The Women’s Boat to Gaza is part of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition. It contains 13 women, including the 1976 Nobel peace laureate from Northern Ireland, Mairead Maguire, and it journeyed from Barcelona to Gaza in September in order to bring attention to the Israeli’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. The organization posted on its website that they lost contact with the boat on October 5th, and presume that the Israeli Occupation Navy has surrounded it in international waters.
On Pink Floyd’s Facebook page, the band released the following statement: “‘Pink Floyd reunites to stand with the Women of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.’ David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Roger Waters stand united in support of the Women of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, and deplore their illegal arrest and detention in international waters by the Israeli Defense Force.”
Waters has been clear about his stance on the Israeli government, and has called for a cultural boycott of the country. In October 2015, he toldRolling Stone, “It’s not the Israeli people, not Jews and not Judaism. I would never dream of attacking them. In fact, a lot of the Israelis are the people who are putting the most into fighting the hardest because they believe it is the most effective tool for changing policies of their own government.”
A group of Palestinian youths cycle past a section of Israel’s separation barrier to promote a cultural festival in the West Bank city of Ramallah and as a protest against the wall on June 30, 2009 in the Qalandia checkpoint between northern Jerusalem and Ramallah.ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/GETTY
For a Palestinian insurgent supposedly determined to see Israel destroyed, Paul Hadweh looks remarkably like his fellow students at the University of California, Berkeley. I met the 22-year-old senior on the rooftop of a campus building, overlooking the expanse of San Francisco Bay, which glimmered in the pure light of late afternoon. He wore gray Converse sneakers, stylish jeans and a teal T-shirt. On the table beside him lay an iPhone, earbuds coiled, and a packet of loose tobacco. He could have been just another kid, except a nervous energy radiated from him like steam. This was understandable, for in the last month, Hadweh has been depicted as an enemy of Israel, one dangerous enough to allegedly warrant intervention from the country’s government.
For a few moments, we admired the view of the Bay Area. We were about 140 miles from Chowchilla, the Central Valley town where Hadweh lived until he was 10 years old; and we were about 7,000 miles from Beit Jala, the West Bank village of mostly Palestinian Christians where Hadweh’s father, a doctor, moved the family in 2003 (it is near Bethlehem); but we were mere steps from where, in 1964, Berkeley students launched the Free Speech Movement, in protest of the administration’s restrictions on political activity. This juxtaposition galled Hadweh, irritated him more than Israeli politics, more even than the death threats he has received. “They’ve thrown an undergraduate student under the bus in the most public of manners,” he says of an administration that tried to stop him from teaching a class about Palestinian history.
Berkeley has a long tradition of students teaching classes. In 1965, in response to growing student unrest on campus, the Berkeley philosophy professor Joseph Tussman started a program that allowed both students and faculty to “engage in intensive reading and discussion of texts in an ungraded environment.” The experiment came to be known as DeCal, for Democratic Education at Cal. Any student can teach a class on any topic, provided the student has a faculty sponsor and approval from the Academic Senate. DeCal classes typically have about two dozen students and are quite popular, to judge by the current offerings. There are 195 such courses offered at Berkeley this semester, and they reflect the diversity of curiosities among the school’s 27,000 undergraduates: Intro to Baking, Intro to Surgery, Berkeley Poetry Review.
The DeCal website urges students who’ve enjoyed a DeCal course to start one of their own: “It’s not as difficult a process as you’d expect.” Paul Hadweh almost certainly disagrees.
Paul Hadweh says he has received death threats for trying to teach a class on the history of Palestine at UC Berkeley.
HADWEH’S FAMILY ARRIVED in the West Bank in the midst of the Second Intifada, as the periodic armed Palestinian campaign against Israel is known. It was a gruesome affair, with Palestinian suicide bombings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Israeli military incursions, a bloody dance from which neither side wanted to disengage, even as they made the obligatory overtures for peace. At the conclusion of the second intifada, Israel remained vulnerable to rocket attacks from Gaza (and, more recently, a spate of knife attacks), while the Palestinians remained the stateless people they’d been for decades.
Hadweh’s family is Christian and relatively wealthy. Nevertheless, he felt the full force of the occupation, especially after Israel started to build a West Bank barrier in 2002. “Occupation affects every aspect of your life,” he says. I asked if he’d ever had the chance to hold a dialogue with his Israeli peers, the sort of thing that makes for hopeful public radio segments. Hadweh sneers: “There’s no way any connection can ever be made. There’s a 26-foot concrete wall between us.” (The barrier varies in composition and height, and many Israelis say it is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks.)
So when he discovered that there was no course that, in his view, fairly addressed the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories, he decided to make his own. “If you’re not going to give me a space to explore Palestine, then I am going to make that space,” he says with an edgy defiance that hints at how hard that space has been to claim.
