"This is how I understand the struggle...To stand steadily like spears, and never give up." Naji Al-Ali

Friday, December 31, 2010

Why We Resist Occupation

To the States - Walt Whitman

To the States or any one of them, or any city of the States, Resist much, obey little,
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved,
Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city of this earth, ever afterward resumes its liberty.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Israeli Foreign Ministry Plans New Hasbara Effort Against Palestinians

Rafael Barak
Haaretz reports that the Israeli Foreign Ministry has officially launched a diplomatic campaign to dissuade the international community from recognizing an independent Palestinian state along 1967 borders and possibly catalyzing the passage of a UN Security Council resolution against settlement building.

Efforts will include “an immediate public relations campaign on the matter at the bureaus of the premiers, foreign ministers and parliament in each respective country” as well as the dissemination of a “legal position paper” expressing that “only direct negotiations could end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not unilateral actions that subvert past accords.”

According to Director-General Rafael Barak, “[Seeking a UNSC resolution on settlement activity] can only hurt attempts to renew talks.” Seemingly unbeknownst to Barak are the myriad of pre-existing Security Council resolutions aimed at settlement activity. From a previous post:

  • Operative paragraph one of UNSC Resolution 242, in which the Security Council unanimously “affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of...the following principles: Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”
  • UNSC Resolution 446 explicitly denouncing settlement activity (three abstentions)
  • UNSC Resolution 452 explicitly denouncing settlement activity (one abstention)
  • UNSC Resolution 465 explicitly denouncing settlement activity (unanimous)
  • UNSC Resolution 471 explicitly denouncing settlement activity (one abstention)
  • Portions of UNSC Resolution 252, passed with two abstentions, in which the Security Council “considers that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem are invalid and cannot change that status; [and] Urgently calls upon Israel to rescind all such measures already taken and to desist forthwith from taking any further action which tends to change the status of Jerusalem”
  • UNSC Resolution 267 explicitly denouncing annexation and settlement of East Jerusalem (unanimous)
  • UNSC Resolution 298 explicitly denouncing annexation and settlement of East Jerusalem (one abstention)
  • UNSC Resolution 476 explicitly denouncing annexation and settlement of East Jerusalem (one abstention)
  • UNSC Resolution 478 explicitly denouncing annexation and settlement of East Jerusalem (one abstention)
Frankly, another UNSC resolution condemning settlement activity would merely be a drop in the bucket.

With these new efforts, Israel makes the claim that Palestinians are illegally sabotaging the entire peace process. This is utter hyperbole. Outside of allegations that the PA has surpassed the legal limitations imposed by Oslo, which can be more thoroughly examined once the Ministry’s position paper is made public, even Barak himself admits that Palestinian actions are “processes that could take place alongside negotiations and a settlement freeze.”

The fact of the matter is Palestinian jockeying in the international community cannot unilaterally end the conflict on Palestinian terms. Since the Palestinian National Council’s 1988 declaration of statehood, more than 100 countries have recognized an independent Palestine. To think that recognition of a Palestinian state along 1967 borders by the majority of the international community will substitute for Israeli withdrawal of the occupied territories is a ridiculous position. Israel knows this. So why go to such lengths to subvert recognition?

Barak plainly states the reason Israel is embarking on its hasbara effort. In his words, “Palestinians were hoping that their proceedings would encourage Barack Obama's administration to take certain steps in their future, including dealing with the 1967 borders and increasing pressure on Israel.” To the Ministry, the realization of such hopes is simply unacceptable. In Barak’s view, all issues must be settled through negotiations which pressure Israel and Palestinians to make equal concessions. This is because Palestinians already have legitimate, established rights to almost all of their demands –rights that Israel is unwilling to accept, and therefore hopes to escape the burden of by “negotiating.”

  • Palestinians are already entitled to their Right of Return as enshrined in UNGA Resolution 194, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
  • Israel has never been legally allowed to settle any land in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, as evidenced by the numerous UNSC resolutions mentioned above as well as the decision rendered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the Geneva Conventions
  • Israel’s siege of Gaza was already determined illegal by a UN Fact Finding Mission and must be lifted without condition
  • Portions of Israel’s partition wall that cut into the West Bank (85% of the wall) should already be demolished or re-routed per the ICJ’s  decision
  • Palestinians’ (unilateral) right to self-determination is already guaranteed by the UN Charter, the UDHR, the ICCPR and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
There are in reality very few issues which could not be settled by Israel simply adhering to established international consensus. The Israeli government is plainly aware of this fact and is consequently trying to trap Palestinians into making concessions to gain what they should already have. This is why the Foreign Ministry is trying to block another resolution. This is why Israel does not want to face extra pressure from the Obama administration. This is why Israel fears further solidification of diplomatic ties between Palestine and other countries. 

