Monthly Archives: March 2011

On Land Day, the Jewish National Fund’s Racist Legacy is Exposed

“The complete evacuation of the country from its other inhabitants and handing it over to the Jewish people is the answer.”

–Jewish National Fund director Yosef Weitz, March 20, 1941

“The Jewish National Fund is the caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners – Jewish people everywhere.”

–Jewish National Fund mission statement

The first pogrom against Al Arakib, courtesy of the Jewish National Fund (photo by Active Stills)

The first of 21 pogroms against Al Arakib, courtesy of the Jewish National Fund (photo by Active Stills)

Today is the 35th anniversary of the Land Day massacre by Israeli soldiers of unarmed Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrating against the expropriation of their farmland in the Galilee and the expansion of Jews-only settlements around their villages. According to Hatim Khanaaneh, a renowned doctor and activist whose memoir, “A Doctor In Galilee” is the best first hand account I have read of official Israeli discrimination against its Palestinian citizens, soldiers from the Golani Brigade celebrated the massacre in a nearby Jewish moshav by dancing and singing “Am Yisrael Chai.” The Land Day massacre electrified the Palestinian national movement inside Israel and popularized Toufiq Ziad’s poem, “Ounadikom” (I call out to you), an enduring cry of anti-colonial resistance that was recited this January in Cairo’s Tahrir Square by Waseem Wagdi.

On this year’s Land Day, the Jewish National Fund distributed a series of hysterical fundraising appeals and press releases that highlighted the organization’s sense of desperation. The letters are full of schnorring and devoid of content, as the JNF has no response to the factual arguments of its critics or to the reports of its recent abuses in the Negev. Instead, the organization has called for a “Stop the Hatred Day” and concocted a new slogan: “They destroy, we build.” Of course, anyone who is familiar with Al Arakib knows that it is the JNF that destroys and the indigenous Bedouins who rebuild.

Since it was founded in 1901, the JNF has been at the forefront of ethnic cleansing in Palestine. And now the group’s machinations are being exposed and countered through an effective, non-violent campaign based on a simple appeal to human dignity, international law and basic rights. It is no wonder its leadership is so defensive and desperate.

The excellent Israeli documentary “The Diaries of Yosef Nachmani” used the memoirs of one of the JNF’s top officials to expose the organization’s role in forcing Palestinian farmers off their own land, often through trickery and manipulation. JNF director Yosef Weitz was instrumental in hatching Plan Dalet, the campaign to ethnically cleanse at least 400 Palestinian villages and expel their residents in 1947 and 1948. After the war of 1948, Weitz orchestrated the planting of hundreds of thousands of non-native trees west of Jerusalem to cover up the scores of villages that had just been ethnically cleansed by Zionist militias. Today those trees look as natural to the landscape of the Judean Hills as the hair plugs on Joe Biden’s scalp.

The Land Day protests were sparked by the Israeli government’s “Judaization” of the Galilee, a plan that led to mass expropriations by the Israel Land Authority (ILA). Through a 1960 law, ILA was required to allocate half of the seats in its council to the JNF. A law the following year clearly stated the JNF existed “for the purpose of settling Jews on such lands and properties.” In other words, the JNF openly discriminated on the basis of ethnicity. Having acquired 70 percent of its land through confiscations from Palestinian refugees and present absentees through the Absentee Property Law of 1950, the JNF became a key mechanism for expropriation and ethnic cleansing under the guise of developing Israel for its Jewish citizens.

The 1995 Supreme Court Ka’adan ruling forbade the ILA from leasing land exclusively through the JNF. The court made its ruling on the grounds that the JNF openly discriminates against non-Jews. However, a Knesset vote in 2007 undermined the ruling, prompting the Israeli newspaper Haaretz to editorialize: “The Jewish National Fund’s land policy counters the interests of the state and cannot discriminate by law against the minority living in Israel.” (The title of the editorial was, “A Racist and Jewish State.”)

Today, though the ILA is able to sell some of its land to private developers, the JNF still controls 6 of 13 seats on the ILA’s council while maintaining numerous arrangements for land swaps with the state. With the ILA in possession of 93 percent of Israel’s land, the JNF remains in a prime position to dictate how the Galilee and Negev are “Judaized.” But as Alaa Mahajneh of the Palestinian-Israeli legal rights center Adalah points out, the increasingly complex arrangements make legislating equality from within the Israeli legal system even more difficult.

In recent years, the JNF has focused its efforts on an area in the Negev known as Al Arakib. It is the ancestral home of the Al Touri Bedouin tribe. In 1951, the Bedouins were removed from their land by the Israeli army, which told them they could return once it completed a series of training exercises. Years passed until the tribe came back, but by then they were considered “present absentees” thanks to the aforementioned Absentee Property Law. This meant that they were internal refugees with no rights to their own land, even if they had property deeds. Their land had been transfered into the hands of the Development Authority, the custodian for confiscated land at the time, and then handed over to the ILA, which eventually authorized the JNF to do what it does best: ethnic cleansing.

Nuri El Okbi, a veteran Bedouin rights activist from Al Arakib, attempted to move back to his family’s property, where the ruins of his father’s house lay. Not only did El Okbi have land deeds his parents had saved in a halvah box to prove their right to the land, he had aerial photos dating from 1947 that clearly showed his family’s home and fields. Each time he encamped there, however, Israeli police officers removed him by force. After the 40th attempt to return, El-Okbi received a restraining order forbidding him from setting foot on the land he spent his childhood. He can not return because he is not a Jew. In other countries during other times, this was considered apartheid.

