Some of you might recall a few pieces I posted about the Modern Language Association’s debate about an academic boycott of Israeli institutions. Not only did the resolution fail at the organisation’s conference in January, some MLA members put forward an astonishing ‘counter-resolution’ effectively barring the academic group from ever criticising Israel in the future. Below is a must-read from one of the many critics of that counter-resolution.

Here is an excerpt:

The resolution itself, that we refrain from endorsing “the boycott,” is a nonsense. As things currently stand, the MLA endorses no boycott. Within the framework of the MLA, therefore, there is nothing from which to refrain. Why are we having a vote at all on something non-existent?…

Israel and all too many of its academic institutions proudly participate in such denial of Palestinian rights and academic activities. Does the MLA really wish to go on record as promoting Israeli academics’ freedoms while denying those of Palestinian academics?’

The rest is here: “Misleading or Flatly False”: Tim Reiss’s Statement Against MLA Resolution 2017-1

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Some of you might have heard that a UN agency, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, which is based in Beirut, published a report last week entitled ‘Israeli Practices Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid.’

The fact-based document lays out the systematic racism – from different court systems to different roads and schools – experienced by Palestinians living under Israeli control, and urges the UN to restore the Special Committee against Apartheid, and the United Nations Centre Against Apartheid. It also calls on member states to support the BDS movement. The report was written by Richard Falk, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights, and Virginia Tilley, a Political Science Professor at Southern Illinois University.

Predictably, the ink wasn’t dry before the shit hit the fan: within hours, Israeli politicians and their shameful band of apologists began slamming both the report and the ‘anti Israel’ UN. On Friday, after the new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres signalled the spinelessness that will undoubtedly characterise his tenure by ordering ESCWA to remove the report from its website, the Commission’s Executive Secretary, Rima Khalaf, resigned.

In a world of lousy choices, it was the least worst one. Indeed, Khalaf’s decision to quit brought to mind a talk I attended last year with a middle aged Palestinian date farmer from the West Bank. He recounted how he’d been offered a scholarship to study in Germany in his late teens. When the Israeli authorities made it clear that it was they – not he – who would decide whether he could accept it, he tore up his passport in their faces. Another least worst choice.

It’s bad enough that the UN routinely fails to live up to its own Charter, which claims as its purpose ‘to maintain international peace and security…based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.’ What’s inexcusable is that where the Palestinians are concerned, it routinely does precisely the opposite, providing moral and political cover for the very breaches of human rights and international law it is entrusted to police. It makes you wonder exactly what the organisation is for.

Moreover, as Saree Makdisi wrote in an LA Times Op-Ed entitled ‘Does the term apartheid fit Israel? Of course it does’, ‘”Apartheid” isn’t just a term of insult; it’s a word with a very specific legal meaning, as defined by the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1973 and ratified by most United Nations member states (Israel and the United States are exceptions, to their shame).’

Indeed, the word ‘apartheid’ has been used to describe Israel by many people including Desmond Tutu, John Kerry and Sir Alan Duncan MP, and the ESCWA report does not use it lightly. Perhaps this explains why, as Khalaf writes in her dignified and unapologetic resignation letter below, ‘The evidence provided by this report drafted by renowned experts is overwhelming. Suffice it to say that none of those who attacked the report had a word to say about its content‘ (my emphasis).

Here is the full text of Khalaf’s letter which was published by Jadaliyya. Jadaliyya have also published the report in full here. You can find it on The Electronic Intifada, too. Welcome to the internet, Mr Secretary-General.

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,

I have carefully considered your message conveyed through the Chef de Cabinet and assure you that at no point have I questioned your right to order the withdrawal of the report from our website or the fact that all of us working in the Secretariat are subject to the authority of its Secretary-General. Nor do I have any doubts regarding your commitment to human rights in general, or your firm position regarding the rights of the Palestinian people. I also understand the concerns that you have, particularly in these difficult times that leave you little choice.

I am not oblivious to the vicious attacks and threats the UN and you personally were subjected to from powerful Member States as a result of the publication of the ESCWA report ‘Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid’.