Last year, Hadweh took an Arabic course with Hatem Bazian, an Islamic scholar at Berkeley who has been involved in political activism that, some say, seeks to delegitimize and malign Israel. Over the summer, Bazian helped Hadweh create a DeCal course called Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis.
I asked Hadweh if his course calls for the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state. He met this question with disgust, explaining that there is no getting rid of Jews from a land they call home. “I’m deemed anti-Semitic because I fundamentally believe we can all live together.” He’s vague about how he’d resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but both he and Bazian appear to seek a single state in which Palestinians and Jews are equals, and expelled Palestinians are allowed to return. Many believe this would effectively be the end of Israel, since demographic trends overwhelmingly favor the Palestinians.
Paul Hadweh, a senior from the West Bank, wanted to teach a course on the Palestinian experience. He seemed to have secured all the necessary approvals to do so.ALEXANDER NAZARYAN/NEWSWEEK
Hadweh believes this is an urgent question to discuss. “This isn’t a course that is pro-Palestine or pro-Israel,” he says. His goal was “exploring history.”
Bazian approved the course, as did the head of the Ethnic Studies department and the university’s Academic Senate. As the fall semester began, he started to hang posters advertising the class around campus: four maps in a row, each showing the contours of Israel and the Palestinian territories. The first map, from 1918, is nearly all teal (Palestinian land), with just a few flecks of black (Zionist settlements) near the Mediterranean coast. Israel was founded in 1947; the map from 1960, accordingly, is overwhelmingly black. In the map’s final iteration, there are only two disjointed swaths of teal: the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Twenty-four students signed up for the course, with six more on the waitlist. The first meeting would be on September 6.
BERKELEY’S FAMOUS PROGRESSIVISM can sometimes be more convenient for the school’s detractors than for the school itself. Ronald Reagan, as governor of California, used the late 1960s tumult at Berkeley to position himself on the national stage as a law-and-order Middle American disgusted by the excesses of the revolutionaries camped out in front of Sproul Hall. More recently, “Berzerkeley” has served as an easy target for anyone wanting to denounce the overreach of political correctness or social activism, even as the school itself has become ever more conventional, less interested in social revolution than attracting gifted students and star faculty away from nearby rival Stanford.
Israel, on many college campuses, has become the new Vietnam. Earlier this year, the Board of Regents of the University of California system endorsed a report that began by noting that “there has been an increase in incidents reflecting anti-Semitism on UC campuses.” The resolution said, “Anti-Semitism, anti-semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.” Many Jewish groups saw this as a major victory; the resolution was a loss for activist organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine, which had urged the University of California and many other universities around the nation to boycott and divest from Israel. The co-founder of that group was Bazian, Hadweh’s adviser on the DeCal course.
After that piece was published, several Jewish-American groups reached out to Berkeley administrators. The Amcha Initiative, based in California, sent a letter to the chancellor signed by 43 organizations that said Hadweh and Bazian “intended to indoctrinate students to hate the Jewish state and take action to eliminate it.”
Ron Hassner, a political scientist at Berkeley with a Ph.D. from Stanford, agrees with this harsh assessment. Hassner, who teaches religious conflict, says he was appalled by the DeCal course. “The class is despicable because it is bigoted,” he says, comparing its intellectual underpinnings to the “flat Earth” theory.
The cancellation of Hadweh’s class caused an uproar on the Berkeley campus.ALEXANDER NAZARYAN/NEWSWEEK
Administrators apparently agreed. On September 15, The Daily Californian said the course was being canceled because it had been “mistakenly approved.” That swung the outrage the other way. One pro-Palestinian website suggested that the Israeli government had exercised influence over the university. Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof says this was an “insidious rumor,” and “there has been no contact of any kind with official or unofficial representatives of the Israeli government.” More moderate voices noted that DeCal courses like Modern Square Dance and Body Positivity seemed to meet both academic and administrative requirements, so it seemed dubious that only a course focused on the Palestinian experience would garner extra attention.
After the class was suspended, Hadweh was offered representation by Palestine Legal, which frequently defends students who become targets of the pro-Israel lobby. His lawyer, Liz Jackson, is a Jewish alumna of Berkeley Law who, some years ago, went on Birthright Israel, the free trip offered to American Jews. “The knee-jerk labeling of the Palestinian perspective as ‘anti-Jewish’ is akin to dismissing the study of civil rights struggle in the U.S. or the movement to end South African apartheid as ‘anti-white,’” she says, adding that there was “a documented, coordinated effort by Israel advocacy organizations, and the Israeli government itself, to suppress campus debate in the U.S.”
Hadweh and Bazian met with Carla Hesse, the executive dean of the College of Letters & Science. On September 19, she wrote a letter to the Academic Senate and departmental chairs in the social sciences asserting that the “meeting resolved the procedural issues concerning academic review and consultation.” The course had its name altered, from Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis to Palestine: A Settler Colonial Inquiry, but there were no changes to what Hadweh was going to teach or how he was going to teach it.