Since the JNF has set its sights on Al Arakib, the village has been destroyed 21 times. Israeli police have used rubber bullets, percussion grenades, teargas, batons and bulldozers against women, children, and the elderly — all unarmed — in their effort to remove the Bedouin un-people from the area so the JNF can go to work. During the first destruction of Al Arakib, a squad of Israeli high school age students were hired to remove belongings from the homes of Al Arakib residents — the “Summer Camp of Destruction.” The students vandalized homes in the process and reportedly belted out the familiar “Am Yisrael Chai!” when the bulldozers moved in. ILA bulldozers accompanied by riot police have attempted to destroy and desecrate the Al Arakib cemetary, which contains graves more than a century old. And recently, the Israel State’s Attorney Office has announced plans to sue the residents of Al Arakib for $1 million shekels for the demolition of their own homes.

To complete its project in and around Al Arakib, the JNF has accepted millions of dollars in funding from a racist and anti-Semitic evangelical broadcasting network, GOD TV, that openly propagates End Times theology demanding that all Jews to convert to Christianity or suffer in an “everlasting lake of fire.” With the JNF’s help, GOD TV’s huckstering CEO Rory Alec will be able to fulfill his mission of “redeeming the land for Christ” by building “GOD TV Forest” on the ruins of Al Arakib. Meanwhile, Alec has lavished money on Givot Bar, a Jewish town in the area that is likely to benefit from the newly approved Communities Acceptance Law allowing small communities to openly discriminate against applicants on the basis of ethnicity and sexual orientation (and it is unlikely that blue collar Mizrahi Jews will be able to afford the 5000 Shekel application fee Givot Bar requires).

Recently, the Australian television news show Dateline produced an excellent report on Al Arakib. Dateline told the story of El Okbi, comparing him to the Australian aboriginal rights advocate Eddie Mabo, who won a landmark court case eliminating the white colonists’ legal fiction of Terra Nullius, a concept that still forms the basis of Israeli land confiscations.

Dateline then interviewed Shlomo Szizar, an official from the JNF’s bureaucratic parent, the ILA. In three lines, Siza summarized the logic of the JNF and the Zionist movement that brought it into being: “Every year, [the Bedouins] invade and we remove them. They invade and we remove them. We’re not going to let this land be invaded.”

Having turned the indigenous people of Palestine into “invaders” in their own land, the JNF’s leadership insists that their intentions are good. “I can tell you one simple thing,” JNF CEO Russell Robinson wrote in a March 28 email newsletter. “No other organization is doing anywhere near as much as JNF is to help enhance the quality of life for this [Bedouin] population.”

Go here and here to take action to stop the JNF.

46% of Jewish Israelis support settler “price tag” terror, Congress blames Palestinians for incitement

The police investigation into the Itamar murders remains under a gag order. No individual Palestinian has been accused or even named as a suspect by the police. However, the resident of the neighboring Palestinian village Awarta, who have suffered for years from settler pogroms, are being collectively blamed and punished. According to a report by three International Solidarity Movement volunteers living under curfew in Awarta, Israeli soldiers and settlers have rampaged through the village in recent days, seeking murder suspects and the satisfaction that comes with retributive violence.

The soldiers reportedly destroyed property, stole money, defecated on the floors of homes, and blindfolded and beat residents, leaving one 28-year-old man so badly injured he had to be smuggled to a hospital in Nablus. Afterwards, approximately 300 masked settlers descended on the town and attacked its residents, breaking the arms of two men.

”Why do you have to punish all this people?” an ISM activist asked one of the soldiers. ”We have to punish these people so they will understand,” the soldier reportedly replied.

Jewish settlers from East Jerusalem filmed themselves humiliating a local Palestinian man, or, as they called it, “lower[ing] the confidence of Palestinians in the neighborhood].”

The one-two punch of settler “price tag” attacks carried out under the watch of the army and with the encouragement of state-funded religious nationalist rabbis is common all over the West Bank. Most Jewish Israelis view the army with reverence, and are reluctant to criticize its conduct under any circumstance. And though settler violence is considered a matter of controversy in Israeli society, a new poll shows that a staggering number of Israelis support the pogroms meted out by fanatical settlers against defenseless Palestinians.

A new Ynet-Gesher survey of 504 Jewish Israeli adults revealed that 46 percent of Israelis support settler “price tag” terror. Only 33 percent of those polled believed that price tag attacks were “never justified.” A sectoral breakdown shows that  a wide majority of religious nationalist and ultra-Orthodox respondents support the attacks: 56 percent of “traditional” types, 70 percent of those identifying as Orthodox, and 71 percent of the religious nationalists declared price tag violence to be justified. The most remarkable finding, in my opinion, is that 36 percent of secular respondents support settler terror. Even though 56 percent are against the practice, this is a remarkably high number for a population segment that lives primarily inside the Green Line. (The poll results and Ynet article detailing its contents are only in Hebrew at the moment).

68 percent of all of those polled stated their belief that rabbis had the power to stop price tag attacks (for fairly obvious reasons, this opinion is shared by only a minority of religious nationalist settlers). In Safed, a mixed city in Northern Israel that is home to Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, local Orthodox youth have staged a string of vigilante attacks on Palestinian-Israeli residents. The attacks include the stabbing of a Palestinian Christian man, the torching of Palestinian cars after a Jewish-Arab dialogue meeting, and a wave of racist vandalism. The violence follows Eliyahu’s declaration that the “seducing” of Jewish girls by Arab men was “a form of war” and his drafting of a letter forbidding renting property to Arabs. (55% of Jewish Israelis support the content of Eliyahu’s letter).

