Update: The article as it was originally posted follows the first asterisk.
Shortly after I posted this article I came across an Al Jazeera interview broadcast in May 2012 featuring ultra-orthodox Rabbi Yisrael Dovid Weiss who explains to Teymoor Nabili why the state of Israel has no legitimacy and how Israelis are responsible for “rivers of blood” in Palestine. Asked by Nabili whether he is anti-Semitic himself, Weiss replies:
“That is the beautiful ploy of Zionism, that they can intimate anyone who stands in opposition to their blatant inhumane treatment of the Palestinians”
[from 14:10 mins]
The Likud Party founded in 1973 by Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon has remained the predominant force in Israeli politics since its landslide victory in 1977. Dragging the country ever further to the extreme right, the centrepiece to its ethno-nationalist policies is its rigid determination to push the Palestinians off their land with the “building of settlements”, and by episodically “mowing the lawn” – their own preferred euphemism for carrying out population reducing acts of genocide.
These constant moves to secure a Greater Israel are now reaching completion, symbolically thanks to the illegal move of the US embassy to Jerusalem – the occupied city becoming Israel’s de facto capital – and more directly at the end of the decades long, slow motion annexation of Palestine, with just the fractured bantustans of the West Bank and Gaza remaining, and Gaza all the while subjected to a blockade that has rendered it close to uninhabitable.
One obstacle does remain, however: what to do with the millions of indigenous Palestinians who fled during the period of ethnic cleansing at the time of Israel’s formation. This diaspora of refugees and their descendants still have a right of return under international law. 1 But this headache for Netanyahu is also about to be eradicated thanks to another initiative on the part of the ever-obliging Trump administration (discussed in detail below).
Meanwhile, to divert attention from the seventy year long struggle for Palestinian liberation, precisely as the cause is gathering strength, Israel is also engaged in a second offensive. The target here is free speech and the tactic is an old one: to marginalise and weaken its opponents, Israel accuses all of them of “antisemitism”. Most aggressively under assault in Britain is Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn – arguably the most prominent pro-Palestinian politician in the world today.
Michael Walker of ‘Novara Media’ digs beneath the latest bs of British news after a week in which Corbyn was branded a fascist and Theresa May a freedom fighter!
The enemies Corbyn faces are many and varied, of course, but in all cases this false charge of “antisemitism” is now wielded as the handy stick to beat him and his supporters with. To these ends, a loose alliance has been formed.
There are the Blairites, determined to get rid of Corbyn before – as they see it – he can entirely wreck the ‘New Labour’ project. This diminishing gaggle of MPs and old guard Labour insiders are still intent to stop Corbyn at any cost and even if it means Labour’s defeat in elections. It has become abundantly clear that they care little about inflicting irrevocable damage to the party they reputedly support. Instead, day in day out, they plot to topple Corbyn using every trick in the book, including set-piece resignations, lies about imaginary attacks by his supporters, and just straight out defamation. Calling him “a f–king antisemite” is just the latest and most excessive outburst in a campaign of hatred that actually started prior to his first leadership election.
Then there is the Israel lobby in Britain, which happens to share a broadly overlapping outlook when it comes to Middle East foreign policy with many on the Labour right-wing, and which was caught red-handed recently meddling in Labour Party affairs in clandestine attempts to undermine Corbyn. This subversion by a foreign power represents a genuine national security threat – something the media and government have shown no interest whatsoever in pursuing.
Added into the already toxic mix, we are also in the midst of a last-ditch attempt to stall Brexit with growing calls for a second referendum; a strategy that is completely stymied by Corbyn’s stated refusal to call for such a vote. Hammering Corbyn potentially weakens him on all fronts with the broader aim of cultivating anti-Corbyn sentiment within the Labour Party (although this has totally backfired) and to galvanise the media which is hugely anti-Corbyn to begin with and where both pro-EU and pro-Israel sentiment tends to run highest.
The sad irony to all of this is that, as a strategy, the slurs have been effective because, and only because, Corbyn is a committed anti-racist who feels obliged therefore to treat each accusation with extreme seriousness. Nor is it in his nature to call out phoneys and liars as most others in his position would have done.
For this assortment of reasons, the Labour Party has finally been frogmarched into ratifying the full IHRA definition of antisemitism, which means a witch-hunt can now begin in earnest to whittle away at Corbyn’s huge (and still growing) base of supporters within the membership. In principle, just like many hundreds of thousands of others, I have effectively been made persona non grata.