If the international community would simply enforce its decisions, the negotiation process would be a very different one. Palestinians would negotiate only on issues that are not already settled, e.g. the sharing of natural resources and security arrangements, or on the best application of internationally recognized principles rather than arguments about whether they are even valid. In this way, Israel would stand to lose much more than in the current situation. Consequently, the Foreign Ministry will fight with all of its power to maintain the status quo.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Call to Action: Help Raise Awareness about Cast Lead on December 27th

We are coordinating an information campaign to commemorate the second anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, hoping it will call attention to Israel’s continued illegal siege on Gaza. The plan centers on an attempt to trend the hashtag #Gaza2, though we encourage people to use other forms of social media, e.g. Facebook to raise awareness as well.

We want users to tweet facts, stats, pictures, personal messages, links, blog posts, videos… anything and everything that relates to Cast Lead, the Goldstone Report, Gaza’s humanitarian crisis etc.

@AmoonaE from @VEPalestine is spearheading the effort. She’s started a twibe for all participants which you can join here.

Some of you might think this is silly, but it’s a very simple effort, and well worth the time it takes to send a few tweets/status updates should it end up being successful.

If you have any questions or input, you can post them on the twibe’s page, or contact any one of its existing members, myself included (@maggiesager).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Congress Aids Terrorism with Position on Palestinian State

On November 29th, 2010 Congressman Ted Poe (R- Texas) submitted H.R. 1734 to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The main text of the bill, which can be found in its entirety here, does the following:
(1) reaffirms [Congress’] strong opposition to any attempt to establish a Palestinian state outside the negotiating process;

(2) strongly and unequivocally opposes any attempt to seek recognition of a Palestinian state by the United Nations or other international forums;

(3) calls upon the Administration to continue its opposition to the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state;

(4) calls upon the Administration to affirm that the United States would deny any recognition, legitimacy, or support of any kind to any unilaterally declared ‘‘Palestinian state’’ and would urge other responsible nations to follow suit, and to make clear that any such unilateral declaration would constitute a grievous violation of the principles underlying the Oslo Accords and the Middle East peace process;

(5) calls upon the Administration to affirm that the United States will oppose any attempt to seek recognition of a Palestinian state by the United Nations or other international forums and will veto any resolution to that end by the United Nations Security Council;

(6) calls upon the President and the Secretary of State to lead a high-level diplomatic effort to encourage the European Union and other responsible nations to strongly and unequivocally oppose the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state or any attempt to seek recognition of a Palestinian state by the United Nations or other international forums; and

(7) supports the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the achievement of a true and lasting peace through direct negotiations between the parties.

Since this submission, another bill proposed by Rep. Howard Berman, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and allegedly penned by AIPAC has passed as of December 15th.  Though the text of this bill has yet to be made public, the American Association for Palestinian Equal Rights and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation are basing their critique of the legislation on the text of H.R. 1734.

Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX)
This legislation stands in testament to the well-established fact that American politicians not only consistently act unfairly in the interests of Israel to the detriment of Palestinians, but further imperil the lives of  American citizens with their actions by directly and unnecessarily contributing to the perpetuation of terrorism against the United States.

H.R. 1734 speaks to the inherent hypocrisy of the US government’s position on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in that it takes specific issue with the concept of “unilateral declarations of statehood,” apparently lost to President Truman’s recognition of Israel’s (unilateral declaration of) statehood within 11 minutes of the 1948 proclamation. Upon being recognized by a majority within International Community of States, Israel was accepted into the United Nations, against the objections of Palestinians and various Arab nations. 

Seemingly, there is nothing objectionable in this series of events in the House's view regardless of its impact on the conflict. However, Palestinians cannot be afforded the same opportunity to appeal to the international community when negotiations prove unproductive. Because the legislation makes no mention of the means by which Israel declared statehood, nor of the violence that resulted, one cannot conclude that congress is trying to avoid making the same mistake as before. Instead, the House simply contends that Palestinians must be subjected to Israel’s proclivity for intransigence for an indefinite period of time ,so as not to adversely affect the virtually non-existent peace process, remaining trapped by agreements that Israel routinely violates while the Palestinian Authority falls over itself to improve Israel’s security situation.

