After repeated delays, the UN human rights office on Wednesday released a list of more than 100 companies it said are complicit in violating Palestinian human rights by operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The list, the first ever attempt by the UN to name and shame businesses contributing to settlement activity, included a number of well known names, among them Airbnb, Motorola and General Mills. Coming just weeks after the publication of a U.S. Mideast initiative, its publication was swiftly condemned by Israel and hailed by the Palestinians.
The Human Rights Council in 2016 instructed the UN’s human rights office to create a “database” of companies deemed to be linked to or supportive of the settlements, which are considered illegal by the vast majority of the international community.
Beginning with a potential list of over 300 companies, it narrowed the list down to 112 businesses involved in areas such as settlement construction, security equipment and services, equipment used to demolish Palestinian property and banking and financial services.
“The fact-finding mission set out a list of activities that raised particular human rights concerns,” said Wednesday’s report.
The report does not have any concrete impact on the companies that were singled out. Instead, it is largely symbolic, appearing to be aimed at drawing negative attention to their activities in the settlements.
The vast majority of the companies are Israeli, including banks and construction firms. But there are a number of international companies, including travel companies like Airbnb, Expedia, TripAdvisor, Booking.com and Opodo. Many offer vacation rentals in the settlements.
Other names include consumer food maker General Mills, tech and communications giants Motorola and Altice Europe, and infrastructure companies like France’s Egis Rail and Alstom, and British company JC Bamford Excavators.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called the publication of the list a “shameful surrender” to countries and organizations that want to hurt Israel. He accused the council of assisting a global anti-Israel boycott movement.
“The state of Israel will not accept discriminatory and anti-Israel policies, and we will work in every possible way to prevent such decisions from being carried out,” he said.
Focused on Israel
Israel and the United States regularly accuse the council of anti-Israel bias, and the Trump administration withdrew the United States in 2018 — faulting the UN for accepting autocratic governments that the administration said have repeatedly violated human rights.
Countries like Libya, Venezuela, and Somalia are currently among member states, and China’s term finished at the end of 2019. The overwhelming majority of resolutions passed by the council has focused on Israel and its treatment of Palestinians, and Israel is the only country in the world whose policies automatically face scrutiny at every council session.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki hailed the list as a “victory for international law and for the diplomatic effort to dry up the sources of the colonial system represented by illegal settlement in the occupied Palestinian territory.”
The list was released just two weeks after the U.S. announced its long-awaited Mideast initiative.
The international community considers Israel’s more than 100 West Bank settlements to be illegally built on occupied territory. With wide international backing, the Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, captured by Israel in 1967, as part of a future independent state.
But in a departure from his predecessors, President Donald Trump, whose key Mideast advisers are strong settlement supporters, has taken a more lenient approach toward the settlements.
His Mideast plan calls for allowing Israel to keep all of its settlements, and following its publication, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to annex the settlements and large chunks of the West Bank. Under American pressure, he later put his annexation plan on hold until after March 2 elections.
The Palestinians have rejected Trump’s plan, and other countries have expressed little support for it while remaining opposed to the settlements.
The rights council, which is made up of 47 governments, had never before requested such a list scrutinizing corporate activities.
The release of the report — a politically fraught document that could cast a shadow over firms doing business in Palestinian areas — has been repeatedly delayed.
Human Rights Watch applauded the report, calling on the rights council — the UN’s top human rights body — to update it regularly to help companies comply with international law.
“The long-awaited release of the UN settlement business database should put all companies on notice: to do business with illegal settlements is to aid in the commission of war crimes,” said Bruno Stagno, HRW’s deputy executive director for advocacy. “The database marks critical progress in the global effort to ensure businesses end complicity in rights abuse and respect international law.”
The report’s authors called on the council to set up “a group of independent experts” to update the database each year. The report said its authors had communicated directly with the companies to allow them to defend themselves or say whether they had changed their operations in the settlements.
NGO Monitor, an Israeli group that is highly critical of the rights council, called the list “defamatory” and an endorsement of the anti-Israel boycott movement.
Anne Herzberg, the group’s legal adviser, called on countries to “reassess their relationships” with the rights office and urged the “maligned companies” to consider legal action against UN officials who prepared the list.
Well, we all know by now who is really ruling the USA, don’t we? If I hear anymore from the US about freedom of speech I am going to puke.
“Twenty-eight states have already mandated loyalty pledges to Israel as a means to outlaw dissent. But in December, President Trump passed legislationeffectively criminalizing the Boycott Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement that aims to put pressure on the Jewish state through economic action, along the lines of the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa. The law mandates that any public institution would be subject to losing all funding if the government deems that they are not doing enough to stamp out anti-Semitism, which, it explicitly states, includes any criticism of the Israeli government. In December, MintPress reported that the British government under Boris Johnson isplanning to introduce similar legislation.”
“This censorship of my talk based on forced compliance to anti-BDS laws in Georgia is just one level of a nationwide campaign to protect Israel from grassroots pressure.” — Abby Martin
After refusing to sign a pledge of allegiance to the state of Israel, the state of Georgia shut down a media literacy conference featuring journalist and filmmaker Abby Martin at Georgia Southern University. Martin had recently released a documentary critical of the Israeli government called “Gaza Fights for Freedom.” Now she is suing the state, claiming the decision is a violation of the First Amendment. Along with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), today she filed a federal free speech lawsuit against the university system of Georgia.
Martin was dismayed by the university’s decision: “This censorship of my talk based on forced compliance to anti-BDS laws in Georgia is just one level of a nationwide campaign to protect Israel from grassroots pressure. We must stand firmly opposed to these efforts and not cower in fear to these blatant violations of free speech,” shesaid.
Abby Martin ✔@AbbyMartin
After I was scheduled to give keynote speech at an upcoming @GeorgiaSouthern conference, organizers said I must comply w/ Georgia’s anti-BDS law & sign a contractual pledge to not boycott Israel. I refused & my talk was canceled. The event fell apart after colleagues supported me
Twenty-eight states have already mandated loyalty pledges to Israel as a means to outlaw dissent. But in December, President Trump passed legislationeffectively criminalizing the Boycott Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement that aims to put pressure on the Jewish state through economic action, along the lines of the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa. The law mandates that any public institution would be subject to losing all funding if the government deems that they are not doing enough to stamp out anti-Semitism, which, it explicitly states, includes any criticism of the Israeli government. In December, MintPress reported that the British government under Boris Johnson isplanning to introduce similar legislation.
“The hyperbolic notion that conservatives are the ones being persecuted on college campuses has made blatant censorship campaigns against people for criticism of Israel, or other progressive protests, go completely ignored,” Martinwrote.
CAIR’s Legal Defense Fund Senior Litigation Attorney Gadeir Abbas said,
There is no place where free speech is more important than on campus. And this attempt to suppress Abby’s views – denying students, academics, and others from hearing her lecture – is as brazen as it is illegal. In adopting this anti-BDS law, Georgia has prioritized the policy preferences of a foreign country over the free speech rights of Americans, like Abby, who speak on this state’s college campuses.”
The PCJF likened the BDS movement to the boycotts of the civil rights movement in the mid-twentieth century, its Executive Director Mara Verheyden-Hilliard described the laws as “extraordinary, outrageous, illegal and unconstitutional.” In 1956 Martin Luther King and his movement were criminalized for carrying out boycotts, as Southern states passed legislation to penalize their behavior, only for it to be later struck down by the Supreme Court. This is what Martin and the alliance of non-governmental organizations is hoping will happen here too. Why should I have to “contractually pledge loyalty to a foreign country?” she asked at her press conference today.
In 2016, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed a law requiring any person or organization entering into a contract with the state worth at least $1,000 sign an oath promising that they would not oppose the Israeli government in any fashion. CAIR has reason to believe they could overturn the law its Georgia Executive Director, Edward Ahmed Mitchell, called “blatantly and hilariously unconstitutional.”
In 2018, Bahia Amawi, a Houston-based children’s speech pathologist who worked with autistic, speech-impaired and other developmentally disabled children, lost her job after she refused to sign a similar document. Amawi had been at her job for nine years previously without a problem. CAIR took up Amawi’s case and managed tooverturn every Texas boycott law on the grounds of their unconstitutionality and she is now free to return to work. They appear confident of a similar victory in Georgia.
Martin began as a citizen journalist covering the Occupy movement in her native California. From 2012 to 2015 she hosted the showBreaking the Set on RT. In the famous D.N.I. report into alleged Russian interference into the 2016 election, the U.S. governmentaccused her of “promoting radical discontent” in America, something she appears to wear as a badge of honor. Her current documentary series,Empire Files, is broadcast on TeleSUR English. However, due to sanctions against the Venezuelan government, Gaza Fights for Freedom was crowdfunded. She is also the host ofMedia Roots Radio.
Correction | An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the state of Georgia shut down a screening of Abby Martin’s documentary film “Gaza Fights for Freedom.”
Muslim US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has introduced a resolution that seeks to protect the right to engage in boycotts against Israel, despite efforts by federal, state and locals officials to pass various anti-boycott measures.
Omar, a Democratic member of the US House of Representatives, proposed the resolution earlier this week in a bid to push back against US laws banning the Israel boycotts.
The text of the measure affirms the right of Americans to organize boycotts of foreign countries. While the resolution doesn’t explicitly name Israel or the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, she told media outlets that the resolution concerns Israel.
“We are introducing a resolution … to really speak about the American values that support and believe in our ability to exercise our First Amendment rights in regard to boycotting,” Omar told Al-Monitor.
Resolution 496 was introduced with two cosponsors, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and John Lewis of Georgia.
Omar’s decision to introduce the measure shows she is not intimidated by President Donald Trump’s recent racist attacks on her and other women of color lawmakers, including his accusations that they are anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.
“It affirms the right of all activists and people of conscience to advocate for human rights through boycotts against systems of oppression,” Hind Awwad, spokesperson for the Palestinian BDS National Committee said.
The BDS boycott campaign against Israel began in July 2005 by 171 Palestinian organizations, which calls for “various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law.”
Major Israeli media outlets have launched a systematic bullying campaign to demonize Germany’s leading news weekly, Der Spiegel, after it recently revealed that two small pro-Israel organizations were directing Berlin’s Middle East policy.
Reacting to Der Spiegel’s article, Israeli Hebrew-language daily newspaper Israel Hayom, which is close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claimed that journalists involved in the article were linked to the fake news reporting by Claas Relotius, a well-known investigative journalist.
