July 30, 2012

AIPAC member admits assaulting CODEPINK protestor, apologises and pays compensation

Here's CODEPINK back in February this year:
A recent response to a subpoena from the United States Capitol Police has revealed the main assailant of a peaceful demonstrator who was physically attacked and injured on May 24, 2011, to be Stanley Anthony Shulster, allegedly a member of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).  According to the lawsuit, Mr. Shulster, a retired lawyer, admitted to assaulting Rae Abileah, a member of CODEPINK, in the House of Representatives while she protested the Israeli occupation of Palestine during the speech by Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel. The Capitol Police issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Shulster for this attack.  

Mr. Shulster's biography on the Jackson County, Oregon Republican Women website identifies him as "an Unpaid Lobbyist," and a "Volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces Medical Unit and a member of AIPAC." The bio states: "At the last AIPAC meeting in May of 2011 Stan was present to hear the stirring address that Prime Minister Netanyahu gave to Congress and he grabbedthe woman who heckled the Prime Minister while he was speaking."  

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach also attested to the assault when he wrote in his blog, "The elderly gentleman to my right, whom I had been talking to just before the speech started, pulled the flag out of her hands, cupped his hands over her mouth, and assisted in subduing her." Additional witnesses have been identified by the U.S. Capitol Police.

According to the complaint, Mr. Shulster grabbed the banner held by Ms. Abileah, used his hand to attempt to gag and suffocate Ms. Abileah, and yanked her head back, injuring her neck. As a result of the attack, Ms. Abileah sustained a neck strain, swollen neck and muscle strain, and has since suffered from frequent head and neck aches as well as emotional trauma.

Ms. Abileah is a 29-year-old American Jew of Israeli descent, who works as the Co-Director of CODEPINK, a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice organization that seeks to end U.S. wars and the U.S. funded occupation of Palestine.  

"I was shocked that the biography of the person who attacked me would brag about his use of violence. This lawless behavior echoes the routine actions of the Israeli government and military in carrying out violent acts daily against the Palestinian people. I am hopeful that my filing suit will be a clear signal to those who attempt to silence peaceful protesters, that they will be held accountable for their illegal actions," said Ms. Abileah. 

Photos of the action and assault can be found here:

AIPAC's 2012 annual policy conference will be held from March 4 to 6 in Washington, D.C.  It is expected that peaceful protesters will challenge AIPAC's policies of supporting Israel's ongoing crimes against the Palestinian people and its threats of attacking Iran.  
And here's CODEPINK now:

Rae Abileah, a peaceful demonstrator from CODEPINK who was physically injured on May 24, 2011, in the U.S. House of Representative Gallery, while protesting during the speech of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, reached a settlement in a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia with defendant Stanley Shulster. The settlement provided for compensatory damages, an apology, and a joint statement.

Mr. Shulster is a professed volunteer lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces, and retired attorney. Ms. Abileah will donate a portion of the received funds to legal and medical aid for peaceful Palestinian protesters in the West Bank.

Joint Statement of Rae Abileah and Stanley Shulster:

We have reached an agreement in the lawsuit brought by Rae Abileah against Stanley Shulster. Our agreement resolves Ms. Abileah's claim that Mr. Shulster assaulted her while she protested during a speech at the U.S. Capitol by Israel Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and Mr. Shulster's defense that he did not assault her.

Mr. Shulster apologizes for any physical or emotional harm caused by him to Ms. Abileah. He agrees that he should have let the Capitol Police handle the situation. Ms. Abileah accepts this apology.
Mr. Shulster respects the right of Ms. Abileah to hold a different view on the Israel-Palestine conflict and believes she holds this view in good faith.

Ms. Abileah respects Mr. Shulster's right to hold a different view on the Israel-Palestine conflict and believes that he holds this view in good faith.

Each party recognizes the right, as Americans, to agree to disagree peacefully.

"The settlement of my case has led to accountability for the assault against me intended to silence me from expressing my opposition to Israel's violence against the Palestinians," said Rae Abileah, who is a Jewish-American of Israeli descent and is the co-director of CODEPINK. 

"Today, the justice system worked to protect non-violent protestors and promote dialogue rather than violence," said Lynne Bernabei, one of Ms. Abileah's attorneys.

Incidents of violence toward advocates of human rights for Palestinians have been on the rise in recent years. In 2010, an AIPAC conference attendee elbowed a protester in the face as he walked into the D.C. Convention Center, and video footage of the 2011 AIPAC Annual Gala shows the assault of a young woman who held a banner reading "Silencing Dissent Delegitimizes Israel".

On November 14, 2010, members of the pro-Occupation group Stand With Us (SWU) entered a meeting of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and sprayed pepper spray into two JVP members' eyes. "When our regular chapter meeting suddenly filled with furious, disruptive Jews, I wondered what about us bothered them so much," Glen Hauer, a longtime JVP member, said. "We are only doing what our tradition teaches all Jews to do-seeking justice."

Attacks on peaceful protesters in the West Bank by the Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli settlers have lead to severe injuries and death. Demonstrators in Palestinian villages such as Bil'in are frequently subjected to tear gas, rubber bullets, and arrest. 

Ms. Abileah's protest and subsequent assault was widely covered by news sources including CNN, ABC, NBC, San Francisco Chronicle, Yediot Ahronot, Haaretz, Jerusalem Post, and Aljazeera. Ms. Abileah is available for interview upon request.
Hmm, a zionist holding beliefs in good faith? I'll have to think about that one but it's a great result for non-violent activists.

