I recently spent three weeks in Lebanon to research the Palestinian refugee situation and the effects of the uprising in Syria on the region. I will be writing extensively about my trip when I return from Israel-Palestine later this month. For now, I have posted my appearance on Transit, a current affairs/political interview program on Lebanon’s Future TV (the official network of the Hariri family’s Future Party). To my complete surprise, the producers decided to air the complete, uncensored “Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem” video in the middle of the interview. The video punctuated a lengthy discussion of issues ranging from AIPAC to the Tea Party to the Palestinian statehood resolution to Barack Obama’s disappointing presidency. I appear at the 1 minute mark in the first clip:
On June 24, Joseph Dana, a journalist who will traveling aboard the US boat to Gaza, discovered that an anonymous private legal complaint had been filed against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. The complaint alleged that US boat, “The Audacity of Hope,” was not sea worthy and therefore was unfit to sail. In response, the harbor master in Athens, Greece, where the boat was docked, told the crew that he could not allow them to leave until the complaint was resolved.
Two days later, the Israel Law Center, Shurat Hadin, accepted responsibility for the complaint, which was essentially a baseless but startlingly successful exercise in legal harassment. Who is Shurat Hadin, and what is their agenda? According to the group’s website, Shurat Hadin is a Tel Aviv-based law center that specializes in lawsuits against “terrorists.” Its founder, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, describes herself in her bio as a “human rights activist.”
Darshan-Leitner began her harassment of the US boat to Gaza began weeks ago when it filed a civil action against “perceived supporters of Hamas” on behalf of Alan Bauer, an American doctor who was injured along with his son in a 2002 Jerusalem bombing attack. The action also threatened maritime insurance companies with legal consequences if they insured any of the boats involved in the flotilla.
I have discovered that a major donor to Shurat Hadin is the homophobic far-right Pastor John Hagee. In March 2010, I reported that Hagee appeared beside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a major rally in Jerusalem to denounce the two state solution and announce the financial contributions he and his supporters were making to Israeli organizations. Among the organizations Hagee said he had bankrolled was Shurat Hadin.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican Senator John McCain repudiated Hagee’s endorsement as soon as Hagee’s statements describing the Holocaust as a fulfillment of divine prophecy came to light. Hagee has also asserted his belief that the anti-Christ was “partially Jewish, as was Adolph Hitler.” As the researcher and reporter Bruce Wilson has documented, Hagee preaches that the Jewish Rothschild family controls the US economy through the Federal Reserve and conspires to attack the American middle class by devaluing the dollar. In his 2006 book Jerusalem Countdown, Hagee claimed that a lineage of “half-breed Jews,” descended from Esau and which included Adolf Hitler, have persecuted full-blooded Jews throughout history. Hagee prophesied that God intended to exterminate that “half-breed Jew” line.
These statements — and countless more demonizing gays, Muslims, and anyone else Hagee deems to be allied with “the Enemy” – have been widely reported. However, nothing Hagee says or does seems to deter the “human rights activist” Darshan-Leitner and Shurat Hadin from embracing him and benefiting from his riches.
“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
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.”
Above is a shocking video depicting the 17th(!) pogrom against the Bedouin village of Al-Arakib by the criminal syndicate known as the Jewish National Fund and the End Timers at GOD TV. Apparently Israeli riot police fired bean bag rounds and tear gas to disperse the villagers, wounding children while violently arresting their parents.
I encourage everyone reading this to repost this and Richard Silverstein’s latest at the Facebook pages of the Jewish National Fund and GOD TV. In the coming weeks and months, I will be promoting new efforts to hold the pogromists at the JNF accountable for what they are doing in the Negev.
For now, here is a report from Yaaela Raanan of the Negev Bedouin support group (cross posted from Richard’s blog)
It seemed that there were “red lines” even for the police brutality against the Bedouins of the Israeli Negev – while destroying homes that had no possibility for acquiring building permits, arresting people on their village lands in order to make room for JNF trees, beating activists who dared request to see the official papers allowing the brutality – all seemed to be “ok”. but until today – even for the police – the cemetery and the people waiting in the cemetery for the police to leave – were off limits. no more.