The Jerusalem Post and several other Israeli media outlets on Monday also accused the German magazine of promoting Israel-related anti-Semitism and demanded an apology.
Der Spiegel, a 71-year-old publication, is renowned for its quality journalism and is read by hundreds of thousands of people in print and by millions online.
The defamatory campaign by Israeli media comes after a team of six Spiegel journalists wrote in a three-page article that two Germany-based organizations – Values Initiative and The Middle East Peace Forum (Naffo) — used “dubious methods” to mount a “targeted campaign” to secure a Bundestag (parliament) resolution opposing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
The German magazine in its weekend publication went onto point out that German lawmakers did “not want to reject the resolution out of fear of being labeled an anti-semite.”
In May, a cross-party alliance in the German parliament Bundestag voted to condemn as “anti-Semitic” the BDS movement, which calls for economic pressure on Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian territories.
In a move welcomed by the Tel Aviv regime, the majority of German lawmakers in the Bundestag voted in favor of a motion that accuses the BDS of using anti-Semitic tactics to fulfill its political goals.
The resolution was submitted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s fellow-conservatives, their Social Democrat coalition partners, as well as the Greens and Free Democrats.
The vote was denounced by the BDS as anti-Palestinian.
Der Spiegel further revealed that the two organizations were “front organizations” for the Tel Aviv regime with links to the Israeli spy agency Mossad.
Naffo “advocates for positions of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu” and “carries out aggressive lobby work” in Berlin’s government district, the magazine noted
The authors stated that the “questionable methods” of Naffo involved a conference where positions were exchanged with politicians and trips were arranged to bring German MPs to Israel.
The magazine has stressed that the organizations run a “network” and wield outsized “influence.”
The article also quoted German Undersecretary of State Niels Annen, who criticized the two pro-Israel groups: “Any attempt to influence the balanced position of Germany or Europe in one of the sides’ directions is problematic.”
Israel and its allies in Washington and other Western capitals have long railed against the BDS, which calls for people and groups across the world to cut economic, cultural and academic ties to Tel Aviv.
Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS has claimed several recent successes in isolating Israel.
On June 25, Canada’s Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism announced that the Trudeau government’s new anti-racism strategy would include the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. The Co-Chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) proudly noted that
“the IHRA definition also explicitly recognizes that anti-Zionism – that is the delegitimization and demonization of the Jewish state – is a clear and unequivocal expression of antisemitism.”
While the adoption of this definition is as yet only ‘symbolic and declaratory,’ it can form the basis for attacks on Palestinian solidarity at various levels. The funding of NGOs that are critical of Israel may be threatened. Public institutions will be pressured to deny meeting facilities for events that take the Palestinian side. It is also quite possible that this initiative could be taken further and the expression of anti-Zionist views actually be treated as a form of hate crime.
Misuse of Antisemitism
This latest move is part of the Canadian component of a concerted international drive to weaponise the false allegation of antisemitism in the service of Israel. In 2009, the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (CPCCA) was formed, comprised of former and sitting MPs from each party. It issued its report in 2011 and the focus was on combating the so called ‘new antisemitism’ of those who challenge Israel. Independent Jewish Voices (Canada) described the whole initiative as an ‘attempt to attack free speech and silence criticism of the Israeli government’s oppressive and illegal policies’ and ‘to label criticism of Israel and its behaviour, as well as organized efforts to change them, as anti-Semitic and to criminalize both.’
The BDS Movement has also been attacked by governments in Canada, with resolutions condemning the boycott effort coming from both the federal parliament and the provincial legislature in Ontario. The Al Quds Day Rally in Toronto has faced concerted efforts to undermine it, with the Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, asserting last year that
“Our government will take action to ensure that events like Al Quds Day… are no longer part of the landscape in Ontario.”
Independent Jewish Voices (Canada) has produced an excellent report that shows how the IHRA definition is being used to further the attack on Palestinian solidarity, insufficient attention is paid to very real forms of antisemitic hate crime. The Israeli government and its supporters are aggressively using this document as a key tool in their efforts to ‘suppress – and even criminalize – criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights.’
If the effort to intimidate and suppress support for the Palestinians, especially when it is expressed as clear and forthright anti-Zionism, is being challenged with such escalating ferocity, this largely reflects a certain note of desperation on the part of Israel’s apologists. The BDS Movement has made gains and the general mood has shifted against the Zionist state. At the same time, Israel’s political leadership is racing to the right with the support of the Trump Administration and dispensing with polite fictions about a peace process, as they move to brutally complete the colonial project. The pretense of a liberal democracy seeking a just resolution is no longer viable. The accusation of antisemitism against international supporters of a free Palestine is really all that’s left in the toolbox. So, while fascists in Eastern Europe pose a real threat to Jewish communities and US nazis march through the streets chanting, ‘Jews will not replace us,’ fire is focused on the left and life long anti-racists, like Jeremy Corbyn, are labeled as hatemongers. Moreover, the goal of the attack is no longer merely character assassination. The IHRA definition is being put forward as one that should inform the work of police and prosecutors. They prepare the ground to arrest those they can’t intimidate into silence.
Labour and the IHRA Definition
The Labour Party’s acceptance last year of the IHRA definition, with all of the examples included, was desperately unfortunate. As an effort by some on the left to appease the right and achieve peace, it was a predictable failure and only emboldened the attackers to go further with their cynical misuse of antisemitism. However, it also had the most serious implications for international Palestinian solidarity. Precisely because the prestige of the Corbyn leadership is so considerable and it is looked to with such hope in many other countries, the retreat had a damaging effect. We can expect the Liberal Party of Canada, fully complicit in the oppression of the Palestinians, to readily accept the IHRA definition but, for Labour to do this, even as the document is being used to attack solidarity movements in country after country, was massively unhelpful.
For obvious historical reasons, the position that a left-led party in Britain takes on an anti-colonial struggle is a decisive question. Leftists in the country from which the Balfour Declaration was issued have a particular responsibility to the Palestinians.
Though he was not the first Zionist politician to make this gesture, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, stood before the Security Council in April of this year and waved a bible in his hand as he declared that “this is our deed to our land.” That anyone can suggest that an ancient religious text should be used to decide affairs of state and international relations in the 21st Century is quite astounding yet no Western leader would even consider questioning these theatrics. If, however, Danon’s bible promised, not a part of the Middle East, but a portion of Western Europe, the Zionist claim to self-determination would have gone nowhere. When Zionism emerged in the 19th Century, as an adjunct of European colonialism, no one spoke in code. Everyone understood that the plan was for a settler colony that would serve as a garrison of Western interests. It would be, as Theodor Herzl put it,
Herzl’s wall is standing today. It was erected by ethnically cleansing the bulk of the Palestinian population, creating vast numbers of refugees and establishing an Apartheid regime for those who could not be removed. Last month, Netanyahu ventured the opinion that,
By that, of course, he means that the US-led domination of the entire region would be called into question and he is far from wrong.
The nature and role of the State of Israel is such that we can’t be content to be critical of its excesses and worst aspects. The seventh of the ‘contemporary examples of antisemitism’ listed in the IHRA definition speaks of ‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.’ The dispossession of the Palestinians can’t possibly be considered the exercise of a right to self-determination and Israel, a colonial settler state, is a fundamentally racist endeavour. Zionism is not a religion or an ethnicity but a political ideology and its propositions are questioned or rejected by many Jews, while they are supported by leaders of Western powers who are, for the most part, not Jewish.
As Israel seeks to crush Palestinian resistance, complete the colonial project and become an impregnable fortress of Western interests in the Middle East, a frank and clear anti-Zionism is at a premium. When Palestinians join the Great March of Return to the Gaza fence, it is not enough to accuse the IDF of using excessive force. We must declare that the Palestinians do, indeed, have a right of return and to live in a free, democratic and secular Palestine. If they can show such courage and pay such a price, surely we can face down and refute the lies and slanders and show our solidarity and support for the Palestinians is non-negotiable.
Note to readers: please click the share buttons above or below. Forward this article to your email lists. Crosspost on your blog site, internet forums. etc.
John Clarke became an organiser with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty when it was formed in 1990 and has been involved in mobilising poor communities under attack ever since.
Featured image: Free Palestine protest at Parliament Hill, Ottawa, July 2014. Photo: Flickr/Tony Webster
Investigative journalist, author, and syndicated columnist. A member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the National Press Club
July 12, 2019
Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and the person Trump appointed to broker a Middle East peace agreement recently called Palestinians “hysterical and stupid.” That is particularly galling language coming from a notorious New Jersey, New York, and Maryland slumlord and the son of a federally convicted criminal. Kushner’s father and real estate mogul, Charles Kushner, spent fourteen months in prison after being convicted of tax fraud and witness tampering, among other crimes. Jared Kushner believes his father was wrongly convicted and imprisoned. But the wunderkind son-in-law of Trump has no problem in maintaining the status quo in the Middle East, one that has led to the large-scale incarceration of the people of the Gaza Strip in the virtual desert ghetto.
Mr. Kushner does not have the business acumen to run a New York City sandwich cart, let alone a major foreign policy initiative like a final Middle East peace agreement. Such a concordat has eluded every US president since the creation of Israel in 1948. Kushner’s real estate bankruptcies are legendary, and they have resulted in him and his father panhandling for loan relief financing from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, and China, among other countries.
In the wake of Kushner’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan unveiled at a workshop in Bahrain in June of this year, government officials around the world reacted with an almost-unanimous thumbs down. The Bahrain conference more resembled a meeting of potential investors in one of Kushner’s real estate scams. The Palestinians, claiming that to present an economic plan for the Palestinian territories prior to a political settlement, boycotted the Bahrain conclave. Under the “Kushner Plan,” Gaza was to become a tourist resort with transport routes through Israel to the West Bank. No mention was made of the crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockades imposed on the densely populated Gaza enclave of 1.8 million people. Kushner displayed his utter ignorance of geo-politics, history, and diplomacy when he said Palestinians would reap a financial whirlwind of real estate development and tourism investment money if “there’s not a fear of people doing terrorism.” Doing terrorism? In Kushner’s pampered rich kid myopic view of the world, “doing terrorism” is like “doing lunch” or “doing a Broadway show.”
Participating in Kushner’s gabfest, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin claimed that Kushner’s roll-out was like a “hot IPO,” an initial public offering of shares in a company. Seasoned Middle East experts, including diplomats and scholars, were far less enthusiastic, with one likening Kushner’s conference to a Monty Python sketch.