Syria: the Palestinian dilemma

Here's a Comment is Free piece from The Guardian website by Sharif Nashishibi:

Palestinian leaders, organisations and officials were generally silent at the start of Syria's revolution, mainly out of concern for the fate of the half million Palestinian refugees in the country.
However, that has now changed, and not in President Bashar al-Assad's favour. Attacks on Palestinian camps by Syrian forces loyal to him – most recently last week against the Yarmouk camp – have resulted in killings, injuries, and the displacement of thousands. This has angered Palestinian refugees, many of whom are now openly supporting the revolution, as well as taking in Syrian refugees.
This is particularly damaging for the Assad regime because it has long regarded itself as a guardian of the Palestinian cause.
In an obvious reference to Palestinians, Jihad Makdissi, the Syrian foreign ministry spokesman, wrote on Facebook that "guests" in Syria "have to respect the rules of hospitality" or "depart to the oases of democracy in Arab countries". He later removed his comments following an outcry.
The regime's supporters often cite the fact that Palestinian refugees in Syria are treated far better than in other Arab countries. What they overlook, though, is that the law enshrining the rights of these refugees was enacted well before the Ba'ath party took power.
While several Palestinian leaders have now broken their silence about Syria, attitudes vary. Yasser Abed Rabbo, the PLO's secretary-general, described an attack by Assad's forces on a Palestinian camp in Latakia as "a crime against humanity." On the other hand, Nour Abdulhadi, the PLO's director in Syria for political affairs, later said Palestinian refugees "will remain as supporters of the Syrian government" – a claim seemingly out of step with the facts.
One major blow to Assad has been Hamas's stance. Not only did it refuse a request to hold pro-regime rallies in refugee camps in Syria, but it also allowed residents of Gaza to stage protests against him.
Its senior leaders left Damascus earlier this year, with political leader Khaled Meshaal – who reportedly twice turned down requests to meet Assad – now living in Qatar.
The article first appeared on Friday so comments are now closed.

July 25, 2012

Palestinian and Olympic history

Ah, one heart-warming story emerging from the Olympics.  Here's The Guardian:
Maher Abu Rmeileh is the first Palestinian to qualify for the Olympic Games on merit. Under rules exempting developing nations from having to reach the qualifying standard, Palestine is sending a team of four – two swimmers and two runners – to London this summer. But the 28-year-old judoka is a late addition, having only learned of his unique achievement a few weeks ago.
This might go some way to explaining why some zionists are campaigning for another Olympic first.

July 20, 2012

Are they mad?

The World Psychiatric Association – Transcultural Psychiatry Section (WPA-TPS) is to hold its 1st International Conference on Cultural Psychiatry in Mediterranean Countries in Israel in November 2012. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is understandably not best pleased:
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is deeply disturbed by the decision of the World Psychiatric Association – Transcultural Psychiatry Section (WPA-TPS) to hold its 1st International Conference on Cultural Psychiatry in Mediterranean Countries in Israel in November 2012 [1]. We urge the WPA-TPS to uphold its commitment to ethical standards, dignity and human rights by relocating this conference to another country that does not embody injustice through maintaining a regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid [2], as Israel does. We also appeal to all members of WPA-TPS to refrain from participating in the conference if it is to be convened in Israel.
As professionals, you are acutely aware that Israel has flouted international law for several decades.  Since the hegemonic world powers are actively complicit in enabling and perpetuating Israel’s colonial and oppressive policies, we believe that the only avenue open to achieving justice and upholding international law is sustained work on the part of Palestinian and international civil society to put pressure on Israel and its complicit institutions to end this oppression.  
I don't know if it's just my perception but the hasbara movement seems to be in overdrive at the mo'.

No official racist demo at the Olympics!

There have been demands for a zionist demonstration at the Olympics in London using the killing of some Israeli Olympics athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics as a pretext.  So far, thankfully, the International Olympics Committee has refused to bow to the pressure.  But help for the racist war criminals of the State of Israel is on the way in the form of the self-appointed leader of the world's gay community, Sir Peter Tatchell. Maybe that's just Peter Tatchell for the time being.  Anyway, here he is courtesy of the Jewish Chronicle:

The human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has criticised the International Olympic Committee for denying the request of the widow of one of the Israelis killed at the Munich Games for a minute's commemorative silence.
Mr Tatchell expressed his shock over the continued stubbornness of Lord Coe and Jacques Rogge, respectively the London Games chair and the IOC president, on the matter.
"I deplore the IOC's decision to not hold a minute's silence in memory of the athletes murdered in Munich in 1972," he said. "It is the most tragic event in the whole history of the Olympics. To ignore this 40th anniversary is reprehensible. "The massacre was not only an outrageous crime but also an outrageous violation of Olympic principles and values," he said. "The IOC has abdicated its moral responsibilities."
And of course, the State of Israel does nothing in "violation of Olympic principles". There has never been a move to have this particular incident commemorated at the Olympics before but if we note Tatchell's words, apparently it is the 40th anniversary of the event which makes it so special - not the fact that the dead were Jewish or Israeli. But hold on, what's this? The racists at Harry's Place also want a moment at the London Olympics to show that Jewish or Israeli lives are worth more than the far greater number of Arab lives lost in the zionist conquest of Palestine. I presume Israel is careful not to slaughter children during or at the Olympics. Gene at HP is chuffed that someone or other at NBC is going to do their own bit of commemorating:
Bob Costas– hosting the ceremonies for the American network NBC– will take it on himself.
At the July 27 Opening Ceremony from London, Costas plans to call out the IOC for denying Israel’s request for a moment of silence acknowledging the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the 1972 Games. On the 40th anniversary of Munich, it’s a decision he finds “baffling.” When the Israeli delegation enters the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium, Costas will stage his own protest: “I intend to note that the IOC denied the request,” he says, modulating his voice as if he were on the air. “Many people find that denial more than puzzling but insensitive. Here’s a minute of silence right now.”
Well done, Bob. Anyone want to try and convince the BBC to do the same?
Gene isn't the only one at Harry's Place keen for a racist demo at the Olympics. Sarah Annes Brown wants racist demos in favour of Israel now and forever more:

It is of course 40 years since 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by terrorists at the Munich Olympic Games.  If you live in the UK you might like to ask your MP to sign EDM 100:
That this House notes that the London 2012 Olympic Games will be the 40th anniversary of the murder of 11 members of the Israeli team at the Munich Olympics of 1972; further notes that for 40 years their families have asked the International Olympic Committee to observe a minute’s silence in their memory; believes that it would be a fitting tribute to the memory of the 11 Israeli athletes, coaches and referees to hold a minute’s silence at this year’s and every subsequent Games to promote peace; and urges the International Olympic Committee to honour the memory of those murdered in 1972 by holding a minute’s silence.
So far only 55 MPs have supported this EDM.
It's interesting to note that neither of the HP posts mentioned Peter Tatchell's intervention. It might be that they don't know about it or it could be because Tatchell has openly supported BDS. Anyway, there were some interesting comments below the line at Sarah's post one of which stood out as a reason why the powers that be might think better of a racist demonstration in favour of the State of Israel at Olympics 2012:
I can understand that is a poisoned chalice for them when the Arab nations walk out, and people in the crowd start booing (as they will)
That was part of a larger comment from one of the HP faithful, not one of the critics they occasionally allow through the cordon.

 And that's the position so far. There is a campaign to have this official zionist demonstration at the London Olympics and we can have a plan A and a plan B. Plan A is that this hypocritical act of devotion to the racist war criminals of the State of Israel doesn't happen Plan B is that if it does lots of states will walk out and it will be booed and jeered by the opponents of racism and hypocrisy - and even the racist hypocrites themselves know that.

UPDATE: HP now has several posts on this Olympic commemoration business.  There are literally too many count because together with dedicated posts they have slipped the commemoration demand into posts which were ostensibly about something else.  Anyway, for all they have at least a dozen posts on it, it only took one dissenter to blow them all away:

  28 July 2012, 6:08 pm

Well, if they gave out medals for heavily-politicised self-pity, HP Sauce would win gold for their efforts on this issue.
If you want to remember those poor athletes, feel free – nobody’s stopping you. It’s right an just to do so, in fact.
Suddenly declaring that the Olympics MUST do what you want RIGHT THIS SECOND, OR ELSE, then calling them every name under the sun when they don’t, smells like bullshit. It looks like an entirely confected outrage and indeed, that seems to be exactly what it is for 95% of the people I’ve seen comment on this.
That's the kind of common sense comment which can lead to apoplexy in the HP sewer but this time it seems to have served as a wake up call regarding this particular self-indulgence.  Only two counter comments followed, one accusing flyingrodent of holocaust denial and the other calling him scum.  Well done that rodent!

July 18, 2012

War on Islam?

According to Ben White and now Richard Bartholomew the UK's army and Ministry of Defence are being advised by a chap with a record of scathing condemnation of Islam and "islamisation" of the west.

Here's Ben in Electronic Intifada:
It has been revealed that a British Ministry of Defense advisor — who helped write the “religious engagement strategy” for troops occupying the Afghan province of Kandahar — believes Islam might “be the rod of God’s anger,” raising disturbing questions for the military and the UK government.
Patrick Sookhdeo, who teaches at the UK’s Defense Academy and has served in the role of “cultural advisor” to troops in Afghanistan and southern Iraq, is also a regular speaker at events held by churches and Christian organizations internationally.
Speaking in a Washington DC church in 2007, Sookhdeo wondered if “[there is a] danger facing the West, particularly with Islam, might Islam be the rod of God’s anger?” (“Understanding Radicalization and Islamicization,” Capitol Hill Baptist Church)
Jumping to more on this "rod of anger stuff", Ben White asked Sookhdeo what it all meant:

He said that the idea of Islam as the “rod of God’s anger” was “developed by the leadership of the Syrian Orthodox Church about 75 years after the death of [the prophet] Muhammad. Faced with the fact that most of the lands that had constituted Christian territory had been lost in the Arab invasions, the church leadership posed the question why this had occurred. Instead of laying the blame on the Muslims and the Arab invasions, they concluded that it was their own fault because they had sinned and gone away from their faith in God by neglecting to be truly Christian in terms of love and compassion, to be humble and not to be motivated by money and power.”
Sookhdeo said that he had used the “rod of God’s anger” concept to ask if Christian churches today are now being punished for their “lack of faithfulness to God.” He added: “Could it be that Islam, which is now seen to be the dominant religion that may well replace Christianity in the future, can be seen as God’s instrument? This is not a negative comment of Islam, but a negative comment on the Church with her intrinsic weaknesses and failures.”
To which Richard Bartholomew responds:
This is somewhat disingenuous: the notion of Islam as the “rod of God’s anger” clearly fits into a long tradition in which disasters are explained as being expressions of God’s chastisement; being placed into a category of calamities is hardly a positive comment. Further, the expression itself is derived from Isaiah 10, where it is applied to Assyria; the Biblical author suggests that being the “rod of God’s anger” has its downside:
“Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath!”… When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, “I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes… Does the ax raise itself above the person who swings it, or the saw boast against the one who uses it?… Therefore, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, will send a wasting disease upon his sturdy warriors;… The Light of Israel will become a fire… The splendor of his forests and fertile fields it will completely destroy…”
Further discussion of how Christians used the “rod of God’s anger” concept in the context of early Islam can be found in a couple essays in the book Redefining Christian Identity: Cultural Interaction in the Middle East Since the Rise of Islam, edited by J.J. van Ginkel, H.L. Murre-van den Berg, and T.M. van Lint (Leuven: Peeters, 2005).
Vulgarized versions of the general concept can also been seen in contemporary American conservative evangelicalism: post-9/11, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell notoriously suggested that God had allowed the attack to occur (which is quite not the same thing as causing it) because of liberalism in American society; a current American bestseller called The Harbinger claims that American failure to return to religion following the attack means that further disasters will occur. Last year, an anti-gay evangelist named Bradlee Dean suggested that God would “raise up” Muslims to execute gay people because of the USA’s unwillingness to implement less severe anti-gay measures.

All very unpleasant stuff. According to Richard, this Sookhdeo chap has quite a good academic pedigree and his work has won serious praise but the appropriateness of his advisory role to the UK military is surely questionable.

July 15, 2012

C of E for EAPPI

Eh? Ok, a little clarity at the outset. The C of E is the UK's Church of England or Anglican Church. It is the UK state's official religion or so-called established church.  EAPPI is the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.  Oh, by the way, I first saw this story on Bartholomew's Notes on Religion and he, Richard Bartholomew, draws on an article on the Ekklesia website.

There has been a widespread welcome for a vote in the Church of England General Synod supporting a nonviolent human rights programme in Palestine and Israel. Critics of the programme accused it of anti-Israeli prejudice, but their case was undermined when several of their claims were found to be factually inaccurate.
By a margin of almost four to one, the Synod passed the motion praising the “vital work” of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).
All three houses of Synod – laity, clergy and bishops – approved the motion. In total, 201 members of Synod voted in favour, with 54 against and 93 abstentions.
The vote has been welcomed by Christian Aid, the BibleLands charity, Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Quaker Peace & Social Witness.
EAPPI is run by the World Council of Churches. The UK and Ireland wing is administered by British Quakers. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs), who come from many faiths and none, spend three months on the West Bank monitoring conditions and human rights abuses. Their work includes observing checkpoints and accompanying Palestinian children and farmers to protect them from violence by extremist settlers.
EAs observe demonstrations to monitor abuse, but make a point of not joining them. On returning home, they undertake speaking engagements about their experiences, often in churches and Quaker Meetings.
EAPPI say they adopt a position of “principled impartiality” in conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians. They add that they are “on the side of human rights”.
The debate on Monday (9 July) followed weeks of heated controversy. Anglican Friends of Israel and the Board of Deputies of British Jews had encouraged Synod to reject the motion. They accused EAPPI of helping to “generate a climate of hostility to Israel in the churches”. They said that after returning from Palestine, EAs form “a cohort” of “anti-Israel advocates who have almost no grasp of the suffering of normal Israelis”.
In contrast, Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) gave their backing to the motion and insisted that the Board of Deputies do not speak for all British Jews. They said, “JfJfP applauds the monitoring and protective activities of EAPPI”.
There was embarrassment for EAPPI's opponents when one of their key claims was found to be untrue. The Board of Deputies alleged on their website that of their three months in the region, EAs spend only one day inside Israel. It soon became apparent that every former EA, as well as many others associated with the programme, could testify to the inaccuracy of this claim.
Now see how the Jewish Chronicle reports on the whole business in a front page article headed, Church endorses Israel hate agenda:

In the worst rift between Anglo-Jewry and the Church of England in recent years, the president of the Board of Deputies has accused the Synod of “riding roughshod” over the Jewish community.
The attack by Vivian Wineman follows a vote by the General Synod this week to endorse the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), despite pleas from the Board, interfaith groups and the Chief Rabbi.
Mr Wineman said that EAPPI was “an inflammatory and partisan programme”. He continued: “While its aims may appear admirable, its programme lacks any kind of balance”, and “its graduates return with simplistic and radical perspectives. Members of Jewish communities across the country have suffered harassment and abuse at EAPPI meetings and yet Synod has completely dismissed their experiences.”
In a clear sign of anger, Mr Wineman declared: “The Jewish community does not need lessons from the Anglican Church in justice and peace.”
Now I could well be missing something here but it's not clear to me that these C of E types were actually addressing "the Jewish community". Back to Bartholomew, Richard raises some concerns about the language used in the debate and the connections of EAPPI so let's have a little look:
 the EAPPI’s case has not been helped by the rhetoric of some of its supporters in the Synod. According to a polemical account in the Jewish Chronicle:
The proposer of the motion, Dr John Dinnen, referred to the vast sums he decided had been spent producing a leaflet to explain the opposition to the motion.
What was in fact a modest double sided A4 leaflet “must have cost £1,000″. Another speaker spoke of “powerful lobbies” seeking to influence Synod.
….In his closing remarks [Dinnen] evoked the parable of the good Samaritan in which the uncaring Jews cross the street to avoid helping an injured man, and he concluded by saying that “the Palestinians are being pushed over, while the Jews are quite powerful,” before correcting himself and saying “Israelis” instead of “Jews”.
This can be overegged: the phrase “powerful lobbies” has unhappy connotations, but it is self-evidently the case that there has been lobbying against the resolution by groups that have a certain amount of standing. That in itself is not sinister, but neither is pointing out the fact (I discussed the “lobby” issue in general here). However, unless the JC has misrepresented Dinnen’s presentation, he appears to have made some ill-considered comments.
Meanwhile, Joseph W and Alan A from Harry’s Place have been scouring the EAPPI’s website looking for discrediting material:
…An EAPPI volunteer beams at how an EAPPI team was warmly greeted by Bethlehem’s mayor Victor Batarseh, who is a supporter and key ally of the terrorist group PFLP.
…EAPPI has teamed with Mayor Batarseh alongside the antisemitic Atallah Hanna, for a joint Christian event in Bethlehem. Another speaker at this event was Sheikh Taysir Tamimi.
Tamimi still features on the EAPPI website, alongside Hanna, as someone who supports hunger strikes in protest against Israel.
Tamimi thinks Israel spreads AIDS and drugs.
… the position of EAPPI [is thatthe cause of the Middle East conflict is that Jewish theology has gone astray because of Jewish reliance on the Talmud.
There are a couple of points to be made here: first, while human rights groups would do well to maintain critical distance from the individuals named above (I have discussed Hanna here), rebuffing local officials and dignitaries is not likely to be practical, and may indeed be counter-productive. Such associations may be valid grounds for criticism and requests for explanations, but it is excessive to suggest that this is the “true” face of EAPPI.
Further, the EAPPI website contains hundreds of reports filed by supporters and volunteers; one of these, dating from 2005, makes the argument that some religious Jews are unable to persuade other religious Jews that it is acceptable to trade land for peace because of the Talmud. It’s not not a strong article, full of assertions rather than evidence, but it doesn’t claim that the Talmud is the “cause of the Middle East conflict”, and the article is not presented as being “the position of EAPPI” on Jewish theology.
Goodness! Harry's Place might not be a reliable source on something concerning Israel, zionism and the Palestinians. Whatever next? Richard Bartholomew has had cross posts on Harry's Place before now and he's received a few honourable mentions there. In fact he is one of the few apparently honourable people to get any sort of approval there but I don't think this post is going to make it onto the HP site.

July 05, 2012

Norman Finkelstein continues to spread disinformation about BDS

Norman Finkelstein continues to spread disinformation about BDS. In a new interview, by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, Finkelstein repeated the accusation that "BDS is a cult," this time in a measured and composed way, not as an "outburst". Parenthetically, the interview itself, in its structure and the kind of questions asked and not asked, suggests that Finkelstein himself is fashioning his own persona as a cult leader. But let's get back to the specific accusation. Finkelstein claims that "[t]he movement is riddled with flagrant hypocrisy." He offers three examples:
a) a leader calls for the boycott of all Israeli universities while he himself studies at Tel Aviv University, (b) a leader claims that BDS doesn’t target individuals or an individual’s beliefs, only institutions, but he then calls for a ban on Daniel Barenboim, because Barenboim is a “Zionist,” c) BDS did not call for a ban on [the film] Five Broken Cameras although it was produced in conjunction with an official Israeli film society.

None of these three examples represent any shred of hypocrisy.
Finkelstein refers, strangely without mentioning the name, to Omar Barghouti, who is a citizen of Israel and a student at Tel Aviv University. One of the three demands of BDS is equality of Israel's citizens. BDS is not a call for segregation, and obviously opposes the variety of measures used by Israeli universities to make Palestinian students feel unwelcome at Israeli universities and to reduce their enrollment numbers. Access to higher education is a fundamental civil right. We are fighting, among other things, so that more Palestinians in 48 Palestine can go to universities and study without being harassed, isolated, silenced, etc. It would be plainly counter-productive for Palestinians to assist Israel in the denial of their rights by giving them up on their own initiative. Precisely because BDS is not a cult, but a movement organized on principles of rational strategy, that no such demand for students to boycott themselves exists.
Indeed, there is likewise no BDS call for Israeli Jewish students to avoid studying at Israeli universities. The BDS call against Israeli universities is a call for world institutions and academics, demanding that they sever institutional ties. Not only there are BDS adherents who are students at Israeli Universities, but there are some, like Koby Snitz and Anat Matar, who are professors there as well. To accuse students and professors of Israeli Universities of hypocrisy for supporting BDS is akin to demanding that workers picketing their employers must first quit their job in the name of "moral consistency." It is plain silly. Omar Barghouti is calling for other institution to boycott the university where he is a student on the basis of a certain demands. That is perfectly legitimate.
With this accusation Finkelstein is belatedly joining a smear campaign launched against Barghouti in 2009. At the time, PACBI issued a statement clarifying why this smear campaign was wrong on every count, noting that

