Tag Archives: palestine

J14 and the Calamity of Hope: a response to critics

On August 26, Joseph Dana and I published an article, “Israel’s Exclusive Revolution,” bringing extensive reporting together with an analysis of Israel’s separation principle to describe the July 14 protest movement’s (J14) cognitive dissonance regarding the occupation. So far, no one — not one single person I know of — has responded to our article about the ongoing July 14 protests with facts of their own or anything resembling a reality-based analysis. Instead, our critics have replied with a mixture of personal attacks and emotion-laden, dreamy visions of the way things could be.

Noam Sheizaf wrote in a piece criticizing our article, “The important issue is not where the movement starts but where it leads, and in my view, this is still an open question… So there could, potentially, be mass change. This is the reason for the relative hope I see in this protest.” As with Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, which has left most of his formerly love-struck liberal supporters feeling angry and abandoned, hope was all you needed.

It is true that there could be mass change (I presume Noam was referring to a mass Israeli movement to end the occupation of Palestine and official discrimination against Palestinian citizens and non-Jewish residents of Israel), but Dana and I did not find very much evidence that it was on the way. So we reported what we learned based on our coverage of events and interviews with key players in the J14 movement, including Palestinians. We aimed to portray J14 — and by extension, Israeli society —  as it was and not as it could be.

Sheizaf, who is not only a friend but one of the better  journalists covering Israeli politics, responded to me and Dana’s article by accusing us of “cherry-picking.” He did not produce any reporting or factual analysis to set us straight, however. Most disappointingly, Sheizaf felt compelled to distort our conclusions, claiming that we said “J14 was some sort of right-wing movement.” I challenge Sheizaf to produce any evidence that we wrote or even suggested that. If he can not, he should immediately retract his false claim.

On August 31, the normally insightful Gabriel Ash published a piece that read like a mimeograph of the criticisms that had already been leveled against Dana and I. After completely concurring with the substance of our analysis, writing, “Everything [Blumenthal and Dana] say about the limitations of the protest movement, I agree [with],” Ash lambasted us for not focusing on the supposed “process” of “changing Israeli consciousness.” He pointed to nothing factual to support his claim that such a process was underway and did not attempt to explain what the process was. He did no reporting and offered very little reality-based analysis. In the end, the thrust of his criticism was that we did too much reporting, and not enough dreaming about the way things could be.

When Ash attacked our reporting, he did not do so by engaging with the substance of what our sources told us, but by complaining that we talked to the wrong sources. Never mind that we interviewed some of J14′s original organizers, or that the mainstream of the protest is based on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard. And never mind what anyone actually told us. According to Ash, the people we interviewed were not valid sources because some of them were middle class Ashkenazim. Like other critics, Ash didn’t like what we found, so he attacked us for not looking somewhere else. Then, after proclaiming his distaste for “pop psychology,” Ash accused us without any factual basis of seeking to interview only “people who are like [ourselves].” This was a comical statement considering that we featured long quotes by Palestinian citizens of Israel and based our overarching analysis on countless conversations we had with Palestinians. So was Ash saying that Dana and I are Ashkenazi Palestinians? Or was he just refusing to acknowledge the substance of what our Palestinian sources told us about J14?

For those living in a region consumed with conflict and war, the tendency to cling to irrational hopes and evanescent solutions is completely understandable. But it is also dangerous, especially when utopian aspirations are projected onto a mass movement with deliberately vague politics and clear limitations. Not all social justice movements lead the way to progressive change. In fact, some ultimately produce the reverse effect. Saul Alinsky’s Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, which transformed into a base of support for the segregationist George Wallace’s 1968 presidential campaign, is but one example of a dramatic social movement that turned reactionary. And after just a month and half of demonstrations, some of J14′s liberal-left activists have revealed an ugly, parochial mentality that has brought the movement’s latent ethno-nationalism closer to the surface.

Just weeks after the Israeli government detained scores of international Palestine solidarity activists at Ben Gurion International Airport for declaring their intention to volunteer in the occupied West Bank, the left-wing Israeli writer Yossi Gurvitz authored an uncharacteristically incoherent screed in which he declared that the “the ad hoc alliance” with “international left-wing activists…should end.” Addressing his rant to me, Dana and Ali Abunimah (though he didn’t mention us, we were the only J14 critics he linked to), Gurvitz claimed that “we’re not dealing with leftist [sic], but Palestinian right-winger. [sic]” Gurvitz’s broadside was an extension of his outbursts on Twitter, where he has attacked Abunimah, a Palestinian whose family was expelled from Lifta in 1948, as a “foreigner inciting natives,” bizarrely comparing him to Avigdor Lieberman. When I informed Gurvitz that Abunimah’s family was ethnically cleansed and that he is not allowed to return to their home, Gurvitz gloated, “If you ask Palestinians to reject moderate positions, you should be ready to pay the consequences.” Then, stepping into the role of the New Jew who had demonstrated his authenticity by “redeeming” the land, Gurvitz tweeted at me that my criticisms were not valid because I was a “tourist.” He thus appropriated the condescending talking point that has become a hallmark of Israeli hasbara: “You have to understand, it’s very, very complicated.”

While several other left-wing Israeli activists revealed ignorant, borderline racist views in Twitter exchanges with diaspora Palestinians, Gurvitz’s outbursts were in a class of their own. Gurvitz has covered the conflict for years, garnering a sizable following of readers who enjoyed his trenchant critiques of Israeli politics and military affairs. He seemed enlightened, informed about the history of the conflict and fully aware of the oppression Israel meted out against Palestinians on a daily basis. But once the “process” of J14 began, another side of Gurvitz emerged. As soon as Abunimah and others reminded Gurvitz that a movement that officially ignored Palestinians living under occupation or in refugee camps could not expect their solidarity, Gurvitz lashed out at them with visceral, almost inexplicable loathing. How long had Gurvitz harbored so much resentment for Palestinians? No one besides him really knows. But what is clear — and utterly tragic — is that his feelings were always there, lurking just beneath the surface. And now the mask is off.

