This statement in support of Palestinian self determination and UNRWA by the Hoping Foundation, and signed by celebrities including Hugh Grant, Gary Lineker, Mary McCartney, Olivia Wilde and many others was published last week and got virtually no coverage here in the UK. In fact, I came across it by accident on the Twitter timeline of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Anyone who follows this issue will recall the trolls hounding Gary Lineker a couple of months back, after he dared to object to Palestinian children being put in cages. Lineker’s objection was ‘anti Semitic.’ I’ll just leave that there. And no doubt the celebrities named below – including a clearly unapologetic Lineker – will take similar flak for daring to stick out their necks in defence of the Palestinians. Respect. Would that more public figures had their courage.

We wish to express our horror at the unprecedented attack on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) by US President Donald Trump. This UN institution was set up almost 70 years ago specifically to protect, and provide urgently required humanitarian relief, to Palestinian refugees.

So the real target of this lethal attack is the Palestinian people themselves. It has been launched with the clear aim of dismantling their rights, by dismantling the institution that is charged with protecting them.

UNRWA was established in 1949 by the UN General Assembly, to safeguard the Palestinian victims of the 1948 war, after their country and society were destroyed, and the majority made refugees. The United Nations recognises the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people; the same rights afforded to all peoples of the world. We wish to highlight here the fact that Palestinians’ human rights include their internationally recognised rights as a people. These rights are inherent, so cannot be removed by brute force, or alienated from them.

2017 closed with the US President’s announcement of his intention to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, ripping up the internationally recognised rights of Palestinians to their land, while attempting to impose a ‘peace plan’ that destroys all hope for peace. 2018 opens with President Trump’s new attempt to force Palestinians to accept this grossly unfair ‘deal’, by threatening and endangering the international agency responsible for their basic needs as refugees.

It is repellent to us that such tactics are being used in the 21st century, in direct contradiction of international law, and to human decency. Demanding the surrender of basic human rights, and from a people without a country to protect them, is truly shocking to witness.

Directly threatened by this American funding cut are millions of Palestinian refugees: more than half a million children in over 700 UN schools; primary health care for mothers, infants, and the sick; those requiring urgent emergency food assistance especially in Gaza and Syria.

We stand for dignity for the most vulnerable, and we stand with Palestinian refugees who are facing a terrible moment. We call on the UN Secretary General to immediately convene a conference that can establish a stable funding system in order to protect UNRWA’s vital work. Peoples across the world have always supported the Palestinian struggle for freedom, and understand that Palestinian refugees – the most vulnerable – are the key to hope, and to any chance of a peaceful future.

Signatories:

Alfonso Cuarón; Andrew O’Hagan; Antony Gormley; Bella Freud; Brian Eno; Claire Foy; David Morrissey; Emma Thompson; Eric Cantona; Esther Freud; Gary Lineker; Gillian Anderson; Hanif Kureishi; Hugh Grant; James Fox; Jemima Khan; Karma Nabulsi; Ken Loach; Laura Bailey; Livia Firth; Mary McCartney; Olivia Wilde; Paul Laverty; Peter Gabriel; Peter Kosminsky; Robert Del Naja; Stephen Frears; Steve Coogan; Tilda Swinton; Tracey Emin; Vanessa Kirby; Viggo Mortensen; Will Self.

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‘Israeli authorities are set to advance plans to triple the size of a settlement in the heart of occupied East Jerusalem, according to reports Thursday…

Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran told Channel 1: “The previous attempt to build apartments there, as if it were a regular real estate project, failed because there is no market of people who innocently want to live in the heart of a Palestinian neighbourhood. Only ideologues”.

According to Haaretz, “approval of the new units would take place as Netanyahu heads for a ten-day visit to Latin America and the UN General Assembly in New York”.’

The rest is here: Israeli authorities set to triple size of settlement in East Jerusalem

Meantime, instead of focusing on Israel’s daily violations of international law like this one, or its destruction last week of a Palestinian school, the thuggish and corrupt Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, is filling his days by arresting non-violent Palestinian activists like Issa Amro for their Facebook posts. File this under ‘you couldn’t make it up.’

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

As the Modern Language Association’s annual conference approaches, members committed to pursuing Palestinians’ academic freedom by pushing for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions are increasing their output of compelling advocacy pieces in support of the organisation’s boycott resolution. This is a brief but strong statement from Shirly Bahar, a Mizrahi Israeli doctoral candidate based in New York.