Kushner also lambasted the Palestinian leadership for saying “crazy things.” The son-in-law of the man who, on a daily basis, says and tweets “crazy things” believes that it is “crazy” for Palestinian leaders to condemn Israeli expansion into East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. In fact, “crazy” was Trump ordering the moving of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, shuttering the US Consulate General in Jerusalem that served as the de facto US mission in Palestine, cutting off all US economic assistance to the Palestinians, closing the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington, and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over Syria’s Golan Heights.
Kushner called the Palestinians “stupid and hysterical.” However, nothing exemplifies hysterical and stupid more than Kushner family friend Binyamin Netanyahu, who once stood before the United Nations General Assembly and displayed a cartoon drawing of a bomb to “prove” that Iran was nearing development of a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu’s histrionics before the world assembly was not the first time he resorted to gimmickry and lying in order to tick off a list of favorite Zionist talking points.
Kushner does not appreciate the hyper-hysterical nature of Israel and its supporters, of which he is one. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement targeting Israel’s racist and expansionist policies has resulted in hysterical extreme measures aimed at undercutting constitutional and other inherent freedoms of speech in other countries. These anti-free speech actions have been advanced by Kushner’s friends and colleagues and include twenty-eight American states enacting legislation that bans individuals and companies supporting BDS from receiving state government contracts. Israel’s intelligence service, Mossad, is actively working to disrupt the global BDS movement, including the operations of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).
The anti-BDS campaign includes Mossad collecting intelligence on BDS operations in foreign countries and placing BDS leaders and supporters on INTERPOL and EUROPOL watch lists. Kushner’s Zionist friends have even spoken of Israel filing lawsuits against BDS organizations and individuals abroad. There was little surprise when Mossad’s anti-BDS activities in the United States were linked to the now-defunct Israeli private intelligence firm PSY-Group and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Kushner can whine all day long about Palestinians being “hysterical.” No one is more hysterical and hypocritical than Kushner and his Orthodox Jewish cabal that includes the dodgy Chabad movement – which has been tied into everything from drug and human organ trafficking to tax evasion and money laundering, as well as the 2020 presidential campaign of New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker. No sooner had New England Patriots football owner and Trump Mar-a-Lago club member Robert Kraft beat a criminal charge of soliciting prostitution from a Florida massage parlor employing Chinese indentured employees, he donated his $1 million Genesis Prize – Israel’s version of the Nobel Prize – to the anti-BDS movement. That kind of money would have paid for quite a lot of $57 “sessions” at Kraft’s favorite, but now closed, Florida massage parlor. Even though Kraft was dumb enough to get caught on videotape in a law enforcement sting on illegal prostitution activities, Kushner claims it is the Palestinians who are “stupid.”
Recently, Kushner’s friends in Israel and Germany forced the resignation of Dr. Peter Schäfer, a foremost scholar of Judaic Studies, as director of Berlin’s Jewish Museum. Using Inquisition-like tactics, Schäfer stood accused by Israel supporters of backing the BDS movement by tweeting a link to a letter signed by 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars opposing a bill passed by the German parliament that linked the BDS movement to anti-Semitism. The campaign against Dr. Schäfer was centered on the activities of an Israel-based organization called NGO Monitor. The group, which is nothing more than a cipher for Mossad, targets international non-governmental organizations tagged with being supportive of the Palestinians or the BDS movement.
Under pressure from such anti-democratic forces as NGO Monitor; its Geneva-based companion, UN Watch; the American Jewish Committee; and similar repugnant pressure organizations, the freedom of speech rights of pro-Palestine activists have been severely hampered by actions of the governments of Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, and other nations.
Mr. Kushner and his friends who gathered in Bahrain for his real estate development (land theft) prospectus seminar would trick the world into believing that it is the Palestinians who are “hysterical.” When international supporters of the Palestinians decide to hit the Israelis where it hurts the most – their wallets – all one can hear from the offices and board rooms of Tel Aviv, West Jerusalem, Haifa, Ashkelon, Eilat, Ramat Gan, New York, and other centers of Israeli commerce and intrigue is loud wailing and promises to “get even.” And Kushner accuses the Palestinians of being “hysterical.”
In fact, the Palestinians have been quite measured in response to Israel’s overt and covert campaigns against them and their inalienable rights. Since Trump and Kushner launched their diplomatic, political, and economic warfare against Palestine, the State of Palestine has been recognized by the International Atomic Energy Agency and Colombia; Italy voted for a UN Security Council for a resolution that opposed the US movement of its embassy to Jerusalem; the UN’s Group of 77 (G77) developing nations invited Palestine to chair the group’s meeting during 2019; Spain’s Josep Borell, who is pro-Palestinian and tough on Israel, was named the next Foreign Affairs Commissioner of the European Union; and former US President Jimmy Carter called on the United States to recognize Palestinian sovereignty. These small but significant advances on behalf of the Palestinians were achieved as a result of Palestine’s commitment to diplomacy, not the hysteria practiced by Kushner and his friends in Israel, as well as by pro-Israel embeds found throughout the Trump administration.
Israel Now Owns Florida’s Government along with Washington and 26 other State Governments
Thanks to the Florida legislature and governor it is no longer possible to make any criticism of Israel in Florida’s public schools.The Florida educational system is now prohibited from any acknowledgement, other than approval, of Israeli murders of Palestinians, carpet bombing with illegal white phosphorus of Gaza, and Israeli interference in US elections.
The American people’s support for Israel has fallen to its lowest level in the past decade, a new poll has found, indicating that President Donald Trump’s many controversial decisions to boost ties with Tel Aviv are alienating people back at home.
The new Gallup poll released Wednesday found that 59 percent of Americans said they were “more sympathetic” towards Israel on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
This marks a sharp decline from last year, when 65 percent of the American public sided with the Tel Aviv regime.
The whopping six-percent drop over a one-year period is the biggest in the history of the yearly poll, which was first conducted in 2001.
The decline was seen among both Democrats and Republicans, however, followers of Trump’s own party posted the sharpest decrease.
While among Democrats, feelings of sympathy for Israel went down by a total of six percent, Republican support fell by 11 percent.
The staggering drop in support among Republican comes in contrast to Trump’s deeply close relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The percentage of Republicans saying they sympathize more with Israel in the conflict fell from an all-time high of 87 percent in 2018 to 76 percent today,” the poll said.
The percentage of people who identified as political independents remained the same over the last year, with 60% sympathizing more with Israel.
The number of Americans who said they supported Palestine remained unchanged at 21 percent.
Last year’s survey came amid Washington’s preparations to proceed with Trump’s order to relocate the US embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem al-Quds, a move that infuriated Palestinians and prompted mixed responses in Washington.
Trump officially recognized al-Quds as Israel’s capital in December 2017, leading Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to halt US-brokered talks with Israel while questioning Washington’s ability to stay unbiased.
Trump in response cut American aid to the PA, withdrawing fund from such institutions as the East Jerusalem Hospital Network as well as several joint Israeli-Palestinian agencies.
A censored documentary has surfaced online, detailing alleged Israeli lobbying campaigns in the United States. The documentary, filmed by Al Jazeera, exposes how pro-Israeli organisations monitor the activities of American students and try to influence US lawmakers.
Electronic Intifada, an online news publication covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has obtained a never-released Al Jazeera investigation into how pro-Israeli advocacy groups influence US politics.
The four-part documentary, titled The Lobby — USA, was filmed by an Al Jazeera undercover journalist, called “Tony”, who infiltrated the Israeli lobby during a five-month operation and earned the trust of its leaders.
Tony is said to have volunteered for the Israel Project, a US-based nonprofit, which he learned had contacts in numerous news agencies, such as Bloomberg, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, and BuzzFeed, who worked on “neutralising the undesired narratives”.
This effort to get “special treatment” from the United States is allegedly spearheaded by senior officials in Israel, including Sima Vaknin-Gil, director general of Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry.
“If we want to win, we have to change our ways,” she was quoted as telling a gathering of the pro-Israeli lobby in Washington, DC. “And this is waging a holistic campaign against the other side.”
According to the film, this effectively means dragging Israel’s political opponents out of their “comfort zone” and discrediting the messenger rather than discussing the message. Specifically, this refers to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, a campaign pressuring Israel to stop its alleged mistreatment of Palestinians.
A project called “Israel Cyber Shield” was rolled out in the US; it effectively is a cyber intelligence unit that spies on the activists of the BDS movement using state-of-the-art Israeli intelligence systems.
The investigation claims that pro-Israel groups, such as the Israel on Campus Coalition, are monitoring the activities of American students, including those on social media, and alerting their partners in intelligence circles if something worrying “pops up”.
The Israeli Embassy in the US, according to a recorded conversation with its former director of community affairs, is also working with several groups that train faculty, providing these groups with “funding and connections”.
And a funny story took place at a meeting of a pro-Israel advocacy group, when a journalist from the Algemeiner newspaper offered Tony to go undercover and spy on BDS activists on campus to report about “any potential level of danger or difficulty”.
Moreover, apart from US campuses, major effort is concentrated on wowing US congressmen who have influence on foreign policy — and the documentary hints that Washington and Tel Aviv enjoy such a good alliance for a reason.
The undercover reporter worked for David Ochs, the founder of HaLev, an organisation that helps young Jewish professionals attend the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — one of the most influential lobbyist groups in the United States.
Jim Moran, a now-retired representative from Virginia, was quoted as saying that those who have AIPAC backing and support Israel are more likely to get elected to Congress.
Ochs cited a fundraiser organised by an AIPAC-linked pro-Israel advocacy group for Anthony Brown, who is currently serving as the US Rep. from Maryland. “This is the biggest ad-hoc political group and definitely the wealthiest in DC,” he said. The gathering was attended by senators and congressmen from both parties.”
The meeting was apparently held to buy support from US lawmakers with under-the-table cash donations. Ochs is heard as saying: “It’s the AIPAC group. It makes a difference. It really, really does. It’s the best bang for your buck and the networking is phenomenal.”
“Congressmen don’t do anything unless you pressure them. They kick the can down the road, unless you pressure them. And the only way to do that is with money.”
While the White House is concerned with foreign interference in its domestic affairs, accusing Russia and China of attempts to sway public opinion, recent claims that pro-Israeli lobbyists buy the favour of US lawmakers have prompted accusations of anti-Semitism.
On Monday, freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar ignited a Twitterstorm and drew condemnation from a plethora of public figures, including Nikki Haley and Chelsea Clinton, after tweeting “It’s all about Benjamins baby” and “AIPAC”, in reference to the Israeli lobby in the US.