While the “process” J14 initiated may have generated positive results in some areas, it has clearly been painful for Israelis like Gurvitz. Through their interaction with activists from the outside world, Gurvitz and others have been reminded that they are not citizens of a normal society, but players in a system that dominates and oppresses millions of people. They can sense through these exchanges that the discriminatory ideology of the state of Israel is a stain on their identity, and it hurts them. But instead of casting it off and redoubling their efforts against it, they hold on to the ideology and deploy it as a weapon against those “foreign” Palestinians and “tourists” who have denied them the sense of normality they yearn for. They want the occupation to go away for a little while so they can wage their “internal” struggle in the city Gabriel Ash once labeled “Colonial Tel Aviv.” But when Rothschild Boulevard empties out and the tents disappear, it will still be there. And then, they are going to have a whole lot of explaining to do.

The Exclusive Revolution: Israeli Social Justice and the Separation Principle

The following piece was co-authored by Joseph Dana. A shorter version recently appeared at Alternet.

The men and women who set out to build a Jewish state in historic Palestine made little secret of their settler-colonial designs. Zionism’s intellectual author, Theodor Herzl, described the country he envisioned as “part of a wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism.” “All the means we need, we ourselves must create them, like Robinson Crusoe on his island,” Herzl told an interviewer in 1898. The Labor Zionist movement’s chief ideologue, Berl Katznelson, was more blunt than Herzl, declaring in 1928, “The Zionist enterprise is an enterprise of conquest.” More recently, and perhaps most crudely, former Prime Minister and current Defense Minister Ehud Barak described the goal of Zionism as maintaining “a villa in the jungle.”

Those who dedicated themselves to the formation of the Jewish State may have formulated their national identity through an idealized vision of European enlightenedness, but they also recognized that their lofty aims would not be realized without brute force. As Katznelson said, “It is not by chance that I speak of settlement in military terms.” Thus the Zionist socialists gradually embraced the ideas of radical right-wing ideologue Vladimir Jabotinsky, who outlined a practical strategy in his 1922 essay, “The Iron Wall,” for fulfilling their utopian ambitions. “Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population,” Jabotinsky wrote. “This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population — an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs.” According to Jabotinsky, residents of the Zionist yishuv (community) could not hope to enjoy a European standard of life in the heart of the Arab world without physically separating themselves from the natives. This would require tireless planning, immense sacrifice and no shortage of bloodshed. And all who comprised the Zionist movement, whether left, right, or center, would carry the plan towards fulfillment. As Jabotinsky wrote, “All of us, without exception, are constantly demanding that this power strictly fulfill its obligations. In this sense, there are no meaningful differences between our ‘militarists’ and our ‘vegetarians.’”

One of the greatest misperceptions of Israeli politics is that the right-wing politicians who claim Jabotinsky’s writings as their lodestar perpetuate the most egregious violence against the Palestinians. While brimming with anti-Arab resentment, the Israeli right’s real legacy consists mostly of producing durable strategies and demagogic rhetoric. The Labor Zionists who dominated Israel’s political scene for decades bear the real responsibility for turning the right’s ideas into actionable policies. The dynamic is best illuminated by the way in which successive Labor Party governments implemented the precepts outlined in Jabotinsky’s “Iron Wall” under the cover of negotiations with the Palestinians. As early as 1988, the Laborites Yitzhak Rabin and Haim Ramon were advocating for the construction of a concrete wall to separate the Palestinians from “Israel proper.” When Rabin declared his intention to negotiate a two-state solution with the PLO, his supporters adopted a slogan that had previously belonged to the right-wing Moledet Party: “Them over there; us over here.” Then, when Rabin placed his signature on the Oslo Accords in 1993, Israel began surrounding the Gaza Strip with electrified fencing while revoking Palestinian work permits by the thousands.

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My Appearance on Lebanon’s Future TV

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:

America’s Breivik Complex: State terror and the Islamophobic right

This article was originally published at Alternet:

Few political terrorists in recent history took as much care to articulate their ideological influences and political views as Anders Behring Breivik did. The right-wing Norwegian Islamophobe who murdered 76 children and adults in Oslo and at a government-run youth camp spent months, if not years, preparing his 1,500 page manifesto.

Besides its length, one of the most remarkable aspects of the manifesto is the extent to which its European author quoted from the writings of figures from the American conservative movement. Though he referred heavily to his fellow Norwegian, the blogger Fjordman, it was Robert Spencer, the American Islamophobic pseudo-academic, who received the most references from Breivik — 55 in all. Then there was Daniel Pipes, the Muslim-bashing American neoconservative who earned 18 citations from the terrorist. Other American anti-Muslim characters appear prominently in the manifesto, including the extremist blogger Pam Geller, who operates an Islamophobic organization in partnership with Spencer.

Breivik may have developed his destructive sensibility in the stark political environment of a European continent riveted by mass immigration from the Muslim world, but his conceptualization of the changes he was witnessing reflect the influence of a cadre of far-right bloggers and activists from across the Atlantic Ocean. He not only mimicked their terminology and emulated their language, he substantially adopted their political worldview. The profound impact of the American right’s Islamophobic subculture on Breivik’s thinking raises a question that has not been adequately explored: Where is the American version of Breivik and why has he not struck yet? Or has he?