After destroying the tents of the village – yet again, the JNF (yes!) bulldozer approached the gate of the cemetery attempting to run it down and destroy it. this was too much for the village people, who are sitting in their community’s cemetery, watching as their village is once more destroyed. As the bulldozer approached the gate, the people went to stop it with their bare hands. Several are injured, including children. They are being evacuated at this moment by ambulances.
The bulldozer has backed away from the gate, and the police and bulldozers are now a few yards away from the cemetery, re-thinking their next move.
Do all you can to stop this horrible escalation of the treatment of the Arab citizens of Israel!!!
To understand how cozy GOD TV’s relationship with the government of Israel is, watch this video.
Mike Huckabee was in Jerusalem today on an important junket related to his likely presidential campaign. He used his speech before the Knesset to denounce the Egyptian uprising as a threat to all humankind, warning that “the situation could threaten the world and all those who seek peace and security. The real threat to Israelis is not the bomb but the people behind it, not weapons but the madmen behind them.”
Bibi has essentially muzzled his cabinet ministers, warning them not to make any public statements about the uprising. It is not easy for so-called “only democracy in the Middle East” to say that it wants to keep it that way. So Huckabee was left with a golden opportunity to channel the sentiments of the Israeli government and mainstream Israeli society in an address carried to the Israel public as a top story on radio and TV news (I listened to the speech on Israeli national radio today while riding a minibus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem).
Huckabee’s speech earned praise from Yisrael Beiteinu’s Yulia Shamalov-Berkowitz, who said Huckabee spoke “very Zionistically.” MK Tzipi Hotovely from the governing Likud party echoed Huckabee, declaring that ”the conflict in this region is not a matter of territory, but simply Islam against Judaism, not 1967 borders but the very formation of the state in 1948.”
The language of religious warfare is not exclusive to the Zionist right. MK Binyamin Ben Eliezer, a leader of the shrinking and essentially moribund Labor Party, warned that the Egyptian uprising signals the beginning of renewed conflict. “There will be a new order in the Middle East,” he said recently, noting that he has been in discussions with Mubarak. “It will become more extreme, militant and radical towards Israel from an Islamic point of view. The conclusion that we will draw is that we did not take advantage of the potential for agreements when the Middle East was more moderate.”
Given the statements of Bibi-Barak-Lieberman proxies and supporters like Huckabee, it is not hard to predict Israel’s behavior after Mubarak finally capitulates. The Israeli military-intelligence apparatus and its public relations ancillary are almost certainly crafting a tentative plan to destabilize their neighbor, or simply touching up a dusty, well-worn blueprint. They know that if Zionism is to persevere in the heart of the Middle East, and to continue to besiege and colonize Arabs — Huckabee also called for more settlement building in the West Bank — the political aspirations of Egypt’s people must be crushed, again and again.
Huckabee’s visit marks the opening of what would be the first element of any plan to destabilize Egypt: a rhetorical campaign carried out by sympathetic media and political figures (the American right-wing, heavily influenced by Christian Zionist theology, is a natural ally) to delegitimize whatever comes after Mubarak as a radical Islamist regime that not only threatens Israel, but the Western world as well.
Update/correction: A miscommunication with Jill Kestler-D’Amours, who interviewed Samia Al-Touri in Arabic with me present, resulted in my misquoting Al-Touri. Because I thought Kestler-D’Amours was summarizing Al-Touri’s comments, I attributed them to him. In fact, she was speaking for herself in reference to his comments. So I have corrected the post and updated with Al-Touri’s remarks.