I do not find it surprising that such Member States, who now have governments with little regard for international norms and values of human rights, will resort to intimidation when they find it hard to defend their unlawful policies and practices. It is only normal for criminals to pressure and attack those who advocate the cause of their victims. I cannot submit to such pressure.

Not by virtue of my being an international official, but simply by virtue of being a decent human being, I believe, like you, in the universal values and principles that have always been the driving force for good in human history, and on which this organization of ours, the United Nations is founded. Like you, I believe that discrimination against anyone due to their religion, skin color, sex or ethnic origin is unacceptable, and that such discrimination cannot be rendered acceptable by the calculations of political expediency or power politics. I also believe people should not only have the freedom to speak truth to power, but they have the duty to do so.

In the space of two months you have instructed me to withdraw two reports produced by ESCWA, not due to any fault found in the reports and probably not because you disagreed with their content, but due to the political pressure by member states who gravely violate the rights of the people of the region.

You have seen first hand that the people of this region are going through a period of suffering unparalleled in their modern history; and that the overwhelming flood of catastrophes today is the result of a stream of injustices that were either ignored, plastered over, or openly endorsed by powerful governments inside and outside the region. Those same governments are the ones pressuring you to silence the voice of truth and the call for justice represented in these reports.

Given the above, I cannot but stand by the findings of ESCWA’s report that Israel has established an apartheid regime that seeks the domination of one racial group over another. The evidence provided by this report drafted by renowned experts is overwhelming. Suffice it to say that none of those who attacked the report had a word to say about its content. I feel it my duty to shed light on the legally inadmissible and morally indefensible fact that an apartheid regime still exists in the 21st century rather than suppressing the evidence. In saying this I claim no moral superiority nor ownership of a more prescient vision. My position might be informed by a lifetime of experiencing the dire consequences of blocking peaceful channels to addressing people’s grievances in our region.

After giving the matter due consideration, I realized that I too have little choice.

I cannot withdraw yet another well-researched, well-documented UN work on grave violations of human rights, yet I know that clear instructions by the Secretary-General will have to be implemented promptly. A dilemma that can only be resolved by my stepping down to allow someone else to deliver what I am unable to deliver in good conscience.

I know that I have only two more weeks to serve; my resignation is therefore not intended for political pressure. It is simply because I feel it my duty towards the people we serve, towards the UN and towards myself, not to withdraw an honest testimony about an ongoing crime that is at the root of so much human suffering. Therefore, I hereby submit to you my resignation from the United Nations.

Respectfully

Rima Khalaf

Here’s an important piece from Peter Larson’s blog which reports on recent research into Canadians’ attitudes towards the Israeli state, and Canadian foreign policy on Israel/Palestine. It includes an interview with the the Green Party’s Dimitri Lascaris, a political hero of mine who is a relentless and committed advocate of Palestinian rights.

In short, a huge majority of Canadians think boycotts are a ‘reasonable’ response to Israel’s unapologetic contempt for international law, and two-thirds also regard government sanctions as reasonable. This is despite an aggressive anti-BDS campaign by Canadian politicians from both main parties, and the Greens’ own leader Elizabeth May attempting to distance herself from her party’s overwhelming support for Palestinian rights, backed up by the usual well-funded smear campaigns orchestrated by B’nai Brith et al.

Naturally, there has been a virtual media blackout on this data in the Canadian press, which remains as willfully out of sync with Canadians as their politicians appear to be. (The only two mentions I could find were on Global News, and in an op-ed by Linda McQuaig in the Toronto Star.)

After the embarrassment of the Harper years during which Canada lost its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council for the first time in our history, a few dreamers held out hope that things would change under Justin Trudeau. Turns out Trudeau’s shameful silence over the Gaza blitz in 2014 was no aberration. On the contrary, it set the stage for his prime ministerial fawning over Benjamin Netanyahu, alongside Canada’s stubborn alliance with a small clutch of international outliers who vote against the most basic rights for Palestinians at the UN, and its dead air on Israel ‘regularising’ its land theft in the West Bank.

