Last night I went to Columbia University to see Omar Barghouti discuss his new book, “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights.” For those who don’t know, Barghouti is one of the BDS movement’s most effective strategists and promoters, basing his advocacy on a platform of human rights and international law while explicitly rejecting arcane ideology. His book offers the most in-depth and accessible analysis to date of the movement, its history, and why it is gaining so much momentum. Read an excerpt here.
During his talk, Barghouti mentioned that he had approached J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami about arranging a debate on BDS. The response from Ben-Ami was as follows, according to Barghouti: “We want to keep this debate inside the Jewish community. So we won’t participate in a debate with any Palestinians.”
Barghouti joked, “Why would BDS have anything to do with Palestinians?” He went on to describe Ben-Ami’s policy as racist.
Last December, I debated the issue of BDS against the director of J Street U, Daniel May. My debate partner was Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace. Daniel May’s partner was a Jewish student from Princeton also named Daniel May. Everyone involved in the debate was an Ashkenazi Jew, yet we were debating a movement founded and controlled by Palestinian civil society. If I had known at the time that J Street had an alleged policy of refusing to debate with non-Jews, especially Palestinians, I would not have participated at all.
Another person told me about J Street’s “don’t debate Palestinians” policy, but did not authorize me to report it at the time. The source explained that the policy resulted in the Jews-only debate at J Street’s annual policy conference in February, where Rebecca Vilkomerson debated in favor of BDS against opponents Bernard Avishai and Ken Bob of Ameinu.
It is worth noting that after the debate, Bernard Avishai took to his blog to tell a certain member of JVP (he left the person unnamed) that “you remind me, forgive me, of the Tea Party.” Avishai was apparently upset that the JVP member had asked him how he could argue against divesting from multinational companies and Israeli institutions that profit from the occupation while supporting a boycott of the settlements. It is unusual for someone of Avishai’s intellectual caliber to stoop so low to rebut a simple question about tactics. His response makes me wonder if the opponents of BDS, especially those who define themselves as politically liberal, are simply overwhelmed by events in Israel and Palestine.
To J Street’s credit, it is the only major pro-Israel group I know of that will debate BDS at all. None of the other established pro-Israel groups have participated in debates and none seem likely to do so in the near future. Last week, the Columbia University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) responded to a demand by the campus Hillel house for a “dialogue session” by requesting a debate instead. SJP’s leadership told Hillel’s director that he could choose the topic, time and place of the debate. Hillel refused the proposal. Besides international law and human rights, what do they have to be afraid of?
The police investigation into the Itamar murders remains under a gag order. No individual Palestinian has been accused or even named as a suspect by the police. However, the resident of the neighboring Palestinian village Awarta, who have suffered for years from settler pogroms, are being collectively blamed and punished. According to a report by three International Solidarity Movement volunteers living under curfew in Awarta, Israeli soldiers and settlers have rampaged through the village in recent days, seeking murder suspects and the satisfaction that comes with retributive violence.
The soldiers reportedly destroyed property, stole money, defecated on the floors of homes, and blindfolded and beat residents, leaving one 28-year-old man so badly injured he had to be smuggled to a hospital in Nablus. Afterwards, approximately 300 masked settlers descended on the town and attacked its residents, breaking the arms of two men.
”Why do you have to punish all this people?” an ISM activist asked one of the soldiers. ”We have to punish these people so they will understand,” the soldier reportedly replied.
Jewish settlers from East Jerusalem filmed themselves humiliating a local Palestinian man, or, as they called it, “lower[ing] the confidence of Palestinians in the neighborhood].”
The one-two punch of settler “price tag” attacks carried out under the watch of the army and with the encouragement of state-funded religious nationalist rabbis is common all over the West Bank. Most Jewish Israelis view the army with reverence, and are reluctant to criticize its conduct under any circumstance. And though settler violence is considered a matter of controversy in Israeli society, a new poll shows that a staggering number of Israelis support the pogroms meted out by fanatical settlers against defenseless Palestinians.
A new Ynet-Gesher survey of 504 Jewish Israeli adults revealed that 46 percent of Israelis support settler “price tag” terror. Only 33 percent of those polled believed that price tag attacks were “never justified.” A sectoral breakdown shows that a wide majority of religious nationalist and ultra-Orthodox respondents support the attacks: 56 percent of “traditional” types, 70 percent of those identifying as Orthodox, and 71 percent of the religious nationalists declared price tag violence to be justified. The most remarkable finding, in my opinion, is that 36 percent of secular respondents support settler terror. Even though 56 percent are against the practice, this is a remarkably high number for a population segment that lives primarily inside the Green Line. (The poll results and Ynet article detailing its contents are only in Hebrew at the moment).
