zionist lobby gets to work. This lobby’s purpose is to direct and shape all public speech about Israel.  This lobby has contaminated British political life, curtailing what may be said about Israel in the public realm.

Labour’s shame

Thus we have the sorry sight of Kier Starmer, Labour Party leader, withdrawing from a virtual Ramadan interfaith event after a pro-Israel lobby group alerted him to the organiser’s support for the boycott of Israeli dates produced in territories occupied by the Zionist state.

Note here that the dates proposed for boycott are grown in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, not in Israel proper.  In other words, grown on stolen Palestinian land. 

Despite initially agreeing to take part in the event, Starmer pulled out after the Board of Deputies, a pro-Israel lobby group, alerted him to the organisers’ Tweeted comments supporting the boycott of dates produced on Occupied Palestinian land.  The Board of Deputies’ Tal Ofer tweeted he was ‘glad to see that after I raised this issue Keir Starmer withdrew his participation from the event.’

The Muslim Association of Britain, however, was ‘disappointed’ to hear that the Labour leader had pulled out ‘due to the host’s support for boycotting dates grown in Israeli settlements’.

MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) in condemning the withdrawal said:

‘Numerous UN resolutions have affirmed that settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip are in breach of international law. Meanwhile, support for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against goods grown on illegal settlements or through other means deemed in contempt of international law are a legitimate form of democratic activism to promote peaceful change, regardless of where in the world such acts are being committed’.

Two States or One?

I’m afraid this is rather a long post – just under 3,000 words –which may tax some readers’ stamina, and indeed patience. Doubtless a bit more incisive editing might have reduced the word count, but the subject I was aiming at – the One State idea as a potentially positive approach to the Palestine/Israel impasse – seemed to me to require, at least in outline, a critique of the optimistically titled Two State ‘solution’.  One needs to clear the ground before it can be built on.

Almost without exception my posts on Palestine/Israel have not been sunny fare.  They’ve pointed to the multiple sufferings – killings, woundings, home demolitions, internal displacements, child detentions, racist policies and enactments – endured, and resisted, by Palestinians, child, man, woman. All this and more, daily.

But mere describing and reporting – imperatives not to be shirked – of themselves offer no pathway to remediation, nor strategy towards a wished for, just, future. And while the legendary steadfastness – Samud – of Palestinians is and will be a prerequisite underpinning any strategy directed towards creating such a just outcome, it is only a prerequisite, not a strategy in itself. 

One State/Two State

Jeff Harper,[1] in his latest book ‘Decolonising Israel, Liberating Palestine’, makes the point there needs to be a wished-for, articulated endgame if progress towards a durable political settlement to the Palestine/Israel impasse is to be achieved. For reasons that will be outlined below, the much-touted two State ‘solution’ is not that endgame.  

A wished-for endgame can only come to fruition in the context and pursuit of a political strategy.  Samud and resistance are necessary, but of themselves not future-oriented strategies. I want, therefore, in this post to point to a potential ‘endgame’ that historically had, and perhaps now has, greater credibility than commonly supposed. It is the One State idea: a unified, democratic State of equal citizenship and rights for all between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.    

Before proceeding, however, it is necessary to dispose of a different proposed endgame, one that for some time had apparent credence, but that time, almost certainly, has passed. I speak of the now entirely notional ‘Two State Solution’ proposed, indeed promoted, as the way to resolve the Palestine/Israel conundrum. 

The ‘solution’ is in fact snake oil, not cure.  At first blush it suggests a sense of fairness, the title ‘two states’ implying a symmetry between the gains and losses that would be borne by Israelis and Palestinians alike.  All in pursuit of the ‘solution’. But there is no symmetry here, still less fairness. Proposals for the Palestinian State require it to accept but 22% of historic Palestine. Such a State would be almost entirely dependent on a dominant Israel, which has not hitherto displayed any intention of supporting a truly independent Palestinian state.