Many of the American writers who influenced Breivik spent years churning out calls for the mass murder of Muslims, Palestinians and their left-wing Western supporters. But the sort of terrorism these US-based rightists incited for was not the style the Norwegian killer would eventually adopt. Instead of Breivik’s renegade free-booting, they preferred the “shock and awe” brand of state terror perfected by Western armies against the brown hordes threatening to impose Sharia law on the people in Peoria. This kind of violence provides a righteous satisfaction so powerful it can be experienced from thousands of miles away.

And so most American Islamophobes simply sit back from the comfort of their homes and cheer as American and Israeli troops — and their remote-controlled aerial drones — leave a trail of charred bodies from Waziristan to Gaza City. Only a select group of able-bodied Islamophobes are willing to suit up in a uniform and rush to the front lines of the clash of civilizations. There, they have discovered that they can mow down Muslim non-combatants without much fear of legal consequences, and that when they return, they will be celebrated as the elite Crusader-warriors of the new Islamophobic right — a few particularly violent figures have been rewarded with seats in Congress. Given the variety of culturally acceptable, officially approved outlets for venting violent anti-Muslim resentment, there is little reason for any American to follow in Breivik’s path of infamy.

Before exploring the online subculture that both shaped and mirrored Breivik’s depravity, it is necessary to define state terror, especially the kind refined by its most prolific practitioners. At the dawn of the “war on terror,” the United States and Israel began cultivating a military doctrine called “asymmetrical warfare.” Pioneered by an Israeli philosophy and “practical ethics” professor named Asa Kasher and the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Lt. Gen. Amos Yadlin, and successfully marketed to the Pentagon, the asymmetrical warfare doctrine did away with traditional counterinsurgency tactics which depended on winning the “hearts and minds” of indigenous populations. Under the new rules, the application of disproportionate force against non-combatants who were supposedly intermingled with the “terrorists” was not only  justified but considered necessary. According to Kasher and Yadlin, eliminating the principle of distinction between enemy combatants and civilians was the most efficient means of deterring attacks from non-state actors like Hamas and Hezbollah while guarding the lives of Israeli soldiers.

Asymmetrical warfare has been witnessed in theaters of war across the Muslim world, leaving tens of thousands of civilians dead in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gaza Strip. The strategy was formalized in the Dahiya district of southern Beirut in 2006, when the Israeli military flattened hundreds of civilian structures and homes to supposedly punish Hezbollah for its capturing of two Israeli soldiers.

From the ashes of the Israeli carpet bombing campaign emerged the “Dahiya Doctrine,” a term coined by an Israeli general responsible for directing the war on Lebanon in 2006. “IDF Northern Command Chief Gadi Eisenkot uttered clear words that essentially mean the following,” wrote Israeli journalist Yaron London, who had just interviewed the general. “In the next clash with Hezbollah we won’t bother to hunt for tens of thousands of rocket launchers and we won’t spill our soldiers’ blood in attempts to overtake fortified Hizbullah positions. Rather, we shall destroy Lebanon and won’t be deterred by the protests of the ‘world.’” In a single paragraph, London neatly encapsulated the logic of state terror.

While Israel has sought to insulate itself from the legal ramifications of its attacks on civilian life by deploying elaborate propaganda and intellectual sophistry (witness the country’s frantic campaign to discredit the Goldstone Report), and the United States has casually dismissed allegations of war crimes as any swaggering superpower would (after a US airstrike killed scores of Afghan civilians, former US CENTCOM chief David Petraeus baselessly claimed that Afghan parents had deliberately burned their children alive to increase the death toll), the online Islamophobes who inspired Breivik tacitly accept the reality of Israeli and American state terror. And they like it. Indeed, American Islamophobes derive frightening levels of ecstasy from the violence inflicted by the armed forces against Muslim civilians. The Facebook page of Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer’s hate group, Stop the Islamicization of America (SOIA), is Exhibit A of the phenomenon.

During a visit to SOIA’s Facebook page, which is personally administered by Geller and Spencer, it is possible to read rambling calls for killing “the diaper heads” and for Israel to “rule the whole Middle East.” A cursory glance at the website will also reveal visual propaganda reveling in the prospect of a genocide against Muslims. One image posted on the site depicts American and British troops dropping a nuclear bomb in the midst of thousands of Muslim pilgrims in Mecca. “Who ya gonna call? Shitbusters,” it reads.

A second image portraying a nuclear mushroom cloud declares: “DEALING WITH MUSLIMS — RULES OF ENGAGEMENT; Rule #1: Kill the Enemy. Rule #2: There is no rule #2.” Another posted on SOIA’s Facebook page shows the bullet-riddled, bloodsoaked bodies of Muslim civilians splayed out by a roadside. “ARMY MATH,” the caption reads. “4 Tangos + (3 round burst x 4 M 4′s) = 288 virgins.” However pathological these images might seem to outsiders, in the subculture of Geller and Spencer’s online fascisphere, they are understood as legitimate expressions of nationalistic, “pro-Western” pride. Indeed, none seem to celebrate violence against Muslims by anyone except uniformed representatives of Western armies.

The anti-Muslim fervor of Geller, Spencer and their allies reached a fever pitch during the controversy they manufactured in 2010 over the construction of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in downtown New York City. Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, in North Carolina, a right-wing Republican ex-Marine named Ilario Pantano made opposing the mosque the centerpiece of his campaign for Congress, proclaiming that New York was “forsaking Israel” by allowing the mosque’s construction. During the height of the his campaign, a report relying on documented evidence and confirmed testimonies revealed that while serving in Iraq in 2004, Pantano had executed two unarmed civilians near Fallujah, firing 60 bullets into their bodies with his M16A4 automatic rifle — he even stopped to reload — then decorated their corpses a placard inscribed with the Marine motto: “No better friend, No worse enemy.” The incident did not hinder Pantano’s campaign, however. His Democratic opponent never mentioned it, Pam Geller hailed Pantano as “a war hero,” and he swiftly became a cult hero of the Tea Party.

