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

Balfour and Palestine, a Legacy of Deceit by Anthony Nutting

Courtesy of Balfour Project.org & reproduced from CAABU:

Anthony Nutting, resigned from Anthony Eden’s cabinet when he found Eden was going into Suez. Writing around 1975, he reflects on Doreen Ingrams book “The Palestine Papers: 1917-1922: Seeds of Conflict”. The papers in this book made clear that during and after the First World War British Government ministers and officials had intentionally rather than accidentally laid the groundwork for a Jewish state in Palestine, while deliberately keeping this from the Arabs. With a brief glance at the history since Nutting acknowledges the impossibility of undoing the harm done at the time, but emphasises Britain’s responsibility to help resolve the modern situation.

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Sir Anthony Nutting

One of the most shattering and shaming indictments of British Foreign policy ever framed has recently come to light in a collection of state documents compiled by Doreen Ingrams and entitled “Palestine Papers 1917-1922, Seeds of Conflict” (John Murray, 1972). As the Foreword very properly reminds us, ‘the (Palestine) conflict began not in 1948 but in 1917′ with the publication of the Balfour Declaration, and to understand the intensity of the hatred which exists today between the Arabs and Israel, it is necessary to go back to that crucially important watershed in the history of the Middle East. But Mrs Ingrams does a lot more than merely recall how the eviction of the Arabs of Palestine to make way for the creation of the Israeli state began more than half a century ago. Letting the record speak for itself, she also lays bare the cynicism with which British Ministers at that time committed themselves to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, with a total and deliberate disregard for the rights and interests of the Arabs who then numbered 92 per cent of the country’s population.

we still have an obligation … to seek a settlement which will finally redeem our honour and vindicate our name.

Until now even those best informed on the history of Palestine since the First World War have been inclined to give Balfour and his colleagues the benefit of the doubt about their ultimate intentions. They have accepted that to the British Government of the day the Balfour Declaration meant no more and no less than it said, when it proclaimed that Britain would help to establish a ‘national home’ for the Jewish people in Palestine without prejudice to the rights of the existing Moslem and Christian Arab population. Consequently there has arisen a widespread idea that Ministers both then and in later years· must have been duped by the wily Zionist Movement, led by Dr Chaim Weizmann, who had intended from the outset that Palestine should become a Jewish state. And the fact that, after twenty years of British rule in Palestine, the ‘national home’ became the Jewish state of the Zionists’ dream, and in so doing dispossessed all but a handful of Arab inhabitants of their homes has been attributed to weakness rather than duplicity on the part of Balfour and his successors. Continue reading

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

Frankie Boyle letter about BBC in full

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Courtesy of The Telegraph:

Obviously, it feels strange to be on the moral high ground but I feel a response is required to the BBC Trust’s cowardly rebuke of my jokes about Palestine.

As always, I heard nothing from the BBC but read in a newspaper that editorial procedures would be tightened further to stop jokes with anything at all to say getting past the censors.

In case you missed it, the jokes in question are:

“I’ve been studying Israeli Army Martial Arts. I now know 16 ways to kick a Palestinian woman in the back.

“People think that the Middle East is very complex but I have an analogy that sums it up quite well. If you imagine that Palestine is a big cake, well… that cake is being punched to pieces by a very angry Jew.”

I think the problem here is that the show’s producers will have thought that Israel, an aggressive, terrorist state with a nuclear arsenal was an appropriate target for satire.

The Trust’s ruling is essentially a note from their line managers.

It says that if you imagine that a state busily going about the destruction of an entire people is fair game, you are mistaken. Israel is out of bounds.

The BBC refused to broadcast a humanitarian appeal in 2009 to help residents of Gaza rebuild their homes.

It’s tragic for such a great institution but it is now cravenly afraid of giving offence and vulnerable to any kind of well drilled lobbying.

I told the jokes on a Radio 4 show called “Political Animal”. That title seems to promise provocative comedy with a point of view.

In practice the BBC wish to deliver the flavour of political comedy with none of the content.

The most recent offering I saw was BBC2’s “The Bubble”.

It looked exactly like a show where funny people sat around and did jokes about the news.

Except the thrust of the format was that nobody had read the papers. Continue reading

Remembering the Nakba: Israeli group puts 1948 Palestine back on the map

Courtesy of Ian Black @ The Guardian:

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A Palestinian flag is raised during a Nakba Day march by Palestinians last year. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

In a run-down office in the busy centre of Tel Aviv, a group of Israelis are finalising preparations for this year’s independence day holiday. But their conversation – switching between Arabic and Hebrew – centres not on celebrating the historic realisation of the Zionist dream in May 1948, but on the other side of the coin: the flight, expulsion and dispossession that Palestinians call their catastrophe – the Nakba.

Maps, leaflets and posters explain the work of Zochrot – Hebrew for “Remembering”. The organisation’s mission is to educate Israeli Jews about a history that has been obscured by enmity, propaganda and denial for much of the last 66 years.

Next week, Zochrot, whose activists include Jews and Palestinians, will connect the bitterly contested past with the hi-tech present. Its I-Nakba phone app will allow users to locate any Arab village that was abandoned during the 1948 war on an interactive map, learn about its history (including, in many cases, the Jewish presence that replaced it), and add photos, comments and data.

It is all part of a highly political and inevitably controversial effort to undo the decades-long erasure of landscape and memory – and, so the hope goes, to build a better future for the two peoples who share a divided land.

“There is an app for everything these days, and this one will show all the places that have been wiped off the map,” explains Raneen Jeries, Zochrot’s media director. “It means that Palestinians in Ein Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon, say, can follow what happened to the village in Galilee that their family came from – and they will get a notification every time there’s an update. Its amazing.”

In a conflict famous for its irreconcilable national narratives, the basic facts are not disputed, though the figures are. Between November 1947, when the UN voted to partition British-ruled Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states, and mid-1949, when Israel emerged victorious against its enemies, 400-500 Arab villages and towns were depopulated and destroyed or occupied and renamed. Most of them were left in ruins. Continue reading