It’s true that the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) did in fact come to accept the two State outcome, this in 1988. Having by that time endured twenty-one years of Israeli Occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, with an International Community, so called, largely in support of the proposal, one can see that weariness, coupled with pressure by international funders, beget a form of pragmaticism so that, in 1988, a two State outcome was formally endorsed by the PLO, though never thus far achieved.

NSPCC/JCB complicit in cruelty to Palestinian children: Campaign report

There’s been an agreeable increase in both visitors and viewings of pages to this blog site. In particular, there appeared to be interest in the campaign to persuade NSPCC to refuse donations from JCB (Machines) on the grounds that this made the NSPCC complicit in cruelty to Palestinian children and their families. JCB’s heavy duty machines – bulldozers and others – are used by Israel to destroy Palestinian homes and livelihoods, often without warning.

The rate of demolitions is increasing. The aim: to remove Palestinians from their land to make way for Jewish-only Settlements.

I thought readers might be interested in a report on the campaign by the UK Palestine Mental Health Network. It can be found here. I will promote the next stages of the campaign as soon as details are released.

Looking ahead, I think there are two issues on Palestine/Israel I want to tackle in next postings: 1. the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Campaign (BDS); 2. the proposal for One State between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

NSPCC complicity in cruelty to Palestinian children. An open letter signed by ninety one health workers, academics, educators, social workers, youth workers, and others

It should at the very least be a source of disquiet that a number of mainstream media, including the Guardian, determined that this letter, and the issue it addressesNSPCC’s complicity in undermining the lives of Palestinian children and their families – does not warrant space within their columns.

A perhaps unintended, though perhaps ultimately useful, consequence of media indifference to this letter is that it alerts readers of this post to the way in which the daily, persistent oppression of Palestinians by Israel and its fellow travellers is to a significant extent marginalised or entirely ignored by the mainstream media.

PLAYLINK is pleased to be among the signatories of this letter.

We, the undersigned, are campaigning organisations, professionals and creatives who are very concerned with the recent reports of escalating home demolitions in Palestine

We are deeply disquieted to learn that the charity the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) is accepting funds from JCB – a company which exports equipment to Israel via its partner, Comasco, despite knowing how its products are subsequently employed. 

Evidence shows that JCB bulldozers are routinely used to demolish Palestinian houses, animal shelters and water sources. They destroy livelihoods by digging up olive and other fruit trees.  Palestinian children, their families and communities suffer terribly as a result. 

JCB currently faces scrutiny under OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises which investigates companies that may be involved in human rights violations as a result of their business relationship with other parties. The United Nations has also listed JCB as involved in activities that support the Israeli settlements.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children accused of complicity in cruelty to Palestinian children

My guess is that a significant number of those who read my posts are involved, in one way of another, with children and the required work to ensure their flourishing. We recognise this as a universal goal, unbounded by border, background or ethnicity. With this in mind, this post may have particular salience for at least some readers, for reasons set out below. This post ends with a call to action. My hope is that some readers at least will respond to the call.

The NSPCC, which does valuable work here in the UK, is charged with being complicit in the ruination of Palestinian children’s, and their families, lives. This because it accepts substantial donations – millions of pounds – from J C Bamford Excavators Ltd (JCB), the private UK company that builds and sells to Israel the bulldozers and other heavy equipment used by Israeli forces to demolish, not only the homes of Palestinians, but also the structures and buildings required to maintain life, for example, animal housing, olive and fruit trees, wells, community freshwater systems, cutting off villagers from water sources.

The aim of the demolitions is to clear – ethnically cleanse – Palestinians from their land to make way for exclusive Jews-only Settlements.  The demolitions are well documented and are virtually a daily occurrence both in the Occupied West Bank and within illegally annexed East Jerusalem.

An insightful letter framing a courageous act: Israeli students publicly refuse military conscription

Last month, January 2021, sixty Israeli High School students very publicly refused to be conscripted into the Israeli army (military service is compulsory for men and women) . Below is the letter they sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, Minister of Defense Benny Gantz and Education Minister Yoav Galant.