NOW EVERYONE WAS UNHAPPY. Hadweh and his supporters thought Berkeley administrators were bowing to political pressure and media coverage; detractors thought the university was allowing anti-Semitism to flourish. There were charges of academic freedom being usurped and of that freedom being perverted for political gains. “It’s a matter of double standard,” says Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard Law professor and a frequent defender of Israel. “The critical question is: Would an anti-Palestinian mirror image course be accepted? Academic freedom requires a neutral single standard of evaluation.”
I read this response to Jackson, Hadweh’s lawyer. She found Dershowitz’s position ridiculous. “There are anti-Palestinian courses taught every day all over the United States,” she says, pointing to a course on Israeli history taught at Berkeley last spring that seemed to “erase Palestinians” in favor of a Zionist perspective. “Many people view classes from a Zionist perspective as being anti-Palestinian,” she says. “It’s correct that academic freedom requires a neutral standard applied in an even manner, regardless of the political viewpoint. That is exactly what went wrong here,” in her view, with Hadweh receiving “special scrutiny.”
Jackson wishes Berkeley had stood up for Hadweh the way the University of California, Riverside, came to the defense of Tina Matar, who in 2015 tried to start a course titled Palestinian Voices. The Amcha Initiative objected, but Riverside decided to let the class stand.A report issued some months after the incident agreed with this decision: “At the end of the day the existence of objections and concerns about ‘Palestinian Voices’ (some of which are eloquently articulated) constitutes an insufficient basis to second-guess academic judgment.” Jackson wonders why Berkeley, which boasts of all the Nobel Prize laureates under its aegis, could not reach the same conclusion.
But there are issues beyond academic freedom. Hassner, the political science professor, says the furor over Hadweh’s course would be “very, very hard on the Jewish students on campus,” inevitably leading to a rise in anti-Semitism. Just days after we spoke, posters started appearing on campus that said “Jewish bullies” were silencing free speech at Berkeley, though the DeCal course had been reinstated.
Anti-Semitic posters appeared on the Berkeley campus in September.COURTESY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
Hadweh denounced these posters, but having to defend himself against such charges clearly left him enervated. And it was only September. “What does this say to anybody who wants to talk about Palestine?” he wonders. “Don’t.”
Maybe the events of the last month have taught Hadweh more than any class ever could. For this is the way the Middle East works, too: anger, recrimination, escalation, exasperation. And in the end, everything stays the same.
We salute Paul Hadweh and people like him who are trying to bring awareness of the Palestinian History to the American students, many of which have had no knowledge of the Israeli intrusion and theft of the Palestinian land and resources.
This article has been updated with a clarification regarding the letter sent by the Amcha Initiative, as well as with the correct name of the department that approved the DeCal course in question.
Israeli authorities have told U.S. officials that they found no criminal wrongdoing by soldiers involved in the February killing of an American teenager whom the troops allege tried to stab them, and that Israel will not further pursue the case, POLITICO has learned.
The decision has upset human rights activists who question the description of what happened and who have long accused Israel of failing to hold its security forces accountable for the use of excessive force. Some U.S.-based activists have quietly been pushing the Obama administration and Congress to do more to shed light on what happened.
Story Continued Below
The incident in question took place on Feb. 26, when Mahmoud Shaalan, a Miami-born 16-year-old of Palestinian descent, went to a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah. The encounter came amid a wave of Palestinian stabbing attacks that have put Israel on edge.
According to past statements from the Israelis, Shaalan stabbed a soldier, and when other troops shot him, he kept trying to stab them before being shot further. But according to Israeli media, eyewitnesses told activists that Shaalan was shot in the back after getting into an apparent verbal dispute with Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint.
It’s unclear if there is audio or video footage to back up the claims on either side. A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces told POLITICO earlier this year that there was “one existing camera that belongs to the IDF, however, the camera did not capture the event because it was not in range.”
In any case, a State Department official confirmed late this week that after six months of looking into the case, Israeli officials had decided not to press further. “We have received an official response from the Israelis, and we understand that they have completed their investigation. We understand that they did not find any criminal misconduct and do not plan to proceed with a criminal investigation. We are studying their response,” the official said.
The State Department official insisted that the Obama administration considered the case a priority and that U.S. officials regularly raised it with Israeli leaders. However, the official declined to say what steps the U.S. would take next.
Shaalan’s relatives have maintained his innocence. They describe the late teen as a straight-A student far more focused on his studies than Israeli-Palestinian tensions. They buried him with an American flag as well as a Palestinian one, according to an account in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Informed Saturday morning about the Israeli decision, the teen’s uncle, Salman Shaalan, said the family had retained a lawyer and was looking at other avenues to seek justice. He said the Obama administration had not done enough to convince the Israelis to carry out a thorough investigation.