While congress claims that the PA has not lived up to its Oslo promises, a charge that stems from alleged shortcomings in preventing terrorism and incitement, reality tells a different story. According to recently released wikileaks cables, Israel is fact quite pleased with the PA. What’s more Palestine solidarity activists, investigative journalists and human rights organizations routinely accuse the PA with human rights violations in its attempts to strangle both violent and non-violent resistance, and generally accepting Israel’s attempt to outsource the occupation.

Even the Department of State agrees that the PA has done exceedingly well in living up to its security obligations, stating, “the Palestinian Authority (PA) continued its counterterrorism efforts in 2009, with an emphasis on controlling the activities of terrorist organizations, particularly Hamas, in the West Bank.” The report goes on to state that the main threat to Israeli security comes from Hamas’ qassam fire, and that during the reporting period “Israeli authorities, among others, identified the improved capacity and performance of PA security forces as a leading contributor to the improved security environment of the West Bank.”  Finally, “Security cooperation between the PA and the Israeli government was close and productive, although there were continued Israeli military incursions in Palestinian population centers in the West Bank, which the PA strongly criticized. PA officials stressed the importance of close security cooperation with the Israeli government.” Thus the PA is not only fully engaged in maintaining security within the occupied West Bank and for Israel, but would like to cooperate with Israel even more so than it already does.

Yet Palestinians are no closer to achieving statehood, and instead are being called upon by congress to continue to engage “without precondition” (read: while simultaneously letting Israel confiscate Palestinian land in violation of international law). Why on earth should they? Simply because Congress is under the impression that peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations, despite the utter lack of progress toward a lasting solution, and continuous steps in the opposite direction.

Congressmen Poe and Berman would rather attempt to strong-arm Palestinians and the international community at large into sitting down to Israel’s table. This brings us to the next issue with the bill: the United States government’s insistence on actively interfering with Palestinian diplomacy on behalf of Israel. The United States is perfectly warranted in refusing to recognize a Palestinian state along pre-1967 borders. There are many states within the United Nations that do not recognize one another. However, actively attempting to convince other nations to follow suit, and threatening to veto any legislation that would otherwise pass through the Security Council is not only inherently wrong and prejudiced, but perfectly exemplifies one of the main reasons the United States is a consistent target of terrorism.

Authors of The Israel Lobby John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt content that there is “abundant evidence that U.S. support for Israel encourages anti-Americanism throughout the Arab and Islamic world and has fueled the rage of anti-American terrorists.” [1] Mearsheimer and Walt go on to explain:
While some Islamic radicals are genuinely upset by what they regard as the West’s materialism and venality, its alleged “theft” of Arab oil, its support for corrupt Arab monarchies, its repeated military interventions in the region, etc., they are also angered by U.S. support for Israel and Israel’s harsh treatment of the Palestinians. Thus, Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian dissident whose writings have been an important inspiration for contemporary Islamic fundamentalists, was hostile to the United States both because he saw it as a corrupt and licentious society and also because of U.S. support for Israel. Or as Sayyid Muhammed Husayn Fadlallah, spiritual leader of Hezbollah, put it in 2002, “I believe that America bears responsibility for all of Israel…America is a hypocritical nation…for it gives solid support and lethal weapons to the Israelis, but it gives the Arabs and the Palestinians only words.”
Unconditional American support for Israel was also one of the chief reasons Al Qaeda used to target the World Trade Center in 2001. The 9/11 commission determined in a background study, bin Laden attempted to expedite the attack upon witnessing the beginning of the Second Intifada in the fall of 2000 and again when he learned Ehud Barak was to visit Washington in June 2001. What’s more, the 9/11 Commision Report states Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the so-called “principle architect” of the attack, had an animus toward the United States that “stemmed not from his experiences there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.” [2]

In the same vein, Osama bin Laden articulated myriad justifications for targeting the US and its citizens in his global jihad in his 2005 “Letter to America.” First and foremost, bin Laden explains that “it is very simple: Because you attacked us and continue to attack us.” His first example: “You attacked us in Palestine.”

Pre-dating the letter by nine years, bin Laden’s 1996 Fatwa was primarily concerned with the fact that “people of Islam had suffered from aggression, iniquity and injustice imposed on them by the Zionist-Crusaders alliance and their collaborators; to the extent that the Muslims blood became the cheapest and their wealth as loot in the hands of the enemies. Their blood was spilled in Palestine and Iraq.” The title of the fatwa was “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places."