Above: Settlers assault Palestinian girls on their way to school in occupied Hebron

Eliyahu recently admitted that the Shin Bet beseeched him to speak out against price tag terror after the Itamar murders. “I told [the Shin Bet agent], if you expect me to stop someone engaging in ‘price tags,’ you’re mistaken,” Eliyahu said. “I don’t work for you. But I want to tell you that unless the government takes action, the public will feel a need to take action. And if you don’t act, even if I stand with my arms wide open, I won’t be able to stop those who would act.”

While taxpayer funded rabbis like Eliyahu (he is literally a state employee) incite with impunity against Palestinians, and cheer on the terror attacks that flow from their words, letters are circulating through the US Congress condemning the Palestinian Authority for incitement. One of the letters, co-authored by Senators Kirsten Gilibrand (D-NY) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) — Kirk is arguably AIPAC’s greatest tool in Congress — demanded that the Palestinian Authority “stop allowing the incitement that leads to such crimes [as the one committed in Itamar].” Though no individual Palestinian has been named as a suspect in the crime and the PA has condemned the murders, top lawmakers like Gilibrand and Kirk have already convicted every Palestinian, providing congressional cover for more destructive raids, vandalism, and price tag terror.

Watching Miral: An unflinching but flawed look at Israel’s occupation

I saw Julian Schnabel’s film “Miral” a few months ago at a private screening but did not write about it at the time. The film had been billed to me as a “game changer” that would finally present a sympathetic portrayal of the Palestinian struggle, but I was not very excited or impressed by what I saw. Considering how jaded I have become about potential “game changers” (why hasn’t the game changed yet?) and how many films I have seen about and by Palestinians, I might not be the best person to evaluate the film as a vehicle for educating the American public. After spending nearly two months reflecting on the Miral, I concluded that despite its many flaws, it represents a valuable and timely contribution.

Miral’s plot focuses on Hind Husseini, daughter of Palestinian aristocracy and founder of the Dar El-Tifel orphanage, which originally housed the children of the victims of the Deir Yassin massacre. Thus Schnabel depicts the Nakba, a first in a major American film, however, he does it with minimal context and explanation. Why did Israel evict 750,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes and their land? The answer explains the roots of the conflict, yet the history remains unknown to most in the West.

Next, viewers are introduced to Miral, whose mother was so traumatized by the events of 1948 and by the sexual abuse visited on her by her father that she committed suicide. Miral’s character, played in mediocre fashion by Frieda Pinto, who could not seem to drop her Hindi accent (her performance reminded me of Kevin Costner’s Midwestern-accented Robin Hood), is based on Rula Jebreal, the author of the novel “Miral.” As the wife of Schnabel, Jebreal apparently convinced him to turn her book into a film. As in the movie, Rula was sent by her widowed father to live and study at Dar El-Tifel. There she was schooled along with dozens of girls (including the writer Susan Abulhawa) to be the cream of Palestinian society, and to educate the left-behinds in the refugee camps.

Having moved through the Nakba and the occupation of Jerusalem in 1967 — and there viewers see a rare acknowledgment of Palestinian terrorism as a tactic employed in the grand tradition of anti-colonial resistance — the film culminates with the War of the Stones, known in the West as the First Intifada. “Intifada means stand up straight,” Miral tells one of her classmates as riots spread from Gaza to the West Bank. I thought this line was a touch corny, but then again, when has a mass Western audience seen the Intifada depicted as anything other than a Jew-hating terror fest?

It is during this section that Schabel shows his strengths. Though he tends to sacrifice narrative depth for powerful imagery (“Basquiat” felt like a two hour long music video), Schnabel’s fixation on aesthetics resulted in Miral’s most subversive scenes. As Miral becomes increasingly involved with PLO activists, she is immediately swept up by thrasher of the Israeli occupation. Schnabel unflinchingly depicts her torture at the hands of a Amazon-like female Shabak agent, something that has happened to hundreds if not thousands of young Palestinian women in Israeli prisons. And he recreates scenes of Israeli home demolition that were so true to life I had flashbacks to Al-Arakib, where I watched Israeli bulldozers level an entire village while a phalanx of soldiers forced its Bedouin residents away from their crumbling homes.

The brief but vivid depictions of common Israelis prompted flashbacks of daily life in Israel, from the pinched lipped Jewish redneck on the Jerusalem city bus who blurts out racial slurs at the nearest available Arab; to the smug Israeli general who corrects Miral when she identifies herself as Palestinian, informing her that she is in fact an “Israeli Arab;” to the free spirited Tel Avivian youths who are more than happy to party with an attractive Palestinian girl like Miral — and who pat themselves on the back for doing so — but would do nothing to help her struggle for their liberation. During the time I spent inside Israel, I met all of these characters again and again.

Unfortunately, for all of Miral’s strengths, the film completely collapses in its final minutes as viewers are introduced to the Oslo Accords. Schnabel presents the US-brokered effort as a sincere attempt at peace and not the Trojan Horse for permanent occupation that Israel’s subsequent actions exposed it to be. It is disappointing that Schnabel chose to portray the peace process as some sort of panacea, with Yitzhak Rabin appearing on screen before cheering throngs to declare that “we are making peace,” when it has only enabled Israel to deepen its occupation and create more facts on the ground with the stamp of Western approval. Anyone who has taken a cursory glance at the Palestine Papers would have a hard time disputing that the peace process is a sham. I know American moviegoers yearn for moral clarity and golden sunsets, but Schnabel should have avoided propagandizing in favor of a discredited political process — or any “solution,” for that matter. The stories he and Jebreal presented of Palestinian women living under occupation and apartheid were powerful enough to stand on their own.