U.S. governments generally treat their relations with Israel in a very delicate matter, seeing as how important the country’s continued friendship is in a Middle East consumed by chaos. But President Barack Obama has had an unusually testy relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The State Department and the U.S. should call for an independent or joint investigation — at least a joint investigation,” Salman Shaalan said, adding that his nephew was “a good kid” and “not capable” of a violent act.
Over the past year, Israel has faced a wave of attacks, many of them involving knives, carried out by Palestinians. The attacks have targeted Israeli security forces as well as civilians.Some call the surge of assaults the “stabbing intifada.”
Critics, however, say that in many cases, Israeli security forces have overreacted to what were often unclear threats. According to The Associated Press, Palestinians have killed 34 Israelis and two visiting Americans in attacks since September, while some 207 Palestinians have been killed in that time — most of whom Israeli identified as attackers.
An IDF spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday, which is the Sabbath in Israel.
Human rights activists reached by POLITICO, however, expressed frustration. Some noted that it’s relatively unusual for the Israeli government to punish a soldier for excessive use of force or even what appear to be extrajudicial killings. The rights activists added that even if the Israeli soldiers’ account is true, it’s impossible to be sure because Israeli officials won’t reveal their evidence or much about the process.
“The State Department knows that Israeli investigations are inadequate,” said Edith Garwood, a country specialist with Amnesty International USA. “They’re not independent, they’re not transparent. I’m not sure under what circumstances the U.S. government is prompted to carry out their own investigation, but it would appear to be this would be an example of where they should do so.”
Raed Jarrar, an official with the American Friends Service Committee, pointed to the reports of eyewitness accounts to say that “according to U.S. law, the Obama administration should immediately suspend military aid to the Israeli security unit responsible for this gross violation of human rights.”
Jarrar is working with an array of other rights groups to urge members of Congress to bring pressure on the Obama administration to look more closely into the case. He declined to name the lawmakers because the discussions are still ongoing, but Shaalan’s uncle said the family has spoken to Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who has promised to see what he can do.
POLITICO has in the past reached out to members of the Florida delegation about the case, but the general response was that they were waiting for the Israelis to finish their initial probe.
Of course the Israelis who shot and killed the boy will be found not guilty by the Israeli investigators. With all the Israeli violations to human rights, no one has ever been found guilty by the Israeli government. This is a clear case of the the weakness of our president and government when dealing with the Israelis who literally get away with murder.
It’s finally settled; the Democrats are nominating Hillary Clinton for president of the United States and the Republicans Chose Donald Trump. While no one can predict with 100% certainty who the winner of the election on November 8th will be, all the poles indicate that Hillary will be the victorious. Although some recent poles show Trump ahead by a couple of points, chances are that the writing is on the wall and he will be done with come November 8th.
As in any election, people compare the two candidates and vote for the one they trust more and believe will deliver on his of her promises. The problem in this election is that both candidates are viewed very unfavorably by the public.
Hillary Clinton will cater to her supporters of the Jews and big corporations. She is corrupt and untrustworthy but she knows the system and how to manipulate it.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a huuuge liar with a terrible memory. He says something, only to contradict himself later on, forgetting what he said earlier. He has some “off the wall” ideas that can never be implemented but appeal to radicals like him. One of his ideas is building a wall between the US and Mexico and have the latter pay for it. I don’t know what he was smoking when he said that but instead of correcting himself or saying that this is wishful thinking, he repeated the same thought to his supporters who were have as much of a small brain as he does. Even if he builds that proverbial wall which will cost billions, how in heavens name is he going to force Mexico to pay for it. Is he going to take them to court or round up a few thugs and threaten the Mexican leaders, or perhaps attack Mexico and steel the money from their treasury.
Another one of Trump’s wacky ideas is stopping all Muslims from coming to United States. Evidently, Khizr Khan, the father of the Muslim hero who was killed in Iraq, was right when he said that Trump has never read the constitution and offered him a copy of it. Preventing Muslims from entering this country is unconstitutional and discriminatory and can never be implemented.
If this election is about name calling and insulting the other party in addition to a whole lot of lies and stupid ideas, Donald Trump will win hands down, but unfortunately for him, it’s not.
Actually, Donald Trump was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton. Of all the Republican candidates in the primaries, he will be the easiest to beat. How can someone like him who insulted the Mexicans, the Muslims, the Blacks and everyone else win an election. It’s nearly impossible. Those minorities can make or break a candidate and his popularity among the Hispanics is a dismal 2%.
It seems that while we have two unfavorable candidates, the lesser of the two evils is Hillary, whom I predict will win the election and Trump will scream that the election was rigged.