Clearly, US foreign policy in general and unwavering support for Israel in particular has contributed greatly to the United States’ problem with terrorism. When politicians advance such potentially destructive pieces of legislation, they must keep this fact in mind, or be prepared to face the consequences –hopefully not with calls to escalate the War on Terror, thereby missing the point entirely.

This is not to say that Americans should yield uncritically to the demands of terrorists, letting them control US foreign policy as citizens cower in fear. Yet the United States consistently exacerbates its own problems by arrogantly dabbling in the affairs of other nations, offering fuel for the fire, and American citizens and troops (not to mention citizens of other countries) pay the price, ...all for what? The truth of the matter is that congress is worried that unilateral declaration and recognition of a Palestinian state will not offer Israel the guarantees it was hoping to squeeze out of the PA with the help of its largest benefactor.

Unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, and the subsequent recognition of that state by the international community will not solve the conflict. It will simply allow Palestinians to act from a place of authority and empowerment when settling final status issues with Israel.  Without some kind of political capital to rely on, the PA will not be able to guarantee a just solution for its people. Far from being concerned with simply settling the conflict –which the United States could easily do by applying serious pressure to Israel and the PA equally, the US wants to settle the conflict on Israel’s terms.

Some might contend that this characterization is overly cynical, and perhaps congress truly believes negotiations are the answer. Unfortunately, regardless of the veracity of that contention, one can say with confidence that it is the not the way the international community, or the enemies of the United States for that matter, will view such legislation.

[1] The Israel Lobby - John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, 2007, pg 67
[2] 9/11 Commission Report -National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, 2004, pg 147 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Collapse of Negotiations a Gain for Palestine

As the United States sends US Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell to grasp at straws in hopes of restarting negotiations to create a Palestinian state after the Israeli government refused to curb settlement construction, Obama’s inability to entice Netanyahu’s coalition to comply with international law has frustrated many who wish for peace between Israel and Palestine. However, upon closer inspection it becomes apparent that Obama’s specific failure and the now-seemingly inevitable collapse of negotiations in general constitute a tactical victory for Palestinians.

Firstly, Obama’s initial offering and its subsequent rejection have opened the door to mounting malcontent among the American public, causing some to examine the United States’ special relationship with Israel more critically. The very contents of the aid package began this process. In the midst of a prolonged recession the US offered Israel $3 Billion worth of F-35 fighter jets among other incentives (such as a  guarantee of U.S veto should the Palestinian Authority call upon United Nations Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state) at the same time that Bush tax cuts for the wealthy were extended for two years. To many Americans, politicians’ Israel First attitude became glaringly obvious –and quite a few did not like what they saw. Incidents such as this offer a powerful foundation for reexamining Israel’s special place in the United States’ pocketbook. The context of this offer, embedded in a time in which the state of the economy has facilitated the emergence of staunch movements against large government expenditures, could not be worse for Israel, which relies on US aid to sustain the occupation. Undermining this relationship has real consequences for Palestinians on the ground.

On a political level, the generosity of the offer exposed the United States’ impartiality in the matter. America usually functions more as Israel’s lawyer than a third-party facilitator of negotiations. Illuminating Obama’s position and methodology gives observers a perfect example of such behavior. Recognition of this reality is an integral component of its correction.

Luckily, US taxpayers avoided further subsidizing Israel’s war crimes and in doing so escaped an unnecessary if not immoral burden. Obama’s failure also did more to expose the United States’ weakness in the face of Israeli obstinacy, calling into question exactly who is in control of this relationship. Palestine solidarity activists and impartial analysts have long argued that Israel “wags the dog” when it comes to the US to American detriment. Israel’s refusal to cooperate with US demands is not new, yet this particular incident highlights the country’s arrogance in a startlingly demonstrative way. Each instance of recalcitrance works to undermine Israel’s position in American esteem, or at the very least stretches the bounds of what previously unconcerned Americans are willing to stand.