It’s a stunning, courageous letter, combining succinct political and social analysis within a strong ethical framework. It also offers an insight into the pervasive militarism of Israeli society, and how from the earliest age Israeli children are prepared for their role as enforcers of a corrupt, perverse Jewish supremacist ideology.

Beyond this brief introduction, there is nothing more I need say, the letter speaks so eloquently for itself.

We are a group of Israeli 18-year-olds at a crossroads. The Israeli state is demanding our conscription into the military. Allegedly, a defense force which is supposed to safeguard the existence of the State of Israel. In reality, the goal of the Israeli military is not to defend itself from hostile militaries, but to exercise control over a civilian population. In other words, our conscription to the Israeli military has political context and implications. It has implications, first and foremost on the lives of the Palestinian people who have lived under violent occupation for 72 years. Indeed, the Zionist policy of brutal violence towards and expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and lands began in 1948 and has not stopped since. The occupation is also poisoning Israeli society–it is violent, militaristic, oppressive, and chauvinistic. It is our duty to oppose this destructive reality by uniting our struggles and refusing to serve these violent systems–chief among them the military. Our refusal to enlist to the military is not an act of turning our backs on Israeli society. On the contrary, our refusal is an act of taking responsibility over our actions and their repercussions.

The military is not only serving the occupation, the military is the occupation. Pilots, intelligence units, bureaucratic clerks, combat soldiers, all are executing the occupation. One does it with a keyboard and the other with a machine gun at a checkpoint. Despite all of this, we grew up in the shadow of the symbolic ideal of the heroic soldier. We prepared food baskets for him in the high holidays, we visited the tank he fought in, we pretended we were him in the pre-military programs in high school, and we revered his death on memorial day. The fact that we are all accustomed to this reality does not make it apolitical. Enlistment, no less than refusal, is a political act.

Seismic shift: Authoritative Israeli human rights organisation brands Israel an Apartheid State

It’s as good as official: Israeli human rights group – B’tselem – defines Israel an Apartheid State. Other organisations have made that evidence-based judgment, not least the UN and Al-Haq, but the B’tselem report has special significance – it represents a radical break in its previous position and implcitly calls to account those that have given Israel comfort by treating it as a normal state.

My posts have unfailingly labelled Israel a racist, Apartheid State. And over a number of postings I have presented evidence to support that designation.  Nevertheless, it’s clear that, for many, it’s a designation too far, not least for some at the liberal end of the political spectrum. 

To a significant extent liberal thought, along with its Zionist liberal variant, generally revolves around what are considered universal values: human rights, political, civil and religious rights for all, in this case understood as mutual entitlements both for Palestinians and for Jews.  In the abstract, there is little of contention here, but in the brute light of history and the day-to-day lived experience of Palestinians under Israeli rule, these precepts amount to no more than wishful thinking. 

The historical distinction: The Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel proper

A key aspect of some liberal thinking, and indeed of more centrist thought, is that a distinction must be made between Israel proper (i.e. Israel within the Green Line) and its Occupation of Palestinian territory, i.e. Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  This distinction forms what might be called the ‘standard paradigm’ within which Palestine/Israel questions have traditionally been considered.  There is Israel, and there is the OPT.  Israel is a democratic State – so it says of itself – and there is Israel in the OPT.  It shouldn’t be there, of course, but, according to the standard paradigm, the ‘solution’ to that state of affairs is to hand: Israel must withdraw from the OPT. 

Thus far the conventional approach – the standard paradigm – has not paid too much attention to what goes on within Israel, specifically as it affects its non-Jewish citizens and residents, but focuses on, and works to counter, human rights abuses in the OPT; and to press for an end to the Occupation. 

No distinction: an alternative paradigm

But what happens if the standard paradigm is wrong? Or at least, were it ever right, it is wrong now, and has been for some time. If the paradigm is wrong or outdated, then it becomes not a tool for thought, but a constraint upon it. 