After Itamar: Exploring the cynical logic that makes everyone a target

Everyone is rushing to condemn the gruesome murder of a family in the illegal Israeli settlement of Itamar. Even President Barack Obama felt compelled to offer his “unequivocal condemnation” of the murders. For what it’s worth (very little), I offer my own denunciation of the killings. Murdering kids can not be justified on any human level. However, even if the motives of the killer seem obvious to everyone, journalists covering the incident must be reminded there is no hard evidence that a Palestinian terrorist committed the crime. No viable armed faction has taken credit, and Israeli police are even treating Thai workers as suspects.

Itamar is heavily guarded, surrounded by an electrified fence, and monitored 24/7 by a sophisticated system of video surveillance. Yet there is no video of the killer. Like it or not, until the identity of the killer is confirmed, the murder can only be described by journalists as an “alleged terror attack.” Legitimate outrage is no excuse to flout the basics of journalism 101.

Given the amount of violence visited upon local Palestinians by the residents of Itamar and nearby settlements, I will not be surprised if the killer turns out to be a rogue Palestinian bent on revenge. In one instance documented in 2007, settlers from Itamar stabbed a 52-year-old shepherd named Mohammad Hamdan Ibrahim Bani Jaber to death while he tended to his flock. Routine attacks from Itamar have prompted the near-total evacuation of the village Izbat Al Yanoon, while settlers from nearby Jewish colony of Yitzhar have staged homemade rocket attacks on local Palestinians and torched their mosques. As I have reported, Yitzhar is home to Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, author of the notorious “Torat Hamelech,” which uses rabbinical sources to justify the killing of non-Jewish civilians, including children, in combat situations.

Medical Xray of live ammunition lodge in the skull of Ussayed Qadous, shot at point blank range by Israeli troops near Itamar in 2010

Medical x-ray of live ammunition lodged in the skull of Ussayed Qadous, shot at point blank range by Israeli troops near Itamar in 2010

A year ago in nearby Palestinian farming villages Awarta and Iraq Burin, Israeli soldiers were accused of executing local youths during riots against settlement expansion. As Jesse Rosenfeld reported, despite the clear evidence of execution style killings, none of the soldiers who held the Palestinians in custody at the time they were shot were convicted of any crimes. And to my knowledge, no official American response followed. Thus the besieged villages near Itamar have been left without any recourse or legal means to redress their harassment and murder.

Israel’s method of occupation and its military rules of engagement — which are supported by the US in spirit and through acts like the recent UN settlement resolution veto — openly skirt international law, eliminating any outside mechanism for mediating conflict or redressing the grievances of civilians harmed by war. Under these terms, where distinctions between civilians and combatants are deliberately blurred in order to deepen Israel’s control over land gained through military conquest, horrific attacks like the kind allegedly witnessed in Itamar become all the more possible.

To establish an ethical basis for military operations aimed at consolidating the occupation, the Israeli army has turned to Zionist academics like Tel Aviv University philosophy professor Asa Kasher. In the service of the army, Kasher churned out elaborate manifestoes justifying Israel’s tactics during Lebanon II and Operation Cast Lead. Kasher’s concepts of warfare are best defined by his explicit justifications for killing unarmed civilians in any instance when an Israeli soldier believed that they were in danger. Kasher strained his logic to the point that he highlighted the 2004 US invasion of Fallujah in Iraq, when American troops fired white phosphorous shells into the city center and demolished hundreds of homes, to justify Israeli actions in Gaza. “If it’s between the soldier and the terrorist’s neighbor, the priority is the soldier,” Kasher said. “Any country would do the same.”

Another academic with close ties to the Israeli military-intelligence apparatus, Professor Arnon “the Arab Counter” Soffer of Haifa University, urged the army to massacre Palestinian civilians after the withdrawal from the illegal settlement of Gush Katif in Gaza. Soffer, who devised the separation wall policy in order to confine the Palestinians of the West Bank to what he called “three sausages,” reasoned that mass murder was the only way to maintain the security of the Southern Israeli perimeter communities while avoiding political concessions to the Palestinians of Gaza.

Prof. Arnon Soffer: "Kill, kill, kill."

Prof. Arnon Soffer: "Kill, kill, kill."

“When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe,” Soffer argued. “Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.” And that is exactly what Israel did when it followed Soffer’s logic in Operation Cast Lead. (Note the use of the word “animal” in Soffer’s language and in the language of Israelis responding to the murders in Itamar; the word is essentially a signal to kill Palestinians indiscriminately).

While Soffer and Kasher have both served as outside consultants for Israeli governments and the army, another advocate for slaughtering Palestinian civilians, Yaakov Amidror, has been appointed to serve as Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Security Advisor. “That’s a totally illegal order,” Amidror once snapped at Israeli news anchor Haim Yavin, who had said that Israeli soldiers were instructed to avoid civilian casualties in Lebanon. “What should be said is ‘kill more of the bastards on the other side, so that we’ll win.’ Period.” Amidror has criticized Kasher for formalizing the army’s ethical code — “I said this should remain unwritten, so there wouldn’t be anything written, as [then] it would become technical,” he declared — and even called for the on-site execution of Israeli soldiers who refused to advance in battle. (Amidror also happens to be a religious settler who lives in the West Bank.)