Against this sickening display, these research findings will reassure those of us who’d like to believe Canadians’ sense of decency and fair play runs deeper than that of our photogenic prime minister.

Here’s the intro to Peter’s piece:

A few months ago, the UN security council unanimously condemned ALL of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank (including in East Jerusalem) as flagrant violations of international law. So far Canada has done nothing about it.

And here’s the rest: Most Canadians think its “reasonable” to boycott Israel: survey

It’s a gloomy day where I am: a stubborn grey sky glowers while thick snow flurries periodically make driving impossible, and the air is saturated with a damp cold whose only antidote is a roaring fire. Still, I’m certain my mood reflects my own gloomy despair and gnawing anxiety as Executive Orders worthy of any cartoonish Caudillo pile up on President Trump’s desk, and embarrassed bewilderment as the UK Prime Minister heads to Washington to rekindle the country’s ‘special relationship’ with the US which saw its heyday under Mrs Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

You might be wondering, as I am, what common values would underpin the global leadership to which Mrs May aspires to elevate herself and the former TV star turned tin pot dictator. To that end, I invite readers of my blog to contact their MPs with some specific queries about the values and related policies we’re told we share with Mr Trump.

I’m sure you can design your own questionnaire, but I would suggest a standard list with boxes. Rather than MPs simply ticking them, however, you could ask them to rank these values by their importance to themselves and to the UK as a whole, with an additional box for free-form comments at the bottom.

Here is my list of the values and attitudes of which Mr Trump and his odious acolytes boast, but do add as you see fit.

☐ Institutionalised Islamophobia

☐ White supremacy

☐ Misogyny

☐ Support for torture

☐ Climate science denial

☐ Ethno-nationalist colonialism

Denial of healthcare

☐ Suppression of press freedom

☐ Inciting hatred

Building ‘immigration’ walls (an unfair question, I suppose, as we’re lucky enough to have our very own Channel whereby nature itself protects us from the hordes of criminals and rapists)

☐ Reckless military escalation

And in case you missed it, here’s a shot of the UK’s new BFF signing away women’s reproductive rights, surrounded by a cabal of white men. This isn’t the world I want for my daughter, and I’m confident most Britons would agree.

Jonathan Greenblatt, Anti-Defamation League CEO: “We need to speak out wherever we see anti-Semitism and bigotry, whether it’s a publicly traded company or high ranking official. No one has an excuse for excusing intolerance,” he added. “We must stand with our fellow Americans who may be singled out for how they look, where they’re from, who they love or how they pray.”

Source: ADL Leader Slams Trump for Planned Ban on Mideast Immigration

And this comes from a Facebook post by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

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Today is the funeral of Yacoub Abu Qian, the Palestinian schoolteacher murdered by Israeli police during the demolition of the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran last week.

Meantime, this: Sir Desmond Swayne accuses Government of ‘significant shift’ on Israel after silence on Bedouin village demolition

Swayne, a decorated former soldier, asked the Government’s spokesperson about the Backbench Business Committee’s decision not to schedule a debate on settlements “and the destruction of Umm al-Hiran,” a Bedouin village.

He said: “Is there a possibility of a Government statement on what appears to be a significant shift in Government policy over recent days as we cosy up to the incoming American Administration in granting complete impunity to Israel?”

Source: Senior Tory accuses May of giving Israel ‘impunity’

It’s been a hectic week but Wednesday’s Twitter feed was filled with such horrifying images of the destruction of the Palestinian Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev that the compulsion to write has shifted a couple of items on my bulging to-do list.

I feel numb as I type, but a few sharp. clear thoughts breach that familiar haze. For instance, how odd it is that the interconnectedness social media make possible means that the razing of an entire village occurs before our eyes in real time. Images of anguished and bewildered residents watching Caterpillar bulldozers demolish their homes flood our screens, and then we read stories in faux liberal papers like The Guardian, whose ‘news’ angle that justified any coverage at all is whether an alleged car ramming incident during the demolition was ‘terrorism’ or not. We learn about the car’s speed, the driver’s occupation, official accounts contradicted by eye witness testimony. The clear sight of destruction suddenly clouded by the implication of subjectivity. Apparently, it’s not what it looks like.