The Israel-lobby’s strong influence on the US government has started to fade as a result of recent changes in the American public’s view of the Tel Aviv regime, an American political analyst says.
Keith Preston, director of Attackthesystem.com, argued that the frustration with Washington’s unconditional support for Tel Aviv was growing among American people and politicians alike.
“Well, it’s certainly true that Israel has a very very powerful grip over the American government,” Preston told Press TV on Sunday, adding that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) maintained the most influence on the policy-making process in the US.
The analyst said the influence of the pro-Israel lobby was best seen when Donald Trump and other 2016 US presidential election hopefuls attended events by AIPAC to reassure the powerful interest group of their commitment to protect Israeli interests.
However, the political landscape in the US has seen some changes with regards to Israel and although politicians remained strong allies of the regime more people were turning against it.
“While Americans have generally been very very pro-Israel; that is starting to decline somewhat,” Preston argued. “I think more and more people for example in the United States are getting tired of American constantly being at war in the Middle East in large part because of the influence of the Israeli lobby over American foreign policy.”
Another notable change, he said, was the growing population of ethnic and religious minorities in the US, who “correctly see Palestinians as an oppressed people.”
Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who became the first Muslim members of the House of Representatives in January, have been outspoken about their criticism of Israel’s crimes against the people of Palestine.
Omar has accused the Tel Aviv regime of discrimination against Palestinians similar to apartheid.
Tlaib, on the other hand, has argued that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement can draw attention to “issues like the racism and the international human rights violations by Israel right now.”
Pro-BDS stances by people like Omar and Tlaib, according to Preston, is eating away at Israel’s influence in the US.
“The pro-Israel forces in the United States are terrified of the BDS movement and that’s why they are trying to pass laws that would essentially criminalize it,” he explained. “And that’s essentially what these two representatives, Tlaib and Omar, are speaking out against.”
“Congress is essentially trying to pass an unconstitutional law on behalf of Israel in order to undermine the BDS movement,” he said.
“But I think we’ll see more voices of this type in the future coming along… I think more and more elected officials and certainly the general public will become more and more aware this relationship between the US and Israel and the negative influence really that Israel has on American society in terms of foreign policy and a number of other issues,” the analyst concluded.
On Monday a district court in Washington threw out the lawsuit against ASA, which is the oldest scholarly organization devoted to the interdisciplinary study of U.S. culture and history. The federal judge ruled that the anti-BDS plaintiffs were unable to explain how they were injured by the boycott, a requirement for the lawsuit to go forward.
Pro-Israel group, the Louis D. Brandeis Centre, filed a lawsuit against ASA in April 2016 over its resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The lawsuit argued that in adopting the resolution, which was voted on by an overwhelming Democratic majority, the ASA operated beyond its corporate charter and caused the plaintiffs to “suffer significant economic and reputational damage.”
In the court’s 20-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras wrote that the pro-Israeli group had “danced around key issues” and was unable to show that they had suffered enough monetary damages to warrant a federal case.
The judge found that at most, the individual plaintiffs could seek damages of a few hundred dollars to cover membership dues they allege were misappropriated, but they would have to find some other venue to pursue their claims.
Radhika Sainath, senior attorney with the civil rights group Palestine Legal, summed up the court’s judgment saying that “the court basically said, in no uncertain words, that the plaintiffs suing ASA lied when they claimed to have ‘suffered significant economic and reputational damage’.”
“But, as the court explained, ‘nowhere’ in the lawsuit could the plaintiffs explain what that damage was. It didn’t pass the smell test,” she added.
One of the four co-defendants, Dr. Stephen Salaita, an outspoken advocate of Palestinian rights who was fired from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for tweets criticizing Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, said after the verdict:
I’m thrilled that this baseless case has been dismissed. It served no purpose other than persecuting those who dare to criticize Israeli policy and seek to end the occupation through peaceful means.”
Another co-defended Wesleyan University Professor Kehaulani Kauanui denounced the lawsuit as a politically motivated attempt to suppress free speech.
The Brandeis Centre did not hold back its clear intent to punish me for standing up in solidarity with Palestinians and to deter others. They don’t call it lawfare for nothing.”
The court’s decision comes in the context of a broader federal assault on BDS for Palestinian human rights. On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate passed a measure that would criminalize politically motivated boycotts of Israel across the U.S.
Tuesday’s Senate vote, which was 77-23, sends the legislation to the House of Representatives where it will likely face renewed debate, politicians said.
The legislation authorises $3.3bn a year for 10 years in US military aid to Israel, reauthorises the US-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act and imposes financial sanctions on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or companies and banks that do business with Damascus.
“Israel is without a doubt one of the best friends in the world,” Senator Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in remarks to the Senate. “Certainly, in that neighbourhood they live in, which is a dangerous neighbourhood, they need our help. We worked with them very closely in many, many respects.”
The legislation, which consolidated four bills that did not make it to Congress last year, drew controversy in the Senate and opposition from a number of senators because of added language authorising state and local governments to terminate contracts with US citizens who support the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The anti-BDS measure “is designed to see that the BDS activity is tamped down and that it is not appropriate to use against our friend, Israel”, Risch said.
‘Limitations on the First Amendment’
Critics decried the measure as contrary to the free speech rights of Americans under the First Amendment of the Constitution, which in US jurisprudence has provided protection for people participating in boycotts as a form of political protest.
“Our country was founded upon the concept and in the midst of a great boycott,” Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, said in remarks to the Senate opposing the measure. “At the time, we were boycotting British goods and most specifically, British tea. There is likely nothing more American than to protest, to dissent and to boycott.”
“The sad thing today is that we will be debating whether or not to place limitations on the First Amendment right to boycott, and we will do it because the vast majority of this body disagrees with the concept of what the people are boycotting over,” Paul said.
Twenty-six states have adopted anti-BDS measures, which is backed by the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee advocacy group. However, US judges in Kansas and Arizona struck down such laws in 2018.
“This goes beyond supporting Israel or not supporting Israel. This is about Americans’ civil liberties,” Shibley Telhami, a pollster and professor at the University of Maryland, told Al Jazeera.
“The differentiating characteristic of this one is that it is intruding into the civil liberties of Americans. Even people who oppose sanctions find it offensive that they have to penalise people who voice support for sanctions.”
US troops in Syria
In addition to supporting Israel, the legislation signals strong sentiment among politicians for continuing the limited US military engagement in Syria. Senior Republican leaders and a number of key Democrats said they want a delay and reevaluation of Trump’s order to withdraw US special forces from Syria.
On December 19, Trump announced he was pulling 2,000 US forces out of Syria, claiming the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group had been “defeated”. He later backtracked on the decision amid an outcry in Congress and no clear timetable has been set. US intelligence chiefs told a Senate hearing on January 29 that ISIL and al-Qaeda remained threats to US interests.
With this legislation, the Senate is calling on Trump to conduct a strategic policy review and consult US allies and partners in the region before drawing down US troops in Afghanistan by half from 14,000. Senators had voted 68-23 on procedural point to clear the amendment calling for the slowdown in Trump’s withdrawal plans.
The bill’s prospects in the House are unclear.
“It is unlikely the House of Representatives will address this bill in its current form,” said Senator Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat, who had attempted unsuccessfully to exempt small businesses and sole practitioners from the anti-BDS provisions.
Cheered on by American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other pro-Israel lobbies, the US Congress is now leading Israel’s war on Palestinians and their supporters. In the process, they are attempting to demolish the very core of American democratic values.
The Israeli-US war declared on the Palestinian boycott movement is coming to a head, culminating in a well-orchestrated effort aimed at suffocating any form of tangible protest of the ongoing Israeli colonization of Palestine.
But an Israeli ‘victory’, even with blind US government support, is still too elusive if at all guaranteed. Killing unarmed protesters at the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel is often whitewashed as Israel ‘defending itself’. However, legislating unconstitutional laws against the rights of ordinary people to boycott a state that practices war crimes might not be an easy endeavor.
The fact that 26 US states have already passed legislation or some form of condemnation of the civil act of boycott, as championed in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) should, in fact, raise more awareness of the iniquitous Israeli influence on the United States, rather than actually thwarting BDS.
The US Senate first bill of 2019 (S.B.1) titled: “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019” called on state and local governments to withhold contracts from any individual or business entity that boycotts Israel.
The bill was defeated, which is a promising sign. However, it must be noted as profound, if not altogether outrageous, that a country that is subsisting in a government shutdown and political crisis would find it both compelling and necessary to push for such a law in defense of a foreign country.
The bill will reappear again, of course. Alas, Americans should now get used to the idea that Israel’s priorities, however skewed and irrational in defense of its illegal military occupation of Palestine, will become the main rally cry for the US government for years to come.
While such a notion has proved true in the past, never before did ordinary Americans find themselves the main target in the political agenda of the far-right government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Even the mere protest of this agenda is being shunned. Iconic US civil rights activist, Angela Davis, 74, deservingly celebrated for her contribution to American society for decades, was denied an award by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute because of her defense of Palestinians and support of BDS.
This witch-hunt, which has now reached the most admired intellectuals of American society is affecting ordinary citizens everywhere as well, which is an alarming development in Israel’s unchecked power in the United States.
But how did Israel and its supporters acquire such disproportionate influence over the US government and society as a whole?
In short, the Lobby.
Cheered on by American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other pro-Israel lobbies, the US Congress is now leading the Israeli war on Palestinians and their supporters. In the process, they are attempting to demolish the very core of American democratic values.
The build-up to this particular battle, which will certainly be accentuated in 2019, began when AIPAC declared in its “2017 Lobbying Agenda” (PDF) that criminalizing the boycott of Israel is a top priority.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signs a first-in-the-nation Executive Order directing the divestment of public funds supporting BDS against Israel. Kevin P. Coughlin | Office of Governor Cuomo
The US Congress, which has historically proven subservient to the Israeli government and its lobbies, enthusiastically embraced AIPAC’s efforts. This resulted in the Senate Bill S.720, also known as the “Anti-Israel Boycott Act”, which aimed to ban the boycott of Israel and its illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.
The bill almost immediately gained the support of 48 Senators and 234 House members. Unsurprisingly, it was drafted mostly by AIPAC itself.
Punishment for those who violate the proposed law ranged from $250,000 to $1 million and 10 years imprisonment.
Anti-Palestinian measures in the US are nothing new. In fact, ardent support for Israel and the complete disregard for Palestinians is the only aspect which Democrats and Republicans have in common. It will remain to be seen if the inclusion of progressive and Muslim women in this current House lineup will change or at least challenge that reality.