I spent a part of this afternoon in the green room of a Russian news bureau in Jerusalem. While waiting for my friend Joseph Dana to appear on Russia TV to discuss the Palestine Papers, I looked out the window at a panoramic view of Jerusalem. In the foreground was the Mamilla cemetery, once the home to the graves of prominent Palestinian families like the Khalidis, and now the desecrated future site of the Simon Wiesenthal Foudation’s ironically named “Center for Human Dignity,” which was approved by the Jerusalem municipality.
Now Joseph was on. “What the papers provide us with is the ultimate confirmation that Israel is not a viable partner for peace and does not support an equitable two state solution,” he said. “Israel is content with the status quo, which means a permanent state of war and the deadly reality of occupation it established in 1967.”
On our way out, I noticed that the studio of GOD TV, the evangelical End Times network, were right next door. GOD TV is the key funder of the Jewish National Fund’s plan to plant a million trees directly over the site of the Bedouin village Al-Arakib, a scheme that has resulted in ten demolitions of the village and untold damage to its residents. I knocked on the door of GOD TV’s studio and a tall, lanky producer appeared. He told me he was from the Netherlands and introduced himself as Klaas. I asked if his network was funding the JNF’s plan to plant a forest that would permanently displace Al-Arakib, forcing its residents’ transfer to the Indian reservation style development town of Rahat.
He told me that while they are planting a million trees to beautify the land for the Second Coming of Christ, he knew nothing about Al-Arakib. “The JNF hasn’t told us anything about that and we certainly wouldn’t be a part of anything that would do what you described,” he said. Then he demanded I support my claims with evidence.
Klaas allowed me to go online on one of GOD TV’s computers to show him my video of the demolition of Al-Arakib. Unfortunately, Google and YouTube were blocked by a search filter on all of the network’s computers. Either a wave of porn watching and chronic masturbation has swept through GOD TV a la AIPAC in the Steve Rosen era, or they are restricted from accessing outside information like North Koreans. Or both. I left Klaas with an article by Neve Gordon about his network’s collaboration with the JNF.
As I was leaving, Klaas suddenly grew argumentative. “An Israeli friend who lives in the Negev told me the Bedouins have to be removed because they steal everything,” he said. “That’s their way of life — theft.”
I asked if he ever spoken to a Bedouin or gone to the Negev to see the situation for himself. He said he hadn’t. I then asked if he had ever met a Palestinian Christian. While our conversation took place, GOD TV was broadcasting a “report” on the Hebron massacre of 1929 which featured black and white footage of Arab men jumping around with swords in a frenzied manner interspersed with interviews with settlers.
“I noticed in Holland a lot of people said they were Christian but they didn’t even go to church, so I realized that they were not really Christians. I mean, what kind of Christians are these Palestinians?” Klaas said. He seemed to be suggesting that anyone who was not born-again was not an authentic Christian.
I told him that most of the Palestinian Christians are Orthodox, and that some are direct descendants of the Apostles. I explained that the Christians of Bethlehem have been physically assaulted by Israeli troops for attempting to celebrate Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, that Christians in Gaza are blocked by Israel from celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem, and that the mayor of Nazareth Illit banned the public display of Christmas trees this year because he considered them “provocative.” “You can freely walk where Jesus walked because you’re an international,” I told Klaas, “but what if you were a Palestinian?”
He seemed disturbed by what I had just told him. “They really banned Christmas trees in Nazareth?” he asked. “Yeah, it was widely reported,” I replied. He paused, then came back at me: “Well, I’m not going to just stand here and believe what you say. If you approach the situation in one way, then you can fit everything into your point of view.”
I responded that that was exactly what GOD TV was doing with its broadcasts. He said, “Yeah, well you have to remember that we are a pro-Zionist network.” Then he added, “I’m happy to talk to you, but you’re not going to convince me.”
A Day In Kangaroo Court
Yesterday, I took a bus to Beersheva with a group of Israeli activists and the Bedouin residents of Al-Arakib and Rahat. The city’s courthouse was our destination. Inside, lawyers for Al-Arakib were contesting the JNF’s plan to plant a forest on their land. Deeds of ownership were presented proving the rights of the residents to remain in Al-Arakib. “This is our land and our grandfather’s land,” a 24-year-old resident of Rahat named Mohammed Abu Hamid, told me. “They have already taken so much from us. If they take everything, where else can we be?”