Pantano lost his bid for Congress, however, another US military veteran closely allied with the Islamophobic right won a surprise victory in Florida: Republican Representative Allen West. While serving in Iraq, West was discharged from the military and fined $5000 after he brutally beat an Iraqi policeman, then fired his pistol behind the immobilized man’s head. As in Pantano’s case, reports of the disturbing incident only helped propel West to victory. In fact, West boasted about the beating in his campaign speeches, citing it as evidence of how hard he would fight for his constituents if elected.

Though Breivik’s hatred for Muslims clearly spurred him to violence, he wound up murdering scores of the non-Muslims. He believed they were enabling an Islamic takeover of Europe, or what he called the creation of “Eurabia,” and that the “traitors” deserved the ultimate punishment. In homing in on liberal elements in Norway, Breivik borrowed from the language of right-wing figures from the United States, labeling his targets as “Cultural Marxists.” Initially introduced by the anti-Semitic right-wing organizer William Lind of the Washington-based Free Congress Foundation, the term “Cultural Marxism” was a catch-all that defined a broad array of leftist types, but especially those who preached “political correctness” towards immigrants, homosexuals, and other oppressed groups including the Palestinians. “Let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists, against all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists,” Breivik wrote in his manifesto. The killer also sought to differentiate between good Jews (supporters of Israel) and bad Jews (advocates for Palestinian rights), claiming that “Jews that support multi-culturalism today are as much of a threat to Israel and Zionism as they are to us.”

Breivik’s characterizations of the left (and of left-wing Jews) echoed those familiar to right-wing bloggers and conservative activists in the US, particularly on the issue of Israel-Palestine. The only difference seems to have been that Breivik was willing to personally kill sympathizers with Palestinian rights, while American Islamophobes have prefered to sit back and cheer for the Israeli military to do the job instead. The tendency of the American right was on shocking display this June when the Free Gaza Flotilla attempted to break the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip (during the previous flotilla in 2010, nine activists were killed by what a United Nations report described as execution style shootings by Israeli commandoes). As the debate about the flotilla escalated on Twitter, Joshua Trevino, a US army veteran and who worked as a speechwriter in the administration of George W. Bush, chimed in. “Dear IDF,” Trevino tweeted. “If you end up shooting any Americans on the new Gaza flotilla — well, most Americans are cool with that. Including me.” While Trevino hectored flotilla participants, Kurt Schlicter, a former American army officer and right-wing blogger for Andrew Breitbart’s Big Peace site, joined the calls for bloodshed. ”Sink the flotilla,” Schlicter wrote on Twitter. “Enough screwing around with these psychos.”

Neither Schlicter or Trevino saw any reason to apologize for inciting the murder of fellow Americans, nor did Trevino appear to face any consequences at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, where he serves as Vice President. Instead, Trevino earned a rousing defense from prominent conservative personalities like Erick Erickson, a paid CNN contributor who lauded “the correctness of Josh’s opinion” that Israel should kill American leftists. Indeed, no one from inside the American right’s online media hothouse condemned Trevino, Schlicter or Erickson, or even brooked a slight disagreement. Meanwhile, the incitement against Palestine solidarity activists has continued, with pro-Israel operatives Roz Rothstein and Roberta Seid writing this July in the Jerusalem Post that “Flotilla Folk are not like other people.”

When the smoke cleared from Breivik’s terrorist rampage across Norway, American Islamophobes went into  intellectual contortions, condemning his acts while carefully avoiding any criticism of his views. While making sure to call Breivik “evil,” the ultra-nationalist commentator and former Republican presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan insisted that “Breivik may be right” about the supposed clash of civilizations between the Muslim East and the Christian West. Pipes, for his part, accused Breivik of a “purposeful” campaign to discredit him by citing him so frequently in his manifesto, while a panicked Geller claimed that Breivik “is a murderer, a mass murderer. Period. He’s not anything else.”

The comically revealing reactions by American Islamophobes to Brevik’s killing spree demonstrate the politically catastrophic situation they have gotten themselves into. All of a sudden, their movement was under intense scrutiny from a previously derelict mainstream media. And they were likely to be monitored to an unprecedented degree by federal law enforcement. These same figures who influenced Breivik had been printing open calls for terrorist violence against Muslims and leftists for years — while a few went a step further on the battlefield. Before Breivik killed 76 innocent people, they had generally gotten away with it.

Why were America’s Islamophobes able to avoid accountability for so long? The answer is not that their yearnings for righteous political violence had not been fulfilled until Breivik emerged. The truth is far more uncomfortable than that. America’s Islamophobic right was only able to make so much political headway because a broad sector of the American public had tolerated and even supported the kind of terror that they openly celebrated.

The Palestinian Authority’s UN statehood bid: an exercise in futility?

Last week I attended a discussion on the Palestinian Authority’s statehood bid at the UN by Susan Akram, a Boston University School of Law professor who is a leading expert on refugee issues and international law. Akram delivered a withering assessment of the PA’s statehood campaign at the UN. She focused her lecture on contrasting the PA’s strategy with Namibia’s, demonstrating how Nambia managed to achieve independence despite its initial designation by the UN to be one of the least likely colonial mandates to attain the status necessary for statehood, and despite a prolonged occupation by apartheid South Africa. Nambia and its supporters filed a steady stream of submissions to the International Court of Justice, winning decisions that confirmed the illegality of South Africa’s occupation while demanding sanctions on South Africa. Thus Nambia established a legal framework guaranteeing that any UN resolution granting it statehood would also establish its full independence.