For now, the sad truth is that the very individuals who were meant to guard the Constitution are the ones openly violating it. The First Amendment to the US Constitution has been the pillar in defense of the people’s right to free speech, freedom of the press, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”.
This right has, however, often been curtailed when it applies to Israel. The Center for Constitutional Rights refers to this fact as “The Palestine Exception“.
Dire as it may seem, there is something positive in this. For many years, it has been wrongly perceived that Israel’s solicitation of American support against Palestinians and Arabs is by no means a foreign country meddling or interfering in the US political system or undermining US democracy.
However, the “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” is the most egregious of such interventions, for it strikes down the First Amendment, the very foundation of American democracy, by using America’s own legislators as its executors.
But none of this will succeed because simply put, noble ideas cannot be defeated.
Moreover, for Israel, this is a new kind of battle, one which it is foolishly attempting to fight using the traditional tactics of threats and intimidation and backed by blind US support.
The more the lobby tries to defeat BDS the more it exposes itself and its stranglehold on the American government and media.
Israel is no student of history. It has learned nothing from the experience of the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa. It is no surprise that Israel remained the last supporter of the Apartheid regime in that country before it fell.
For true champions of human rights, regardless of their race, religion or citizenship, this is their moment as no meaningful change ever occurs without people being united in struggle and sacrifice.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London, 2018). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is http://www.ramzybaroud.net.
People come together to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement and to protest against Israeli violations on the Palestinian people [Stephanie Law/Flickr]
An old saying attributed to Gandhi goes: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win.” This saying is, broadly speaking, the right way to understand Israel’s response to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, since it was first founded by Palestinian civil society in 2005.
As of 2019, Israel is deep into the “fight you” phrase – with decidedly mixed results.
Back in 2005, when BDS was first getting off the ground, it was ignored. Later it was mocked. However now, Israel’s combative phrase has taken on all sorts of forms, from the millions of dollars poured into failing Israel lobby propaganda efforts and astroturf front groups, to the covert operations that Israeli spies are currently running across the world.
As I’ve extensively covered in my reporting – and as the mainstream media has gone to great lengths to ignore – Israeli spies are subverting the democratic process around the world, in order to influence election results in its favour. Israel is also attempting pass laws – in the US and in the UK, among other countries – which would have the effect of outlawing BDS.
Powerless Israel facing BDS – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]
Yet as the record shows, Israel is not quite as powerful and influential as it would like to portray itself to be. Its influence over the globally hegemonic imperial power – the USA – is, to a large degree, quite illusionary. US politicians’ support for Israel as a sort of imperial attack dog is by now a sort of article of faith. If the political will was there, however, this could be quite easily reversed.
More importantly, Israel’s popular legitimacy among the populations of the democratic western nations is at an all-time low – even in the US. As the less-shambolic Israeli propagandists privately admit, the BDS movement is on a historical vector which will lead to ultimate victory – freedom, equality and return for all Palestinians.
There was a veritable buffet of BDS victories in 2018, as my colleague at the Electronic Intifada, Nora Barrows-Friedman, recalled in an article last month. In fact, these days, there are so many successful BDS campaigns, it’s hard to keep up.
Certainly one of the most significant pieces of BDS news was the giant multi-national bank HSBC dropping its substantial investment in Elbit – an Israeli arms firm heavily involved in drones and other deadly materiel. Although there was little media focus on this huge news outside of Palestine solidarity movement press, HSBC’s divestment is actually a massive achievement.
It took less than two years to achieve this result. It was only in 2017 that HSBC became a major target for BDS campaigners, who organised protests in HSBC branches and shareholder meetings. It was not that HSBC suddenly grew a conscience. It is a thoroughly disreputable bank, for which the term “ethnically dubious” is a positive understatement. They simply did not want the trouble.
For all that Israeli propagandists like to boast about the supposed “miracle” of the “start-up nation” and the number of high-tech firms that have branches there, the reality is that Israel is actually small fry in terms of global capitalism. Many in the political establishment secretly see the state as, to use the term of the former French ambassador to London, “that shitty little country”.
So it’s actually very little water off the back of a rather large duck when HSBC divests from from a single Israeli arms firm. If it saves them some negative headlines and a few local troubles with some protestors, then why not? Or so their thinking likely goes.
But from our point of view, it is yet another concrete, tangible victory. It means more bad publicity for the Israeli arms trade and less investment in the habitual murder of Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere throughout occupied Palestine.
There were many other significant BDS victories throughout 2018, and it’s worth reading Nora’s article in full to get a good sense of them. Several high-profile pop stars cancelled gigs, for example, after BDS activists requested they did so. These included Lorde, Lana Del Rey and Shakira.
The momentum is all with BDS. Despite Israel’s attempts to sabotage, attack, ban, infiltrate, subvert and destroy it, the movement goes from strength to strength. This seems likely to continue in 2019.
(MEMO) — A number of prominent Jewish-American leaders are funding covert, anonymous campaigns targeting pro-Palestinian student activists, The Forward has found. The Jewish daily newspaper, which has been publishing valuable information concerning the source of funding for these hyper-aggressive and shadowy groups – which spearhead coordinated hate campaigns against critics of the Zionist state – has uncovered the identities of those behind hidden social media accounts.
Community heads and prominent Jewish organisations with a carefully-crafted, respectable public profile have donated millions to fund secret projects targeting students and lecturers, the report has found. On a number of occasions, their blind support for Israel has seen them bankroll far-right and anti-Muslim hate groups.
The latest pro-Israeli group to be exposed by The Forward is the campaign targeting the pro-Palestinian campus network Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). SJP is said to be the most well-known advocate of the Palestinian cause on US campuses. It has been the target of a pro-Israel group known as SJP Uncovered, which anonymously attacks student activists affiliated with SJP across the country. With more than 100,000 followers on Facebook, SJP Uncovered has gone after pro-Palestinian students by maintaining a veil of anonymity that is said to be all-but impenetrable.
Until now, the source of funding for SJP Uncovered had been a mystery. The Forward has now been able to shed light on the organisation to reveal that the site is a secret project of the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC), a Washington DC-based pro-Israel organisation tied to most mainstream funders and organisations in the Jewish community.
On its official website, the ICC says that its vision is to create a campus environment where “dialogue and ideas are freely exchanged about Israel”. Publicly, the ICC presents a respectable face typical of nearly all pro-Israeli groups, but privately it is funding one of the most aggressive and shadowy student groups responsible for hateful campaigns against critics of the Zionist state. The Forward revealed that the ICC paid over $1 million in the 2016/2017 fiscal year to SJP Uncovered, in that time also running vicious campaigns against students with the aid of political consulting firms.
Until around 2014, the ICC is said to have been a standard pro-Israel advocacy group receiving donations from the largest and most mainstream Jewish-American foundations. In 2015, its operations changed to “covert, anonymous campaigns targeting pro-Palestinian student activists, often with the help of top-tier paid professional political consultants,” according to the investigative report.
Describing the change in focus, one former pro-Israeli campus official said: “It was clear that the old way of doing business […] was not making the cut, and was not enough, and there was a totally new offensive approach to things.” He added:
The overall framing was [that] the pro-Israel community is no longer going to sit back and let things happen, they are going to go on the offense […] It was very clear that going on the offensive to them meant going after students and the organizations that were bringing BDS.
With the change in emphasis in 2015 towards more aggressive campaigns, the ICC began hiring paid political consultants – including opposition researchers – to work on campuses. It transformed itself into a cog in what is often described as Israel’s secret global war against pro-Palestinian activists, which is operated by a dedicated ministry in Tel Aviv known as the Ministry of Strategic Affairs. Its main function is to spearhead Israel’s overt and covert efforts to smear the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that is modeled on the global campaign that helped end Apartheid in South Africa. In November, the Electronic Intifada published in full an undercover Al Jazeera documentary that revealed some of the ministry’s tactics. The documentary was censored, allegedly after Israel lobby pressure on Qatar, which funds Al Jazeera.
SJP Uncovered is one of many pro-Israel organisations to emerge from a new consensus within sections of the Jewish-American community. They believed that defeating the global BDS movement was a key priority, which could only be achieved through aggressive means. Such tactics, however, not only risked falling foul of the rules of respectable public institutions, it was bad for their image. The solution for Zionist and pro-Israel groups, both in the US and Israel, was to adopt secretive and clandestine tactics against their targets in an effort to protect their reputation. One of the best known of these operations is the formerly-anonymous website Canary Mission, which posts political dossiers on college students. The site went live in 2015, and has since grown to include dossiers on thousands of students.
A series of Forward exposés in October revealed that a foundation controlled by the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, a major Jewish charity with an annual budget of over $100 million, had donated $100,000 to the website, whose work has drawn comparisons to a McCarthyite blacklist. An Haaretzprofile of the Canary Mission found that, for three years, the website had spread fear among undergraduate activists by posting more than a thousand political dossiers on student supporters of Palestinian rights. At the same time, the website had gone to great lengths to hide the digital and financial trail connecting it to its donors and staff. Registered through a secrecy service, the site had been untraceable until recently.
While the federation had assured that it was a “one-time grant” that would never happen again, the uncovering of a publicly respectable pro-Israel organisations giving funds to operate clandestine hate campaigns against pro-Palestinian activists triggered further investigations. The Canary Mission was just the tip of the iceberg, as tax filings seen by the magazine +972 showed that there was a pattern of systemic financing of radical right-wing and anti-Muslim groups.
Why was 2015 pivotal to this shift in strategy? Jewish leaders in the US, says Forward reporter Josh Nathan-Kazis, decided to spend significant communal resources attacking college students in that year because there was a coming-together of Israel’s spy culture and Jewish-American mega donors like Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban. Both felt that the work being carried out by mainstream Jewish organisations was unsatisfactory. Wanting to shift the entire tenor of the Jewish communal approach to fighting anti-Semitism and BDS, major Jewish organisations were called to a secret meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada.
During this 2015 meeting, there was a consensus for a push towards more aggressive responses to BDS. A new initiative, named after Jewish guerrilla warriors Maccabees, was formed. On its website, the Maccabee taskforce – which claims that the BDS movement is spreading anti-Semitism across the world – says it is “determined to help students combat this hate by bringing them the strategies and resources they need to tell the truth about Israel”.