Gadi Algazi, a professor and activist who was arrested during the 10th demolition of the village, an episode in which Israeli police fired rubber bullets, told me that the plaintiffs are expected to lose. “We have a supposedly independent judge but the court system is completely stacked against the Bedouins,” Algazi said. “They almost always lose these cases. But this is one of the last chances to stop the JNF so they invested heavily in the case.”
Were it not for the wave of sustained activism against the JNF’s plans, the people of Al Arakib would have already been swept away like dust — like so many of the Bedouin tribes who were expelled to Gaza in ’48 and after. The court cases and demonstrations have at least postponed their cruel fate. But the demolitions and attendant violence have taken their toll.
Samia Al-Touri, a resident of Al-Arakib who has served as a key link to international and Jewish Israeli activists, said that six young members of the village were injured by rubber bullets during the last demolition. Jill Kestler-D’Amours, an activist and reporter who has spent extensive time in Al-Arakib, told me that many children from the village are suffering from bedwetting, nightmares and general trauma. Some fear returning to Al-Arakib so much they have already been resettled in Rahat — a quiet transfer.
Today I learned that Al-Arakib has lost its case in the Beersheva court. The JNF and GOD TV’s plans will move ahead. In a few minutes, Al Jazeera will air a special report on Palestine Papers detailing Israeli proposals to transfer large numbers of Palestinian Israelis into the West Bank, showing how the state uses its own non-Jewish citizens as bargaining chips. To anyone who has visited an unrecognized village like Al-Arakib, this revelation would not come as a surprise.
Below is a translated portion of Al-Touri’s interview conducted by Kestler-D’Amours and witnessed by me:
A week ago in the early morning, Israelis came from the Jewish National Fund. They didn’t give us time to wake our children up or take things out of the house. They demolished the houses and destroyed the water inside the house. This was the 10th demolition in al-Araqib and after this they began to plow everything. What they demolished they plowed. Big cars, about 40 cars or more. Then they wanted to plant trees in the land, and when the tractors came in they were confronted by the people of al-Araqib who tried to stop them.
They shot rubber bullets at us, and injured the youth and we had six injured the first days, many were prevented to go to hospitals. Also about five were arrested. After that, they came again to plant trees and then the lawyer stopped them from doing this by a court order.
That day there was demolitions, 7 people were injured, women were shot at. A child of 13-years-old was injured. People were arrested. 5 were arrested who were from al-Araqib, and 4 Israeli Jews were arrested from those in solidarity with us and who protect our cause. This is what happened in the past few days.
This is a decisive court [hearing], and we want to tell them to leave. We lost trust in these courts and this is why many of us are here today. This is a decisive court session and we want them to return our rights. We have all the necessary documents that prove that this land is ours and that we inherited it from our ancestors. For this, we came to tell this state stop demolitions, stop destroying, stop damaging our land in al-Araqib. We don’t want you to plant trees in our land, we want to build it again for us and our children, like any other citizens of the country.
Crossposted with TomDispatch.com.
Nine years after 9/11, hysteria about Muslims in American life has gripped the country. With it has gone an outburst of arson attacks on mosques, campaigns to stop their construction, and the branding of the Muslim-American community, overwhelmingly moderate, as a hotbed of potential terrorist recruits. The frenzy has raged from rural Tennessee to New York City, while in Oklahoma, voters even overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure banning the implementation of Sharia law in American courts (not that such a prospect existed). This campaign of Islamophobia wounded President Obama politically, as one out of five Americans have bought into a sustained chorus of false rumors about his secret Muslim faith. And it may have tainted views of Muslims in general; an August 2010 Pew Research Center poll revealed that, among Americans, the favorability rating of Muslims had dropped by 11 points since 2005.
