Tuesday 27 February 2018

Serious solidarity must resist the Israel lobby and its front campaigns

Israel is becoming increasingly isolated, as worldwide opinion intensifies over its illegal Occupation, siege of Gaza and apartheid crimes against Palestinians.

This, in turn, has seen an even more furious backlash from Israel and its global support network.

In particular, rising support for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) and other direct civil action has prompted new reactionary responses from the Israeli state, matched by an increasingly strident lobby.

Donald Trump's incendiary speech endorsing Jerusalem as Israel's capital has only added to the sequence of global opposition, Israeli belligerence and lobby hubris.

This is a lobby now turning on 'moderate' public figures like Gary Lineker for daring to question Israel's brutal treatment of children.

Some Palestinian minors are now receiving longer sentences for throwing stones at their weapons-loaded occupiers than the token tariffs handed down to the same soldiers for killing Palestinians.

Yet, as damning evidence grows of the shooting, detention and torture of children, Israel and its lobby are lambasting human rights groups like B'Tselem for helping to record and highlight such abuses, including harsh interrogation and coerced confessions.

Australian film Stone Cold Justice, revealing the scandalous extent of Israel's detention and illegal treatment of children, has, likewise, been attacked, with the lobby group CAMERA repeating army slurs that the film's reporter was "travelling the world spreading ignorance, propaganda and lies."

Ahed Tamimi
With continuing disregard for truth or justice, the same lobby has also now denounced Palestinian child Ahed Tamimi as a 'terrorist' for slapping a soldier.

Ahed and her mother, imprisoned just for filming the incident, have seen their trial, before a closed door military court, continuously delayed, as Israel weighs up how to impose its harshest punishment, while handling global disgust over their treatment.

Muhammad Tamimi
The fact that the Israeli army had just shot Ahed's 15-year-old cousin Muhammad, wasting his skull and disfiguring him for life, seems of no proportionate concern to Israel's lobby apologists.

The maiming and killing of Palestinian kids is, of course, a routine part of daily existence across the West Bank and Gaza.

In an act of vindictive revenge on the Tamimi family, Muhammad, still awaiting vital surgery, was arrested, along with five other children, in another night raid on their village of Nabi Saleh.

Devoid of compassionate response, the violence being perpetrated on Ahed and her family has only further inflamed Israel's supporters.

US comedian Sarah Silverman was also roundly denounced by the lobby for calling on fellow Jews to stand up for Ahed.

It's all part of a relentless hasbara, seeking to control the Israel-Palestine narrative, manage international opinion, frame media coverage, maintain pressure on editors, and intimidate anyone inclined to criticise Israel's actions.

With Netanyahu approving a new $75 million "public relations commando unit" to counter BDS, the lobby is now using every form of intimidation, smear and diversion to protect and advocate for Israel.

With further menacing intent, Gilad Erdan, Israel's minister of strategic affairs, is reported to be leading a "black-ops" campaign against BDS.

In heading-up a growing list of artists challenging Israel and endorsing BDS, noted musician Roger Waters has felt the lobby's fiercest wrath, with pressure calls on sponsors and sustained legal attempts to close down his stadium shows. Admirably, Waters remains resilient in his stand against the lobby and Israeli apartheid.

The decision by New Zealand singer Lorde not to play Israel is a further key encouragement to artists. Lorde has also been subjected to intense lobby intimidation, while the two young New  Zealander women, one Jewish, one Palestinian, who wrote to Lorde urging her to “join the artistic boycott of Israel” are now being sued by pro-Israel legal group, Shurat HaDin. 

This all comes on top of a 'Brand Israel' PR campaign, and major government drive to pay students for hasbara trolling.

A growing purge on pro-Palestinian online activity is also now evident, part of the pretext corporate clampdown on 'fake news'. 

Glenn Greenwald notes how, backed by powerful US politicians, Israel "summoned Facebook executives in October of last year to a meeting and directed them to delete the accounts of a huge number of Palestinian activists, journalists, commentators. And Facebook obeyed in almost every one of the cases.

Unlike the raging hysteria over 'Russiagate' and 'Putin trolls', most Western media have little to say about Israel's own dark efforts to influence other states' politics.

In the US, escalating fears over BDS and Israel's declining image has now placed the lobby on heightened political alert. Led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a wide array of pro-Israel groups - such as the Israel Project, Fuel For Truth, Israel on Campus Coalition, and Foundation for the Defense of Democracies - are seeking to break BDS through promotion of The Israel Anti-Boycott Act

The proposed legislation is opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as a violation of First Amendment rights. 