Kasher, Soffer, and Amidror’s arguments relating to the killing of civilians are eerily similar to those advanced in a halakhic context by religious nationalist rabbis. Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira of Yitzar, a settlement that neighbors Itamar, has written in his book “Torat Hamelech” that non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and should be killed in order to “curb their evil inclinations.” A guide for anyone pondering when killing goyim is permissible, the book has been described by Rabbi Dov Lior of the settlement Kiryat Arba as “very relevant, especially in this time.” Lior, who has said that “gentile sperm leads to barbaric offspring,” is also a firm advocate of slaughtering Palestinian civilians. In 2008, when the IDF’s chief rabbi, Brigadier General Avichai Ronski, brought a group of military intelligence officers to Hebron for a special tour, he concluded the day with a private meeting with Lior, who reveled the officers with his views on modern warfare: “no such thing as civilians in wartime.” (For his part, Ronski has urged Israeli troops to show Palestinian civilians “no mercy.”)

National Security Advisor appointee Yaakov Amidror: kill civilian "bastards" and shoot non-compliant soldiers on the spot

National Security Advisor appointee Yaakov Amidror: kill civilian "bastards" and shoot non-compliant soldiers on the spot

So what is the difference between rabbis like Lior and Shapira and secular academics like Kasher and Soffer? I put this question to a 20-something settler (he is the last guy I interviewed in this video) during a rally in defense of the publication of “Torat Hamelech.” “Well, the difference is that someone like Kasher is speaking from his kishkes [guts],” the settler told me. “But Yitzhak Shapira is speaking from Torah; he’s speaking from Hashem.” In other words, the philosopher and the rabbi share a philosophy that justifies killing non-Jewish civilians, but the ethicist uses rational arguments rooted in secular Enlightenment thought, while the rabbi claims to be translating for God from ancient documents. In the end, both are working to cultivate an environment in which legal and moral protections for civilians are discarded in order to advance the maximalist goals of Jewish nationalism.

During his opening statement in his debate against Judge Richard Goldstone at Brandeis University on November 5, 2009, former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold claimed that the Goldstone Report was in fact an attack on Israeli society. In a section entitled “Maligning Israeli Society,” Gold and Lt. Col. Jonathan Dahoah Halevi wrote: “The language used by the UN Gaza report — and the gravity of its allegations about “deliberate” Israeli attacks on civilians — maligns Israeli society as a whole, for the Israel Defense Forces is a citizen’s army, an army which is made up of the people of Israel.”

In Gold’s own words, there is no difference between Israeli civilians and soldiers — the army is society. Without knowing it, Gold deployed the very same argument Palestinian militant factions have used to justify suicide attacks inside Israel and the murder of the children of settlers in the West Bank. Thus Gold revealed the extent to which the process of comprehensively militarizing Jewish Israeli society — a central goal of Zionism since the days of Joseph Trumpeldor — had obliterated the distinction between civilian and combatant, transforming every human being into a possible target.

In such an environment, horrific violence against the innocent is not only possible, but inevitable. Of course, most of the violence will be meted out against the Palestinians, who live under a seemingly permanent occupation with negligible deterrent capacity and no political rights. But Israelis must also live in this moral wasteland and face the depressing consequences. Having to someday accept that they were responsible for its creation might be the cruelest fate of all.

Happy Int’l Women’s Day from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef

Former Israeli chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef (not a cross between a Civil War naval re-enactor and Rahsaan Roland Kirk)

Former Israeli chief rabbi and Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef

Beatnik zombie-pirate, Shas spiritual leader and former Israeli chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef offered a characteristically wise sermon on the occasion of International Women’s Day. According to Israel’s Channel 10 (I am soliciting better translations):

In light of International Women’s Day, the rabbi gave a sermon outlining his teachings on the difference between men and women. “Women can not go to war,” declared Rabbi Yosef. “If a woman runs over a cat with a car, she begins crying, therefore she can not kill people.” In [Yosef's] opinion, men are made differently. “A man is a man, so give him a task he is made to do.”

In other news, Yosef’s son, Yaakov, revealed that his father’s book, Yecheve Da’at, provided the original source material for Torat Ha’melech a tract that claims rabbinical justification for the killing of non-Jews, including children, during warfare. See my video and report on Torat Ha’melech for more.

Hate Rally Organizer Karen Lugo Appointed To California Civil Rights Commission Advisory Committee

Karen Lugo is protecting the culture of Disneyland from the "tyranny of the minority"

Karen Lugo is protecting the culture of Disneyland from the "tyranny of the minority"

The organizers of the anti-Muslim hate rally in Yorba Linda are suddenly on the defensive. Refusing to admit that they behaved like demented racists, or that there is anything wrong with demonizing Muslim citizens of the United States, the North OC Conservative Coalition’s Karen Lugo, Jewish Federation love instructor Rabbi David Eliezrie, and others are claiming that they participated in a peaceful “patriotic” rally that was corrupted by members of an unwanted “splinter group” (was it led by a one-armed man?) who appeared from out of the blue to shout racial slurs at families entering the Muslim charity event.

Lugo and Eliezrie must have been nowhere near Villa Park Councilmember Deborah Pauly when she made the following statement: “I have a wonderful 19 year old son who’s a United States Marine. As a matter of fact I know quite a few Marines who will be happy to help these terrorists [Pauly pointed towards the community center] to an early meeting in paradise.” Actually, Eliezrie has admitted to being in the audience and Lugo was on stage beside Pauly, where she served as the official emcee. How absolutely unfair of CAIR to turn its cameras on the extreme racists at the gates and not focus on the more moderate racists on stage!