In contrast, the PLO and PA accepted the formula of a negotiated land for peace, allowing the UN Security Council to relegate Resolution 194, the right of return resolution that guarantees individual, inalienable Palestinian rights, to “final status” talks (the UN’s acceptance of Israel as a member state in 1949 was contingent on its fulfillment of Res 194). Since Israel’s occupation of Palestine began, the Palestinian Authority has made only one request for an advisory opinion from the ICJ, when in 2004 it challenged Israel’s right to build the separation wall across the Green Line. Though the PA received a favorable ruling, it did nothing to enforce the ruling — no mobilization of civil society or demand for sanctions. In fact, despite the ICJ’s recommendation, the PA rejected the Palestinian civil society call to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel.

Akram said the PA’s failure to enact a strategy of “soft and hard law” had left an array of questions about the upcoming Palestinian statehood resolution unresolved, casting serious doubt on the whole endeavor. She enumerated some the key unresolved issues:

1. What do the 150 UN member states who vote for the resolution do with the recommendation? Do they afford Palestine full representation or representative status? Where will their embassies be? Since Israel will refuse to allow foreign embassies in East Jerusalem, will they instead be in Ramallah, and if so, does that mean that Ramallah is the future capitol of a Palestinian state? Will passports be issued to Palestinians and will they receive full consular intervention if they require it abroad?

2. What will be the recognized population of Palestine? Will it include Palestinians in the diaspora? In the West Bank and Gaza? Inside Israel? The refugees? If it does not include the refugees, do they then lose the legal right to return to their property and land confiscated by the state of Israel? None of these questions have been answered and the consequences are enormous.

3. If Palestine will be considered a legitimate state on the diplomatic front, it will not have relations with states that refused to recognize it. That means it would not have relations with the United States. How does that impact Palestine’s status at the International Court of Justice or the UN, where the US and Israel could prevent its admission to the Human Rights Council?

4. What can Palestine do to enforce the withdrawal of Israeli settlements and its territorial integrity in the absence of Israeli withdrawal and the backing of the US? The issue of enforcement has not been addressed through the statehood resolution.

5. Even if new avenues open for legal recourse against the Israeli occupation, Israel does not recognize the International Court of Justice’s authority and the United States will block any efforts to bring Israeli defendants to the ICJ for crimes they committed against Palestinians. So in real terms, what can Palestine do? Further, if Palestine becomes a member of the UN, it could table and introduce resolutions, but does this represent a change in the observer status the PLO has enjoyed since 1974? It does not.

6. Do Palestine’s security forces become a legitimate military force with all the benefits that it entails? Can they purchase arms as all state military forces do? If Israel refuses to accept members of the Palestinian military as legitimate soldiers than the status quo of captured Palestinian soldiers being treated as terrorists remains.

The consequences of statehood without real independence are enormous, Akram said. In the absence of a strategy based on hard and soft law, the PA’s statehood resolution bid could be an exercise in futility. While Namibia relied on a protracted legal battle for 40 years along with armed struggle and a political/media strategy to lay the foundation for its independence, Akram warned that the outcome for Palestine is highly uncertain.

Anders Behring Breivik, a perfect product of the Axis of Islamophobia

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store visits the Utoya Labor Youth camp a day before Breivik's killing spree. He earned loud cheers with an unapologetic call for Palestinian rights.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store visits the Utoya Labor Youth camp a day before Breivik's killing spree. He earned loud cheers with an unapologetic call for Palestinian rights.

When I wrote my analysis last December on the “Axis of Islamophobia,” laying out a new international political network of right-wing ultra-Zionists, Christian evangelicals, Tea Party activists and racist British soccer hooligans, I did not foresee a terrorist like Anders Behring Breivik emerging from the movement’s ranks. At the same time, I am not surprised that he did. The rhetoric of the characters who inspired Breivik, from Pam Geller to Robert Spencer to Daniel Pipes, was so eliminationist in its nature that it was perhaps only a matter of time before someone put words into action.

As horrific as Breivik’s actions were, he can not be dismissed as a “madman.” His writings contain the same themes and language as more prominent right-wing Islamophobes (or those who style themselves as “counter-Jihadists”) and many conservatives in general. What’s more, Breivik was articulate and coherent enough to offer a clear snapshot of his ideological motives. Ali Abunimah and Alex Kane have posted excellent summaries of Breivik’s writings here and here and a full English translation is here. It is also worth sitting through at least a portion of Breivik’s tedious video manifesto to get a sense of his thinking.

From a tactical perspective, Breivik was not a “lone wolf” terrorist. Instead, Breivik appeared to operate under a leaderless resistance model much like the Christian anti-abortion terrorists Scott Roeder and Eric Rudolph. Waagner and Rudolph organized around the Army of God, a nebulous group that was known only by its website and the pamphlets its members passed around in truck stops and private meetings. If they received material or tactical support, it occurred spontaneously. For the most part, they found encouragement from like-minded people and organizations like Operation Rescue, but rarely accepted direct assistance. Breivik, who emerged from the anti-immigrant Norwegian Progress Party (which built links with America’s Tea Party) and drifted into the English/Norwegian Defense League sphere of extremism, but who appeared to act without formal organizational support, reflects the same leaderless resistance style as America’s anti-abortion terrorists.