Facts on the ground have for some time made redundant the idea that there is a firm distinction to be drawn between Israel proper and the OPT. Israel’s writ runs throughout both territories; on both sides of the Green Line, that writ is a racist, Apartheid one.  For a range of motives and reasons, this characterisation of the Israeli State has been unpalatable for many. 

Those reasons and motives need not detain us in this post, but the reluctance to stare reality in the face results in, and is based on, denial, this perhaps particularly the case for those I’ve characterised as of liberal persuasion. From this perspective, Israel’s often acknowledged misdeeds, misbehaviours and cruelties can be laid at the door of the Occupation. It is the Occupation that is the mutant gene, corrupting an otherwise healthy Israeli body politic. Ending the Occupation, therefore, is conceived as a salve that, once administered, will create the conditions for the restoration of the ‘true’ Israel, the fabled democratic state that resides in a ‘tough neighbourhood’. 

Seismic shif

In what amounts to a seismic shift in thinking and analysis, the well-regarded, authoritative B’tselem – The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories – has declared Israel a racist, Apartheid State; a State that controls the entirety of the territory bounded by the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan: Israel proper, the OPT and East Jerusalem.

Historically, B’tselem devoted itself to documenting Israeli violations of Palestinians’ human rights but only in the OPT – the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip – but not in Israel proper within the Green Line demarcation border. It has now come to a different analysis, this based on documented facts on the ground. 

‘A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid’

Under the heading set out above, B’tselem explains:

The common perception in public, political, legal and media discourse is that two separate regimes operate side by side in this area [between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River], separated by the Green Line….

…Over time, the distinction between the two regimes has grown divorced from reality…. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers now reside in permanent settlements east of the Green Line, living as though they were west of it. East Jerusalem has been officially annexed to Israel’s sovereign territory, and the West Bank has been annexed in practice.

Most importantly, the distinction obfuscates the fact that the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is organized under a single principle: advancing and cementing the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians. All this leads to the conclusion that…There is one regime governing the entire area and the people living in it, based on a single organizing principle.

It goes on to say:

In the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the Israeli regime implements laws, practices and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians….

Jewish citizens live as though the entire area were a single space (excluding the Gaza Strip). The Green Line means next to nothing for them: whether they live … within Israel’s sovereign territory, or east of it, [in illegally held territory] is irrelevant to their rights or status.Where Palestinians live, on the other hand, is crucial….The geographic space, which is contiguous for Jews, is a fragmented mosaic for Palestinians…

…A regime that uses laws, practices and organized violence to cement the supremacy of one group over another is an apartheid regime. Israeli apartheid, which promotes the supremacy of Jews over Palestinians…is a process that has gradually grown more institutionalized and explicit, with mechanisms introduced over time in law and practice to promote Jewish supremacy. These accumulated measures, their pervasiveness in legislation and political practice, and the public and judicial support they receive – all form the basis for our conclusion that the bar for labeling the Israeli regime as apartheid has been met.

A change in the ethical grammar

Robert A. H. Cohen, in his reliably excellent blog, is clear that the B’tselem report changes not only the acceptable vocabulary on Palestine/Israel but also the ‘ethical grammar’ which hitherto has both shielded and sustained Israel.

Israel is and has been sustained through massive financial support from the USA and the EU, along with close military and ‘security’ cooperation; joint arms’ development and sales; and protected from criticism by demonising Israel-critical speech as prima facie anti-Semitic.

The B’tselem report implicitly calls into question the role the political class has played in turning a blind eye, and cosying up to, Israel.  It similarly calls to account all those organsations and individuals – civil society – that have given Israel comfort, not least by treating it as a normal State.

The B’tselem report blows a hole through many of the policies and practices designed to neutralise or vanquish criticism of Israel.  The Jewish Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement, for example, will presumably need to take pause to consider, and attempt to refine, their approach to defending Israel. The Labour Party Leader, Keir Starmer, may come to feel he has misstepped in his handling of the of anti-Semitism issue within the labour Party. Or at least he should.