Erupting so many years after the September 11th trauma, this spasm of anti-Muslim bigotry might seem oddly timed and unexpectedly spontaneous. But think again: it’s the fruit of an organized, long-term campaign by a tight confederation of right-wing activists and operatives who first focused on Islamophobia soon after the September 11th attacks, but only attained critical mass during the Obama era. It was then that embittered conservative forces, voted out of power in 2008, sought with remarkable success to leverage cultural resentment into political and partisan gain.
This network is obsessively fixated on the supposed spread of Muslim influence in America. Its apparatus spans continents, extending from Tea Party activists here to the European far right. It brings together in common cause right-wing ultra-Zionists, Christian evangelicals, and racist British soccer hooligans. It reflects an aggressively pro-Israel sensibility, with its key figures venerating the Jewish state as a Middle Eastern Fort Apache on the front lines of the Global War on Terror and urging the U.S. and various European powers to emulate its heavy-handed methods.
Little of recent American Islamophobia (with a strong emphasis on the “phobia”) is sheer happenstance. Years before Tea Party shock troops massed for angry protests outside the proposed site of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, representatives of the Israel lobby and the Jewish-American establishment launched a campaign against pro-Palestinian campus activism that would prove a seedbed for everything to come. That campaign quickly — and perhaps predictably — morphed into a series of crusades against mosques and Islamic schools which, in turn, attracted an assortment of shady but exceptionally energetic militants into the network’s ranks.
Besides providing the initial energy for the Islamophobic crusade, conservative elements from within the pro-Israel lobby bankrolled the network’s apparatus, enabling it to influence the national debate. One philanthropist in particular has provided the beneficence to propel the campaign ahead. He is a little-known Los Angeles-area software security entrepreneur named Aubrey Chernick, who operates out of a security consulting firm blandly named the National Center for Crisis and Continuity Coordination. A former trustee of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which has served as a think tank for the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a frontline lobbying group for Israel, Chernick is said to be worth $750 million.
Chernick’s fortune is puny compared to that of the billionaire Koch Brothers, extraction industry titans who fund Tea Party-related groups like Americans for Prosperity, and it is dwarfed by the financial empire of Haim Saban, the Israeli-American media baron who is one of the largest private donors to the Democratic party and recently matched $9 million raised for the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces in a single night. However, by injecting his money into a small but influential constellation of groups and individuals with a narrow agenda, Chernick has had a considerable impact.
Through the Fairbrook Foundation, a private entity he and his wife Joyce control, Chernick has provided funding to groups ranging from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and CAMERA, a right-wing, pro-Israel, media-watchdog outfit, to violent Israeli settlers living on Palestinian lands and figures like the pseudo-academic author Robert Spencer, who is largely responsible for popularizing conspiracy theories about the coming conquest of the West by Muslim fanatics seeking to establish a worldwide caliphate. Together, these groups spread hysteria about Muslims into Middle American communities where immigrants from the Middle East have recently settled, and they watched with glee as likely Republican presidential frontrunners from Mike Huckabee to Sarah Palin promoted their cause and parroted their tropes. Perhaps the only thing more surprising than the increasingly widespread appeal of Islamophobia is that, just a few years ago, the phenomenon was confined to a few college campuses and an inner city neighborhood, and that it seemed like a fleeting fad that would soon pass from the American political landscape.
The following piece was originally published at Electronic Intifada:
“When I look out my window today and see a tree standing there, that tree gives me a greater sense of beauty and personal delight than all the vast forests I have seen in Switzerland or Scandinavia. Because every tree here was planted by us.”
– David Ben Gurion, Memoirs
“Why are there so many Arabs here? Why didn’t you chase them away?”
