Posts Tagged ‘Anti-Zionism’

Recommended reading: Bernard Avishai on BDS

June 17, 2010

I will continue to defend the rights of those urging sensible economic actions against the occupation, as I did when writing about the divestment proposition at UC Berkeley. Such efforts, even if I don’t agree with them are not, by definition, anti-Israel, much less anti-Semitic. As I’ve said, there are such strains within those movements, and we must consciously discern between those who are trying to bring legitimate economic pressure against the occupation and those who are motivated by animus towards Jews or some bizarre Zionist conspiracy theories.

But I do not believe BDS is an effective strategy strategy, even though Israel’s own sometimes cruel and always harsh and self-destructive are lately giving that movement a good deal of steam. Bernard Avishai, an economist, professor, writer and activist explains very well why this is a dead-end strategy. His article was published in The Nation and at his blog here.

Whether you support BDS or not, I think considering Avishai’s clear-headed arguments, which do not demonize the BDS movement but merely argue about the tactic, is well worth your while.

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Of Heroes, Villains and Shades of Grey

June 4, 2010

People love to have their good guys and bad guys neatly defined.

That is a central point in the debate over the narrative of last weekend’s disastrous Israeli raid of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. I’ve seen it particularly in reactions to things I’ve written about the Turkish aid organization, IHH.

The Israeli propaganda machine has helped to inflame and actually define the debate over IHH by accusing them of ties with al-Qaeda. As a result, the debate has revolved around whether they’re “terrorists.”

Crowd at the funeral of one of those killed on the flotilla

The IHH having ties to al-Qaeda was an absurd accusation on its face. If they did, Turkey would never sanction them on any level and would much more likely be persecuting and arresting them. Americans and Israelis might think of al-Qaeda as primarily targeting them, but secular Muslim regimes are much more in their crosshairs than we are. And, indeed, Israel has quietly retracted the accusation.

Thus Israeli propaganda set up the false dichotomy: either the IHH were horrible terrorists or they were pacifistic heroes.

But they’re neither. On five of six ships, tactics of non-violence were employed. Apparently, from the reports of those who were on the ships, these tactics were indeed met with violence from the invading Israeli commandoes. But equally apparently, things did not escalate to the point they did on the Mavi Marmara. (more…)

Israel’s Kent State

May 31, 2010

Having worked on the issue of Israel and its myriad conflicts for many years, one gets used to tragedy and even to stunningly abhorrent behavior. And indeed, I have seen more than enough of both from all sides in this conflict.

But every once in a while, things take a turn, and that turn is punctuated by a singular, stunning event. The murderous raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla this day was one such event.

The Mavi Marmara, one of the ships that was stormed

I waited to start writing this until there was some official statement from Israel. I did that because I want to start off with Israel’s explanation for this horror. Here’s what the IDF spokesperson said, in part:

During the intercept of the ships, the demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF Naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs. Additionally one of the weapons used was grabbed from an IDF soldier. The demonstrators had clearly prepared their weapons in advance for this specific purpose.

As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces employed riot dispersal means, including live fire. Reports from IDF forces on the scene are that it seems as if part of the participants onboard the ships were planning to lynch the forces.

I am sure, as is always the case, there will be those who believe this version of events. But frankly, I can’t see how anyone can do so unless they are so desperate to justify Israel’s action here that they’ll believe anything. Let’s examine the IDF’s version of events.

We begin with the point that these were civilian ships and Israel boarded them with commandoes—soldiers who are disposed toward combat situations and are not meant to police unarmed civilians. They’re fighters, that’s their purpose. But the IDF claims that an assortment of international activists deliberately provoked a violent confrontation (using potentially deadly weapons, but which still leave them ridiculously overmatched) against heavily armed and trained soldiers in order to “lynch them.” (more…)

More on BDS, Israeli Consul General Responds to Me, I Reply Again

May 14, 2010

My recent piece on UC Berkeley’s divestment vote, Principled Opposition, drew a response from Akiva Tor, the Israeli Consul General for the Pacific Northwest region. Zeek printed it at this link.  It was also posted at the consulate’s site.

Today, I published my own response to Tor. You can read it below or at Zeek’s web site.

Response to Akiva Tor

By Moshe Yaroni

In Principled Opposition, I discussed some of the implications of the divestment vote at UC Berkeley. Akiva Tor, Israel’s Consul General for the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, took the time to write a response. It is a response one must read carefully. I have.