PACBI has never called upon Palestinian citizens of Israel and those who are compelled to carry Israeli identification documents, like Palestinian residents of occupied Jerusalem, to refrain from studying or teaching at those Israeli institutions. That would have been an absurd position, given the complete lack of alternatives available. Successive Israeli governments, committed to suppressing Palestinian national identity in their pursuit of maintaining Israel’s character as a racist state, have made every effort possible to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian university inside Israel. The only choice left to Palestinian students and academics in Israel, then, is to go to an Israeli university or leave their homeland to pursue their studies or academic careers abroad -- often not possible due to financial or other compelling reasons. In fact, the Israeli authorities have consistently worked to strip Palestinians from occupied Jerusalem of their Israeli ID cards and thus their residency rights while they study abroad, thereby prohibiting them from returning.(PACBI statement
I find it hard to believe that Finkelstein is not aware of this statement, and either way, it is inexcusable that he ignores it.
In 2010, PACBI issued an opinion that Bareboim's WEDO orchestra was boycottable. This was a controversial question, because the case of WEDO and the role it plays politically is both marginal and complex, and there were conflicting views about it. The argument against WEDO, whether one agrees with it or not, was not about Barenboim's opinions, or indeed about Barenboim at all, given that WEDO is an institution in which people other than Barenboim hold decision making positions. It was a question of whether WEDO as an institution meets the criteria of the cultural boycott that have been laid down over a year earlier. PACBI's position was that it did:
Based on quotes from the Orchestra's own programmatic statements, PACBI concluded that WEDO's
...self-definition turns occupation and colonial oppression into a mere "problem" or “barrier” to be discussed between "traditional rivals" who hope to settle their "differences" and build "bridges" of understanding through music and dialogue to encourage "listening to one another" and to set "a good example of democracy and civilized living."
By promoting this false symmetry or balance between the "two sides," WEDO is indeed promoting normalization. The Divan refuses to even recognize, let alone oppose, Israel's ethnic cleansing, occupation and system of racial discrimination as the root causes of the Arab-Israeli colonial conflict, sanitizing the very real oppressive reality on the ground with benign terms that are intended to project symmetry between oppressor and oppressed and moral parity between colonizer and colonized. This conforms to the definition of normalization, a term used across the Arab World, especially in Palestine, to describe joint Arab-Israeli projects that ignore or bypass the reality of oppression altogether, and/or fail to contribute to the struggle to end it, hence presenting to the world a deceptive image of "civilized" coexistence despite Israel's patently uncivilized colonization and apartheid system (PACBI statement).
However one's personal tolerance for political views than one deems offensive, a question of temperament, it is an undisputable fact that the PACBI boycott guidelines, on which the case against WEDO was made, do not cite Zionism, or any other held belief, as a ground for boycott. While Finkelstein feigns not to be aware of that, anybody with an internet browser can verify it.
Finkelstein's claim that Barenboim was boycotted for his "Zionism" repeats without attribution Mariam Said's accusation against PACBI. In claiming that the issue was Barenboim's Zionism, Said paraphrased a PACBI statement to the Qatari government that is not available in electronic form. Therefore, I cannot say whether Said's paraphrase has substance. It doesn't bother Finkelstein to cite an unsubstantiated accusation, that PACBI subsequently denied, as if it were established fact. However, two more general points are worth making in that context.
First, even if Zionism isn't the criterion for boycott, the question of where institutional agents stand politically is certainly within the scope of a relevant analysis. For understanding better the political context in which this debate took place and Barenboim's opinion were cited, I recommend reading Raymond Deane's article about WEDO as an institution. However, if indeed the original statement was not as clear on the grounds for boycott as PACBI's subsequent clarification, the only conclusion one could draw from that legitimately would be one that every activist knows from experience. political positions, arguments and principles do not come down from heaven in a perfect state, but are constantly clarified and developed in the process of struggle itself. It is precisely because BDS is a political movement and not a cult that this is true of it.
Second, among all those who profess some kind of adherence to the BDS call there are, inevitably, different tendencies and interpretations. Part of the evolution of every political formation is a certain conflict within cooperation over those tendencies and interpretations. There are BDS supporters like Mariam Said and Virginia Tilley who want relaxation of certain anti-normalization criteria. There are others who want boycott of all Israelis based on nationality. The 2006 case of the boycotting of Juliano Mer Khamis by some activists raised a storm and was instrumental in building cohesion over the BDS attitude on Israeli artists. Mediating such conflicts creatively while building essential unity is part of the function of leadership, and the credibility of leadership is in large measure dependent of its ability to solve these contradictions in ways that are acknowledged by all parties as conducive for the movement's shared goals. Of course, this does not always involve compromise. Sometimes, it also involves taking a clear stand against misguided attempts that would derail these goals if they were to gain the upper hand.
The third accusation against PACBI, for failing to call for a boycott against the film Five Broken Cameras for being co-produced and co-directed with Israelis is the most bizarre. I haven't yet seen or studied the film, so what follows is preliminary. Obviously if an argument were advanced that a certain film should be boycotted, it would take some time to reach an informed decision, and Five Broken Cameras has barely been out. But on preliminary grounds, it seems quite obvious that the film is not boycottable for the exact same reason that WEDO is. The film is a work of resistance in itself, and a documentation of the resistance along the Apartheid Wall. Far from boycotting Israeli participation in Palestinian resistance, the BDS call "invite[s] conscientious Israelis to support this Call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace". The PACBI guidelines for cultural boycott specify this exception clearly:

All such events and projects that bring Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis together, unless the Israeli side is explicitly supportive of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and unless the project/event is framed within the explicit context of joint opposition to occupation and other forms of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, are strong candidates for boycott. (my emphasis)
Criticism can sometimes be harsh and uncompromising and yet valuable. Therefore, I wouldn't want to hold it against Finkelstein simply that he is very harsh. Yet I find it hard to belief that Finkelstein, who is known for reading everything and checking every un-dotted i and uncrossed t in what he reads, can be so egregiously unaware of the basic principles laid out by the people he criticizes. By this stage, I find it unavoidable to conclude that Finkelstein is engaged in a politically motivated campaign of disinformation aimed at destroying BDS, rather than any form of conscientious, informed criticism of it. Anyone who gives him a podium or interviews him without being prepared to challenge him when he is simply making stuff up is effectively helping such a disinformation campaign.