Some believe that Obama’s offer was simply a pretext for items that Israel will inevitably receive irrespective of compliance with any US demands. Various analysts have suggested this is the very reason Netanyahu was unable to convince his coalition to accept a partial moratorium –why by the cow when you can get the milk for free? Yet the delinking of the package from the peace process again offers US citizens more grounds to question policy toward Israel. Apologists might be compelled to excuse the fiscal magnitude of Obama’s gift with the belief that peace is worth any price. What excuse can they offer if Israel still receives it regardless of intransigence? If receiving these items were inevitable, there are only three outcomes. 1) The US will be further exposed as putting Israel’s interests ahead of its own in even more explicit terms 2) Israel will have to actually pay for the jets or 3) The US will be forced to create another pretext for the gift.  In any event, Palestinians win.

As for US Security Council veto, while many assume Israel needs no such guarantee as the US consistently veto’s “anti-Israel” legislation without precondition, Israel’s refusal to meet demands obviates 100% certainty on the subject.

The current stall in and ultimate failure of negotiations also renders moot the weakness of any agreement that would have been reached, specifically the inability to enforce it due to Hamas’ absence in the process. As the ruling government of what will be the other half of a Palestinian state, Hamas’ cooperation with Fatah in implementing any promises made to Israel and acceptance of Israel’s pledges as sufficiently just are integral to the contract’s viability. Leaving Hamas out only works to ensure that the entire process will be an exercise in futility, in which case Palestinians will (most likely) have given up much in exchange for nothing at all while Israel exploits Hamas’ non-cooperation to excuse its own inevitable shortcomings. If the peace process does not fall apart completely, at the very least stalling the resumption of negotiations will give Hamas and Fatah a chance to continue the next round of reconciliation talks between the two factions.

In most cases, Israel has sufficiently controlled popular discourse concerning all aspects of the conflict, whether they center on war history, the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the level of existential threat the country faces, justifications for various human rights abuses or the disintegration of negotiations. The latest collapse serves as a marked departure from such control of the narrative.

While Arabs were unfairly blamed for everything from their own ethnic cleansing (by not implementing the UN’s 1948 Partition Plan) to not accepting a state of their own when they were offered one (as Arafat rejected Camp David), the world has finally woken up to Israel’s role in perpetuating conflict. Main stream outlets’ coverage of negotiations plainly refers to Israel’s refusal to curb settlement construction as the reason for the stalemate. Couple this development with international backlash against Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and reactions to the flotilla massacre this past May and Palestinians just might be getting the sympathetic ear their cause deserves. People are looking at the conflict through a new paradigm, one which is more reflective of reality and consequently works to empower the Palestinian position.

At the same time, the more radical elements of Netanyahu’s settler-controlled coalition are finally being exposed. The more racist legislation that passes through the Knesset, the more opportunities for peace that the coalition rejects, the more Israel will be treated like a rouge pariah state. The political isolation that will ensue provides Israel with a compelling reason to fall in line with accepted international norms or will at minimum mount international support in defense of Palestinian rights.

The international community has already begun to act in solidarity with Palestine as a result of Obama’s failure. The Palestinian Authority’s threat to appeal to the United Nations to facilitate the declaration of an independent state has been historically seen as an empty threat, however as a result of the latest collapse Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay have formally recognized a Palestinian state along 1967 borders in the past weeks. The European Union will discuss recognition in as soon as one year. Israel is losing its chance to impact the substance of a settlement.

What’s more, the media are now openly discussing other alternatives to solving the conflict, including a one-state solution. As Alex Kane reports, while the debate on a one-state solution has been discussed in reference to its allegedly disastrous consequences for Israel, any solution-oriented debate that utilizes the term “apartheid” is a step in the right direction to achieving justice for Palestinians both inside and outside Israel.  

Because the proposed settlement moratorium was admittedly partial (excluding East Jerusalem in contravention of international law) and temporary (only to last 90 days), Palestinians did not stand gain much tangibly. In contrast, Israel’s rejection of Obama’s incentive package has provided myriad advantages to the Palestinian cause which would have proved difficult to attain in alternate iterations of events. While peace still seems illusive, it is fair to say that Palestinians have gained more than they have lost this week.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Jennifer Peto: Jews, Zionism and Holocaust Education

Jenny Peto
Currently, a controversy has arisen regarding University of Toronto graduate Jennifer Peto’s thesis, The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education.” According to certain members of the Canadian government as well as Holocaust educators, Peto (a queer anti-Zionist Jew, the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor) has produced a “shoddy” piece full of “unsupported” theories which constitute an outrageous form of “anti-Semitism.”