Yes, a ‘car ramming‘ is the headline on a story about the razing of a Palestinian village to make way for a brand new Jewish-only one, which might easily have sat right next door. This comes from the Jerusalem Post:

“‘We are in this fight for many years, it is a fight for peace,” said Umm-al-Hiran resident Abed al Rahman, 52, who was born in the village. ‘We don’t want to bother anyone, we are human beings who just want to live.'”

According to Wikipedia, ‘the community that is to form the projected village of Hiran consists of roughly 30 religious families living in a gated community in a Jewish National Fund Forest [financed by ‘charitable’ donations from Canadians, amongst others] some kilometres away from the Bedouin village. They are former West Bank settlers.’

In short, a model of cohabitation rejected in the spirit of annihilation that inspires Benjamin Netanyahu and his Judeo supremacist hate-mongers.

The fate of Umm al-Hiran follows that of towns like al-Birwa, al-Kabri, Kuwaykat, Bayt Dajan and 400 others that were ‘depopulated’ of indigenous Palestinians or destroyed outright in 1948. Like al-Majdal Asqalan which is now known as Ashkelon, Umm al-Hiran will be reinvented as Hiran.

The Guardian story appeared on the paper’s homepage on Wednesday at 16:58 GMT; by the time I went to bed both the story and the village were gone.

By contrast, here is an excerpt from what New Israel Fund fellow Emily Hilton wrote in a Times of Israel blog,

Waking up to the news of what happened in my Jewish democratic state this morning, I felt like I was grieving. I want so much to believe in an image of Israel that was fed to me when I was younger, one outlined in the Declaration of Independence. I want to believe that Jewish values play a role in creating a more just and fairer society and instead what I see are examples of Jewish violence and repression.

In the Jewish, democratic state, I watch Israel eat itself from the inside.

Back here again, we watch as politicians sit on their hands, avert their eyes, shift their feet, shout ‘Hamas is Hamas is Hamas‘ in the smoke and mirrors gibberish that echoes through the chambers of government, whilst pretending their cynical prevarication is tied to some strategic interest, or mooting threadbare claims about the ‘right conditions for peace’, rather than admitting to the cowardice and failure of moral leadership which more plausibly explain their silence.

On the contrary, our Prime Minister declares the state that commits these vile acts of ethnic cleansing ‘remarkable’, celebrates it as a ‘beacon of tolerance’. Weeks later, she goes further, attacking the US Secretary of State for his impertinence in naming the scandal of Israel’s 50 year ‘fuck you’ to international law, its unapologetic contempt for the Palestinian people alongside the Geneva Conventions, the United Nations, the world’s human rights NGOs and every other arbiter of decency.

We are told to ignore placards reading ‘Kill them all’ at Tel Aviv rallies in support of murderous IDF medics, the uprooting of olive trees and the incarceration of children, and directed instead to read forensic analyses of the Palestinian psyche, its people’s disposition towards their occupier a measure of their entitlement to human dignity. We demand that they swear allegiance to the Zionist conception of Jewish statehood on Palestinian land, as a condition of being considered for statehood of their own.

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As the Palestinian-American academic Steve Salaita said recently on Facebook, Palestine is an inconvenience. There are few votes to be gained in supporting Palestinian rights, and the risks of doing so are high. Still, in my more optimistic moments, I begin to imagine the collapse of this bankrupt project and its replacement by a truly democratic place with full equality. Then I permit myself to wonder which world leaders will rewrite their own histories and the histories of their parties, snapping grinning selfies at the well-attended funeral of an elderly hero of the Palestinian resistance whose struggle was fought tooth and nail by those same leaders and their parties.

But it is 2017 and we know more than we ever did before, the facts come in thick, fast, inescapable, claustrophobic, and we say nothing. The newest line of attack from proponents of this colonialist barbarism is to connect the inhabitants of a poor Bedouin village in the desert with the Islamic State. And yet who in this picture is enacting an ethno-nationalist project driven by religious supremacy? As ever with Palestine, the story is this: don’t believe your eyes, let alone your heart, for the victims are the terrorists and the oppressors the oppressed.