I picked on these accusations because they were the most malicious. There is a lot more in the interview that I disagree with, and I would like to briefly refer to two more points about BDS being "like a cult."
The movement functions in a cocoon world where the incantation of mantras – “BDS,” “One State” and “Israeli Apartheid” – has replaced a political analysis of what’s possible and likely to reach a broad public.
It would be indeed a problem if that were so. Yet this is no more than one biased outsider's impressionistic claim, backed with nothing. I'd rather be concrete with a counter example. BDS Switzerland, in which I am active, reached "a broad public" by two organized campaigns in the last year. In one, we got over 170 artists, including some of the most well known in the country, to join the cultural boycott on the basis of an explicit reference to the Right of Return. getting signatures was easier than expected and certainly does not back Finkelstein's claim that RoR is a non-starter with the public. In the second, we collected 12,000 signatures in front of supermarkets, calling the major chains to destock Israeli products. Our campaign pressured the largest local chain to begin labeling products as "produced in settlements." Although it was less than our full demand, it was an important achievement that raised and changed the tone of mainstream public debate. We constantly analyze the public arena in order to identify what is "politically possible." We never had a discussion of "one state," and we have no campaign advocating one state, regardless of our personal opinion regarding what is more or less desirable. While I won't vouch for the political maturity of every group that launches a BDS campaign, it is my personal impression that my experience of BDS is more widespread than Finkelstein's.
The last point is more abstract, but worthy of discussion because it feels like it has some theoretical and experiential plausibility. Finkelstein claims that
Self-proclaimed leaders of the BDS movement claim to speak in the name of “Palestinian civil society” or “the Palestinian people,” although they have no basis to make such a claim. They then use this fraudulent claim as a club to silence any opposition to their diktat;
The reason this seems to be valid is because political representation is a fraught, contested, and constructed process, often misrepresented in the media as well as the political culture in general as a straightforward and objective relation. Thus, in liberal democracies, we have a number of institutions that function as "representations" of the populace, primarily through elections. By this stage in history, many people are keenly aware of how problematic the representative claims of even legally organized representative functions such as parliaments, elected presidents, councils, etc. are. Yet it is hard to deny that officially elected "representatives," however compromised, do carry a certain level of legitimacy that their draw from "representing" a people, faction, district, etc., through institutionalized elections. Thus one the one hand, it has become fashionable among some to reject any representational claim and insist that people only "speak for themselves." On the other hand, the legitimacy of liberal democratic representation is often contrasted in the public discourse with the lack of legitimacy of radical challenges to the political system, protesters, occupations of public spaces, revolts, strikes, etc., who are not backed by elections. Together, these two widely shared ideas contribute to weigh against any form of effective popular resistance to power.
It is both this liberal institutional discourse, which is crumbling around us, and the individualistic, existential riposte, that Finkelstein invokes implicitly when he denies the BDS organizers in Palestine the right to speak in the name of the "Palestinian people." In contrast, I would suggest an alternative conception of representation. To be active politically, that is, to make an intervention in the public realm regarding a collective choice, is inherently to claim representative status of the concerned public, either directly, or through a proxy reference (X is representative and I support X). Arguments about political claims are inherently invalid unless they represent a public as a collection of people with certain concerns that unite them behind that claim. Thus, it would be both impossible and inadmissible for anyone to make a political argument about Palestine without such an argument citing some representational power. Indeed, Finkelstein himself cites representational power when he defends his views as both widely supported by Palestinians and objectively in their interests.
The status of a political function as representative is always contested . For the same reason that a political claim cannot be effective without representing a "people", the best counter claim against one is often the demolition of its claim to represent. An essential part therefore of making political claims is establishing representational power in practice. For popular challenges, such actions involve organizing people in a way that affirms the representational power of certain claims. Thus, for example, calling a strike builds representational power to the extent that people actually strike. In Switzerland, the act of collecting 12,000 signatures buttressed our claim that de-shelving Israeli products is not the personal affectation of a few activists but a broadly shared public request that our petition legitimately represented. Elections are a mechanism construed for institutionalizing such representative claims. However, far from guaranteeing representation, liberal elections invariably create conditions in which representational claims can be advanced fraudulently more easily. BDS is not a party vying for elections, and the leadership of the BDS movement does not claim to represent Palestinians in a governing function. This, however, especially in the context of the failure of liberal democracy more broadly worldwide, cannot suffice to deny the claim of representation unless one accepts either that representation is impossible or that governing through elections are the sine qua non of political legitimacy.
It seems to me that the representational claims of BDS are essentially twofold, that the three demands of the BDS call represent the historical demands of the Palestinian people and are widely supported by Palestinians, and that the strategy of boycott, including an anti-normalization stance, is widely popular and widely perceived as appropriate. The test of these claims is not whether PACBI was elected or not or about how many Palestinians are hypothetically willing, as Finkelstein believes, to give up the right of return. The test is in actual organizing in which support for these representational claims is established or contested in practice.
The 2005 BDS call, signed by over 170 organizations, including both Fatah and Hamas, is an example of a successful political organization that established precisely the claims of BDS to be representative of the Palestinian people. The success in organizing the cultural boycott, including the success in denying boycott breakers platforms in Ramallah and other places in the Occupies Territories, even and indeed precisely because such actions require mobilizing people and building popular and public pressure on the undecided, are further proof of BDS's legitimate representational claims. The absence of any Palestinian political force that calls for the renunciation of the Right of Return and the abandonment of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, as Finkelstein advocates, further buttresses the claim that the three BDS demands are indeed elements of national Palestinian consensus. It does not follow that there are no debates and disagreements. Debates about both goals and strategies have not ended, and the Boycott National Committee does not have the authority to settle these debates by declarative fiat. There are, for example, those who want a more relaxed boycott, and those, like Sari Nusseibeh, who are willing to give up the Right of Return. The question in such cases is not whether BDS is officially representing the Palestinian people, but which of the different positions has a better representational claim. This is, of course, a question to be decided by Palestinians themselves through political means, not by solidarity activists and outside intellectuals. Finkestein's argument is fallacious when he deduces from the contested nature of representation and the non elected position of the BDS leadership that the set of imposed demands and principles they advocate does not represent the Palestinian people. It does precisely to the extent that Palestinians have effectively and with wide consensus organized around them.
This is not to say that the status of Palestinian leadership is resolved. There seems to be a widely shared sense of the need to rebuild institutions in order to restore the level of cohesion and authority that was lost with the demise of the PLO through the Oslo process. In no way does the recognition of the need for better representational institutions justify the kind of blank dismissal advocated by Finkelstein. What Finkelstein advocates in practice is nothing other than undercutting and declawing of one of the most effective forms of Palestinian organizing within the scope of the Palestine liberation struggle in recent years. No conscientious person should allow herself to be seduced by that.