That critics would attempt to silence Peto under the banner of self-hating anti-Semitism is altogether unsurprising. Very few have even bothered to read the work before dismissing it wholesale, else they make superficial criticisms such as the contention that Peto did not defer to mainstream texts on Holocaust education or that regardless of her supporting arguments, questioning Holocaust education in any context is unacceptable.

Beware of sensationalism. Peto does not suggest that all Holocaust education must be done away with, or that all Jews are racists or anything else of the sort. Outside of the apparently controversial idea that Jews possess the capacity for racism, she focuses her thesis on the contention that as a result of various factors (which she discusses at length) Ashkenazi Jews have surpassed the mantle of victimhood in Western society. In the same vein as Norman Finkelstein's Beyond Chutzpah, using empirically demonstrative data, Peto argues that rampant, entrenched anti-Semitism is all but gone. She then criticizes specific methods of what she terms "hegemonic" Holocaust education  which seek to not only obfuscate this fact, but use invocations of perennial victimhood to excuse various Israeli policies. An example: the March of the Living takes Jewish youths on a week-long tour of Polish concentration camps, and has them "march" down the same path as their murdered ancestors draped in Israeli flags. Peto argues that the march is purposefully constructed this way in order to implicitly suggest that the state of Israel is the only thing standing in the way of another Holocaust, and thus must be shielded from any criticism. She also takes issue with various manifestations of ethno/eurocentricism embedded within particular Holocaust education centers. 

Because the controversy has stemmed from a fundamental misunderstanding of Peto's arguments and supporting evidence, before judging their merits I encourage you to read the entire work for yourself.
It is my sincere hope that the landslide of negative attention will do more to expose Peto’s ideas to a wider audience, magnifying the impact of her work than it will to tarnish her reputation, thereby mitigating her extremely powerful words.

Again, I encourage you to read Peto's thesis on your own. Nevertheless, I have copied her conclusion below; Judge it for yourself.


On December 27, 2008 I sat down to finish my thesis. As is my usual habit of  procrastination, I decided to check my email before getting started. My inbox was flooded with messages informing me that Israel had begun a full-scale military strike on Gaza that had killed over 300 people in the first few hours of bombings. Any thoughts of writing my thesis immediately disappeared. I am an organizer with the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid in Toronto and we immediately began planning our response. Within 24 hours, we organized a rally outside the Israeli consulate that had over 1000 people in attendance. By the next week, the demonstration had grown to over 10,000 protesters. The Jewish Defense League, an extremist, right-wing Zionist group organized small counter-demonstrations at each of our rallies. The media coverage of our demonstrations chose to focus on tensions between pro-Palestinian and Jewish groups, often skewing the numbers of protestors on both sides to make the demonstrations appear even in size. The Canadian government ignored demands to call for sanctions against Israel. Instead, they expressed unconditional support for Israel and repeatedly spoke of Israel’s right to self-defense. Although the mainstream Zionist community was late to enter into the public debates over the war on Gaza, they eventually mounted a campaign against Palestinian activists and their allies. The Canadian Jewish Congress held a press conference, alleging anti-Semitic hate crimes had taken place at many of the demonstrations across the country. Their evidence of these claims was merely video footage of protestors chanting in Arabic and burning Israeli flags – activities that are in no way anti-Semitic.

During the first week of the war, I attended an informal meeting of people looking to engage in direct action to bring attention to the war crimes being committed in Gaza. At that meeting, a group of Jewish activists, myself included, decided to occupy the Israeli consulate in Toronto. Our goal was to disrupt the dominant media message that this is an inter-religious conflict and that all Jews support Israeli aggression and violence. We wanted to draw attention to the fact that many Jews oppose Israel’s actions, in order to help neutralize attempts by Zionists to characterize all criticism of the war as anti-Semitic. Our hope was that this action would allow others – both Jewish and non-Jewish – to feel more empowered to voice their criticism of Israel’s violence against Palestinians without fearing accusations of anti-Semitism. On January 7, 2009, eight of us occupied the Israeli consulate for about two hours before being arrested. We were held in the back of a police wagon for about an hour before being released without charges. All the major news networks were at the consulate and many of us were interviewed, but the story never aired on the evening news. Some articles were published in local newspapers, but for the most part, the media in Canada kept the story quiet. Word of the action spread around the world and we received messages of support from across the globe. In the following days there were similar actions in Montreal, Los Angeles and San Francisco. One success of the action was that after the occupation, there has been noticeably more acknowledgement in the media that there is dissent within the Jewish community and that there are Jewish people who oppose Israeli Apartheid. 