Mr. Tor begins by relating two incidents of anti-Semitism that apparently occurred among members of the crowd. It is indeed a sad reality of activism on the Israel-Palestine question that bigotry too often raises its ugly head.

But that bigotry occurs on both sides. Some might be interested in comparing the frequency or viciousness of the bigotry among activists on different sides of the issue. I find such comparisons distasteful. The important point is that, as someone who is in very regular contact with both activists and supporters of different sides of this issue, I can attest that neither side has a short supply of such people.

Yet I can also say that for neither side is this the norm. Mr. Tor fails to point out that the activists bringing this issue to the fore at Berkeley publicly denounced anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

I’ll go a step further. Mr. Tor is correct that I was not in Berkeley for these events. But I am a graduate of Berkeley, and I saw first-hand both the passions and the hatred that this conflict can stir. Neither Jews, Arabs nor other supporters of either side on campus were immune. (more…)

Principled Opposition

April 16, 2010

This article was printed in Zeek Magazine.

I am not a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. For a number of years, I had direct contact with many of the international peace and solidarity groups that make it up. There’s a lot of diversity in those organizations, and amongst the people who participate in them. But for someone like me, who believes in a two-state solution, with one of those states being a democratic Jewish homeland, and who finds a great deal of fault for the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict in all parties, there is more to it than I can live with.

Berkeley students pack an auditorium to debate divestment resolution

However, as I pointed out in an earlier articlein Zeek, pro-peace supporters of Israel do ourselves a disservice when we give in to the radical rhetoric that considers it anti-Israel for anyone to use citizen-based economic action to protest or try to end the occupation.

We’ve seen a striking example of it this week at UC Berkeley. A proposed bill in the student union called for the university to divest its holdings in two American corporations that the students said were profiting from Israel’s occupation. The bill passed by a 16-4 vote.

And then things got interesting.

A wide array of pro-Israel groups (mostly those who obstruct any pressure on Israel to end its occupation, but including, unfortunately, a couple of pro-peace groups as well) came out in opposition and mobilized on campus. The ASUC president, whom I’m told was initially quite supportive of the bill, vetoed the measure.

To override the veto, the 20-member Senate needed 14 votes. In the end, the vote was 13 for overriding, 6 against and one abstention. The motion was then tabled and will be reconsidered next week. But the week leading up to the vote, and especially the night it happened, featured a vigorous and passionate debate on the issue on the UC campus.

What Kind of Divestment?

The attack on the UC senate’s decision offered little of substance. It said the bill was “based on misleading and contested allegations that unfairly targets the State of Israel while also marginalizing Jewish students on campus who support Israel.” But it never addressed the substance. (more…)

Addendum to “The End of Hasbara”

February 19, 2010

A reader asked me about the use of the word “sabotage” in the Reut report and what i made of that. Since I didn’t include that question in my article, here is my response to that reader.
On sabotage, I don’t think it means what Ali Abunimah at Electronic Intifada thinks it means. It is not referring to physical sabotage, web attacks and the like. In Hebrew, the word is שיבוש which means disruption. In the context of the full paragraph, it seems clear this is referring to causing a split between the “de-legitimizers” and what Reut is referring to as the “critics.” At most, this seems to mean infiltration, and that is the harshest definition that seems at all reasonable to me in the context of the full paragraph. Moreover, in Hebrew, the word for the verb “to sabotage” is לחבל. This word does not appear in the Hebrew version of the report, and if physical sabotage was the intended meaning, I don’t see how they could avoid that word, as the word for disruption would not carry the implication of physical sabotage. Occam’s Razor suggests that the intention is to direct the recommended hasbara toward splitting the various groups along the lines of critics and de-legitimizers, because they seem to feel (probably quite correctly) that without the “critics” the “de-legitimizers” would have little chance of having political impact.

The same reader also posed the following question: Second, and more importantly, although I think this is first-rate analysis (and rhetoric), in one aspect it leaves me scratching my head: you say Israel is failing because it has a strategy with no endgame. But the rump state solution seems like an obvious and even successful strategy. Israel is turning the West Bank into Gaza. Soon it will be a problem capable of being managed, like East Timor, Tibet, or any other pocket of population without national rights. It seems the Israelis have decided recently that this is the best they can hope for.