The Education Minister, Gavin Williamson, may feel the ground has been cut from beneath his feet in his attempt to force universities to adopt the IHRA (International Holocaust Memorial Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism, along with examples of what may indicate anti-Semitism. One of those examples I discussed in an earlier blogDenying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour. In the light of the B’tselem report, how can it now feasibly be suggested that Israel is not an Apartheid, racist State?  And on what ground now does the oft-critiqued IHRA defintion of anti-Semitism stand – quicksand?

BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions

Then there is the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, it also the subject to vilification and threats.  The B’tselem report draws a parallel – not an exact one, but sufficient for the purpose – between the Israel Apartheid State and what was the South African Apartheid State.

BDS played a significant role in isolating that regime, and by doing so aided its demise.  This surely, then, is the moment when those who have offered Israel the benefit of the doubt, in part because they based their analysis on what I have called the standard paradigm, need to reappraise both their analysis and the actions that may be required of them.

BDS is a significant tool in the struggle against Israel’s State-induced oppression and needs to be more widely supported. It’s always struck me as odd that many of those who actively opposed South African Apartheid, not least by supporting the BDS campaign of its day, have been somehow quesy about supporting its current iteration in respect of Israel’s Apartheid State.

Turning a blind eye, not confronting the reality – the humiliations, brutalisations, home demolitions, killings that Palestinians daily endure – can no longer be an option.

Endword

To coin a phrase: There is an elephant in the room that this blog occupies.  

The B’tselem analysis rests upon the fact that there is but one regime that governs both Israel within the Green Line, and Palestinians within the OPT, including annexed East Jerusalem.  The elephant therefore thinks it inevitable that we ask ‘What of the two State ‘solution’? Is it tenable? Was it ever really tenable? And if it is not now tenable, what is the way forward for justice within Palestine/Israel?

I think this needs to be the subject of the next post.

So you and I could be anti-Semitic, and we didn’t even know it. Part two

This article can be read as a stand alone. But, as the designation ‘Part two’ suggests, there is merit in visiting Part one for useful, additional background. In particular, Hasbara is explained, as is the inept and damaging IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism along with its supposed examples.

Give or take a minute, each article is about a five minute read.

Israel’s current ascendancy

At present, and for some time now, Israel and supporters of its racist, apartheid state have been in the ascendancy at least so far as mainstream media and political opinion is concerned. In more tangible terms, this is evidenced by Israel’s involvement in bi-lateral and other trade deals (e.g. with the EU), arms deals, joint academic research projects, joint military enterprises, and much more.  There are, too, the massive transfers of USA dollars and European Euros to Israel. Taken together, all this helps keep Israel afloat, free to daily colonise more and more Palestinian land whilst working to empty the stolen land of its indigenous Palestinian inhabitants.

Hasbara’s aim is to deflect attention from all this. To put it out of sight, to direct our focus elsewhere, to project Israel as a perfectly normal Western-type state. The sort of state that can host a European Song Contest. The sort of state replete with pavement cafes in Tel Aviv or West Jerusalem, where one can relax, drink coffee, oblivious to the fact that British JCB bulldozers are demolishing Palestinian homes; children are being shot by the ‘most moral army in the world’;  that the Israel Defence Force (the inapt name for Israel’s army)  ‘makes its presence felt’, as a matter of policy, by breaking into Palestinian homes in the dead of night, armed, no warning given, often dragging some or all the inhabitants – mum, dad, brother, sister, uncle, aunt – away, traumatising all, but children in particular. All this a mere twenty five miles away from Tel Aviv’s cafés where people sit unconcerned, the facts unacknowledged, or wilfully ignored.

If the truth was acknowledged

An inherent difficulty for any hasbara effort is that there are few facts to hand that, in truth, point to a state and society that one would admire or aim to emulate. Beneath the surface glitter of normality, there is a highly militarised, colonising, corrupted state and corrupted society. It would not take a visitor long to verify this should they care to bother.