True story. Experienced travelers are in an international airport in a major European city preparing to board flight # 816 bound for Tel Aviv, Israel. The boarding pass reads Gate C-3. Experienced travelers that they are, they watch the board for the inevitable gate changes and keep an ear tuned towards announcements that come over the PA system. Gates change all the time.
They hear an announcement. It is repeated three times in a row. A voice is saying: “flight # 816 to Palestine boarding at Gate C-3”
The airport is Nikola Tesla International in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. The airline is Serbia Airlines. How is it possible that at Nikola Tesla, in Belgrade, on Serbia Airlines, Israel does not exist?
And it’s not an isolated incident.
In the end, an investigation was conducted. It turns out that the announcement was not made by the airline but by a single employee of the airport who took it upon herself to change company policy of the airline and the airport and the perceptions of the travelers to fit her own. The Israeli ambassador to Serbia was notified and, ultimately, the CEO of Serbia airlines issued an official apology and clarifies that the content of that announcement was not airline policy at all.
Another true story. A few months ago, as an Iberian Airline passenger jet was beginning its descent into Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel a member of the crew, speaking to the passengers via the PA system, welcomes them to Palestine.
In both these cases it was clear that the actions and announcements did not reflect the policy of the corporation. But people are making these statements, in public, in a voice of authority and with the official status conferred by a public address system.
Several Israelis were injured in one of the awful, ugly, terror attacks that rocked Belgium. After a few days in the hospital it was decided to transfer the Israelis back to Israel so that they would receive better care. But in order to move them from the hospital, the Israelis needed to be cleared by the national office in charge of coordinating the investigation and the victims.
The Jewish community took the lead to pave the path to get these Israelis home. A volunteer called the office hot line to confirm that everything was in order for the transfers back to Israel.
In a recorded conversation you hear the voice of the volunteer speak about going to Israel and the official at the other end of the phone saying Palestine.
Here is the transcript of that conversation. It is a translation from a Jewish Newspaper in Belgium called Joods Actueel. The website ishttp://www.joodsactueel.be.
Jewish Coordination Committee Volunteer: Good morning. I’m a volunteer for the Jewish Coordination Counsel in Antwerp. We have two Jews who were injured in the attack at the airport.
Belgian Federal Emergency Hotline: Yes, go ahead.
Jewish Coordination Committee Volunteer: They are ready to be transported to Israel. Our volunteers are making sure that everything is in place, but we received information from the hospital that we need a special permit from the police to get them released from the hospital. Whom do we need to speak with in order to get this permit?
Belgian Federal Emergency Hotline: Let me check. They need to go to Palestine.
Jewish Coordination Committee Volunteer: (Pause) Not Palestine. Israel.
Belgian Federal Emergency Hotline: Yes, but it was Palestine before, of course.
Jewish Coordination Committee Volunteer: Can you repeat that for me? What’s your name?
Belgian Federal Emergency Hotline: It’s Palestine.
Jewish Coordination Committee Volunteer: Can I get your name please?
Belgian Federal Emergency Hotline: Of course. It’s Zachariah.
Jewish Coordination Committee Volunteer: And you only recognize Palestine?
Belgian Federal Emergency Hotline: Sorry?
Jewish Coordination Committee Volunteer:
You don’t recognize Israel, correct? Only Palestine?
Belgian Federal Emergency Hotline: I only know that the Jews went to live there, that Palestine accepted them, and that there is a war between Israel and Palestine, of course. And the occupation. That what’s always on the news.
Jewish Coordination Committee Volunteer: Are you able to assist me with my request?
Belgian Federal Emergency Hotline: Yes, of course. They are returning to Palestine and they asked if they can receive a permit. Of course. Here it is.
And the conversation, so to speak, ends.
Even when they are non-intentional gaffes, statements like these become foundations for delegitimizing Israel. And they are becoming pervasive. They are becoming part of a cultural exchange in which it is acceptable to speak as if Israel, quite simply, does not exist.
I love these stories. People all over the world are finally realizing that the “so called” Israel is actually PALESTINE. The Palestinians were robbed of their country and the robbers want to change the country’s name but people all over the world are saying, NOT SO FAST! this country is not yours. You are only occupiers.
Only days into the new school year, and already anti-Israel activists are making a splash on college campuses from one corner of the country to the other. Two reports today confirm that activists with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, commonly referred to as the BDS Movement, are maintaining their efforts to silence any voices that may express pro-Israel positions on campuses.
In the first case, first reported by the Atlantic, a prominent Israeli filmmaker was uninvited from a conference on Religion and Film at Syracuse University in New York because one of its organizers feared retaliation from BDS supporters on campus.
The filmmaker, Shimon Dotan, was initially invited to the March 2017 conference to screen his film, The Settlers, about the history of the religious settler movement in the West Bank. The film has been widely praised by critics as “one of the first close-up views of the motives and personalities in a group that rarely opens up to outsiders,” said the New York Times.