Lugo has put herself forward as the official face of the hate rally, yet she has only been identified in the press as a “protester” or “demonstrator.” In fact, Lugo is a veteran right-wing operative and self-proclaimed constitutional law professor who dazzled the crowd with her knowledge of American’s founding documents: “The Constitution is not supposed to protect a tyranny of the minority,” she exclaimed. ”It is not discrimination to say no when a group is less than one percent of our population.”

Lugo speaks at 9:30

According to Lugo, who appears to be obsessed with the Muslim menace, patriotic Americans need to save the culture of Disneyland. As she said, “It is a matter of importance to our culture and society to tell a corporation like Disneyland, ‘We support you in keeping your culture and in not allowing the hijab to be worn as part of an employee’s garb.’”

Despite holding such views and having presided over what basically amounted to a cross burning, Lugo’s bio indicates that she has managed to secure an appointment on the California Civil Rights Commission Advisory Committee, which reports directly to the US Civil Rights Commission. I’m not sure how Lugo’s appointment came about, but perhaps it was inspired by the UN Human Rights Council awarding a seat to Col. Moammar Gaddafi.

Anti-Muslim Hate Rally Organizer Eliezrie to Teach “Kabbalah of Love” at Jewish Federation Vegas Mega-Event

It's a thin line between love and hate

It's a thin line between love and hate

It should be clear to anyone who has seen the video of the anti-Muslim hate rally in Yorba Linda that the organizers of the event are extremely dangerous and demented people. If their pathological racism was not apparent before the video surfaced, then it is confirmed now. So why is the Jewish Federation and a who’s who of established Jewish organizations, from Birthright Israel to the New Israel Fund to JDate (even Rock The Vote is involved somehow), hosting one of the hate rally’s key organizers this weekend at a major gathering in Las Vegas billed as “an entertaining, interactive and educational celebration that will draw over 1,500 Jewish young adults (ages 22-45) from across North America?”

Last week, Rabbi David Eliezrie of the Yorba Linda chapter of Chabad was among a mob of local extremists who screamed racial epithets at immigrant families. On Monday, however, the rabbi will lead a session at “Tribefest” on “the Kabbalah of Love.” “Love has always been a central theme in Jewish teachings,” the event description reads. “In an interactive experience we will explore the mystical and classical sources about love.” How touching.

Anti-Muslim hate rally summons the ghosts of Jim Crow

Elizabeth Eckford walks to Little Rock Central High in 1957

Elizabeth Eckford walks to Little Rock Central High in 1957

While watching the unforgettably hideous (and now viral) footage of the recent anti-Muslim demonstration in Yorba Linda, California, I could not help but think of Elizabeth Eckford, the African-American student who was forced to walk through a phalanx of violent white racists chanting “Lynch her! Lynch her!” during the federal government’s first attempt to integrate Little Rock Central High School. This iconic image was immediately recalled by the video of Muslim-American children walking through a crowd of protesters calling them terrorists, threatening them, and chanting “Go home!” as they proceeded towards a local community center for a charity event. Eckford was badly scarred by her experience; the trauma affected her life for decades. I wonder how the children who had to be marched through the gauntlet of racists in Yorba Linda will remember their experience.

Billed as a “Patriotic Rally,” the anti-Muslim demonstration was organized by official hate group leader Pam Geller, Tea Party outfits including the North Orange County Conservative Coalition and We Surround Them OC 912; and Rabbi David Eliezrie of the Yorba Linda chapter of Chabad-Lubavitch, a messianic Orthodox Jewish group. Though Chabad does not make its political positions explicit, I have learned through first hand experience how extreme its leadership is, especially in Southern California.

In 2002, I took a Hebrew class with a rabbi (I wanted to improve my very poor reading at the time), who led the West L.A. Chabad chapter and was supposedly a renowned teacher of the Kabbalah. At some point, the rabbi invited me and some other students over for a shabbat dinner which, given Chabad’s mission to proselytize within the Jewish community, would eventually lead to some form of pressure to join the organization. The rabbi’s father, who was also a rabbi, led off dinner with a bold prediction: “Within five years, the Palestinians will be eliminated by nuclear energy!” I was shocked and did not know what to say. At first, I attempted to politely register my displeasure. But nothing would stop him. “Either we use nuclear energy or we transfer them all!” he said. No one at the table seemed to have any problem with these wishes for genocide. “So will you use cattle cars to transfer them?” I asked. “We can use camels. Whatever,” he responded. Several of the men at the table chuckled at this remark. I excused myself from dinner soon after and would never have contact with Chabad again.

Rabbi David Elriezie at the Yorba Linda hate rally

Correction: This photo does not show Rabbi David Eliezrie, however, Eliezrie has admitted to participating in the rally

Chabad’s Rabbi Eliezrie appeared at the Yorba Linda hate rally with an Israeli flag in one hand and an American flag in the other. Other participants displayed the Israeli flag as well. In fact, the Israeli flag seemed to be peeking out from a cluster of American flags that formed the backdrop for speakers including Republican Rep’s Ed Royce and Gary Miller, who both railed against the Muslim presence in Orange County. At 4:06 in the video, the crowd can be seen hectoring a Muslim couple with the chant, “We support Israel!” As even Haaretz has noticed, the Israeli flag is becoming a key symbol for a trans-Atlantic neo-fascist axis that thrives on violent resentment towards Muslim and Arab immigrants. Given the ethnocratic basis of the Israeli state and the country’s settler-colonial ethos, the trend is not ironic or very surprising.