Strategies developed by Israeli think tanks like the Reut Institute became the playbook for the aggressive tactics that is said to have come into maturity during that period. These tactics, Nathan-Kazis explains, called for pro-Israel advocates to “out, name and shame” harsh critics of Israel, and to “frame them […] as anti-peace, anti-Semitic, or dishonest purveyors of double standards”. They talked about “establishing a ‘price tag’” for attacks on Israel and “isolating” advocacy groups that attack Israel, while “organizing regular meetings of pro-Israel networks”.
The map below shows the spread across the USA of laws against support for the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) Movement. It was compiled by Palestine Legal, an organization dedicated to protecting the civil rights of Americans who speak out for Palestinian freedom.
One state with anti-BDS legislation on its books is Texas. Says The Intercept:
The bill’s language is so sweeping that some victims of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Southwest Texas in late 2017, were told they could only receive state disaster relief if they first signed a pledge never to boycott Israel. That demand was deeply confusing to those hurricane victims in desperate need of help but who could not understand what their views of Israel and Palestine had to do with their ability to receive assistance from their state government.
The evangelical author of the Israel bill, Republican Texas state Rep. Phil King, said at the time that its application to hurricane relief was a “misunderstanding,” but nonetheless emphasized that the bill’s purpose was indeed to ensure that no public funds ever go to anyone who supports a boycott of Israel.
Here’s what Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas, had to say as he signed King’s bill into law on May 2, 2017:
Now meet Bahia Amawi, a speech therapist in the lone star state. Having lost her job for refusing to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel, she’s suing the state of Texas in a bid to repeal the law which compelled an Austin school district to fire her for so refusing.
Amawi worked with the local Arabic-speaking community at the Pflugerville Independent School District since 2009, on a contract basis. She told the news site that the district renewed her contract each year without incident, but when she received the documents for the 2018-19 school year in August, Amawi said it included a new clause requiring that she “not boycott Israel during the term of the contract,” and refrain from any action “that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israel, or in an Israel-controlled territory.”
Washington Post has Pflugerville District, which alongside State Attorney General Ken Paxton is in the firing line of Amawi’s lawsuit, saying:
This language is required by the State of Texas for all school districts in Texas, along with other governmental entities. Unfortunately … all Texas school districts are at the mercy of the state and the regulations printed into law, and in situations such as this, we are forced to spend time on state political issues and not on our core mission — educating students.”
Nor is Bahia Amawi the only one suffering here. The Intercepttells us that:
Because Amawi, to her knowledge, is the only certified Arabic-speaking child’s speech pathologist in the district, it is quite possible that the refusal to renew her contract will leave dozens of young children with speech pathologies without any competent expert to evaluate their conditions and treatment needs.
The Intercept goes on to quote Amawi directly:
If I [signed the pledge] I would not only be betraying Palestinians suffering under an occupation that I believe is unjust and thus become complicit in their repression, but I’d also be betraying my fellow Americans by enabling violations of our constitutional rights to free speech and to protest peacefully.
… the point of boycotting any products that support Israel is to put pressure on Israeli government to change its treatment, the inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people”
Three comments. One is that though the hard left was in the main always opposed to the Israeli State, or at any rate its policies on the Palestinians, the liberal left tended, mindful of recent European history, not only to support it but give it a blank cheque on whatever it deemed had to be done. That began to change after the Shatila and Sabra camp massacres in Lebanon, 1982. Since then its acts have seen the weight of liberal and center-left opinion steadily tilting away from Israel, to the point where the Jewish State is approaching a position once the preserve of South Africa. Israel is vulnerable, despite the support of Western ruling elites, to grassroots boycott. Recognition that, for all its hasbara, Israel is losing the propaganda war is the context in which anti-BDS legislation within its ally and primary underwriter should be seen.
Another is that this shift is analogous to that much wider change which has seen mainstream Western media slowly losing their grip on our hearts and minds. Thanks to the rise of the internet – with its triple whammy of vastly extended choice of news sources, many-to-many social media and, related but distinct, a threat to revenues for corporate media’s two-hundred-year-old business model – a ruling class monopoly on opinion formation and manufactured consent is weakened. This poses problems for a status quo loaded massively in favor of the few against the many. (All the more so when, as now, war drums are beating.) Like those anti-BDS laws, the war on fake news is best understood as early skirmish within conflicts greater, more fraught and ultimately more far-reaching in significance.
But one of capitalism’s many dialectics is that for all its terrifying instability, it is extraordinarily adaptive in its Borg-like ability to accommodate all – or at any rate most – opposition. Not to mention its own crimes. Which brings me back to the issue at hand. Given more confidence in the survival of our species – and liberal democracy – I’d offer generous odds on Bahia Amawi being granted, half a century from now, Rosa Parks status.
Philip Roddis has been a scribbler for some sixty years, and for fifteen a photographer too. Roddis began blogging in the early nineties by inflicting film reviews on an unsuspecting public. Soon he was doing the same with illustrated writings on wanderings in Asia and Africa. He writes “to help me think, and because I like to be read”, and finds photography’s problem-solving aspects “a break from those of writing, as well as an aid to writing and to reflective travel.” He blogs at Steel City Scribblings.
AUSTIN, TEXAS — A Texas speech pathologist has filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas after she was reportedly fired for refusing to sign an oath that she would not boycott the apartheid state of Israel.
A U.S. citizen born in Austria and of Palestinian descent, Bahia Amawi is a speech specialist in western Texas who works with autistic and developmentally disabled people. The educator charges that the district refused to renew her contract in August after she declined to sign paperwork pledging that she “does not” and “will not” participate in any kind of boycott or “otherwise tak[e] any action that is intended to inflict economic harm” against the Israeli state.
Speaking to Democracy Now!, Amawi explained her firsthand struggle with oppression and the reasoning behind her refusal to sign the oath:
I sent an email immediately, and I stopped even reading the additional codes [referring to the additional paperwork she was asked to sign in regards to Israel]. And I sent the email to my speech coordinator telling her, ‘Listen, I cannot sign this. This is against my principles, against my constitutional rights. And it’s also against my moral and ethical values, considering that I am a Palestinian American and I have family that actually live in the Occupied Territories, so it affects me personally, as well.’ So, it affects me in both ways — as an American citizen and as a Palestinian American, too.”
A lawsuit was filed in federal court on Amawi’s behalf this week alleging that the district’s refusal to renew her contract is a direct violation of her First Amendment rights as a U.S. citizen. Amawi, who worked for the Pflugerville Independent School District as a contractor for nearly 10 years, says her renewal contract contained a special document in August asking her to take an oath that she would not boycott or inflict economic harm against Israel in any fashion.
This may constitute the first direct challenge to new legislation aimed at curbing support for the growing Boycott Divest Sanctions (BDS) movement in the United States, which ultimately aims to end apartheid in Palestinian and Israeli territories.
A wave of anti-BDS laws
Texas became the 20th state of what are now 26 to pass anti-BDS legislation that infringes upon free speech by banning U.S. citizens from participating in boycotts against the Israeli apartheid state in various ways, such as refusing to renew a teacher’s contract. Thirteen additional states have similar legislation pending.
The language in the oath Amawi was asked to sign would prohibit her from refusing to purchase goods from both Israel and the occupied West Bank. Furthermore, it could even ban her from expressing support for boycotts against Israel, if her speech or actions are construed to inflict financial harm on the apartheid state. Amawi explained:
The point of boycotting any product that supports Israel is to put pressure on the Israeli government to change its treatment, the inhumane treatment, of the Palestinian people. Having grown up as a Palestinian, I know firsthand the oppression and the struggle that Palestinians face on a daily basis.”
Amawi refused to sign the oath because her family does not purchase goods made in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank nor in the occupying entity of Israel itself. Amawi was the only Arabic-speaking speech specialist of her kind in the district, which boasts a growing Arab population.
Israel continues to construct illegal settlements in the West Bank and Palestinian territory despite international legislation barring it from doing so. According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, it is illegal for an occupying entity to transfer its people into the occupied territory.
Furthermore, Israel has recently carried out a brutal repression against unarmed protesters in the Gaza Strip, protests that have taken place every Friday since March after U.S. President Donald Trump announced Washington would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem al-Quds. Since the protests began, 204 Palestinians have lost their lives at the hands of Israeli forces and more than 18,000 have sustained injuries.
Dubbed the Great Return March, Palestinians seek to return to their homeland in accordance with UN Resolution 194, which states that refugees have the right to return to their homes at the earliest practical date.
Watch | Democracy Now! meets the Texas Speech Pathologist Who Lost School Job for Refusing to Sign Pro-Israel, Anti-BDS Oath
Top Photo | Bahia Amawi, a former contractor in the Pflugerville Independent School District, is suing over a state law that says government contractors can’t boycott Israel. Bob Daemmrich | The Texas Tribune
Randi Nord is a MintPress News staff writer. She is also co-founder of Geopolitics Alert where she covers U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East with a special focus on Yemen.
“The Lobby,” the four-part Al-Jazeera documentary that was blocked under heavy Israeli pressure shortly before its release, has been leaked online by the Chicago-based website Electronic Intifada, the French website Orient XXI and the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar. The series is an inside look over five months by an undercover reporter, armed with a hidden camera, […]
“The Lobby,” the four-part Al-Jazeera documentary that was blocked under heavy Israeli pressure shortly before its release, has been leaked online by the Chicago-based website Electronic Intifada, the French website Orient XXI and the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.
The series is an inside look over five months by an undercover reporter, armed with a hidden camera, at how the government and intelligence agencies of Israel work with U.S. domestic Jewish groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), The Israel Project and StandWithUs to spy on, smear and attack critics, especially American university students who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. It shows how the Israel lobby uses huge cash donations, often far above the U.S. legal limit, and flies hundreds of members of Congress to Israel for lavish and unpaid vacations at Israeli seaside resorts, bribing the American lawmakers to do Israel’s bidding, including providing military aid such as the $38 billion (over 10 years) that was approved by Congress in 2016. It uncovers Israel’s sleazy character assassination of academics, activists and journalists, its well-funded fake grassroots activism, its manipulation of press coverage, and its ham-fisted attempts to destroy marriages, personal relationships and careers. The film highlights the efforts to discredit liberal Jews and Jewish organizations as tools of radical jihadists, referring, for example, to Jewish Voice for Peace as “Jewish Voice for Hamas” and claiming that many members of the organization are not actually Jewish. Israel recruits black South Africans into an Israeli front group called Stop Stealing My Apartheid, in a desperate effort to counter the reality of the apartheid state that Israel has constructed. The series documents Israel’s repeated and multifaceted interference in the internal affairs of the United States, including elections; efforts to discredit progressive groups such as Black Lives Matter that express sympathy for the Palestinians; and routine employment of Americans to spy on other Americans. Israel’s behavior is unethical and perhaps illegal. But don’t expect anyone in the establishment or either of the two ruling political parties to do anything about it. It is abundantly clear by the end of the series that they have been intimidated, discredited or bought off.