A few weeks after the invitation went out, however, Professor M. Gail Hamner, a member of the Syracuse University Religion Department, emailed Dotan and said he was not welcome after all.
“I now am embarrassed to share that my SU colleagues, on hearing about my attempt to secure your presentation, have warned me that the BDS faction on campus will make matters very unpleasant for you and for me if you come,” Hamner said in an email to Dotan that was obtained by the Atlantic.
Hamner admitted that she had not even seen the film, but that allowing its screening on campus would cause her to “lose credibility with a number of my film and Women/Gender studies colleagues.”
To the pro-Israelis, every time someone criticizes Israel, they are anti Semitics. It’s OK for Israel to steel people’s lands and resources, destroys their homes and imprisons their people, but if anyone dares to voice their opinion against the Israeli’s ungodly actions, they are to be condemned and called anti Semitic.
New bills have barred state governments from contracting or funding entities that support the boycott of Israel.
Last April, more than 350 people travelled to Los Angeles, California to attend a conference against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Organised by the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, attendees gathered to strategise how to combat BDS, which advocates for economic action against Israel to pressure the Israeli government over its human rights abuses.
One of the speakers at the event was Noah Pollak, head of the Emergency Committee for Israel. Pollak had a message for proponents of the BDS movement.
“While you were doing your campus antics, the grown-ups were in the state legislatures passing laws that make your cause improbable,” he said.
Pollak’s message referred to an increasingly effective strategy pursued by pro-Israel groups in the United States.
BDS advocates are facing a barrage of bills that condemn the movement as “anti-Semitic” and bar state governments from contracting or funding entities that support boycotting Israel.
The aim of the bills, say pro-Israel advocates, is to prevent state contracts from funding what they see as a discriminatory movement.
“Israel’s diplomatic missions in the US have expressed full support and appreciation for legislative initiatives to boycott the boycotters,” said Shimon Mercer-Wood, spokesperson for the Consulate General of Israel in New York.
“The BDS movement is racist, discriminatory and hostile to freedom of speech. It is ironic that some try to paint anti-BDS decisions as a limitation of freedom of speech, since the movement itself is dedicated to silencing Israeli voices in the public space,” Mercer-Wood added.
Legislation that prohibits state funds from going to pro-BDS entities has been enactedin 10 states and is being debated in many more. However, in some states such as Virginia and Maryland, coalitions of free speech advocates and Palestine solidarity groups have banded together to defeat anti-boycott bills.
Freedom of speech?
The legislative measures are the most significant challenge the BDS movement has faced in the US.
Palestine solidarity activists say that the BDS movement is not anti-Semitic, and that the measures are an attack on free speech and seek to stigmatise action for Palestinian rights. There is also fear that the legislation could chill free speech by making people fearful of punishment if they support the boycott movement.
“The rash of anti-BDS legislation that we’re seeing is really a frantic attempt to stifle the success of the BDS movement,” said Josh Ruebner, the policy director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which has lobbied against such legislation.
The BDS movement started in 2005, when more than 170 Palestinian groups endorsed the call for boycott and encouraged people around the world to join their campaign.
The goal of the movement is to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, to ensure equality for Palestinians living in Israel and implement Palestinian refugees’ right to return to communities they and their families were expelled from in 1948, when Israel was founded.
A woman holds up a sign at a protest on June 9, 2016 against the New York governor for issuing an anti-BDS executive order [Sainatee Suarez/Al Jazeera] [Al Jazeera]
The call to boycott Israel has since been taken up by hundreds of progressive organisations in the US.
It has found success on college campuses, where Students for Justice in Palestine chapters have helped pass student government resolutions that endorse divestment from companies supplying the Israeli military.
It has also found success in academic associations and among churches, some of which have voted to divest pension funds held in companies such as Caterpillar and Hewlett-Packard, which sell equipment to the Israeli army.
In 2013, the American Studies Association endorsed the academic boycott of Israeli universities over their complicity in Israel’s control of Palestinians. The move sparked a fierce backlash in the US.
The New York State Senate became the first body to pass a bill to prohibit state colleges from funding academic groups that boycott Israel.
The New York measure ultimately did not become law. But since then, a wave of anti-BDS legislation has swept across the country.
Twenty states have considered anti-BDS laws. Nine have enacted the legislation, and in June, the governor of one state – New York – issued a first-of-its-kind executive order against the movement, according to a count by Palestine Legal, a group that defends the right to advocate for Palestine.
The number of anti-BDS laws debated and passed in the past year is unprecedented in scale, said Rahul Saksena, a staff attorney at Palestine Legal.
“Organizing that’s happening on the ground is not just gaining momentum but winning the hearts and the minds of people in this country,” said Saksena. “Israel advocacy organisations are seeing that, and it’s alarming them.”