Back in 1957, in Little Rock Central High, an awkward, acne scarred boy sat behind Elizabeth Eckford every day in class, muttering in a low drone, “Nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger.” Harassment from him and scores of white students would eventually drive Eckford to attempt suicide several times. Fifty years later, that awkward student, whose name is Charles Sawrie, expressed deep contrition for what he had done. “It was all kind of stupid,” he told journalist David Margolick. “I just wanted to get a name for myself. I don’t remember anything about her except she was black and my job was to make it as rough for the blacks as I could.”

Demonstrators celebrate their intimidation of Muslim families

Demonstrators celebrate their intimidation of Muslim families

On the Facebook page of the North Orange County Conservative Coalition, adults who behaved just as Sawrie did as a high school student in the Jim Crow South are overflowing with pride. “This was a great opportunity to speak out against an oppressive threat to us all. The speakers were GREAT as were the Patriots who joined us,” remarked someone named Gibbs Carol. Another protester named Desare Ferraro commented: “Americans are finally waking up to the dangers of multi-culturalism and putting out the “NOT WELCOME” sign to terrorist supporting fundraisers in our communities.” “What a great rally yesterday in Yorba Linda!” said Neil O’Brien.

Below are two videos. The first is of the Arab American Institute’s congressional briefing on Rep. Peter King’s upcoming hearings on radicalization in the Muslim community, which will essentially function as a congressional legitimization of the anti-Muslim crusade. I speak at about 32:00 and describe the trans-Atlantic Islamophobic axis:

The second video contains my appearance on Viewpoint with Jim Zogby, where I discuss the Islamophobic axis in further detail with Maya Berry:

Facing Up To Jewish Nationalism and Racist Violence

This piece originally appeared on Electronic Intifada and was co-authored by Joseph Dana.

When we released the now famous and censored video Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem, we were widely attacked and dismissed for daring to publicize footage of college-age Jewish kids behaving like racist fanatics while intoxicated. We argued that our footage revealed a deep sickness within Israeli society and among diaspora Jews who defined their Jewish identity according to extreme Zionist ideology (“Censored by the Huffington Post and Imprisoned By The Past: Why I Made ‘Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem,’” 6 June 2009).

We insisted that Jews should focus their outrage not at us, but at the statements the subjects of our video made, and recognize the extent to which they echoed the rhetoric of leading Israeli politicians, military figures, pundits and rabbis.

In response, Ben Hartman claimed in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper that we were “on a mission to humiliate the Jewish people” (“Jews gone wild: Why camcorders and booze don’t mix,” 11 June 2009).

American-born Israeli author Gershom Gorenberg argued on his blog that the statements of “a drunken kid in a bar” have no journalistic value, and therefore we were unprofessional (“Racism, Amalek and Videotape ” 13 June 2009).

Gorenberg even asserted that because some of the people who appeared in our video were American, their racist opinions had no little or no connection to the Israeli situation. At the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Ron Kampeas, who has disclosed that he purchased an apartment with an Israeli-government subsidized loan in a Jewish colony in occupied East Jerusalem, wrote that it’s “time for [Blumenthal] to grow up and put [his talents] to good use.” (“Best take so far on Blumen-journalism,” 5 June 2009).

Meanwhile, YouTube and Vimeo banned Feeling the Hate, while the Huffington Post’sRoy Sekoff refused to allow us to publish it, claiming in an email that it had no “real news value,” as though the soft core porn that accounted for the content on his and Arianna Huffington’s (now AOL owned) site each day did.

A year and a half later, hate crimes carried out by Jewish youths against random Arabs are increasingly common in Jerusalem, and throughout Israel (“Never again? Elderly Palestinian women called “whores” on Yad Vashem tour, while racism explodes across Israel,” 30 December 2010).

The most recent attack occurred on 11 February on King George Street, just blocks from the warren of seedy bars where we filmed Feeling the Hate. There, a group of drunken religious nationalist youths attacked Hussam Rwidy, a 24-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem, stabbing him while they allegedly chanted “Death to Arabs!” Rwidy and his friend, Murad Khader Joulani, staggered into a nearby restaurant drenched in blood and begging for help. Hours later, Rwidy was pronounced dead (“The final moments of the martyred Husam Rwidy,” Wadi Hilweh Information Center — Silwan, 20 February 2011).

What happened next was eerily familiar to us. After a media blackout imposed by the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security police, the Israeli media produced a series of articles dismissing the gravity of the murder (“Did Israeli media sideline racist motives in killing of Arab youth in Jerusalem?” 23 February 2011).

“A drunken brawl gone bad” was how several reports described the killing of Rwidy, parroting statements by the Jerusalem police that his death was the result of a fight. The two main assailants were initially indicted for manslaughter before overwhelming evidence forced Israeli government prosecutors to charge them with premeditated murder. As with the reaction by prominent Israeli media figures to Feeling the Hate, the racist behavior of Jewish nationalists was downplayed as a product of intoxication, if not dismissed altogether, while the incident was portrayed as an aberration. Any reflection about the trend of racial murders inside Israel was officially discouraged (“Murder of Palestinian highlights Israeli judicial discrimination,” 972mag.com, 23 February 2011). And so the band plays on.