The real and present danger

Hasbara, and the actions that flow from it, must be understood as a highly aggressive, counter-democratic programme that not only camouflages Israel’s perpetual law and rights-defying behaviour, but also attacks and corrodes democratic discourse here in the UK, and in the West more widely. 

Hasbara and its associated policies and practices, is working to diminish and close down the public spaces available for critiquing Israel, its policies and practices towards Palestinians.  This, as I have made clear, is not accidental. It is the outcome of deliberate strategy.  And it’s been, and is, remarkably successful, here in the UK, in Europe and the USA as the following examples demonstrate:

Gavin Williamson, the UK Education Secretary, has threatened university with cuts to their funding if they do not adopt the IHRA definition.

Leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, has imposed a blanket ban on constituency parties discussing Jeremy Corbyn’s, its former leader, suspension; and David Evans, Labour’s General Secretary, has forbidden discussion on Labour’s adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

In USA, Zoom, YouTube and Facebook censored an online class featuring Palestinian, Black, Jewish and South African activists at San Francisco State University. The open classroom event “Whose Narratives?: Gender, Justice & Resistance” featured Palestinian activist Leila Khaled and was scheduled to take place at 12:30 PDT before being erased from Zoom, Facebook and YouTube.

Mike Pompeo, for the moment still USA Secretary of State, has said:  ‘As we have made clear, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism’. On the back of which the USA intends to identify and sanction organizations that engage in or support the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

A non-binding Bundestag resolution, adopted by a large majority on May 2019, condemned the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement targeting Israel as “anti-Semitic” and compared it to the Nazi regime’s demands not to buy from Jews. The resolution also called for denying public funding and public spaces to individuals and organisations which support BDS.

Profoundly mistaken

Anti-Semitism has been weaponised, aggressively deployed to support the Israeli State.  This is its main, indeed arguably, its only purpose.  It does not mean it is good for Jews in general, in fact it is potentially damaging. Damaging because the impression can all too easily be given – has already been given? – that anti-Semitism must be given special regard, divorced from the wider, most urgent, most necessary, struggle against racism in all its forms –Islamophobia, anti-black prejudice and discrimination, anti-Roma prejudice and discrimination.  This point is well made in a letter to the Guardian from 122 Palestinian and Arab academics, journalists and intellectuals who expressed their concerns about the IHRA definition:

‘To level the charge of antisemitism against anyone who regards the existing state of Israel as racist, notwithstanding the actual institutional and constitutional discrimination upon which it is based, amounts to granting Israel absolute impunity. Israel can thus deport its Palestinian citizens, or revoke their citizenship or deny them the right to vote, and still be immune from the accusation of racism. The IHRA definition and the way it has been deployed prohibit any discussion of the Israeli state as based on ethno-religious discrimination. It thus contravenes elementary justice and basic norms of human rights and international law.’

‘The suppression of Palestinian rights in the IHRA definition betrays an attitude upholding Jewish privilege in Palestine instead of Jewish rights, and Jewish supremacy over Palestinians instead of Jewish safety. We believe that human values and rights are indivisible and that the fight against antisemitism should go hand in hand with the struggle on behalf of all oppressed peoples and groups for dignity, equality and emancipation.’


So you and I could be anti-Semitic, and we didn’t even know it. Part One

A key objective of the Israeli State is to appear to be a normal state, one adhering to the modalities and conventions associated with a legitimate political entity. Because Israel, in vitally significant ways, does not in fact conform to those modalities and conventions, it must therefore expend much energy and money directed towards creating and sustaining what is, fundamentally, a false image.  The problem with falsity, however, is that it is only effective for as long as the veneer of falsehood is maintained.  Such maitenance requires much effort.

This is the first of two articles, the second to be published next Monday, 28 December. This first one discusses Israel’s strenuous efforts to appear a normal democratic state and the way it has deployed accusations of anti-Semitism to intimidate its critics. The next article will pursue this theme showing how our – the UK and the West’s – commitment to democratic values and free speach are endangered by an over-strident Israel lobby. This post is about a five minute read.