“Imagine if China was doing this, if Iran was doing this, if Russia was doing this?” Ali Abunimah, the author of “The Battle for Justice in Palestine” and co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, says in the film. “There would be uproar. You would have Congress going off to them. You would have hearings.”
Those of us who denounce and expose the Israeli crimes committed against Palestinians are intimately familiar with the sordid and nefarious tactics of the Israel lobby. The power of the film series is that in dealing with the reporter—a young Oxford postgraduate, James Anthony Kleinfeld, who goes by the name Tony in the film and poses as a pro-Israel student—major figures within the Israel lobby candidly explain and expose their massive covert campaign in the United States. There is no plausible deniability. And this is why Israel worked so hard to stop the film from being broadcast.
Clayton Swisher, who directed the series, wrote in the liberal Jewish newspaper The Forward that leaders from the Israel lobby met with the state of Qatar’s registered agent and lobbyist, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz named Nick Muzin, to “see if he could use his ties with the Qataris to stop the airing.” Qatar funds Al-Jazeera. Muzin told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that “he was discussing the issue with the Qataris and didn’t think the film would broadcast in the near future.” An anonymous source told Haaretz that “the Qatari emir himself helped make the decision” to spike the film.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates severed ties with Qatar in June 2017 and imposed a land, sea and air blockade on the Persian Gulf state. They accuse Doha of supporting terrorism and radical Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood. The four states have issued a list of demands for re-establishing ties that include Qatar’s shutting down Al-Jazeera, along with severing relations with Iran. Qatar has appealed to the United States to intercede and has, as part of this effort, reached out to the powerful Israel lobby in the United States for support. American Jewish leaders, including the former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, have met with the Qatari emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and have discussed with him what they describe as the network’s “anti-Semitism.” It is widely believed the series was sacrificed by Qatar in an effort to placate the Israel lobby and get its support for an end to the sanctions, although the blockade remains in force.
The series exposes how Israeli intelligence services monitor American critics of Israel and feeds real-time information about them to American Jewish organizations.
“We are for example in the process of creating a comprehensive picture of the campuses,” Brig. Gen. Sima Vaknin-Gil, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, tells a gathering of pro-Israel activists in the film. “If you want to defeat a phenomenon you must have the upper hand in terms of information and knowledge.”
The Israeli government operates Israel Cyber Shield, a civil intelligence unit that collects and analyzes BDS activities and coordinates attacks against the BDS movement.
“We are giving them data—for example, one day Sima’s deputy is sending me a photo. Just a photo on Whatsapp,” Sagi Balasha, who was CEO of the Israeli-American Council from 2011 to 2015, says when speaking on an Israeli-American Council panel. “It’s written ‘Boycott Israel’ on the billboard.”
He shows a picture of a roadside billboard that reads: “BOYCOTT ISRAEL UNTIL PALESTINIANS HAVE EQUAL RIGHTS. StopFundingApartheid.org.”
“In a few hours our systems and analysts could find the exact organization, people, and even their names, and where they live,” says Balasha, who now works with cyber-intelligence organizations that target BDS activists. “We gave it back to the ministry, and I have no idea what they did with this. But the fact is, three days later there were no billboards.”
“We use all sorts of technology,” Jacob Baime, the executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, says in the film. “We use corporate-level, enterprise-grade social media intelligence software. Almost all of this happens on social media, so we have custom algorithms and formulae that acquire this stuff immediately.”
“Generally, within about 30 seconds or less of one of these things popping up on campus, whether it’s a Facebook event, whether it’s the right kind of mention on Twitter, the system picks it up,” says Baime. “It goes into a queue and alerts our researchers and they evaluate it. They tag it, and if it rises to a certain level, we issue early-warning alerts to our partners.”
Those recruited by the Israel lobby, including the undercover Al-Jazeera reporter in the documentary, are sent to training sessions such as Fuel the Truth. The film records a session in which trainees watch a video of Palestinian children as the narrator says, “Children are taught in UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees] Palestinian schools to hate Jews.” The trainees are told that scenes of devastation in Gaza are, in fact, misrepresented images disseminated by critics from Syria or Iraq. They are instructed in role-playing workshops how to brand all those who criticize Israeli policies as anti-Semites, members of a hate group or self-hating Jews.
The reporter is placed in the so-called war room run by The Israel Project, known as TIP, which monitors American media for stories on Israel and the Palestinians. The goal is “neutralizing undesired narratives.”
“We develop relationships … ,” David Hazony, the managing director of The Israel Project, says about how to influence journalists. “A lot of alcohol to get them to trust us. We’re basically messaging on the following—BDS is essentially a kind of a hate group targeting Israel. They’re anti-peace. We try not to even use the terms because it builds their brand. We just refer to boycotters. The goal is to actually make things happen. And to figure out what are the means of communication to do that.”
The BDS movement, which I support, was formed in 2005. It is an attempt by Palestinian civil rights groups to build a nonviolent international movement to boycott Israel, divest from Israeli companies and eventually impose sanctions—as was done against apartheid South Africa—until basic Palestinian rights under international law are achieved. While the movement has not gained traction financially in the United States, with most colleges and universities refusing to divest, it has been very effective at illuminating the injustices committed against Palestinians by Israel and severely eroded Israel’s credibility and support in the U.S. This ongoing shift in public opinion terrifies Israel, which has poured tremendous resources into crushing the BDS movement.
“Government ministers attacked me in person,” Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the BDS movement, says in the film. “One of them threatening BDS leaders with targeted civil assassination. Others threatened to revoke my permanent residency [in Israel], along other threats.”
“We suffered from intense denial-of-service attacks, hacking attacks on our website,” Barghouti says. “Israel decided to go on cyber warfare against BDS. Publicly, they said, ‘We shall spy on BDS individuals and networks, especially in the West.’ We have not heard a peep from any Western government complaining that Israel is admitting that it will spy on your citizens. Imagine Iran saying it will spy on British or American citizens. Just imagine what could happen.”
“So, like nobody really knows what we’re doing,” says Julia Reifkind, who was director of community affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. “But mainly it’s been a lot of research, like monitoring BDS things and reporting it back to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Like making sure everyone knows what’s going on. They need a lot of research done and stuff like that. When they talk about it in the Knesset, we’ve usually contributed to what the background information is. I’m not going to campuses. It’s more about connecting organizations and I guess campuses, providing resources and strategy if students need it.”
“I write a report and give it to my boss, who translates it,” Reifkind says. “It’s really weird. We don’t talk to them on the phone or email. There’s a special server that’s really secure that I don’t have access to because I’m an American. You have to have clearance to access the server. It’s called Cables. It’s not even the same [word translated] in Hebrew, it’s like literally ‘Cables.’ I’ve seen it. It looks really bizarre. So, I write reports that my boss translates into the cables and sends them. Then they’ll send something back. Then he’ll translate it and tell me what I need to do.”
“Is the Israeli Embassy trying to leverage faculty?” Tony, the undercover reporter, asks her.
“Yeah,” she says. “We are working with several faculty advocacy groups that kind of train faculty, and so we are helping them a little bit with funding, connections, bringing them to speak, having them to speak to diplomats and people at the MFA [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] that need this information. So, I want to be that resource to show students what we’re doing, to see what you’re doing, here’s some information if you need anything at all. We can connect you. Just kind of be that person there for you.”
Reifkind was president of the pro-Israel group at the University of California at Davis and worked closely with the Israel lobby to attempt to crush the BDS movement on campus, especially after Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) brought a divestment motion to the student senate.
“We knew they were going to win because the entire student senate was all pro-BDS,” she says. “They ran for that purpose and won for that purpose. We have been pushed out of student government for months.”
Reifkind and a few supporters went to the senate meeting where the vote was scheduled.
“We have been ignored and disrespected year after year, but we have never been silenced,” she tells the student gathering. “We are a beacon of peace and inclusion on a campus plagued by anti-Semitism.”
“The intolerance that spawned this [divestment] resolution is the same kind of intolerance that spawned anti-Semitic movements throughout history,” she shouts.
She and her handful of supporters walk out, an action they had agreed on in advance and then carefully filmed.
The passing of the BDS motion at UC Davis set the gears of the Israel lobby and the Israeli government in motion.
“That day all of us released like 50 op-eds in major news sources so that when people made a hashtag, like a whole thing trending, so when people opened their Facebooks it wouldn’t be them celebrating their victory,” Reifkind says in the film. “It would be us sharing our stories. Once it blew up, then random people like The Huffington Post contacted me and was like, “Do you have anything to say?” And I was like, ‘Conveniently, I wrote an op-ed two weeks ago just in case.’ ”
Israel and its surrogates in the United States used their considerable resources to carry out vicious and anonymous personal attacks against the campus BDS activists at UC Davis, calling them “terrorists” and “Hamas sympathizers” who support Sharia on campus. The lobby also skillfully framed the narrative in the national media, claiming falsely that the pro-Israel students were forced out of the meeting room.
“Pro-Israel students were taunted by pro-Hamas students after an anti-Israel vote passed on campus,” says an announcer on Fox News as a caption underneath video reads, “RUNNING RAMPANT: UC Davis Plagued by Anti-Semitic Feelings.” “And right after the vote passed, a student senator posted this on Facebook, ‘Hamas and Sharia law have taken over UC Davis. Brb [be right back] crying over the resilience.’ ”
Shortly after the vote, Jewish students said they found two swastikas painted on their fraternity house in Davis. The media, tipped off, was at the fraternity house almost immediately. The BDS activists were blamed for the graffiti.
The film shows a CBS 13 news clip.
Television reporter: “Pro-Israel students said they feared recent events would lead to this.”
UC Davis male student: “This has been sort of a bad week to be Jewish on campus.”
Television reporter: “After years of heated meetings, the student body passed a resolution Thursday, urging UC Davis to end any affiliation with companies that support Israel.”
Another UC Davis male student, speaking in front of one of the swastikas: “So, this is not out of the blue. We’re pretty sure this is directly related.”