While some of the bills are mere resolutions that put a state on record as being against BDS, others have more teeth to them.
States such as Illinois, New York, South Carolina and others have enacted measures that prohibit state pension funds or state contracts from going to companies or institutions that support BDS.
These measures require the state to compile (PDF) a public list – called a “blacklist” by pro-Palestine activists – of institutions that support the boycott. These entities could range from banks that have pulled investments out of the occupied West Bank to church groups that have voted to divest holdings in companies that contract with the Israeli army.
Civil liberties groups say that these measures are unconstitutional attacks on the right of activists to boycott Israel, and note that the US Supreme Court has upheld boycotts as protected advocacy under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
But Eugene Kontorovich, a legal scholar who has helped to write some of the anti-boycott laws, told Al Jazeera: “The laws in question do not prevent or punish anyone for engaging in any speech. It is well established that states can require that companies that receive state money do not engage in what the state views as discriminatory activity, even when that activity is motivated by sincere beliefs.”
The dispute over whether anti-BDS bills are constitutional will most likely end up in a US court, Kontorovich said.
Meanwhile, the US Congress has also joined the attack against BDS.
Last year, Congress passed a trade law that includes language requiring the US to discourage European boycotts of Israel.
And in February 2016, Democrats and Republicans introduced legislation, backed by the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that would authorise states to take funding away from companies that boycott Israel.
Ruebner, the policy head of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, expects that more anti-BDS bills will be introduced in the coming months, especially since 2016 is an election year.
Introducing pro-Israel legislation could curry favour with some voters and donors. But, he added, Palestine solidarity activists will continue to advocate and lobby against anti-BDS measures.
“Palestine solidarity activists, First Amendment rights activists, are fighting back against these bills, in many cases successfully,” said Ruebner. “We’re not going to allow our legislations to try to punish civil society for responding to a call for social justice.”
We are a collective that centers and is rooted in Black communities, but we recognize we have a shared struggle with all oppressed people; collective liberation will be a product of all of our work.
A section of the platform called “Invest-divest” deals, among other things, with U.S. foreign policy issues. Not surprisingly, this section features the Palestinians as one of the “oppressed people[s]” with which the Movement for Black Lives claims to have a “shared struggle.”
Calling Israel “a state that practices systematic discrimination and has maintained a military occupation of Palestine for decades,” this part of the platform asserts:
The US justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people…. Israel is an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people. Palestinian homes and land are routinely bulldozed to make way for illegal Israeli settlements. Israeli soldiers also regularly arrest and detain Palestinians as young as 4 years old without due process. Everyday, Palestinians are forced to walk through military checkpoints along the US-funded apartheid wall.
“Genocide,” “apartheid,” “apartheid wall,” and other allegations of monstrous Israeli behavior are, of course, staples of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) and other movements across the world that seek to delegitimize and ultimately dismantle Israel.
One can only hope. That day will come!!
If one looks at the record, Israelis appear to be inept genocidists. In 1967, when Israel took over the West Bank and Gaza as a result of the Six Day War, there were about half a million Palestinians living in these territories; today there are three to four million.
Do you attribute the increase of population to the generosity of Israel. Or perhaps you credit Israel for not killing them.
Last Wednesday around 200 protesters descended on the New York State Capitol building in Albany to demand that Governor Cuomo repeal his executive order requiring New York State to create a blacklist of companies and organizations that engage in or promote boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Opponents of the BDS movement claim that it is anti-semitic and unfairly targets Israel. Contrary to that, however, the BDS movement is rooted in an anti-oppression framework, opposing all forms of racism, including anti-semitism. It utilizes similar tactics to those that were successful in dismantling South African apartheid and is firmly within the tradition of American Civil Rights Era campaigns, such as the Montgomery bus boycott. Rather than seeking to destroy Israel, the BDS movement seeks to leverage economic pressure to influence Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its siege on Gaza. The most well known and widespread BDS campaigns are those that strategically target companies involved in egregious human rights abuses and violations of international law, including the detention and abuse of Palestinian children; stealing of land, water, and other resources; restricting Palestinians’ freedom of movement; maintaining an apartheid systems of different roads, schools, and laws for different people; and the support of Israeli settlements, which are entirely illegal under international law. Below are five examples of why Governor Cuomo should be applauding the BDS movement rather than attacking it:
The Remodel RE/MAX campaign asks RE/MAX LLC to set standards prohibiting their franchises from selling, renting or advertising properties on illegally seized land in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, and to establish that members of the RE/MAX network should not refer clients to agents and brokers who are involved in such activities. On July 29, 2015 UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon stated that Israeli settlements are “an impediment to peace, and cannot be reconciled with the Government of Israel’s stated intention to pursue a two-state solution.” A January 2016 report from Human Rights Watch entitled“Occupation, Inc.: How Settlement Businesses Contribute to Israel’s Violations of Palestinian Rights,” directly indicted RE/MAX LLC, stating:
By advertising, selling and renting homes in settlements, both the Israeli franchise of RE/MAX and RE/MAX LLC, the owner of the global franchise network, facilitate and benefit from the transfer of Israeli civilians into occupied territory and the associated human rights abuses, contravening their rights responsibilities.