Stand With Us (also known as the Israel Emergency Alliance), another relentless right-wing US-based advocate, with close ties to the Israeli government, has backed the bill, even trying to 'reassure' liberals of the Act's 'benign' intent. 

Contrary to such posturing, the real face of Stand With Us was exposed after one of its media advisers wrote a virulently racist article disparaging common support between oppressed Palestinians and black protesters in Ferguson, St Louis. The article's author was defended by Hen Mazzig, another Stand With Us official with rabid right-wing views. 

Stand With Us is engaged in multiple forms of pro-Israel advocacy, including teaching programmes on college campuses, media spinning on Israel's harsh treatment of African migrants, and opposing the annual Israel Anti-Apartheid Week. It has also been "accused of anti-Muslim propaganda and encouraging a militant Israeli and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East." 

Closely integrated with other conservative forces, much of the US lobby has long enjoyed protected status. As Jonathan Cook adds: "What is special about the Israel lobby in the US – an amalgam of hawkish Jewish leadership organisations and messianic Christian evangelicals – is the fear it exploits to silence critics. No one wants to be labelled an anti-Semite.

However, for Cook, the whole lobby is now being increasingly scrutinised: "as recent events illustrate, the lobby is struggling to stay in the shadows. Social media and Palestinians with camera phones have exposed a global audience to systematic abuses by the Israeli army the western media largely ignored. For the first time, Israel supporters sound evasive and dissembling."

In one key rearguard response, the same pro-Israel nexus has launched a vociferous attack on Al Jazeera's forthcoming exposé of the lobby itself. 

There are strong indications here of lobby pressure on Qatar to block the film, and suspicions of compliance, largely motivated by Doha's efforts to win back the support of Trump. AIPAC's many powerful friends in Congress are also trying to undermine the film by making Al Jazeera register as a 'foreign agent.'

Growing lobby activity is evident, too, in the UK. With the true purpose of Priti Patel's recent 'family holiday' in Israel, facilitated by Israel lobbyist Lord Stuart Polak, duly exposed, lobby activity has been sustained by other key parliamentary movers around the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI). This includes Michael Gove's warnings on pro-Palestine activists' "dark and furious energy", a speech duly commended by Christian Friends of Israel.

Another key aspect of CFI's real dark energy can be seen in its secretive relations with major arms firms like Elbit, all serving to keep Israel armed to the teeth, and specially protected by Britain's state-military establishment. 

The enduringly Blairite Labour Friends of Israel has also been lobbying hard. With Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry openly expressing her disdain for BDS in a speech to LFI "that could have been written by a pro-Israel lobbyist", LFI have been working to mute other senior figures, such as Kate Osamor, after she declared her support for BDS.

Labour's Ruth Smeeth is another notable pro-Israel party figure, with close connections to leading PR body the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), and 'watchdog' group Community Security Trust (CST).

According to former Institute for Jewish Policy Research director Antony Lerman, the CST has been “abusing its mandate” in order to give “political support for Israel.” 

Localised groups like Sussex Friends of Israel offer further insight on the growing aggressive face of the pro-Israel street lobby.

Al Jazeera's previous undercover investigation of UK lobby activity, exposing the particular role of Israeli diplomat Shai Masot, reveals much about the linkages between Britain's pro-Israel bodies and the Israeli Embassy.

And, of course, the calculated smear campaign waged against Jeremy Corbyn and the wider left for 'harbouring anti-Semitism' is a foremost example of the lobby's pernicious agenda.

No matter how much Corbyn seeks to denounce such tendencies, and safeguard his party from discriminatory practices, the drip-drip insinuations and distortions continue.

Jonathan Cook also relates here how Owen Jones was courted, and willingly engaged, lobby insiders the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), further legitimising this group in its efforts to subvert Corbyn.

Encouragingly, the newly-founded Jewish Voice for Labour is now acting as a strong counter to the JLM lobby.

Jews For a Just Peace have also declared their support for BDS, a clear and exemplary statement of their anti-apartheid bona fides.

However, rising support for the Palestinian cause, including the welcome backing of Jewish-based bodies, has seen other duplicitous groups now advocating for Israel.

In Scotland, the lobby is attempting to spread its message via the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland (CoFIS), an avowedly pro-Israel organisation masquerading as a set of 'pro-peace' street campaigns, including Glasgow Friends of Israel (GFI).

Besides propagating for Israel, CoFIS's core task is to attack, smear and undermine Palestine solidarity groups in Scotland.

Ignoring multiple UN resolutions and international law, CoFIS consistently defend Israel's illegal acts, refusing to acknowledge basic Palestinian rights and legitimate claims to statehood.