“StandWithUs helped us a little bit in terms of actual research on the speech,” Reifkind says in referring to her comments before the student senate. “They gave us some legal research type stuff. I’m always biased and want to work with AIPAC. They kind of helped, more like mold support. And David Projecthelped us a little bit. It was more help like gaining contacts in the media world. I guess we needed money to pay for someone to film the speech. We had a Davis Faculty for Israel group, and they were hugely helpful to us. Some of them were retired lawyers, they’d write legal documents for us. They knew the administration. They were tenured. They had pull.”
“After looking back on everything, I feel a little creepy because of what happened after the vote,” says Marcelle Obeid, the president of Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Davis. “People who were affiliated with the [pro-Palestinian] group were just smeared and had to deal with these very personal crises—the world calling us terrorists, the world thinking that we were this spiteful hate group. It’s pretty unequivocal how organized they were, how brutal and ruthless that narrative was, and how it affected us.”
The Electronic Intifada’s Abunimah says,
“There’s an intensive effort by Israel and pro-Israel groups to get governments, universities, legislative bodies to adopt a definition of anti-Semitism that includes criticism of Israel and its state ideology, Zionism.”
“They have created this perverse definition of anti-Semitism where calling for everyone in Palestine and Israel to have equal rights is somehow an attack on Jews,” he says. “They’re trying to get this pushed into official definitions. This has been a key goal of the Brandeis Center so they can go after people who are advocating for equality and bring them up on charges that they’re actually anti-Semitic bigots.”
“You have to show that they’re racist hate groups, that they are using intimidation to get funded, and to consistently portray them that way.”
But despite its campaign, Israel is acutely aware that it is losing the public relations war, especially among the young.
“The polling isn’t good,” David Brog, executive director of the Maccabee Task Force, which combats BDS on American campuses, says in the film. “And all of you probably know that if you look at the polls, the younger you get on the demographic scales, the lower support for Israel is. … It seems to be achieving its goals. I think it threatens future American support for Israel. Younger people are leaving college less sympathetic to Israel than when they entered.”
And many of these young people are Jewish, finding their identity and meaning in values that Israel refuses to uphold.
“The work that Jewish Voice for Peace does is grounded in Jewish tradition, the most basic Jewish and human values that every single person has inherent worth and dignity and should be treated with respect,” Rabbi Joseph Berman says in the film. “We then see what’s happening to Palestinians, the occupation, the displacement, the inequality, and say we need to end these things.”
But while Israel may be losing in the court of public opinion, it tightly embraces elected officials in the United States, where legalized bribery is institutionalized.
“Does the war of ideas matter?” asks Eric Gallagher, who was a director at AIPAC from 2010 to 2015. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I know that getting $38 billion in security aid to Israel matters, which is what AIPAC just did. That’s what I’m proud to have been a part of for so long. My job was basically to convince students that participating in the war of ideas on campuses is actually a distraction. You can hold up signs and have rallies on campus, but the Congress gets $3.1 billion a year for Israel. Everything AIPAC does is focused on influencing Congress. Congress is where you have leverage. So, you can’t influence the president of the United States directly, but the Congress can.”
“What the lobby is all about is to make sure that Israel gets special treatment from the United States, forever,” John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and co-author of “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” says in the film.
“What AIPAC does is it makes sure that money is funneled your way if you’re seen as pro-Israel, and it will go to significant lengths to make sure that you stay in office if you continue to be staunchly pro-Israel.”
“What happens is Jeff [Talpins] meets with congressmen in the backroom, tells them exactly what his goals are,” David Ochs, founder of HaLev, says of the pro-Israeli hedge fund manager Jeff Talpins and how politicians receive sums of as much as $200,000 from the Israel lobby. “And by the way, Jeff Talpins is worth $250 million. Basically, they hand an envelope with 20 credit cards and say, ‘You can swipe each of these credit card for $1,000 each.’ ”
“If you wander off the reservation and become critical of Israel, you not only will not get money, AIPAC will go to great lengths to find someone who will run against you,” Mearsheimer says. “And support that person very generously. The end result is you’re likely to lose your seat in Congress.”
“They have questionnaires,” recalls former U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, a Democrat from northern Virginia who was in the House from 1991 to 2015. Moran, who opposed the 2002 congressional resolution to invade Iraq, became a target for the Israel lobby, which pushed hard for the war. “Anyone running for Congress is required [by the lobby] to fill out a questionnaire. And they [AIPAC] evaluate the depth of your commitment to Israel on the basis of [those questions]. And then you have an interview with local people. If you get AIPAC support, then more often than not you’re going to win.”
“There was a conservative rabbi in my district who was assigned to me, I assume, by AIPAC,” Moran says. “He warned me that if I voiced my views about the Israeli lobby that my career would be over, and implied that it would be done through the Post. Sure enough, The Washington Post editorialized brutally. Everyone ganged up.”
There is a screen shot of a Washington Post headline: “Sorry, Mr. Moran, You’re Not Fit For Public Office.”
Character assassination is a common tactic used by the Israel lobby against its critics. Bill Mullen, a professor of American studies at Purdue University, has been a campaigner for the BDS movement for years. His wife was sent a link to a website containing a letter addressed to her.
“It was a Sunday,” he says. “I was in the kitchen. My partner was in the living room with my daughter. Came in with her laptop and said, ‘You’ve got to see this.’ This letter, reported to be by a former student, said she had been sexually harassed by me. She had found other students at Purdue who have had the same experience. And she was writing this letter to tell their story. Within a very short time, within about 48 hours, we were able to establish that these multiple sites that were attacking me had been taken out [created] almost at the same time. And that they were clearly the work of the same people. One of the accounts said, in the process of supposedly putting my hand on her, I invited her to a Palestine organizational meeting. Well, I thought, ‘You’re sort of putting your cards on the table there,’ whoever you are.”
“With the anti-Israel people, what we found has been most effective, in the last year, you do the opposition research,” says Baime, the Israel on Campus Coalition official. “Put up an anonymous website. Then put up targeted Facebook ads. Every few hours you drip out a new piece of opposition research, it’s psychological warfare. It drives them crazy. They either shut down or they spend time investigating it and responding to it, which is time they can’t spend attacking Israel. That’s incredibly effective.”
“It was really an attempt, by people who didn’t know us, ‘Maybe I can destroy this marriage at the very least,’ ” Purdue’s Mullen says. “ ‘Maybe I can cause them horrendous, personal suffering.’ The same letter purporting to me harassment, sent to my wife, used the name of our daughter. I think that was the worst moment. We thought, ‘These people will do anything. They’re capable of doing anything.’ ”
Perhaps the film’s greatest investigative coup is the unwitting disclosure by Eric Gallagher at The Israel Project that the hedge fund manager Adam Milstein is “the guy who funds” the anonymous Canary Mission website. The website provides the names, backgrounds and photos of students, professors, invited speakers and organizations that are allegedly tied to terrorism and anti-Semitism through their support for Palestinian rights.
“There’s a guy named who you might want to meet,” Gallagher says to Tony about Adam Milstein. “He’s a convicted felon. That’s a bad way to describe him. He’s a real estate mogul. When I was working with him at AIPAC, I was literally emailing back and forth with him while he was in jail. He’s loaded. He’s close to half a billion dollars.”
Milstein was convicted of tax evasion and sent to prison for three months in 2009. The Israeli-American Council, which he leads, funds numerous pro-Israel organizations: Milstein also sits on the boards of AIPAC, StandWithUs and the Israel on Campus Coalition. He is close to billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the wealthiest donor to the pro-Israel lobby and the largest donor to the Trump campaign.
The promotional video for the Canary Mission, played in the film, says: “A few years later, these individuals are applying for jobs in your companies … ensure that today’s radicals are not tomorrow’s employees.”
“It was shattering to me because I had to look for a job, I had to start my life,” Obeid from UC Davis says. “And now I had this website smearing my name before I even got a chance to make a name for myself.”
“Somebody did contact my employer and asked for me to be fired based on my pro-Palestine activism,” says Summer Award, who campaigned at the University of Tennessee for Palestinian equal rights. “They said if they continued to employ me, their values are anti-Semitic. It can be really scary at first. I was mostly harassed via Twitter. They were tweeting me every two or three days. They take screen shots, even way back to my Facebook pictures that don’t even look like me anymore. Just digging and digging through my online presence.”
Israel’s moral bankruptcy is powerfully exposed in one of the last scenes in the film. Tony joins an “astroturf” protest organized by the Hoover Institution. Those in the protest have been paid to travel on a bus to George Mason University to disrupt a conference of Students for Justice in Palestine. They are coached by Lerman Mazar, the StandWithUs director of legal affairs, in what to shout.
“If you do happen to speak with any reporters just stay on message,” Mazar tells her lackluster protesters. “And what is the message? SJP is a ….”
“Hate group,” the protesters answer feebly.
Note to readers: please click the share buttons above. Forward this article to your email lists. Crosspost on your blog site, internet forums. etc.
Chris Hedges is a Truthdig columnist, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a New York Times best-selling author, a professor in the college degree program offered to New Jersey state prisoners by Rutgers University, and an ordained Presbyterian minister.
One of the first new laws created by the Jewish Bolsheviks when they took over Russia was to make “antisemitism” punishable by jail or death.
The Jewish senator from New York, Chuck Schumer, has introduced House Resolution 1697 – known as the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. This legislation is in direct conflict with the 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech and targets those who are critical of Israel with draconian prison sentences and fines:
“American citizens are set to be fined up to $1 million or imprisoned for up to 20 years for criticizing Israel or supporting the BDS boycott, thanks to new legislation sponsored by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.
Anyone guilty of violating the new prohibitions will face a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison under the new law.
According to the ACLU, the Cardin legislation would “bar U.S. persons from supporting boycotts against Israel, including its settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories conducted by international governmental organizations, such as the United Nations and the European Union.
It would also… include penalties for simply requesting information about such boycotts. Violations would be subject to a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison….This bill would impose civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs about Israel and its policies.”
Although this bill was first introduced in 2017, it continues to gain traction with more co-sponsors recently signing on.
One of the first new laws created by the Jewish Bolsheviks when they took over Russia was to make “antisemitism” punishable by jail or death. Despite its freedoms, the United States is now following in Russia’s footsteps, with Jews like Chuck Schumer leading the charge.
One hundred years later, we find ourselves in a very similar situation – proposed Federal laws protecting Jews from criticism. Only criminals and liars are afraid of being criticized.
What other ethnic group is powerful enough to demand such draconian laws to protect them from criticism?
“Our citizens should know the urgent facts…but they don’t because our media serves imperial, not popular interests. They lie, deceive, connive and suppress what everyone needs to know, substituting managed news misinformation and rubbish for hard truths…”—Oliver Stone