The Remodel RE/MAX campaign encourages RE/MAX shareholders to pressure the company to abide by international law and organizes protests at RE/MAX offices, shareholder meetings, and conventions.
In January 2016 a coalition of organizations, including CODEPINK, US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Jewish Voice for Peace, US Palestinian Community Network, and others, formed to demand that Airbnb stop listing vacation rentals in Israel’s illegal settlements. Aswith RE/MAX’s sale of these homes, Airbnb’s listing of these properties directly profits from and contributes to Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise. Airbnb’s website states that they “prohibit content that promotes discrimination, bigotry, racism, hatred, harassment or harm against any individual or group.” They have recently reiterated their commitment to disallowing racism. However, by listing vacation rentals in illegal Jewish-only settlements, Airbnb is directly violating its own policies and assertions.
The Stolen Homes coalition collected over 150,000 signatures that were delivered to Airbnb’s headquarters on a March day of action and to Airbnb major investor Fidelity Investments on a June day of action. Internationally renowned nonviolent human rights defender Issa Amro, of the West Bank city of Hebron, voiced his support for the Stolen Homes campaign, saying, “As a Palestinian activist struggling to end Israel’s half-century occupation of our land, it is profoundly disturbing to know that Airbnb would seek to profit from our misery through rentals in illegal Israeli settlements.
Stolen Beauty: Boycott Ahava
On March 9, 2016 after a seven year long BDS campaign, Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories announced that they will be moving their factory from the West Bank to within Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Ahava, an Israeli cosmetics concern with its main manufacturing facility and visitors center located in the illegal settlement of Mitzpe Shalem, labels its goods as “product of Israel” when they are in fact made in the occupied West Bank. Ahava pillages mud from occupied shores for use in its products. The announcement that Ahava will be moving its factory out of the West Bank has been applauded by human rights and international law advocates around the world, although the boycott campaign will continue until the facility in Mitzpe Shalem is shuttered and there is proof that Ahava no longer plunders occupied natural resources..
Boycott Soda Stream
As with Ahava, the Israeli home beverage company SodaStream chose to locate its main production facility in an illegal Israeli West Bank settlement while labeling its product “made in Israel.” By placing their factory in the industrial zone of Mishor Edomin, the company was able to exploit a captive Palestinian labor force and take advantage of inequitably distributed water, cheap land, tax benefits, and lax regulation of environmental and labor protection laws. After a coordinated and persistent boycott campaign by many organizations, SodaStream saw it revenues drop and was forced to yield to pressure, finally moving their factory within the 1967 boundaries of Israel.
Global security giant G4S Secure Solutions has contracts with the Israeli prison system where Palestinian children as young as 12 are tried in military court, denied access to lawyers and their parents, detained in adult prisons, and abused at the hands of guards and interrogators. In 2013 UNICEF reported that the maltreatment of imprisoned Palestinian children is “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”. G4S is known for maltreatment of prisoners and fiascos around the world as well. There have been numerous reports of sexual abuse and use of excessive force at their Florida Juvenile Justice facilities. Between 2010 and 2012 they were investigated in the UK for the death of Jimmy Mubenga who died at the hands of G4S guards while being deported. Recently they have come under fire for having been the employer of Orlando, FL shooter, Omar Mateen.
In June 2014, the international campaign to stop G4S was successful in getting the Gates Foundation to divest the entirety of its $170 million holdings in the company. During the same month in 2014, the US Methodist Church voted to divest from the company. As a result of BDS campaigns G4S has lost numerous contracts with universities, charities, and others, including a contract with UNICEF in Jordan. On March 9th, 2016, G4S announced that for the purpose of “extracting itself from reputationally damaging work” they would be selling their Israeli subsidiary.
Any day now the UN is expected to release a database of companies involved in Israel’s settlement enterprise. Both RE/MAX and Airbnb will surely be on this list and the campaigns against them will continue. It remains to be seen whether G4S will actually follow through with their announcement that they will sell their Israeli subsidiary. If not, the campaign against G4S will continue with renewed strength and persistence.
Gov. Cuomo’s executive order will not stop the work on BDS campaigns such as these. This executive order will likely be challenged in court, as boycott is a constitutionally protected form of speech, association, and assembly. But more than a first amendment right, the BDS movement is something that should be commended, supported, and furthered. It is nonviolent change in action, placing those who participate in it on the right side of history.