Israel is Losing the Debate – in More Ways Than One

Courtesy of Ben White @ Middle East Monitor:

Last night, I participated in a debate at the Cambridge Union on ‘This House Believes Israel is a Rogue State.’ Speaking alongside Ghada Karmi and Norman Finkelstein for the proposition, the motion was carried by 51 percent to 19 percent – with a 7 percent swing from the pre-debate vote.

The debating chamber was packed, and the atmosphere charged. At the end of the debate, cries of ‘Free, Free Palestine’ rang out. But my main takeaway from the proceedings was the sheer weakness of the opposition’s arguments – a microcosm of pro-Israel propaganda that simply no longer works.

In my opening speech, I pointed out that the issue was not about whether Israel is ‘perfect’, or makes ‘mistakes’. To concede that Israel is ‘not perfect’, as I suggested the opposition may do, is in fact no concession at all, and misses the point. The issue is whether Israel violates international law and human rights, and whether it does so systematically.

I also stressed that the debate was not about the record of other countries or actors, in the region or elsewhere. It was not about Iran or Syria, Hamas or ISIS, North Korea or Russia. The Cambridge debating chamber hosts debates about dozens of topics of international interest but last night, the subject was Israeli policy, and the question was plain – is Israel a rogue state?

Yet in the speech directly following mine, Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, opened up for the opposition by stating exactly what I had predicted just minutes before: ‘Israel is not perfect.’ Such is the reliance of Israel’s apologists on predictable talking points.

Similarly, Wineman – like the other two opposition speakers – indulged in the familiar tactic of citing abuses by other states (Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, etc.). The rest of his talk was a regurgitation of tired talking points about the Israeli army’s morality and so forth.

Joining Wineman in opposing the motion were Hannah Weisfeld, head of liberal Zionist advocacy group Yachad, and Davis Lewin, deputy director of the Henry Jackson Society.

Weisfeld’s approach was to immediately state she had no intention of defending the occupation or settlements. The bulk of her speech was an attempt to demonstrate that Israel could not be a rogue state because it has parliamentary democracy, an independent judiciary, a free press, and that critics of the government are not arrested.

She did not clarify if this wonderful list also applies to the millions of Palestinians living for half a century under a military regime. Continue reading

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The truth about the UK’s pro-Israel lobbies

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Courtesy of Mira Bar Hillel @ The Independent:

Writing for The Jewish Chronicle last week, columnist David Aaronovitch addressed the alleged rise in anti-Semitism in this country and attributed it to the Jews being “too quiet and too separate up till now”. He suggested a Jewish lobby would be a great idea, and starting with “Jews beginning to get themselves kippah-ed up and sitting in the audience at Question Time”.

It made me laugh, but coming from a highly reputable writer, it also made me cry.

Just before the most recent Gaza ceasefire, Downing Street confirmed it was conducting a review of arms sales to Israel after David Cameron said the UN was right to condemn the shelling of schools as a “moral outrage”. Some licenses, it said, would be revoked if there were a substantial resumption of bombings.

The ceasefire ended long ago, and the Israeli bombings have claimed hundreds more innocent victims, bringing the total of dead children to over 560. But UK arms sales to Israel continue unabated. Why?

When Baroness Warsi resigned from David Cameron’s cabinet, the event was reported in a major Indian publication under the headline: “Will Britain’s powerful Zionist lobby forgive Sayeeda Warsi?”

The article made me think that one reason why her colleagues and their mates in the media were so keen to dismiss the once-rising Muslim star as “incompetent” (unlike, say, IDS) and “over-promoted” (unlike, say, Grant Shapps) is because she dared lift the corner of a veil shrouding the pro-Israel lobby in Westminster.

It also made me wonder why this was the case, and also why the all-powerful nuclear-armed State of Israel was asserting itself over the Palestinians so murderously, killing hundreds of children without as much as a slap on the wrist from the British government.

Is there a guiding hand behind the strategy of making people so afraid of being accused of anti-Semitism (as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has explained so clearly) that they will feel unable to use their right to free speech, while at the same time alarming British Jews with the ludicrous spectre of “Germany in the 1930s” and “another holocaust”?

In the US, the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is acknowledged to be as powerful when it comes to foreign policy as the National Rifle Association (NRA) is in preventing any hint of gun control. Both operate similarly: they keep their sights on every member of the US’s notoriously venal and corruptible Congress, and make it abundantly clear to them that any deviation from total support from Israel will be harshly dealt with. Continue reading