This latest conflation of antisemitism with views hostile to Israel is nothing new of course. It is a tried and tested formula for stifling resistance to the illegal occupation of Palestine. What is new, however, is the manner in which the notion of the “new antisemitism” to close down support for the Palestinian struggle has been so dramatically escalated. As Palestinian barrister, Salma Karmi-Ayyoub, put it in a recent interview (video is embedded below):
“I’ve never experienced anything like this in my lifetime, whereby there seems to be a full-fledged political campaign to assert that denying the Jewish right to self-determination – in other words, what they really mean is denying there should be an Israel, which is a majority Jewish state in Palestine – is a form of racism. So that’s the assertion: that it’s antisemitic and therefore racist. So that accusation is levelled that you are being racist if you say you’re opposed to Israel in its current form let’s say, however, clearly, what Israel is doing and all that it embodies in our [Palestinian] view, is deeply racist against us. So we the victims of racism are being painted as the perpetrators of racism. And the perpetrators are being painted as the victims.”
[from 30:45 mins]
In fact, there is a coordinated effort underway. What is happening in Britain and especially within the Labour Party, is also happening in America, where a similar restriction to free speech is about to be applied across college campuses and more widely. Writes Sheldon Richman in an article entitled “Anti-Israelism and Anti-Semitism: the Invidious Conflation” published by Counterpunch on Tuesday 4th:
I and others have warned that enactment of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act now before Congress would threaten free speech and free inquiry on America’s college campuses and beyond. As I’ve explained, this bill incorporates a conception — a “definition” plus potential examples — of anti-Semitism that conflates criticism of Israel’s founding and continuing abuse of the Palestinians with anti-Semitism for the purpose inoculating Israel from such criticism. Anti-Zionist Jews and others have objected to this conflation for over 70 years. 2
If this definition [of anti-Semitism] were adopted and implemented as [Trump’s assistant secretary of education for civil rights, Kenneth L.] Marcus would like, the DOE [US Department of Education] would be empowered to conclude that universities nurture hostile, anti-Semitic environments by allowing the screening of a documentary critical of Israel’s 50-year military occupation of Palestinian lands such as Occupation 101, a talk critical of Israeli policy by a Holocaust survivor, a mock checkpoint enacted by students to show their peers what Palestinian life under a military occupation is like, a talk on BDS [boycott-divestment-sanctions] campaigns for Palestinian rights, or student resolutions to divest from companies complicit in Israel’s human-rights abuses.
These aren’t hypotheticals. These speech activities were the subject of real legal complaints, filed or promoted by Marcus and his Brandeis Center against Brooklyn College (2013), University of California Berkeley (2012), and University of California Santa Cruz (2009). The complaints were filed to the same DOE office which Marcus has been nominated to head [and to which he has since been confirmed].
Crucially, all of these complaints were dismissed. Both a federal court and the DOE made clear that the activities at issue were not harassment against a protected group but constituted speech on matters of public concern, and therefore were protected by the First Amendment. 3
At the heart of Anti-Semitism Awareness Act is the same IHRA definition of “antisemitism” recently adopted in full by the Labour Party – a definition that caused its own lead author Kenneth Stern to write to the House Judiciary Committee in 2016, when a similar bill was under consideration.
Stern cautioned at the time:
“I write as the lead author of the EUMC’s [European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia] “Working Definition on Antisemitism,” to encourage you not to move “The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016,” which essentially incorporates that definition into law for a purpose that is both unconstitutional and unwise. If the definition is so enshrined, it will actually harm Jewish students and have a toxic effect on the academy.” 4
Moreover, in testimony he gave before the committee, Stern said:
“[D]espite the fact that some outside groups allege that antisemitism on campus is an epidemic. Far from it. There are thousands of campuses in the United States, and in very few is antisemitism – or anti-Israel animus – an issue.” 5
Please note that extended versions of the quotes above can be read in Sheldon Richman’s Counterpunch article from where they were originally drawn.
With serious debate about Palestine rights suddenly on the verge of being shutdown both in Britain and America, Israel is also putting the final pieces of the jigsaw together at home. The latest move by Netanyahu’s close ally Donald Trump to end its $360 million annual contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) deprives the organisation of a full third of its budget.