UPDATE: When you've read this, read this

Whose Left?

Or should that be who's left? It could be either really. Here's Ha'aretz making various zionist groups out to be "left-leaning":

Left-leaning pro-Israel groups have called on the country’s largest Presbyterian Church to abandon plans to divest from three companies that it is says have resisted the request to stop providing services that aid Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
Americans for Peace Now and J Street have called on the Church's plenary to vote against a committee recommendation made earlier this week calling for divestment.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly’s Middle East Committee voted 36 to 11 with one abstention in favor of divesting its portfolio from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions. The committee said the company’s helped “Israel’s use of their products in violations of Palestinian human rights.”
The group recommended the church put those funds instead into companies “engaging in peaceful pursuits in Israel and Palestine.”

"Left-leaning pro-Israel"? I think it's safe to call that an oxymoron.

July 04, 2012

Arafat poisoned? Danny Rubinstein told us so

Well here's a blast from the past.  A study commissioned by al Jazeera appears to support the idea that Yasser Arafat was poisoned.

Eight years after his death, it remains a mystery exactly what killed the longtime Palestinian leader. Tests conducted in Paris found no obvious traces of poison in Arafat’s system. Rumors abound about what might have killed him – cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, even allegations that he was infected with HIV.

A nine-month investigation by Al Jazeera has revealed that none of those rumors were true: Arafat was in good health until he suddenly fell ill on October 12, 2004.

More importantly, tests reveal that Arafat’s final personal belongings – his clothes, his toothbrush, even his iconic kaffiyeh – contained abnormal levels of polonium, a rare, highly radioactive element. Those personal effects, which were analyzed at the Institut de Radiophysique in Lausanne, Switzerland, were variously stained with Arafat’s blood, sweat, saliva and urine. The tests carried out on those samples suggested that there was a high level of polonium inside his body when he died.

“I can confirm to you that we measured an unexplained, elevated amount of unsupported polonium-210 in the belongings of Mr. Arafat that contained stains of biological fluids,” said Dr. Francois Bochud, the director of the institute.
Given the mystery as to the cause of death when it actually happened, I was surprised the allegation of poisoning wasn't more widespread but there was an allegation of poisoning from an authoritative voice, that of Israeli journo, Danny Rubinstein. I posted on his interview with Keshev, The Centre for the Protection of Democracy in Israel, back in 2006. The link to the interview is now broken but here is what Rubinstein had to say back then:
In my personal estimation, based on several findings and testimonies, we poisoned Arafat. Writing that today seems like an exercise in futility: 'those Arabs, with their imagination, and their conspiracy theories, etc.'. It is so opposed to our narrative and so identified with theirs, that I can't put that in. I think that's true for today's media in general: it's careful not to target sacred cows. In the end, all the systems adopt an approach held by part or most of the establishment.
There are many reasons why the zionist establishment would want to ignore Rubinstein.  He opposes the Law of Return and he makes no bones about describing Israel as an apartheid state.  Of course many people say both of those things but he was the first prominent Israeli journalist that I know of to say that Yasser Arafat was poisoned.

The al Jazeera piece concludes thus:
A conclusive finding that Arafat was poisoned with polonium would not, of course, explain who killed him. It is a difficult element to produce, though – it requires a nuclear reactor – and the signature of the polonium in Arafat’s bones could provide some insight about its origin.
Look again at what Rubinstein said: 
we poisoned Arafat.
He wasn't talking about himself.