– David Ben Gurion during a visit to Nazareth, July 1948
Four days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to place thousands of migrant workers from Africa and Southeast Asia in a prison camp deep in the Negev Desert because, as he claimed, they pose a “threat to the character of [the] country,” a burning tree trunk fell into a bus full of Israeli Prison Service cadets, killing forty passengers. The tree was among hundreds of thousands turned to ash by the forest fire pouring across northern Israel, and which now threatens to engulf outskirts of Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city. Over the last four days, more than 12,300 acres have burned in the Mount Carmel area, a devastating swath of destruction in a country the size of New Jersey. While the cause of the fire has not been established, it has laid bare the myths of Israel’s foundation.
Israelis are treating the fire as one of their greatest tragedies in recent years. A friend who grew up in the Haifa area told me over the weekend that he was devastated by the images of destruction he saw on TV. His friend’s brother was among those who perished in the bus accident. Though he is a dedicated Zionist who supported Netanyahu’s election bid in 2008, like so many Israelis, he was furious at the response — or lack of one — by the government. “Our leaders are complete idiots, but you already know that,” he told me. “They invested so much to prepare for all kinds of crazy war scenarios but didn’t do anything to protect civilians from the basic things you are supposed to take for granted.”
On 3 December, Netanyahu informed the country, “We do not have what it takes to put out the fire, but help is on the way.” To beat back the blaze, Bibi has had to beg for assistance from his counterpart in Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and Israel’s American and British patrons. Israel is a wealthy country which boasts to the world about its innovative spirit — its US-based lobbyists market it as a “Start-Up Nation” — but its performance during the forest fire revealed the sad truth: its government has prioritized offensive military capacity and occupation maintenance so extensively that it has completely neglected the country’s infrastructure, emergency preparedness and most of all, the general welfare of its citizens.
Beyond the embarrassing spectacle of Turkish supply planes landing in Tel Aviv just six months after Israeli commandoes massacred Turkish aid volunteers on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, or the confessions of impotence by the hard-men Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, the fire exposed a terrible history that had been concealed by layers of official mythology and piles of fallen pine needles.
“There are no facts”
Among the towns that have been evacuated is Ein Hod, a bohemian artists’ colony nestled in the hills to the north and east of Haifa. This is not the first time Ein Hod was evacuated, however. The first time was in 1948, when the town’s original Palestinian inhabitants were driven from their homes by a manmade disaster known as the Nakba.
Fresh off a campaign of nationwide intimidation against the New Israel Fund, countless damaging personal attacks against leftists and professors condemned as insufficiently Zionist, and an endorsement from Israeli Education Minister Gideon Saar, the self-proclaimed “moderate” student group Im Tirtzu gathered for a night of celebration. The venue was “Theodore,” a swanky bar in the wealthy Tel Aviv suburb of Herzilya named for the man who Im Tirtzu claims as the inspiration for its “Second Zionist Revolution:” Theodore Herzl. The evening’s agenda: to fire up the troops for the upcoming boycott targeting Ben Gurion University’s supposedly anti-Zionist faculty.
At the door of the bar stood a glowering young man munching on a slice of pizza. He was Erez Tadmor, Im Tirtzu’s director of media relations. Tadmor approached us and asked who we were. We described ourselves as clueless Jewish American tourists who were simply curious about his student group. “We just heard there was some kind of party here,” we said in English.
Without bothering to introduce himself, Tadmor discussed his man-size persecution complex. “At Hebrew University I did so much damage to the professors I can’t even walk around freely on campus anymore,” he remarked. “Most of the academics here are anti-Israel and anti-Zionist. They have the audacity to say that Israel is an apartheid state, that we’re colonizers, that we kill kids. And so we are simply trying to defend our Zionist values against what they’re doing.”
Despite the subversive culture on campus, Tadmor was confident he would crush the evil-doers: “The elites are on the losing side. They only represent like 3 percent of the population who are radical leftist. But we have 70 to 80 percent of the people on our side.”