While in many ways Breivik shares core similarities with other right-wing anti-government terrorists, he is the product of a movement that is relatively new, increasingly dangerous, and poorly understood. I described the movement in detail in my “Axis of Islamophobia” piece, noting its simultaneous projection of anti-Semitic themes on Muslim immigrants and the appeal of Israel as a Fort Apache on the front lines of the war on terror, holding the line against the Eastern barbarian hordes. Breivik’s writings embody this seemingly novel fusion, particularly in his obsession with “Cultural Marxism,” an increasingly popular far-right concept that positions the (mostly Jewish) Frankfurt School as the originators of multiculturalism, combined with his call to “influence other cultural conservatives to come to our…pro-Israel line.”

Breivik and other members of Europe’s new extreme right are fixated on the fear of the “demographic Jihad,” or being out-populated by overly fertile Muslim immigrants. They see themselves as Crusader warriors fighting a racial/religious holy war to preserve Western Civilization. Thus they turn for inspiration to Israel, the only ethnocracy in the world, a country that substantially bases its policies towards the Palestinians on what its leaders call “demographic considerations.” This is why Israeli flags invariably fly above black-masked English Defense League mobs, and why Geert Wilders, the most prominent Islamophobic politician in the world, routinely travels to Israel to demand the forced transfer of Palestinians.

Judging from Breivik’s writings, his hysterical hatred of the Labor Party’s immigration policies and tolerance of Muslim immigrants likely led him target the government-operated summer camp at Utoya. For years, the far-right has singled Norway out as a special hotbed of pro-Islam, pro-Palestinian sentiment, thanks largely to its ruling Labor Party. In 2010, for instance, the English Defense League called Norway a future site of “Islamohell,” “where unadulterated political correctness has ruled the roost, with sharp talons, for decades.” Yesterday, when the Wall Street Journal editorial page rushed to blame Muslim terrorists for what turned out to be Breivik’s killing spree, it slammed the Norwegian government for pulling troops from Afghanistan and demanding that Israel end its siege of Gaza. For his part, Breivik branded the Labor Party as “traitors.”

There is no clear evidence that Breivik’s support for the Israeli right played any part in his killing spree. Nor does he appear to have any connection with the Israeli government. However, it is worth noting that in November 2010, the Israeli government joined the right-wing pile on, accusing the Norwegian government of “anti-Israel incitement” for funding a trip for students to New York to see the “Gaza Monologues” play. Then, the day before Breivik’s terror attack, which he planned long in advance, Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stor visited the Labor Youth camp at Utoya. There, he was met with demands to support the global BDS movement and to support the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral statehood bid. “The Palestinians must have their own state, the occupation must end, the wall must be demolished and it must happen now,” the Foreign Minister declared, earning cheers from the audience.

Breivik’s writings offer much more than a window into the motives that led him to commit terror. They can also be read as an embodiment of the mentality of a new and internationalized far-right movement that not only mobilizes hatred against Muslims, but is also able to produce figures who will kill innocent non-Muslims to save the Western way of life.

Being Jewish in Turkey, before and after the Mavi Marmara (part 2 of 2)

Yesterday I published the first of two interviews I conducted with Turkish Jews during a brief trip to Istanbul. The first interview is here. In the second, I spoke with “B,” a media professional in her late 20′s who studied at a liberal arts college in the United States. As with “E,” B was adamant that I not reveal her identity, telling me that she was “really scared” of complicating her situation at work. In our interview, B expressed the same cultural outlook as E and a similar attitude to Israel: while she complained that its actions towards the Palestinians affect her negatively as a Jew in a Muslim majority nation, the situation remains abstract and disconnected from her identity. In both cases, I found my interview subjects to be wise beyond their years. “I never took security for granted,” B told me. “I’m more ready for battle than [Americans]. So it’s completely logical that I would survive more easily in a challenging situation.”

Our interview follows:

MB: On a basic level what is it like being Jewish in Turkey and do you feel like you stand apart from the majority of Turks?

B: Being Jewish in Turkey has its ups and downs. Jews have an accent and when we speak in Turkish we stand out. I don’t know where it comes from but probably from Ladino. In the last 70 years Jews were pushed to speak Turkish and were constantly told the slogan, “Citizens speak Turkish.” At home the accent comes from your parents. It’s like a whisper. In the US for Jews the accent comes out when you are upset. Imagine if it came out without being angry!

MB: So how does that affect you in your daily life?

B: In the social world you are aware that you are an other. You can’t be sure what anyone’s idea of the situation is. But in the social arena you’re often surrounded by others like you. In the business world being Jewish is sometimes positive because we are seen as good at commerce and Jews almost always repay their debts here.

But to be honest I would say I’m putting in more effort than ever at work because the moment I slip up, I become the foreigner. At work there are always a few people I have to win over. I have to prove my Turkishness to them somehow. And then these people see me as “the good Jew.” But they don’t represent the general consensus. And I wouldn’t say there is any anti-Jewish movement in the country even though we are an easy target when people look for someone to blame.

MB: Why don’t you simply confront those people at work instead of trying to live up to their standards?

B: If someone came out and said, “the Jews are horrible,” I would confront them for sure. But sometimes it’s better to lead by example. Consistency will prove that I’m a good person.

MB: Yesterday “E” told me that Israel’s actions sometimes cause problems for the Jewish community here. Do you agree?

B: Definitely. The big problem is that whenever something happens with Israel we automatically become “Israelites,” not Jews. I don’t see myself as an Israeli Jew — I’m Turkish. But whatever happens in Israel affects us here and safety becomes an issue. Some people here have fish minds and can’t distinguish between Jews and Israelis.

MB: So how has the phenomenon played out in your personal life?