Independent reporter Jonathan Cook outlines the likely repercussions in a recent article entitled “There is a deeper, darker agenda afoot as the US cuts UNRWA funding”:
Over the past 25 years, peace talks have provided cover for Israel’s incremental takeover of what was supposed to be a future Palestinian state. In the words of Palestinian lawyer Michael Tarazi, while Israel and the Palestinians were discussing how to divide the pizza, Israel ate it all.
So Mr Trump’s team has, in effect, reverse-engineered a “peace process” based on the reality on the ground Israel has created.
If Israel won’t compromise, Mr Trump will settle the final-status issues – borders, Jerusalem and the refugees – in the stronger party’s favour. The only hurdle is finding a way to bully the Palestinians into acceptance.
In an indication of how synchronised Washington and Israel’s approaches now are, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, made almost identical speeches last week.
In an address to American Jewish leaders, Mr Friedman noted that a “different way of thinking” prevailed in the Middle East. “You can’t talk your way, you just have to be strong,” he said.
The next day, Mr Netanyahu reiterated that message. He tweeted: “The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive.”
That sounded uncomfortably like a prescription for the Palestinians’ future.
As Cook then explains this signals closure to what the Lukidniks see as the last stumbling block to securing the Greater Israel:
Israel has already carved out its borders through the ethnic cleansing campaigns of 1948 and 1967. Since then, it has mobilised the settlers and its military to take over almost all of the remnants of historic Palestine. A few slivers of territory in the West Bank and the tiny coastal ghetto of Gaza are all that is left for the Palestinians.
A nod from the White House and Israel will formalise this arrangement by gradually annexing the West Bank.
As far as Jerusalem is concerned, Mr Trump recognised it as Israel’s capital by moving the US embassy there in May. Now, even if it can be born, a Palestinian state will lack a meaningful capital and a viable economy.
The final loose end are the refugees.
On Monday 3rd, ‘Novara Media’ livestreamed a discussion featuring Palestinian barrister Salma Karmi-Ayyoub, who spoke to Ash Sarkar and Michael Walker about the US withdrawal of funding for UNRWA and the Labour Party’s adoption of IHRA definition [from 4:30 mins]:
Cook concludes his excellent piece:
In a leaked email reported by Foreign Policy magazine this month, Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, wrote that it was time to “disrupt UNRWA”. He added that “sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there”.
Central to that disruption is stripping millions of Palestinians of their status as refugees. The Trump administration is due to publish a report later this month, according to Israeli media, that will propose capping the Palestinian refugee population at 500,000 – a tenth of the current number.
Mr Kushner has reportedly been leaning on Jordan to revoke the status of its two million Palestinian refugees, presumably in return for US compensation.
When UNRWA’s mandate comes up for renewal in two years’ time, it seems assured Washington will block it.
If there is no UNRWA, there is no Palestinian refugee problem. And if there are no refugees, then there is no need for a right of return – and even less pressure for a Palestinian state.
Israel and the US are close to their goal: transforming a political conflict governed by international law that favours the Palestinians into an economic problem overseen by an array of donors that favours Israel. 6
In summary, the far-right in Israel demand their lebensraum and to hasten completion are now employing the weaponisation not only of the very definition of “antisemitism” but, as Cook accurately points out, the aggressive weaponisation of aid too. That the noose is tightening both on the Palestinians and their supporters, and that this is happening concurrently, with dramatic moves occurring within America and Britain, is surely not a coincidence.
Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s full article.
(The General Assembly) Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.
2 From an article entitled “Anti-Israelism and Anti-Semitism: the Invidious Conflation” written by Sheldon Richman, published by Counterpunch on September 4, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/09/04/anti-israelism-and-anti-semitism-the-invidious-conflation/
3 From an article entitled “Students Beware: This Trump Nominee Doesn’t Believe in Your Civil Rights” written by Dima Khalidi, published in The Nation on January 10, 2018. https://www.thenation.com/article/students-beware-this-trump-nominee-doesnt-believe-in-your-civil-rights/
6 From an article entitled “There is a deeper, darker agenda afoot as the US cuts UNRWA funding”, written by Jonathan Cook, published on September 2, 2018. https://www.jonathan-cook.net/2018-09-02/us-cuts-unrwa-funding/