It approves Israel's apartheid wall. It blames Israel's mass killing in Gaza on Hamas. It fails to condemn Israel's incarceration and shooting of children, or the callous bulldozing of Palestinian houses. It routinely lauds Netanyahu. It openly approves Trump, and his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. It denounces BDS and artists like Roger Waters. And it calls upon Ahed Tamimi to be treated and punished as a 'terrorist'.

Much of the literature CoFIS hands out to the public comes from the same US right-wing campaign group, Stand With Us.

And CoFIS do, indeed, stand with them. CoFIS founder Nigel Goodrich and his associates embrace the same basic ideology and lobby agenda in evangelising for Israel and whitewashing its crimes.

Director Ken Loach, writer Paul Laverty, theatre director Clare McGarry, actor Tam Dean Burn, and theatre critic Mark Brown were among signatory Artists for Palestine UK who, in 2017, opposed CoFIS's "misnamed “Shalom Festival”, which promotes, not “peace”, but the apartheid State of Israel and its occupation." 

Their letter stated that the Festival, organised by Goodrich and GFI's Sammy Stein, was "part of the State of Israel’s attempts to counter BDS. It claims to support “peaceful coexistence” in Israel/Palestine, while whitewashing Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights. This is the language of the Israeli state itself, and is code for continued occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people and the ongoing denial of the right of return of millions of Palestinian refugees."

Artists for Palestine UK also noted the supporting bodies and message of the event: "Glossy display panels and piles of leaflets and brochures from StandWithUs and Christians United for Israel, an extreme rightwing Islamophobic organisation with a large following in the United States, pressed Israel’s biblical claim to the whole of the Holy Land and demonised BDS as a movement in sympathy with ISIS terror."

Like other lobby groups, CoFIS make voluble claims about wanting 'dialogue', professing to be 'non-discriminatory', and 'anti-racist', while denying the inhuman effects of the Occupation, the calamity of Gaza, and Israel's colonial settlements.

This mirrors the very same deception Israel itself has peddled for generations in its contrived calls for a 'peace process', while using every opportunity to extend the settlements, intensify the Occupation, imprison Gaza, and deepen its racist treatment of Palestinians.

Much of this pro-Israel street action hides behind the pretentious garb of 'community engagement', urging 'shared understanding' of 'both Israel's and Palestinians' interests', a window-dressing exercise which, alas, still seems appealing to some virtue-signalling liberals and unwary progressives.

In contrast, rational observers have long since seen the 'peace process' for what it is: a cynical charade; a continuous stalling mechanism, serving to normalise and legitimate Israel's land thefts, and prioritise its 'security concerns'.

As with the BDS movement, serious solidarity groups have long understood the need to keep fully focused on effective, strategic forms of civil action, a key part of which is exposing the multiple fronts and guises of the Israel lobby.

Palestine is sometimes seen by some on the left as a 'peripheral' and 'awkward' question, rather than integral to left anti-imperialism. Much of that left ambivalence is due less to straight lobby propaganda than exposure to the more veiled liberal version of lobby discourse, as peddled by people like Jonathan Freedland and much of the Guardian, with its loaded 'two-sides narrative', and pitching of Palestine as a 'complex', 'divisive' and 'intractable' problem.

Again, this is all insidious diversion, cloaked in 'doveish' language, serving the wider lobby's attempts to blur the real issue - Israel's crimes - and undermine serious solidarity.

Any real progressive response must, in turn, be more vigilant to false fears, smears and liberal persuasions.

People of conscience, whatever their background or religious beliefs, should reject any organisation which seeks to approve and defend Israel's apartheid state. And they should be particularly alert to any group which seeks to conceal their real purpose through stealth insertion into parliamentary life, mainstream parties or civil movements.

If we accept that, as with South Africa, apartheid is racism, then there should be no place for Israel-supporting organisations like CoFIS within any serious anti-racism event or demonstration.

And, besides suffering Palestinians, let's also remember here Israel's appalling treatment of its own, largely African, migrant population. As reported: "Netanyahu has called the migrants’ presence a threat to Israel’s social fabric and Jewish character, and one government minister has referred to them as “a cancer”."

It's inevitable that open rejection of organisations like CoFIS will be met with the same backlash unleashed by the wider pro-Israel lobby. Yet, this should make the response of leftists and others of good progressive mind even clearer. Much better to take a principled position and defend your case with confident argument than capitulate to such forces for fear of being falsely labelled and smeared. There's no placating or appeasing this network. It will come after solidarity groups whatever its 'inclusion' or rejection.

Lobby groups and campaigns which help defend and hide Israel's mass violations and crimes against humanity have to be resisted with moral resolve and tactical intent. You can't fully stand up to racism while lying down to apartheid.

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