With Feeling the Hate, we edited an hour of footage into a four-minute video that focused on the hatred many Jewish nationalists in Israel and the United States felt towards President Barack Obama. Our unreleased footage contains statements by the same kids about Palestinians. The political science major who said “I know my shit” but didn’t know who the Israeli prime minister was told us that the Palestinians should all be transferred to a small corner in the West Bank and kept there in a virtual cage. The boisterous young man with the mesh hat who remarked, “We don’t want any Nazi shit, Obama!” defended Israeli Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman’s proposal to strip citizenship from “disloyal” Palestinian citizens. These drunk kids in bars had a coherent, if very simplistic, ideological basis for their racism. It is called Jewish nationalism.

Because Jewish nationalism is an exclusivist project that defines everyone who exists outside the Zionist spectrum as a potential threat and an obstacle to the ultimate ambitions of Israel, racism directed against Obama and anti-Palestinian racism form a seamless thread. This thread connects automatically to the African and Asian migrant workers who Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called “a concrete threat to the Jewish and democratic character of the country” (“Netanyahu: Illegal African immigrants – a threat to Israel’s Jewish character,” Haaretz, 18 July 2010).

It is no coincidence that migrant workers in Israel are increasingly targeted alongside Palestinians in racist vigilante attacks. They are seeking a place in a country that views the removal of non-Jews from as much territory as it can gain control over as a national goal (“Police: Sudanese men stabbed by Israeli gang,” Ynet, 12 February 2011).

While young rightists attack migrants in the street, the government may warehouse some migrant workers in what Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin has called a “concentration camp” in the Negev Desert (planners from the Israeli Prison Service described the camp as an “accommodation center” in official material) (“Knesset Speaker: Racist rabbi’s letter shames the Jewish people,” Haaretz, 9 December 2010).

Though Rivlin condemned the plan, he has simultaneously endorsed a $1.5 billion shekel proposal to build a wall along the border of Egypt. “The goal is to ensure Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature,” Netanyahu said about the proposed wall.

Tzipi Livni, former foreign minister and leader of the opposition Kadima Party, recently warned that an “evil spirit has been sweeping over the country” (“‘Evil spirit’ sweeping over Israel, warns opposition leader Tzipi Livni,” The Guardian, 10 January 2011).

Her words rang hollow, not only because her party had co-sponsored many of the racist and anti-democratic bills winding their way through the Knesset (see “Can’t we all just get along — separately?” — David Sheen’s disturbing 24 February 2011 interview in Haaretzwith Kadima lawmaker Shai Hermesh on the “Communities Acceptance Law”), but because she has personally fanned the flames of extremism through her words and actions.

After the Israeli assault on Gaza in winter 2008-2009, Livni boasted, “Israel demonstrated real hooliganism during the course of the recent operation, which I demanded” (I Lost Everything,” Human Rights Watch, 10 May 2010).

She also praised the Israeli army for “going wild” in Gaza, as The Independent, reported on 13 January 2009 (Israeli cabinet divided over fresh Gaza surge“).

Now that some Jewish Israelis are “going wild” against Palestinians inside Israel, and demonstrating “real hooliganism” in racial attacks, does the opposition leader think she has the moral authority to condemn them? If the hooliganism starts in Gaza, where will it end?

Last summer, while living off of Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street, we regularly taped interviews with locals. After the murder of Rwidy, we decided to compile some of those clips into a short video so viewers could get a sense of the atmosphere we lived in. Now everyone can meet a few of our neighbors, like the Birthright Israel alum who believes that if Palestinian resistance becomes too acute, “you gotta just annihilate them.” Or the Canadian lone soldier who joined the Israeli Army’s Kfir Brigade, a notoriously abusive unit that serves exclusively in the Occupied Territories, who believes he’s defending the Jews “from terror, and such,” and that there is no such thing as the occupation (“Kfir brigade leads in W. Bank violations,” Haaretz, 11 May 2008).

Living among droves of heavily indoctrinated extremists on Ben Yehuda Street was not always a pleasant experience. But then again, had either of us been a Palestinian, it might have been impossible. Though many might want to ignore this fact, after Rwidy’s murder, it is increasingly hard to dismiss.

JVP’s Rebecca Vilkomerson debates for BDS at J Street’s annual convention

JVP executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson debated in favor of BDS yesterday at J Street's annual convention

JVP executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson debated in favor of BDS yesterday at J Street's annual convention

Today at J Street’s annual convention, my friend and one-time debate partner Rebecca Vilkomerson, who is the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, made the case for BDS against liberal Zionist opponents Ken Bob of Ameinu and writer Bernard Avishai. I was not at the conference, in part because I am speaking at Rutgers’ Palestine Awareness Week later today. But I have heard that the session was packed; according to Vilkomerson, a sizable portion of the room was with her.

Because it wasn’t videotaped, I have reproduced the full text of Rebecca’s opening remarks below. Note that she identified BDS as a Palestinian-led movement that forms the international backbone of the Palestinian non-violent strategy and is “part and parcel of the Arab Spring sweeping the region.” Building on these points, Vilkomerson questioned why there were no Palestinian members on the panel (the BDS movement’s mastermind, Omar Barghouti, has been mysteriously denied a visa to enter the US to promote his book about the boycott). In the end, however, she was grateful to J Street for simply hosting the discussion while the rest of the Jewish establishment — including Ameinu — demonizes BDS proponents and tries to change the subject.

Remarks to Jstreet BDS Panel

February 28, 2011

Rebecca Vilkomerson.

I just want to take a moment in appreciation of J Street for including this discussion at the conference.  It is the most important conversation, in my mind, that we can have at this moment, and I thank you for having it.

I want to take a moment to make sure we all are clear about what BDS is.  BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. It’s a Palestinian led, globally active, non-violent movement in support of equality and freedom for the Palestinian people.

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