Who is Tadmor? The scion of the only secular family in the fanatical Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, Tadmor now lives in the settlement of Efrat with his wife and two children. He made his name directing the student cell that fought the evacuation of the settlement Gush Katif, then turned his attention to assailing cultural critics of Israeli maximalism. “The [Oscar-nominated Israeli film] Waltz With Bashir is a vehicle to destroy Zionism,” Tadmor once declared. “The director should have made a film about Herzl in the place of this.”
In an interview with Maariv, a leading Israeli newspaper, Tadmor admitted to stealing small-scale explosives and ammunition magazines from the army during his service. Despite insisting that he needed the weapons for “personal security,” Tadmor was stripped of his rank and slapped with a 45-day prison sentence for “breaking the trust” of the army.
During Operation Cast Lead, Tadmor orchestrated a series of violent confrontations between Im Tirtzu activists and Palestinian Israeli students at Hebrew University. An Im Tirtzu banner warned the Arab students, “We will burn your villages and see you during our reserve duty.” Tadmor was implicated for physically attacking female students who called him a “Nazi.” The riots sparked by Tadmor and Im Tirtzu were only quelled when university administrators demanded the deployment of Border Police and special Yassam forces on campus.
After chatting with Tadmor, two Im Tirtzu activists approached us to discuss campus politics in the United States. One of them, a chubby, slouching young man with a crew cut, asked, “Have you ever read ‘The Professors’ by David Horowitz? Horowitz was a former leftist so he knows the truth about the left in your country.” With his failed “Academic Bill of Rights” campaign, which would have allowed conservative students to sue their professors, and his annual “Islamofascism Awareness Week,” the ex-Stalinist Horowitz seemed like a natural role model for Im Tirtzu’s McCarthyite missions.
The other activist, Tamir Kafri, a bespectacled and chipper student with a long ponytail and newly budding facial hair, mentioned another American inspiration: “You should read the book, ‘Liberal Fascism,’” Tamir said, referring to neocon writer Jonah Goldberg’s screed linking American liberalism to Hitlerian fascists. “I’m not saying all liberals are fascists, but on campus here in Israel, the liberal professors really are.”
Tamir led us inside and perched beside us at the bar. As dozens of his comrades filed in, he ordered a pony size Goldstar and opened up about the struggle he was waging as coordinator of Im Tirtzu at Ben Gurion University.
Tamir dismissed the hundreds of thousands of donations pumped into Im Tirtzu’s coffers each year by the apocalyptic Christian Zionist preacher Pastor John Hagee, who has said the anti-Christ would be “half-Jewish, as Hitler was.” “Who cares about who takes the money?” Tamir said. “People should focus on the donors and not on us. Like this neo-Nazi American pastor [John Hagee]. He’s the idiot! He’s giving all his money to a bunch of ZIonist Jews in Israel!”
As the beer flowed, Tamir entertained us with his opinions on everything from Zionism to domestic violence.
Tamir on campus politics: “[The Israeli communist party] Hadash is a bunch of pro-Palestinian radicals. But we’ve worked with Meretz. We even have some members of Meretz in our movement. They are the sensible left. They’re Zionists, not radicals.”
On the left: “Radical leftists are like gunpowder. By itself it’s harmless but next to a gun it becomes violently dangerous.”
On the Palestinians: “Actually there is no such thing as a Palestinian. Really. You know, the idea of the Palestinians was invented in the 1970′s?”
On the Eden Abergil photos: “The pictures were just funny. Face it.”
On Zionism: “Zionism is about securing a Jewish state where human rights are unconditional for everyone, including Arabs, but civil rights are conditional, based on someone’s loyalty to the recognition of Israel as a Jewish, Zionist state… I even know a couple Muslim Zionists. Like my friend from the army, he was Druze and he went to jail because he beat his cousin so badly.” Why did he beat his cousin? “Because he said he shouldn’t be fighting for Israel.”
On feminism: “I’m a true feminist. If a woman hits me I’ll hit her back just as hard. That’s feminism!”