68 percent of all of those polled stated their belief that rabbis had the power to stop price tag attacks (for fairly obvious reasons, this opinion is shared by only a minority of religious nationalist settlers). In Safed, a mixed city in Northern Israel that is home to Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, local Orthodox youth have staged a string of vigilante attacks on Palestinian-Israeli residents. The attacks include the stabbing of a Palestinian Christian man, the torching of Palestinian cars after a Jewish-Arab dialogue meeting, and a wave of racist vandalism. The violence follows Eliyahu’s declaration that the “seducing” of Jewish girls by Arab men was “a form of war” and his drafting of a letter forbidding renting property to Arabs. (55% of Jewish Israelis support the content of Eliyahu’s letter).
Above: Settlers assault Palestinian girls on their way to school in occupied Hebron
Eliyahu recently admitted that the Shin Bet beseeched him to speak out against price tag terror after the Itamar murders. “I told [the Shin Bet agent], if you expect me to stop someone engaging in ‘price tags,’ you’re mistaken,” Eliyahu said. “I don’t work for you. But I want to tell you that unless the government takes action, the public will feel a need to take action. And if you don’t act, even if I stand with my arms wide open, I won’t be able to stop those who would act.”
While taxpayer funded rabbis like Eliyahu (he is literally a state employee) incite with impunity against Palestinians, and cheer on the terror attacks that flow from their words, letters are circulating through the US Congress condemning the Palestinian Authority for incitement. One of the letters, co-authored by Senators Kirsten Gilibrand (D-NY) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) — Kirk is arguably AIPAC’s greatest tool in Congress — demanded that the Palestinian Authority “stop allowing the incitement that leads to such crimes [as the one committed in Itamar].” Though no individual Palestinian has been named as a suspect in the crime and the PA has condemned the murders, top lawmakers like Gilibrand and Kirk have already convicted every Palestinian, providing congressional cover for more destructive raids, vandalism, and price tag terror.
We insisted that Jews should focus their outrage not at us, but at the statements the subjects of our video made, and recognize the extent to which they echoed the rhetoric of leading Israeli politicians, military figures, pundits and rabbis.
American-born Israeli author Gershom Gorenberg argued on his blog that the statements of “a drunken kid in a bar” have no journalistic value, and therefore we were unprofessional (“Racism, Amalek and Videotape ” 13 June 2009).
Gorenberg even asserted that because some of the people who appeared in our video were American, their racist opinions had no little or no connection to the Israeli situation. At the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Ron Kampeas, who has disclosed that he purchased an apartment with an Israeli-government subsidized loan in a Jewish colony in occupied East Jerusalem, wrote that it’s “time for [Blumenthal] to grow up and put [his talents] to good use.” (“Best take so far on Blumen-journalism,” 5 June 2009).
Meanwhile, YouTube and Vimeo banned Feeling the Hate, while the Huffington Post’sRoy Sekoff refused to allow us to publish it, claiming in an email that it had no “real news value,” as though the soft core porn that accounted for the content on his and Arianna Huffington’s (now AOL owned) site each day did.
The most recent attack occurred on 11 February on King George Street, just blocks from the warren of seedy bars where we filmed Feeling the Hate. There, a group of drunken religious nationalist youths attacked Hussam Rwidy, a 24-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem, stabbing him while they allegedly chanted “Death to Arabs!” Rwidy and his friend, Murad Khader Joulani, staggered into a nearby restaurant drenched in blood and begging for help. Hours later, Rwidy was pronounced dead (“The final moments of the martyred Husam Rwidy,” Wadi Hilweh Information Center — Silwan, 20 February 2011).
“A drunken brawl gone bad” was how several reports described the killing of Rwidy, parroting statements by the Jerusalem police that his death was the result of a fight. The two main assailants were initially indicted for manslaughter before overwhelming evidence forced Israeli government prosecutors to charge them with premeditated murder. As with the reaction by prominent Israeli media figures to Feeling the Hate, the racist behavior of Jewish nationalists was downplayed as a product of intoxication, if not dismissed altogether, while the incident was portrayed as an aberration. Any reflection about the trend of racial murders inside Israel was officially discouraged (“Murder of Palestinian highlights Israeli judicial discrimination,” 972mag.com, 23 February 2011). And so the band plays on.