Here is my response to that:

On your more important question…
The first problem with the “rump state solution” as you put it is the same as the one we have now–the settlements. Israel can’t turn the West Bank into Gaza without removing the settlements. Their continued presence will mean that the situation cannot be managed a la Tibet or East Timor. Moreover, the comparison to Timor and Tibet fails because China and Indonesia were not stirring up a regional tinderbox with their occupations (ongoing, in China’s case). The human rights issues were just as serious (in the case of Timor, they were far graver, in fact), but the political implications did not begin to compare. No one cared about East Timor. Many care about Palestine, in the region, in Europe and, increasingly, in the USA. So it wouldn’t work.

Then the question is, whether or not it would work, is this what Israel is, in fact, planning? Much of thinking, particularly that advanced by Noam Chomsky, on this question starts with the Allon Plan. But that plan was based in the notion that Jordan would take up the parts of the West Bank that Israel left out–and, perhaps more importantly, the Allon Plan envisioned actually absorbing significant numbers of Palestinians into Israel. Both of those notions are no longer applicable. So if, and I doubt it’s the case, Israel is still pursuing the Allon Plan, the issue i raise remains the same–they no longer have an endgame.

Otherwise, i think your formulation and mine end up in the same place–no real change in the status quo for decades to come until some calamitous event, whether a disaster for the Palestinians or for Israel, changes the conditions of the game. What I see is what I’ve seen for a long time–an occupation regime that sees only as far ahead as the necessity for maintaining the occupation takes it.

The End of Hasbara

February 19, 2010

In my latest piece for Zeek, I look at the recently release report by the Reut Institute, which looks at the BDS movement around the world. It has some points to it that are actually quite important, but it is fatally flawed, and it revives so many of the mistakes Israel has been making for many years.

The Perversion of Herzl

February 6, 2010

Delving into the truly horrifying developments in Israel regarding the attacks by the contemptible group Im Tirtzu abetted by some friends of theirs in the Knesset and the daily newspaper, Ma’ariv. Fortunately, in the Knesset, cooler heads seem to have prevailed, but it’s worth noting that the major incitement there came from a Kadima MK while the properly legal view came from ministers further right. The article in Zeek can be found here. And thanks to new friends at PalestineNote.com, you can also follow my articles there.

Apartheid or Not Apartheid, the Facts Are the Same

January 11, 2010

I intend to write a good deal more about the important ideas Henry Siegman put forth in his article in the Nation this week. But there’s an important aspect to my thoughts on the piece that I felt needed a separate reading.

Siegman decided to bluntly call Israel “the only apartheid regime in the Western world.” I’m no longer interested in discussing whether the label is appropriate or not. The overriding point is how much the word diverts attention from much more important, and much less academic, discussions about the situation on the ground.

Henry Siegman

For a broader overview of the question and why the whole thing is a big distraction, I’ll refer you to a colleague’s piece here.

But the point today is that Siegman’s decision to make this statement was bound to cause controversy, and he knew it. OK, maybe that’s what he wanted. But did he really want that statement to become the focus of his article?

As I’ll expand on in my upcoming piece on this, Siegman’s article contains some very important ideas and analysis. But the Jewish Telegraphic Agency report on Siegman’s piece focuses entirely on the apartheid point, which amounted to one sentence in Siegman’s article.

It’s not only the mainstream Jewish media that bore in on this point; the tweets from left-wing bloggers and activists also focused overwhelmingly on the statement.

This is the problem. The question of whether the apartheid label fits on Israel is not as important as the realities on the ground that raise the question in the first place. And the apartheid debate is dwarfed in importance even more by crucial questions of what to do about it.

Jimmy Carter’s apology for greatly expanding the use of this terminology was widely seen as self-serving. Maybe it was. But the debate itself makes it more difficult for American Jews, Israelis and those who are neither but are more interested in peace than in the nationalism of one side or the other in this conflict to bring the realities on the ground onto the center stage of political discourse.

The term is a distraction. Whether or not to label policies that insert illegal settlements populated by Israeli citizens in the midst of an occupied people with no guaranteed rights and hold 1.5 million people under a strangling siege as apartheid matters not one whit. The policies and the conditions remain the same.

At one time, it might perhaps have been reasonable to think that this term would help shed light on the realities. It has proven not to be so. It’s time to let go of this phrase which is now a powerful tool in the hands of those who would deny the realities of occupation and Israeli excesses.

Saving Peace from the Peace Activists

December 18, 2009

In my latest piece in Zeek Magazine, I take to task activists who take actions blindly without a sound political strategy. While I use as my foil left-wing, pro-Palestinian activists, it’s true for so many involved on all sides of the issue.