While Tamir continued riffing beneath a thumping soundtrack of 70′s disco hits, we looked around the room and noticed an almost total absence of women. Indeed, the bartender seemed to be the only member of the female gender interacting with the dozens of Im Tirtzu activists hunched over the bar. “Were any women invited your party?” we asked our new friend. “Because this is starting to look like the mother of all sausage-fests.”
Tamir looked around nervously, then exclaimed, “People show up late in Israel because we have no last call.”
20 minutes later, a woman appeared. But she was just the wife of Tamir’s pal, a short, bookish-looking character, who greeted him with a hearty bear hug. “This guy acted with me in the Rocky Horror Picture Show,” Tamir said about his friend, referring to the 70′s era British drag-show that has become popular across Israel.
“I actually had to borrow a corset from my wife for the show!” the friend told us with a giggle.
Besides working as a genetic engineer at the Weissman Institute, Tamir’s friend was a front-line soldier in the Im Tirtzu struggle. He said he became enraged when he saw an art exhibition in the city of Holon that depicted Israeli army helicopters bombing civilians and soldiers humiliating Palestinians at checkpoints. He immediately called Im Tirtzu founder Ronen Shoval to complain. The next day, he was a full-fledged activist.
“If the army did this sort of thing, it would be okay, because the art would have been factual,” the friend remarked. “But the army doesn’t do that! I was in the infantry so I know.”
Despite his indignation, the friend was intent on talking about the Rocky Horror Picture Show production he and Tamir starred in. “You know what the play really was?” he said to Tamir. “It was a hook-up scene for geeks!” They burst into mischievous laughter, as though they were watching scrambled porn while their mother did laundry in the basement.
The Im Tirtzu theme song: “A weakling weighing 98 pounds, got sand in his face when kicked to the ground…”
Tamir related one of his favorite Rocky Horror-related conquests. “There was a radical leftist girl who acted with us in the play,” he recalled.
“She was so radical she thought Noam Chomsky was a fascist!” the friend interjected.
“Yeah, so anyway, I fucked her one night,” Tamir boasted. “And while I was fucking her, I said, ‘Oh you’re so against Israel, and the occupation is so evil. Okay!’ Then, as soon as I came, I pulled out and said, ‘Sorry, no orgasm for you!”
At this moment, as we glanced around the room full of twenty-something guys huddled around on couches, fiddling with their cellphones and exchanging jocular back-slaps, we gained a new understanding of Im Tirtzu’s essential function. The movement was not only a street-level proxy for rightist forces in the government. It also served as a social sanctuary for aimless young men unable to locate productive outlets for their pent-up post-army aggressions. Long sessions of Playstation and back issues of Maxim were simply not enough for the rejects of Israel’s warrior class. They needed a glorious battle — even if the targets were defenseless and marginalized. And so they have identified enemies in every faculty lounge and editorial page, hoping to quell their sense of isolation by defining themselves as heroic Zionists waging jihad against the “elitist” fringe. Their sensitivity to “anti-Zionist bias” is in fact a projection of their own psychological insecurity.
Im Tirtzu has been portrayed by critics as a fearsome gang of dangerous thugs, but in the more casual setting of the Theodore bar, we saw the movement for what it really was: a well-financed dork squad.
After Ronen Shoval gave a speech announcing the coming onslaught against Ben Gurion University — “My grandmother was so proud to see us on the front page of Ha’aretz!” he announced — we noticed two young women downing shots of liquor across the bar. We went over to meet them.
“Are you guys with Im Tirtzu?” we asked.
“You mean the disgusting fascists?” one of them snapped.
“We hate them!” the other one said.
After a long interview process that included the examination of our ID cards, they established that we were not members of the “fascist” crowd. Only then did they invite us to drink with them.
The women eventually apologized for vetting us, explaining that an Im Tirtzu member seated beside them at the bar had attempted to chat them up earlier in the evening.
One of the women grabbed the Im Tirtzu activist’s arm and shouted at him, “Are you ready to stop being a narrow-minded racist? Then you can talk to us.”