With Feeling the Hate, we edited an hour of footage into a four-minute video that focused on the hatred many Jewish nationalists in Israel and the United States felt towards President Barack Obama. Our unreleased footage contains statements by the same kids about Palestinians. The political science major who said “I know my shit” but didn’t know who the Israeli prime minister was told us that the Palestinians should all be transferred to a small corner in the West Bank and kept there in a virtual cage. The boisterous young man with the mesh hat who remarked, “We don’t want any Nazi shit, Obama!” defended Israeli Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman’s proposal to strip citizenship from “disloyal” Palestinian citizens. These drunk kids in bars had a coherent, if very simplistic, ideological basis for their racism. It is called Jewish nationalism.
Because Jewish nationalism is an exclusivist project that defines everyone who exists outside the Zionist spectrum as a potential threat and an obstacle to the ultimate ambitions of Israel, racism directed against Obama and anti-Palestinian racism form a seamless thread. This thread connects automatically to the African and Asian migrant workers who Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called “a concrete threat to the Jewish and democratic character of the country” (“Netanyahu: Illegal African immigrants – a threat to Israel’s Jewish character,” Haaretz, 18 July 2010).
It is no coincidence that migrant workers in Israel are increasingly targeted alongside Palestinians in racist vigilante attacks. They are seeking a place in a country that views the removal of non-Jews from as much territory as it can gain control over as a national goal (“Police: Sudanese men stabbed by Israeli gang,” Ynet, 12 February 2011).
While young rightists attack migrants in the street, the government may warehouse some migrant workers in what Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin has called a “concentration camp” in the Negev Desert (planners from the Israeli Prison Service described the camp as an “accommodation center” in official material) (“Knesset Speaker: Racist rabbi’s letter shames the Jewish people,” Haaretz, 9 December 2010).
Though Rivlin condemned the plan, he has simultaneously endorsed a $1.5 billion shekel proposal to build a wall along the border of Egypt. “The goal is to ensure Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature,” Netanyahu said about the proposed wall.
Her words rang hollow, not only because her party had co-sponsored many of the racist and anti-democratic bills winding their way through the Knesset (see “Can’t we all just get along — separately?” — David Sheen’s disturbing 24 February 2011 interview in Haaretzwith Kadima lawmaker Shai Hermesh on the “Communities Acceptance Law”), but because she has personally fanned the flames of extremism through her words and actions.
After the Israeli assault on Gaza in winter 2008-2009, Livni boasted, “Israel demonstrated real hooliganism during the course of the recent operation, which I demanded” (I Lost Everything,” Human Rights Watch, 10 May 2010).
Now that some Jewish Israelis are “going wild” against Palestinians inside Israel, and demonstrating “real hooliganism” in racial attacks, does the opposition leader think she has the moral authority to condemn them? If the hooliganism starts in Gaza, where will it end?
Last summer, while living off of Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street, we regularly taped interviews with locals. After the murder of Rwidy, we decided to compile some of those clips into a short video so viewers could get a sense of the atmosphere we lived in. Now everyone can meet a few of our neighbors, like the Birthright Israel alum who believes that if Palestinian resistance becomes too acute, “you gotta just annihilate them.” Or the Canadian lone soldier who joined the Israeli Army’s Kfir Brigade, a notoriously abusive unit that serves exclusively in the Occupied Territories, who believes he’s defending the Jews “from terror, and such,” and that there is no such thing as the occupation (“Kfir brigade leads in W. Bank violations,” Haaretz, 11 May 2008).
Living among droves of heavily indoctrinated extremists on Ben Yehuda Street was not always a pleasant experience. But then again, had either of us been a Palestinian, it might have been impossible. Though many might want to ignore this fact, after Rwidy’s murder, it is increasingly hard to dismiss.
Israeli riot police fire teargas at women from Al Arakib during the 18th attack on the village
Yesterday morning, the Bedouin village of Al Arakib withstood the 18th pogrom against it by the Jewish National Fund and Israeli riot police. I mentioned in my last post that I would begin promoting actions to hold the Jewish National Fund accountable for violently ethnic cleansing Al Arakib in order to build the GOD TV Forest of Hate. Now here is something everyone who reads this blog (minus the professional hasbara trolls) can and should do: Join the Jewish Voice for Peace call in campaign to demand that the JNF cease demolishing villages like Al Arakib. Tell your local JNF office to stop the pogroms against the indigenous population of the Negev. To be sure, this is a minor action that will probably yield only dismissive responses from JNF representatives, but it is important to apply pressure and get them on the record.
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.