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



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.


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.

For me, here’s the nub of this thing which the mainstream media will never report: ‘The village leaders say there is no need to evict them as the Jewish settlers can move onto a site next door. “We are not against them living here, but we want to stay here too and live together with them as neighbours,” says Atwa Abu Alkia’n.’ Makes me want to cry, actually.

Palestine Briefing

Umm Al HiranEmboldened by the election of Donald Trump, the Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu was reported to be sending his army’s bulldozers in at dawn today (Tuesday) to demolish this peaceful Bedouin village in Israel.

The Israeli government has long been planning to demolish the village of Umm Al Hiran and evict its inhabitants in order to build a Jewish village with the same name – Hiran – on exactly the same location.
For the last two years Netanyahu has been delaying the demolition because of international protests at this extreme case of ethnic cleansing, but now with Trump elected, he gave the go-ahead for the village to be razed.

The 500 Arab residents of the village have lived in the village for nearly 60 years and were ordered to move there by the Israeli military commander of the Negev who gave them a lease to build a village, farm the land…

View original post 113 more words

I was relieved to see the backside of 2016, the past few months of which have left a bitter aftertaste of shell shock and death march. While there have certainly been personal joys, the wearying relentlessness of global events, from the election of Donald Trump to terror attacks in Berlin, Baghdad and Istanbul, from the unending humanitarian catastrophes in Syria and Yemen to the (seemingly sudden) deaths of A.A. Gill, Carrie Fisher, George Michael, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Alan Rickman and others, has left me depleted.

Yesterday – just the third day of a whole new year – it was the death of John Berger, the Booker Prize-winning English novelist, art critic and cultural theorist, that greeted me when I awoke. Judging by his intellectual and creative output and the high regard it secured, Berger’s 90 years were well-spent. Still, to those of us weaned on his influential essay collection Ways of Seeing, or the BBC series it spawned, his death was a shock.

Reading about Berger’s life, I was reminded that he was among the first Western intellectuals actively to take up the 2006 call by Palestinian filmmakers, artists and other cultural workers for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel as ‘another path to a just peace’, and to urge his colleagues to do the same. Besides signing a letter to The Guardian in which he and 93 others made the case for solidarity with Palestinians, Berger wrote his own personal appeal which I’m pasting below.

As it happens, his death and the inevitable review of his life that follows coincide with the Modern Language Association’s long-awaited vote on a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions, which takes place this weekend.

Indeed, perhaps the most sobering aspect of these artists’ comments is that they were written a full decade ago, yet they might as well have been composed yesterday. The conditions they describe are indescribably worse: record numbers of Palestinian homes demolished and administrative detention orders issued, breakneck colonial expansion against a growing determination to annex Palestinian lands outright, unchecked settler violence, and a decade long siege of Gaza, punctuated by regular military assaults of increasing and experimental viciousness.

Like a canny child with no discernible boundaries who’s grasped that impunity and toothless handwringing constitute the reliably flaccid response to his rampages, the Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu is out of control, beyond the reach of ordinary decency let alone the dictates of international law. It has found an aggressive champion in Donald Trump, whose own pathology is eerily similar. Together they bring to mind Mickey and Mallory Knox, the protagonists in Oliver Stone’s grim crime film, Natural Born Killers, in which the media exalt a pair of monstrous murderers.

Today the case for BDS is more compelling than ever, which is surely why the backlash against it becomes ever fiercer. As the human rights lawyer Jonathan Kuttab pointed out in a speech in Toronto a few months ago, the pro-Israel lobby long ago abandoned putative grassroots campaigns via newspapers’ letters pages and the like, refocusing its formidable resources on persuading governments to defy their own constitutions by outlawing free speech on Israel, while waging a concurrent smear campaign against anyone who advocates for Palestinian rights. And to close the circle, those with the temerity to comment on this bullying at the behest of a foreign power are accused of perpetuating anti-Semitic notions of a ‘global Jewish conspiracy.’

A case in point is Nadia Shoufani, the Ontario schoolteacher who was suspended over remarks she made at an Al-Quds Day rally last July, in which she referred to the Palestinian writer and political activist Ghassan Kanafani as a ‘martyr.’ Kanafani was assassinated by the Mossad in Beirut in 1972. Ms Shoufani’s case was covered by the taxpayer-funded CBC, which did no independent research, preferring to parrot defamatory claims supported by historical distortions that had been circulated by B’nai Brith and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

Yesterday, the Palestine Festival of Literature posted on Facebook a video of Berger reading Kanafani’s ‘Letter from Gaza’. It’s also embedded below, in honour of Berger and Nadia Shoufani, both of whom refused the complicity of silence.

Here is Berger’s letter:

I would like to make a few personal remarks about this world-wide appeal to teachers, intellectuals and artists to join the cultural boycott of the state of Israel, as called for by over a hundred Palestinian academics and artists, and – very importantly – also by a number of Israeli public figures, who outspokenly oppose their country’s illegal occupation of the Palestine territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Their call is attached, together with my After Guernica drawing. I hope you will feel able to add your signature, to the attached letter, which we intend to publish in national newspapers.

The boycott is an active protest against two forms of exclusion which have persisted, despite many other forms of protestations, for over sixty years – for almost three generations.

During this period the state of Israel has consistently excluded itself from any international obligation to heed UN resolutions or the judgement of any international court. To date, it has defied 246 Security Council Resolutions!

As a direct consequence seven million Palestinians have been excluded from the right to live as they wish on land internationally acknowledged to be theirs; and now increasingly, with every week that passes, they are being excluded from their right to any future at all as a nation.

As Nelson Mandela has pointed out, boycott is not a principle, it is a tactic depending upon circumstances. A tactic which allows people, as distinct from their elected but often craven governments, to apply a certain pressure on those wielding power in what they, the boycotters, consider to be an unjust or immoral way. (In white South Africa yesterday and in Israel today, the immorality was, or is being, coded into a form of racist apartheid).

Boycott is not a principle. When it becomes one, it itself risks to become exclusive and racist. No boycott, in our sense of the term, should be directed against an individual, a people, or a nation as such. A boycott is directed against a policy and the institutions which support that policy either actively or tacitly. Its aim is not to reject, but to bring about change.

How to apply a cultural boycott? A boycott of goods is a simpler proposition, but in this case it would probably be less effective, and speed is of the essence, because the situation is deteriorating every month (which is precisely why some of the most powerful world political leaders, hoping for the worst, keep silent.).

How to apply a boycott? For academics it’s perhaps a little clearer – a question of declining invitations from state institutions and explaining why. For invited actors, musicians, jugglers or poets it can be more complicated. I’m convinced, in any case, that its application should not be systematised; it has to come from a personal choice based on a personal assessment.

For instance. An important mainstream Israeli publisher today is asking to publish three of my books. I intend to apply the boycott with an explanation. There exist, however, a few small, marginal Israeli publishers who expressly work to encourage exchanges and bridges between Arabs and Israelis, and if one of them should ask to publish something of mine, I would unhesitatingly agree and furthermore waive aside any question of author’s royalties. I don’t ask other writers supporting the boycott to come necessarily to exactly the same conclusion. I simply offer an example.

What is important is that we make our chosen protests together, and that we speak out, thus breaking the silence of connivance maintained by those who claim to represent us, and thus ourselves representing, briefly by our common action, the incalculable number of people who have been appalled by recent events but lack the opportunity of making their sense of outrage effective.

John Berger