In the weeks that followed the occupation of the consulate, I became one of two main spokespeople for the group that was involved. I was asked to speak at rallies, teach-ins and other events about Gaza and Israeli Apartheid. I received a great deal of attention and recognition for having been part of the action, as well as an outpouring of gratitude from my friends and comrades in the Palestinian community. It was an overwhelming experience and it was difficult to maintain perspective given the pseudo-celebrity status that often comes with direct action. Given the magnitude of suffering in Gaza, alongside the on-going brutality of Israeli Apartheid in the West Bank, Israel and for Palestinian refugees worldwide, it felt inappropriate to be receiving so many accolades for having been arrested and held for just over an hour in a police wagon. The whole experience, especially the attention and praise, only made my privilege that much more evident. I began asking myself a lot of questions about the role of allies in solidarity movements and the place of Jewish anti-Zionist activists in Palestine solidarity work. 

This questioning continued after Israel stopped bombing Gaza as I worked with other activists to finalize preparation for Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). In March 2009, the fifth annual IAW was held in over 40 cities worldwide. Here in Canada, we faced a tremendous backlash for organizing this week of lectures. Members of Parliament, including Liberal leader Michael Ignatief and Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, issued statements condemning IAW as a ‘hatefest’. Several Zionist organizations, including B’nai Brith and the Canadian Jewish Congress called on universities to ban IAW from their campuses. The poster for the event was banned at Carleton and the University of Ottawa. Here in Toronto, our posters were vandalized and torn down as quickly as we could put them up. The Jewish Defense League protested outside our events and on at least three separate occasions, their members assaulted our organizers and guests. University security and police forces at Ryerson University, York University and the University of Toronto did little to protect organizers and participants from this violence. 

It was during IAW and the intense protests leveled against us, that I once again saw the importance of anti-Zionist Jewish participation in Palestine solidarity activism. I remain convinced that it is not our role to speak for or about Palestinians and will openly criticize other anti-Zionist Jewish activists when they cross that line. Our role is a supporting one – where possible and appropriate, we can help to open up spaces to talk about Palestine and Israeli Apartheid. We can work to counter the false accusations of anti-Semitism and hate crimes that are being increasingly aimed at events like IAW and other Palestine solidarity activism. As Jews we can use our privilege to put forward the argument that criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, but is actually part of a broader movement towards social justice. We need to fight for and defend the rights of Palestinians and their allies to speak without fear of spurious accusations of hatred and anti-Semitism. It is vital that we constantly recognize our privilege and find ways of being allies without falling into the narcissism that so often comes with white privilege, narcissism that would make us mistakenly believe that this is somehow our movement to lead. All Jewish anti-Zionist activism must start with an understanding that there would be no movement without Palestinian resistance and we must always remember that this is a Palestinian-led struggle, in which we can and should play a supporting role. 

Jewish anti-Zionism must be rooted in genuine solidarity and the desire to fight for justice, but to be sincere in these efforts we need to admit that we as individuals, and the Ashkenazi Jewish community as a whole, have much to gain from the ending of Zionism. I personally come to this work out of a strong commitment to fighting racism and imperialism, but I also have a stake in reclaiming Holocaust memory and taking back the history of my ancestors from the Zionist hegemony that has co-opted it. I believe that we need to find ways of honouring the Holocaust that are focused on healing the Ashkenazi Jewish community and that challenge Zionism and Jewish racism, as well as the oppression and violence that exists within the Jewish community. To do so, we need to express our rage and sadness about the abuse of Holocaust memory for Zionist and racist purposes. We need to openly challenge hegemonic Holocaust memorial institutions, which have become sacrosanct within Jewish and non-Jewish communities. We must demand a drastic change in the ways in which we engage with the violence of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. It is time to end memorials that are meant to traumatize and re-traumatize by forcing generations of Jewish people to try to recreate and relive the horrors. We must force the Ashkenazi Jewish community to face the trauma of our past and admit to the ways in which we have chosen to align ourselves with power in an attempt to ensure that we are not victimized again. We must focus on healing from the trauma of the past so that we can move forward because this morbid focus on victimization and the Holocaust prevents us from understanding the wrongs we commit within the community and against others that are less powerful than we are. 