But I persist: if this is not ethnic cleansing, tell me what is it? If Jewish-only towns and settler-only roads, hospitals, schools aren’t apartheid, tell me what they are?

For me, these questions are especially acute this week as I’ve been watching ‘The Lobby’, the Al Jazeera Investigation of pro Israel influence on UK policy.

While the series mainly focused on the limits of political lobbying, Wednesday’s indecent events in the Negev are a reminder of the end game here. Pro-Israel pressure isn’t about terms of trade or the location of a factory, an Olympic bid, a visa scheme or a contract to build a bridge. It’s a demand for silence on these vicious acts and the spirit that drives them. As Maria Strizzolo, a former aide to the MP Robert Halfon, tells AJ’s undercover reporter, posh London lunches and Tel Aviv nightclubs are exchanged for lobbing a verbal stun grenade onto the floor of the House of Commons that will distract its members from the bombing of a school sheltering refugees, the slaughter of young boys playing football on a beach, three generations of a family wiped out by a single missile, or indeed the razing of a village.

In the event, whatever Al Jazeera dug up, any lingering doubt about the influence of the pro-Israel lobby in the UK was surely erased by the government’s unseemly haste in dismissing its findings, and accepting the risible claim of Israel’s unctuous ambassador Mark Regev, that the Israeli official Shai Masot was a loose cannon, acting alone. Not a peep was uttered by Downing Street or the Foreign Office in defence of the UK government minister Sir Alan Duncan, who was named as a target of Masot’s plans to ‘take down’ politicians, nor that of Crispin Blunt, the Conservative Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee whose job is to hold the government to account on foreign policy issues.

I’ve also been struck by how quickly the mainstream media dropped the investigation like a hot potato. Following a few thunderous headlines in The Guardian and the Daily Mail, the UK press have resumed the prone position on Israel-Palestine. I confess that I’m especially amused by the reticence of self-appointed gatekeepers of the progressive left like Owen Jones and Zoe Williams, who spend their days crafting smug put-downs of the entitled and powerful, while reliably turning a blind eye to this racist ugliness.

Still, for me the biggest ‘reveal’ of The Lobby wasn’t the influence of pro-Israel groups or its embassy on the UK government and opposition parties, an open secret to some and an irrefutable fact for those with the stomach to say so. It was observing the cynical mechanics of the anti-Semitism smear in action, from open discussion about its usefulness as a weapon in the pro-Israel narrative to the admission by an aide to Joan Ryan, Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, that he had reported an incident of ‘anti Semitic harassment’ at the Labour Party conference even though ‘nothing anti-Semitic was said.’ How ironic, then, that the Jewish Chronicle would accuse the Al Jazeera team of ‘belittling anti-Semitism.’ Surely it’s the specious and willy nilly deployment of this serious accusation that sets back the fight against racism, rather than the exposure of its deliberate misuse.

Indeed, watching the exchange between Ryan and Jean Fitzpatrick, a pro Palestine activist who stopped by the LFI booth to question the viability of a ‘two state solution’ given the virtual annexation of the West Bank, the anti Semitism claim appears to be the only weapon in a morally depleted arsenal these days. That’s certainly all Ryan needs, for Fitzpatrick’s temerity in asking a few very straightforward questions at the LFI booth exposed her to the ordeal of a two-week anti-Semitism probe by the Labour Party’s compliance unit. By contrast, I discovered in the series two fleeting moments of surprising honesty on the part of pro-Israel activists. The first is when Michael Rubin admits he ‘doesn’t even know anymore’ whether something is anti-Semitic, and LFI Director Jennifer Gerber declares a comment anti-Semitic and then pauses before wondering aloud ‘isn’t it?’ Fortunately for both, their partners in crime are there to reassure them that anti-Semitism is whatever they say it is, and the moment passes.

Many people claim that social media function as a kind of echo chamber, where we only expose ourselves to thoughts like our own. Perhaps they’re right. But this week’s heartbreaking events and the situation that gives rise to them have reminded me that sometimes an echo chamber is the only place where we can breathe.