A key objective of the Israeli State is to appear to be a normal state, one adhering to the modalities and conventions associated with a legitimate political entity. Because Israel, in vitally significant ways, does not in fact conform to those modalities and conventions, it must therefore expend much energy and money directed towards creating and sustaining what is, fundamentally, a false image.  The problem with falsity, however, is that it is only effective for as long as the veneer of falsehood is maintained.  Such maintenance requires much effort.

The mechanism deployed by Israel both to eulogise its purported achievements and to intimidate its actual and potential critics is called hasbara.

Hasbara is propaganda directed at an international audience. It aims to influence the conversation so that Israel is portrayed in a positive light. Israel well understands the power of media and works assiduously to shape and direct the narrative on Palestine/Israel matters.  Such is the importance that Israel accords to propaganda that there is a Hasbara Ministry, headed by a government minister.

Hasbara, then, is well resourced, sophisticated and unrelenting. Israel-critical voices are demonised as anti-Semitic, a point I shall return to below. Palestinian voices and perspectives are erased or vilified.  Mainstream western media is shamefully complicit in the marginalisation of Palestinian perspectives.

Hasbara and its local helpmates

To be effective, hasbara must work through locally based groups and organisations – some very influential – who expend much energy patrolling the boundary of what they consider to be acceptable speech about Israel. However, to have extensive reach, upwards towards government and national institutions, and downwards towards local government and civil society – for example football clubs and university student unions – requires a self-reinforcing, unifying theme,  one that, superficially at least, appears manifestly, incontrovertibly, both necessary and true.

In a move of tactical brilliance, it was realised that a highly effective way of intimidating and demonising critical voices was to accuse Israel-critical and Zionist-critical individuals and groups of anti-Semitism. And, indeed, the tactic has been highly effective to the extent that even Jews can be accused of anti-Semitism, which certainly puzzles many of us.

Nevertheless, one would normally expect a degree of caution, not to say scepticism, to be brought to bear when assessing the validity of anti-Semitism charges if only because they are so promiscuously deployed. But no, to be charged is to be guilty, and through a process of demonization critical voices are silenced, hounded and marginalised.

Israel-critical and Zionist-critical analysis and speech is curtailed, in part through self-censorship born of the fear of being publicly vilified; and in part because the platforms – the halls, venues, papers, social media sites  – available for speech are  withdrawn and access debarred. There is a chilling hint here of the Salem witch-hunts whereby certain actions and forms of speech are deemed heretical and must at all costs be both punished and silenced.

Within its own terms, witch hunting has an underpinning rationale which, once accepted, forms the basis of the accusations that follow. One approach was to test the accused’s ability to flawlessly recite a New Testament biblical passage or the Lord’s Prayer. Stumble over a word or words, and the witchcraft charge is confirmed, for only the maliciously deviant are so far from god’s grace that holy words become unspeakable.

Spurious authority: Working definition of anti-Semitism and examples

And so it is that Israel advocates seized on a profoundly weak document – the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) flawed and muddled ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism – as the basis for accusations of anti-Semitism. And, via this vehicle, a closed system of thought was instituted based on the assertion that almost all critical speech and writing about Israel and Zionism is, in and of itself, anti-Semitic.

The IHRA’s non-legally binding, working defintion of anti-Semitism:

‘Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.’

In the same way as scripture, new or old testament, has an accompanying body of commentary to help elucidate the meaning of the sacred texts, the ‘definition’ had appended to it a concoction of notional ‘examples’ of anti-Semitism to illuminate potential areas of misspeak; that is, where anti-Semitic utterance could be said to have occurred.

Nothing to do with anti-Semitism

But the actual purpose of the IHRA’s so called definition, and a significant number of its notional elucidating examples, have little or nothing to do with countering anti-Semitism but has everything to do with erasing knowledge of Israel’s brutal fifty-two year occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, to say nothing of the discrimination Palestinians face within Israel (i.e. as distinct from the occupied territories). 

The tactic here is to weld criticism of Israel to a self-serving set of examples that link Israel-critical and Zionist-critical comment to anti-Semitism, thereby neutering negative comment and analysis, and condemning the critic to obloquy.