B: I can give you an example. I was importing lingerie for five years. When Israel began bombing Gaza, I was importing all these brands from the states. And a trade magazine for the lingerie retailers [in Turkey] put out a boycott list that focused on Jewish owned brands. My brands were on the list. I’m not a public person so it’s hard to know that I’m Jewish at all. But my brands were listed because I’m Jewish. Who am I? How do you know who I am? The magazine was a small publication in some rural city. I only knew about the boycott list because some salesman found it and showed it to me.

The boycott also spread on Facebook. Who knows if it distinguished between Jewish and Israeli? The page said, “The owners of these brands help Israel in its efforts against Gaza.” What the hell do I have to do with Israel? These people don’t know the difference between Jews and Israelis. And the extremists take advantage of this [lack of distinction].

MB: What about after the Mavi Marmara incident? What was it like for you and other Turkish Jews?

B: Everyone was scared to go to malls or synagogue. Not that I ever go to synagogue but in times of trouble I limit my risks. During the crisis some protesters blocked the entrance outside the Israeli consulate and were waving flags and shouting. Even if I wasn’t Jewish I would have been scared to go there. This wasn’t a peace march. The crowd wanted blood. If it came out that I was a Jew, what they have done to me?

MB: Do you think the government played a productive role at all?

B: The Prime Minister [Recep Erdogan] took a stand saying Jews are not Israelis, they are Turkish. He made the differentiation clearly. That was a very positive thing for us.

MB: Are you a Zionist? It seems like Israel does not factor into your identity very much.

B: I’m not a Zionist. Israel is an abstract place for me just like France. But there is a connection as a Jew and it is a safe haven in a sense. They are welcoming you with open arms and there is a sense of community. At least it’s better to be attacked as a community than on your own. Of course I’d rather go to London but if another Holocaust happens where will I go?

MB: Do you seriously think the Holocaust could happen again? It seems a little far-fetched to me.

B: Maybe? Who knows? It happened before and no one expected it.

MB: Do you have any interest in learning more about the history of the conflict in Israel-Palestine? Or what about taking a tour of the West Bank and seeing the occupation up close for yourself?

B: No, I don’t think I’d be interested in something like that. Right now Israel’s just an abstract place. I have been three times. Basically I go to the beach in Tel Aviv and come back.

MB: What do you think about anti-Zionist Jews and do you have any here in Turkey?

B: Whether a Jew is Zionist or not has nothing to do with their faith in Judaism. That’s not the issue for me. The issue is non-Jews failing to distinguish between Jews and Israelis. And of course [in the Turkish Jewish community] anti-Zionists would be accused of being self-hating. But who would even take such a stand? We’re not political here. Our only concern is self-preservation.

MB: When you studied in the US what were the principal differences you noticed between yourself and American Jews, and between you and Americans in general.

B: I went to a Bar Mitzvah in the US and it was like a Broadway show. It was for entertainment purposes and educational. For us in Turkey, Judaism is about religion. We get together for our ceremonies and in the synagogue, where many of our melodies come from traditional Ottoman songs, and I find solace in that.

On the more general question, the way I grew up is different from the way Americans grew up. I never took security for granted. I’m more ready for battle than they are. So it’s completely logical that I would survive more easily in a challenging situation than an American. That’s why America reacted the way it did to 9-11. Their whole naivete bubble popped in a day.

MB: What was is it like for you personally being in America right after 9-11?

B: For a long time I had worn a Chai necklace. But I eventually took it off, like I just didn’t feel like wearing it anymore. But after 9-11, suddenly I wasn’t Jewish enough because I wasn’t Ashkenazi, I was Eastern, and I have an Arab sounding last name. At my college I had to advertise that I was Jewish so I wouldn’t be seen as a Muslim. So I suddenly put my necklace back on and everything was okay. When I’m over there I feel a level of safety as a Jew.

MB: Your experiences remind me of a term that was used to describe Jews in the US but isn’t really used much anymore: “insider-outsider.”

B: Exactly. We are living with a foot in both worlds. But it’s hard to get through the door when you can’t use both feet.


Being Jewish in Turkey, before and after the Mavi Marmara (part 1 of 2)

During a brief trip I recently took to Istanbul, I had the chance to interview two members of the local Jewish community, which is one of the largest and most cohesive Sephardic communities in the Jewish diaspora. My primary interest was in how Jewish life has changed in Turkey since Israel’s deadly raid on the Mavi Marmara, but we also discussed the social characteristics and history of Turkish Jews.

Numbering around 26,000, Turkey’s Jews are guided by a constant focus on self-preservation. The community generally eschew collective political engagement and, in sharp contrast to the country’s Kurdish and Armenian minority groups, avoid mounting any challenges to the Turkish state. “All we ask for is equal treatment and living well,” said one of my interviewees. Though they are generally secular and liberal, intermarriage is considered out of bounds — even marrying an Ashkenazi Jew is suspect. Like other Sephardic communities throughout time, Turkish Jews have survived and prospered by relying on a simple formula of cultural assimilation and ethno-religious exclusivity.

The factor that most complicates Jewish life in Turkey (at least judging from my interviews) is Zionism. By now, most of the Jews who planned to emigrate to Israel have done so, either for ideological or economic reasons. Turkish Jews may privately support Israel, but unlike Jews in the United States, they make absolutely no show of it. However, both of my interview subjects told me that Israel’s behavior has impacted their lives in an entirely negative fashion.

Turkish Jews experienced unprecedented levels of anxiety during Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip in 2008 and ’09 and after Israel’s killing of 9 passengers on the Mavi Marmara in 2010. After the Mavi Marmara incident, the Turkish Chief Rabbi issued a statement mildly condemning the Israeli raid. My interviewees told me that despite Prime Minister Recep Erdogan’s declaration that “looking upon hatred at the Jews is…unacceptable,” (which they considered helpful) extremists scapegoated local Jews. Though the reactionary mood has dissipated, the trauma of shrinking from public view for several days was an experience my interviewees have not forgotten.