Here’s a short excerpt:

I support BDS as an Israeli whose Jewish-Israeli citizenship marked on her ID card exempts her from the harsh oppression that Palestinians experience on a daily basis. I am not interested in the special privileges and safety that my Jewish identity mark grants me on [sic] the expense of Palestinian lives and basic human rights. Supporting non-violent resistance to occupation and oppression marks a political moral obligation to account for the suffering of others.

Read more: Shirly Bahar’s Statement in Support of a Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

It hasn’t taken long but I’m already fed up with the new line out of some factions of the ‘pro Palestine’ camp that posits the BDS movement as fatally divisive. The latest putative supporter of Palestinian rights to take up this theme is Norman Finkelstein, the tireless campaigner for Palestine, who spoke recently in Ottawa. His comments were summed up by Peter Larson on his blog, Canada Talks Israel Palestine.

Below you’ll find the response I posted on Peter’s blog, which offers some notes and observations about this disturbing trend. But before this gets too abstract for you, let’s look at a couple of basics. Here’s a shot of the Palestinian playground the Israelis levelled in East Jerusalem this week; it comes from the Ma’an News Agency story on this event, which was one of a series of demolitions the same day. They were not covered by a single mainstream media outlet I can find.

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In addition, I’ve just spotted the news that an Israeli court has found the shooting in the head at point blank range of a seriously wounded and prone Palestinian man by an IDF soldier in Hebron ‘inconclusive.’ The video of the fatal shooting was widely seen across social media. As you might know, Hebron is where the Israeli government has welded shut the doors of all Palestinian homes and businesses on Shuhada Stret, the main commercial thoroughfare. Palestinians are required to access their properties via alleyways and back windows.

Here is my response to Finkelstein:

‘While I appreciate that Norman Finkelstein takes a lot of flak for his views, I agree with the contributors here who find his criticism of BDS deeply troubling. There are several reasons:

1. I do not know of a single manifestation of Palestinian resistance that has ever been deemed ‘acceptable’ by the international community, which on the contrary has unrelentingly resisted holding Israel to account for its repeated and brazen violations of international law.

2. Do the anti-BDS crowd deny that the decisions of Veolia, Ahava, Sodastream and G4S to shut down or move their OPT operations, along with Artists Against Palestine, the Brazilian musician Gaetano Veloso and many others who refuse to perform there, would have occurred without pressure from BDS activists? And can they name another strategy that can boast these successes?

3. The BDS movement originated from frustration with global obstructionism on Palestinian rights, while Israel lays facts on the ground in the OPT and pulverises Gaza every couple of years. As such, it seems perverse rather than ‘provocative’ to claim that BDS is causing the inaction it arose in response to.

More importantly, do those making these claims seriously believe that if BDS were stopped some miraculous progress on Palestinian rights would occur? And do they think it’s a coincidence that the fiercest opponents of BDS are also the fiercest opponents of Palestinian rights?

4. It is not just hot-headed undergraduates who support BDS. It is mainstream churches, labour unions, cultural organisations and many other groups and individuals. Here in the UK the Quakers made a powerful submission to the government’s consultation on plans to stop local councils from boycotting settlement related companies. As I wrote on my own blog, the World Association for Infant Mental Health moved its late May congress from Tel Aviv to Prague in response to concerns from its membership about whether Israel was an appropriate location for this event. Israeli and Palestinian mental health groups are still supporting the congress, just not in Israel.

In fact, the anti-BDS line being spun by Palestine supporters serves to uphold a dangerous and longstanding narrative which marginalises those who act on their concern for Palestinian rights with widely-accepted tools of non-violent resistance as ‘anti Semites’ and radicals, while decontaminating those who are content with an endless debate about it, bolstered by the odd letter to their MP. We’ve been here before; this road leads nowhere.

5. The anti-BDS vote in Canadian parliament, which allegedly arose from concerns about the movement’s ‘anti-Israel’ underpinnings, cannot be seen in a vacuum. During Operation Protective Edge, there was barely a peep of concern out of a single Canadian politician about attacks on UNWRA schools, the 12 hour siege of the densely populated Shujaiya neighbourhood where Palestinian civilians were stripped naked and used as human shields, or countless other incidents. These have been amply documented by numerous human rights groups, from Amnesty and Human Rights Watch to B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence. Further, just a few months ago, Justin Trudeau’s government joined the US, Israel, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands to vote against a UN resolution supporting Palestinian sovereignty over their own natural resources. In the meantime, it has not reinstated funding for UNRWA which was axed under Harper’s toxic leadership. If these are not clear indicators of Canadian politicians’ disregard for Palestinian rights and self determination, which actually underpinned support for the anti-BDS vote, I’m not sure what is.