I am well aware of the controversy that comes with challenging Zionism and the even more intense controversy that can happen when doing so involves criticizing Holocaust memorials and education. I chose to take up these issues because it is my hope that my academic work can be useful in exposing the ways in which Holocaust education and Jewish claims to victimhood are being used obscure Jewish racism, and to garner support for Israeli Apartheid. If my thesis can contribute, even in some small way, to normalizing criticism of Israel and Jewish racism, and if it can open up conversations about the damaging effects of hegemonic Holocaust education I will be satisfied with this academic endeavour.

Winning Hearts and Minds for Palestine

In encounters with latent Zionists (those who view the current situation in Israel and Palestine as a battle between two equally entitled, equally faulted parties for which concessions and compromise on both sides are necessary to end the conflict) many Palestine solidarity activists find themselves dismissed as zealots. In my personal dealings with such people I have been instructed that the “Israel/Palestine conflict has no room for zealots on either side.” Having dwelt on this accusation for a period of weeks, I have finally settled upon what I think is an appropriate response –apart from various sound bites familiar to the solidarity community such as “I can’t help that the truth has an anti-Israel slant” etc.

While it might be instinctive to ignore these remarks, I firmly believe that doing so would constitute a missed opportunity. As the legal approach to solving the Palestinian question consistently fails and endless (some say pointless) negotiations drag on, building popular resistance offers activists a chance to influence governments that enable occupation and apartheid while simultaneously eroding private financial support for human rights violations. Unlike their entrenched cousins, latent Zionists can still be convinced; we should not dismiss them, but rather confront the misinformation they’ve been exposed to head on.

Latent Zionists use the term zealot pejoratively in the name of a particularly dangerous form of "moderation." This moderation seeks to frame Palestinian solidarity as a similarly destructive parallel to radical Zionism, equating the oppressor with the oppressed. My accuser defined zealotry as charging the other party in the conflict with all responsibility such that a zealot for Israel  is one who believes Palestinians are solely responsible for their position whereas a zealot for Palestine believes Israel is wholly at fault. 

By these parameters any findings that consistently point to Israeli responsibility, however factual, must be dismissed wholesale as biased or counterweighted with an Israeli perspective regardless of this perspective’s truthfulness. Current mainstream reporting on the subject exemplifies this view, e.g. including Israel’s charge that flotilla members killed by the Israeli Defense Force were “terrorists,” that all Palestinian activists are incarcerated for “inciting violence” or that protests broken up violently with rubber bullets and copious amounts of tear gas are always the result of “rock throwing.”

Because the truth of the matter is simply that objective evidence consistently results in the determination of Israel’s ultimate culpability, in order to escape zealot-labeling (consequently losing the chance to win hearts and minds) we must alter this paradigm.

Latent Zionists hold the views that they do about zealotry due to a very specific misunderstanding of Israel’s origins. To correct this misunderstanding and thus escape zealot-labeling, we must take ownership of certain inescapable facts, namely that the State of Israel built itself on a policy of settlement and ethnic cleansing. We cannot equivocate about these facts, but instead strive to internalize them as part of the commonly understood Palestinian narrative. Israel has controlled the history of Palestine unchallenged in Western discourse for far too long. It is high time for the findings of the New Historians (whether they agree ethnic cleansing was coordinated or not) to replace the commonly perpetuated ahistorical myth of Israel’s “War of Iindependence.”

In doing so, it then becomes evident that such a definition of zealotry fails at the onset. History itself is zealous!

If we are successful, we can then do what Israeli Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi asked of Palestine solidarity activists in her series of lectures to the American public (I attended one of her events, sponsored by the Palestinian American Women’s Association, in October of this year) –we can put the struggle for Palestinian self-determination and equality in its rightful place among other democratic struggles in popular discourse.

Today no one would suggest that those who advocated British withdrawal from occupied India were zealots. Today, no one would argue that those who advocated civic equality in 1960’s America or more aptly in 20th century South Africa were zealots. We have the opportunity and obligation to institutionalize the same attitudes about Palestinians both inside and outside Israel. This opens the door to resisting legitimate manifestations of zealotry when they are apparent in much the same way as taking control of charges of anti-Semitism gives us the chance to expose real racism.

Those who wish to erase Palestine and Palestinian identity are zealots. Those who wish to drive Israelis or Jews “into the sea” are zealots. Those who value justice, equality and respect for human rights are not.  While I do not believe activists should spend the majority of their time fighting every ridiculous insult thrown our way, it is not in our interests to be dismissed so easily. We must take the time to make ourselves understood, otherwise we can achieve nothing.