There are six highly questionable examples which it is claimed may constitute anti-Semitism. The full list can be found here.  For now, I’ll concentrate on only one:

‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.’

In 2018 the Israel Knesset (Parliament) passed the ‘Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People’.  Extracts are given below in italics.

The law’s title actually says it all: Israel is the Nation-State of the Jewish people. This further clarified in the clause:

‘The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.’

Palestinians and non-Jews comprise around 20% of the Israeli population but only Jews have the ‘unique’ right to self-determination. ‘Unique’ equals ‘exclusively.

‘The state will be open for Jewish immigration and the ingathering of exiles.’

Only Jewish immigration, not Palestinian. Palestinian’s have no right to immigrate – or ‘return’ – to Palestine/Israel.  This particularly affects the approximately 750,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants who were effectively expelled from their homes and country in the 1948 Naqba ethnic cleansing by the nascent Jewish State.

‘The state’s language is Hebrew not Arabic. 

Notwithstanding around a 20% Arab population.

‘The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.’

Note the development is of Jewish settlement. The settlements, properly called colonies, are situated on stolen (West Bank) or illegally annexed (East Jerusalem) land. The theft of Palestinian land is carried out with the aid of JCB British, militarised bulldozers, the Israel Defence Forces, and Israeli Border Police.  This process continues and in fact has recently been significantly stepped up. Israel does this with impunity. 

Notwithstanding any other indicators that define Israel a racist endeavour, surely the Basic Law clauses set out above confirm that the current State of Israel’s very foundations are racist, and it acts accordingly.   

Does what I have said here constitute the offence of anti-Semitism?

Next week’s article will discuss the real and present danger current hasbara practices represent to free speech and the need for a unified front against all forms of racism, not simply anti-Semitism. This is both an ethical point, and a pragmatic one.

That’s all it took: six army bulldozers and around a hundred soldiers

My purpose in this posting is simply to put before you first-hand testimony of the lived experience of the Jordan Valley Bedouin. The testimony offered here is by Professor David Shulman accompanied by his and Margaret Olin‘s photos .

Below is a brief introduction by David followed by a link to his 6 November 2020 report. The combination of words and photos is evocative indeed. No additional words from me are required.

One of Ta’ayush projects, writes Professor David Shulman, centres on protecting Palestinian shepherds and farmers in the Jordan Valley. [Rabbi] Arik Ascherman and the group of activist-volunteers who have joined him are with these shepherds and farmers almost every day.

There is no doubt whatsoever that without our presence accompanying the shepherds to their grazing grounds, it would be dangerous for them—perhaps impossible—to bring their sheep and goats out to pasture. They regularly and repeatedly suffer violent attacks by Jewish settlers, who are in many cases supported by soldiers and the police; the overall aim of this violence is to drive these Palestinians out of the Jordan Valley altogether. The authorities make no attempt even to disguise this brutal goal. One should keep in mind that the Jordan Valley settlements, like those elsewhere in the West Bank, sit on Palestinian land. All of the many newer “outpost”-settlements in the Jordan Valley are illegal even under the lenient terms of Israeli law. Such settlements tend to attract sociopathic young men who have found in them an outlet for their aggressive impulses.

One could say that this is a struggle on the micro-level for the lands still available to Palestinians in the Jordan Valley (probably less than 15% of the lands in the Valley as a whole, since huge areas have been declared closed military zones and/or handed over to settlers). It is also fair to say that in many cases the only thing standing between the Bedouin shepherds and their final expulsion is the presence of Israeli activists, on a daily basis, to protect them from the settlers and the soldiers. This form of activism is not without danger; all of us have been physically attacked at times by the settlers. This is a risk we need to take, if we are to live up to the privilege of being human.

In so far as it is possible to convey in words and pictures the brutal reality of Isaeli rule, it will be found in Professor Shulman and Margaret Olin’s Ta’ayush post of November 6, 2020.