For me, the eagerness of supposed supporters of Palestinian rights to join hands with the likes of Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Trudeau and others in Italy, France, Greece and the UK who have pledged total impunity for Israel on their watch even if it means flouting their own countries’ laws and constitutions, is a tribute to the dazzling success of the hasbara operation where this talking point was incubated, nurtured and financed. It also provides chilling evidence of the anti-Arab racism that fuels anti-BDS activism, in which a commitment to Palestinian rights can be imagined exclusively as a stick to beat Israel with, rather than a compelling and worthwhile goal unto itself.’

With highly aggressive and lavishly-funded opposition to Palestinian rights and Israeli accountability gaining pace here’s an uplifting piece that came across my Twitter feed today, from students at the University of Chicago. Besides the generally hostile environment of America during an election year, these students’ commitment to the Palestinian cause needs to be viewed through the lens of especially virulent attacks on Palestine supporters in Illinois, where the legislature passed a resolution a few months ago blacklisting those who boycott companies that profit from Israel’s illegal settlements on land stolen from Palestinians. Here’s a snippet:

UofC Divest Launches Campaign

‘Unfortunately, the University of Chicago has a long history of both failing to take socially responsible stances and actively perpetuating systems of oppression. Our university failed to divest from South Africa and Darfur even though many of our peer institutions did. The school also failed to divest from fossil fuels or to form a socially responsible investment committee, even though both initiatives were supported by an overwhelming majority (70-80%) of the student body. It has played a major role both locally and nationally in perpetuating segregation and gentrification…

Because of our powerful belief in justice and equity for all people, we are proud to bring our resolution calling for divestment from companies complicit in Israeli apartheid before College Council this spring quarter. We urge other members of the university community, including students, former students, faculty, and alumni, to support us as well by signing our petition and checking out other ways to get involved!’

Read the rest here: Press Release

Last week I wrote a letter to McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier, after reading her disgraceful comments outlining the university’s ad hoc ‘policy’ on BDS. Bad enough that a senior administrator at one of Canada’s most prestigious universities would wilfully misrepresent both the principles of BDS and its objectives. Worse still her extraordinary decision to send these comments to the parents of all current McGill students.

In fact, one such parent who has two kids at McGill says the university had never before contacted him regarding human rights activism on campus. Clearly, it is only Palestinian rights that excite Principal Fortier’s antipathy, and require singling out for exclusion.

For the avoidance of confusion, BDS is modelled on the boycott of South Africa which helped hasten the end of apartheid. It began with a call for solidarity from a network of Palestinian civil society groups, frustrated with the toothless handwringing of foreign governments and international institutions in the face of Israel’s ceaseless and brazen violations of international law. Its advocates claim three objectives:

1. a halt to Israeli settlement building on Palestinian land

2. equal rights for Arab Israelis

3. the right of return of Palestinians expelled from their homes when Israel was created in 1948.

Although the enemies of BDS are numerous and varied, ranging from the Guardian comments editor Jonathan Freedland to the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the London Mayor Boris Johnson, their single point of attack is identical: however appalling Israel’s behaviour, any pressure on it to change can only be ‘anti Semitic’. It follows that anyone making this demand is, of course, an anti Semite.

Over recent days, I have heard from many people, including several McGill alumni, who are troubled by Principal Fortier’s effort to suppress freedom of conscience on campus, not to mention the distortions she peddles. This is why I decided to publish my letter to her, which is below.

Dear Principal Fortier

In 1983, I had a narrow escape. You see, that was the year I had to choose which universities to apply to in order to begin my undergraduate studies the following year.

I was accepted at both McGill and Trinity College at the University of Toronto; I chose to attend the latter. The decision was difficult because of my love of Montreal, and my undergraduate days were not especially joyful.

For more than 30 years I have wondered if I made the right choice. It was only when I read your comments about BDS, the non-violent movement to support Palestinian rights and international law, that I was finally certain. Your attack on BDS, and aggressive efforts to smear students who support it, is shocking and cynical in equal measure, and I am pleased and relieved that I have no connection with an academic institution whose leader would take this position.

Indeed, I am certain it will come as a surprise to many current students and alumni that you feel such deep hostility to efforts to secure basic rights for the Palestinian people and to demands that Israel comply with international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, that you would launch this public attack, and then take the extraordinary step of contacting students’ parents in order to announce your position.

It is a bleak moment for freedom of thought and expression in Canada, all the more so because of ugly efforts by some in academia to knowingly and actively misrepresent non-violent advocacy in aid of an occupied and besieged people. The only comfort available to those of us who are familiar with these tactics is the news that some of your faculty have had the integrity and humanity to speak out against your bullying.

Sincerely,

Juliana Farha