Neither of my interview subjects objected to my opinion that Zionism imperils Jews around the world, and especially outside the West. Indeed, their testimonies were proof of the crisis Israel has created in Jewish diaspora life. At the same time they displayed a complete lack of interest in engaging with the situation, either by examining the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, understanding the occupation, or developing a clear position on the issue. While Israel’s actions — and the reactionary tendencies of radical elements inside Turkey — undermine their sense of security, the Jewish state remains a distant abstraction that has only the most fleeting connection to their identity. And the Palestinians do not even merit a second thought.

My interview subjects both insisted I conceal their identities out of fear of upsetting their employers. Both are women in their late 20′s who studied at Western universities and speak nearly fluent English. Like many Turkish Jews, they are upper middle class, however, I can hardly present them as representatives of the entire community. On the other hand, neither of them knew one another, but they expressed a remarkably similar outlook. My friend Duygu, who arranged the interviews, occasionally chimed in. Here is the first in the two part series, an interview with “E,” a public relations consultant living in Istanbul:

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Yonatan Shapira held in Greek port: “I don’t know if I’m detained or not”

I just spoke by phone with my friend Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli refusenik and activist who is among the crew of “The Audacity of Hope,” the American boat currently being held by the Greek government. The captain of the ship has been jailed and will be formally charged this week. Meanwhile, Yonatan and the crew are being held by the Greek authorities, though he doesn’t actually know if he’s being formally detained. I encourage readers to call the Greek Embassy in Washington at 202.939.1300 and report what you’ve learned in my comments section.

My conversation with Yonatan follows:

MB: What’s the situation?

Yonatan Shapira: We’re on the boat right now and it’s docked in this place guarded by the Greek Coast Guard. Basically they took us to this Coast Guard place and kept us in detention. And the crew was supposed to not leave the boat or this little compound. But the two British members of the crew were just told by the embassy that they could leave there — under the European Union law they could be free. So it’s just me and the American crew members and it’s not clear if we can leave. One of the guys form the crew tried to leave and they said he couldn’t. Most of the passengers chose to stay with us. The press has all left. Democracy Now tried to come back today and they were not allowed in.

MB: Why have they jailed the captain?

YS: They can use him as an example for all the future flotillas and keep him in jail for a long time, to try to intimidate them. On Monday or Tuesday there will be a court hearing and the lawyers are preparing. But it’s an obvious case of the Greeks trying to intimidate future flotillas and the current one because there are several vessels preparing to leave. The Canadians are still in port surrounded by Coast Guard vessels.

MB: Do you think there’s any chance of the flotilla disembarking for Gaza?

YS: It’s hard to believe that they will leave. It’s all a political decision and how much pressure can we apply on a government that’s under so much pressure, so hated by its own people? On the other hand, maybe we are just one fly on the back of this big cow.

MB: So are you officially a prisoner of the Greek government?

YS: I don’t know if I’m detained or not but I’m going to check a bit later and see if I can just go out. They took our names and numbers. But I believe they are going to pursue the trial of the captain and let us go.

MB: It’s kind of funny that Greece is holding Americans apparently on behalf of Israel and the US government doesn’t seem to mind.

YS: It just shows how the US and Israel is becoming like one big distorted body.

MB: Maybe if you had Rabbi Dov Lior as a crew member the Israeli government would allow Greece to release the boat. [Yonatan laughs] Seriously though, do you think this latest flotilla has achieved at least a symbolic victory?

YS: We have generated a lot of media and the battle is still long. But personally I want to sail. Then again, it’s a long sail that we’re on and maybe this is just one stop on the journey.

Was Israeli unit Shayetet 13 behind the sabotage of Gaza-bound flotilla ships?

Shayetet 13, the Israeli naval commando unit, contains an underwater sabotage division

Shayetet 13, the Israeli naval commando unit, contains an underwater sabotage division

Two boats among the fleet of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla have been sabotaged. Passengers scheduled to sail on the second boat, the Saoirse, which hails from Ireland, discovered that the propelled had been cut and “dangerously  bent.” “If this boat would’ve gone to sea, it’s almost certain we would’ve lost lives, this boat would’ve sank,” said Fintan Lane, an Irish coordinator of the flotilla.

While Israel has not taken credit for the sabotage, all signs point in its direction. The Israeli military boasts an elite underwater sabotage division, Yaltam, that operates out of Shayetet 13, the naval commando unit that raided the Mavi Marmara last year and killed 9 of its passengers. According to SpecWarNet, an online database of international special forces units, “For underwater sabotage missions, each [Shayetet 13] diver can carry a limpet mine to attach to the hull of enemy watercraft or docks.”

The Guardian reported on Shayetet 13′s history of sabotaging civilian ships in international harbors:

[Shayetet 13], the Israeli naval commando unit that intercepted the Gaza Freedom flotilla, is one of the country’s elite military formations, with rigorous selection and training procedures and a reputation for ruthless efficiency. It is known to have been involved in numerous clandestine seaborne operations, including many raids on neighbouring Lebanon. It works closely with the Mossad secret service.

It was also involved in a curious foreshadowing of the Gaza incident in February 1988, when Flotilla 13 is reported to have sabotaged an attempt by the PLO to highlight the issue of Palestinian refugees by sailing a ship to an Israeli port, forcing Israel either to sink it or board it or let it land the refugees. The night before the vessel, al-Awda (“The Return”) was due to sail, it was blown up and sunk in Limassol harbour, Cyprus — with no loss of life or political embarrassment.