Friday, July 21, 2017

EU spreads lies about Israel boycott

A senior European Union representative has been advised to malign Palestine solidarity campaigners.

Vera Jourova, the EU’s justice commissioner, was given a briefing paper earlier this year about how to handle various topics in a discussion with the pro-Israel lobby.

Drawn up by Brussels officials, the paper provides some talking points about the EU’s “position” on the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. It alleges that “the encouragement of boycotts against cultural and academic institutions or artists” contradicts the “EU’s stand on non-discrimination and freedom of expression.”

That paints a false picture of the BDS movement. Its activities are subject to guidelines, which make clear that the cultural boycott does not target Israeli artists as individuals.

The cultural boycott is, instead, applied to artists who represent the Israeli state or institutions complicit in Israeli crimes or take part in branding exercises intended to divert attention away from the oppression of Palestinians.

Jourova’s briefing paper - obtained under freedom of information rules - was prepared ahead of a Holocaust memorial ceremony held in January this year.

The ceremony was hosted by Israel’s embassy to the EU and the American Jewish Committee, a pro-Israel advocacy group.

The officials who drew up the paper recycle almost verbatim accusations made in 2016 by Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU’s anti-Semitism coordinator. Von Schnurbein had claimed that “anti-Semitic incidents rise after BDS activities” in Europe’s universities. She was unable to provide specific examples of such incidents when asked.

Jourova’s office did not respond to requests for comment.


The BDS National Committee, a Palestinian umbrella group that coordinates boycott activities, stated that it was “appalled” by Jourova’s briefing paper. The document “defamed the BDS movement as anti-Semitic,” Ingrid Jaradat, a legal adviser to the committee, stated.

A crucial detail omitted from the briefing paper is that the BDS movement has consistently denounced anti-Jewish bigotry.

Jourova’s briefing paper is at odds with previous comments made by other EU representatives.

The Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini stated last year that the EU “stands firm in protecting freedom of expression.” Although she opposed the boycott of Israel, Mogherini recognized that activists have a right to advocate BDS tactics. That right is protected by the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Despite the clarity of that statement, some of the EU’s institutions and governments have continued to cast aspersions against the Palestine solidarity movement.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has conflated opposition to Israel’s state ideology Zionism with hatred of Jews. On Sunday, Macron called anti-Zionism “a mere re-invention of anti-Semitism.”


Macron’s comments echo a decades-long effort by Israel and its supporters to imply that Palestine solidarity activists have ulterior motives. The efforts have been undertaken since at least 1973, when Abba Eban, Israel’s foreign minister at the time, labeled anti-Zionism as the “new anti-Semitism.”

That deliberate dishonesty has been reflected by a dubious definition of anti-Semitism approved last year by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental body.

That definition is virtually identical to one which was proposed by pro-Israel lobby groups more than a decade earlier. It recommends that strong criticism of Israel – such as describing that state’s foundation as a “racist endeavor” – should be seen as anti-Semitic.

Even the definition’s lead author, formerly a senior figure in the American Jewish Committee, has strongly criticized efforts to use it to stifle speech critical of Israel.

Yet the German government has been particularly supportive of the definition. In late 2016, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, then the German foreign minister, contacted senior EU officials to argue that the definition was a “very useful instrument for combating anti-Semitism – both for the police and in science and education.”

The definition is not legally binding. Yet 24 of the EU’s 28 governments have endorsed it. According to internal documents, police services in a number of the Union’s countries are already using the definition for training purposes.

During a visit to Israel last month, Jourova issued a joint statement with her hosts applauding the European Parliament for endorsing the definition. She encouraged governments to use it while monitoring their citizens’ activities.

Not for the first time, the European Union’s representatives are sending out mixed signals. Supposed champions of free speech are trying to muzzle dissent. Solidarity is being smeared to placate an increasingly belligerent Israeli government.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 20 July 2017.

Friday, July 14, 2017

When Haaretz explains Israel's crimes

It is easy to romanticize Haaretz, to view the Tel Aviv daily as a liberal counterbalance to the more hawkish organs of Israeli public opinion.

Amira Hass and Gideon Levy, the paper’s best writers, have taken considerable risks to chronicle Israel’s crimes and demand that Israel be held accountable. While it is proper that their work should be circulated widely, Haaretz as an institution deserves no praise.

Some of its most senior journalists behave as stooges to an apartheid state.

Amos Harel is promoted by the paper as “one of Israel’s leading media experts on military and defense issues.” He is a practitioner of hasbara – the Israeli brand of propaganda.

Hasbara is frequently translated as “explaining.” And Harel tends to “explain” Israeli conduct in a sympathetic way.

Downplaying a disaster

Take his coverage of the energy crisis in Gaza.

“Limited cuts” to electricity were “announced” by Israel “at the urging of the Palestinian Authority,” he wrote earlier this month.

By qualifying these cuts as limited, he was downplaying how Israel had deliberately worsened a humanitarian disaster. Far from being limited, the cuts have reduced Gaza’s electricity supply to an all-time low.

Harel’s framing of the situation chimed with the Israeli government’s claim that the energy crisis was an internal Palestinian matter.

Israel reluctantly accepted a request from the Palestinian Authority, Harel inferred. He provided no background details about how Israel has a history of subjecting Gaza to blackouts and how the – undeniably cruel – PA acts as Israel’s lackey, not the other way around.

Harel’s messages can get muddled. A few days after describing the power cuts as “limited,” he reported that the electricity supply in Gaza had been reduced to less than three hours per day. He then quoted Gadi Eisenkot, Israel’s military chief, as saying that the Israeli approach was one of “intelligent risk management.”

Despite purporting to be an analyst, Harel did not analyze – or explain – the meaning of that repugnant euphemism.

Harel also transcribed a comment by Eisenkot that “it is in our interest for the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria to have hope.”

The “hope” being granted here apparently came in the form of some new houses that Israel had authorized for Palestinians. Harel did not point out that Israel has made strenuous efforts during its 50 years of occupying the West Bank – Judea and Samaria in Zionist parlance – to snuff out hope.

Harel evidently thinks it is appropriate to reach for the lexicon of perfume-makers when discussing the theft of another people’s land. “There is no such thing as a fragrant occupation,” Harel wrote in June.

“Subjecting a civilian population to your total control provides many opportunities for violence and abuse, far from the oversight of commanders,” he added. Commanders, he infers, are well-intentioned and violence against Palestinians is perpetrated by rogues. The truth, however, is that the occupation is inherently violent and abusive, and perpetrators of crimes against Palestinians are effectively granted total impunity by their superiors.

Hero worship

Harel labels Palestinian resistance fighters as “terrorists” yet casts Israel’s military commanders as heroic figures.

In another recent piece on Gaza, he reported that Israeli government ministers believed a general named Yoav Mordechai would “once again save the day” by averting a flare-up with Hamas.

Fixated on Mordechai’s ability to “save the day,” Harel neglected to explain how that particular commander has been accused of extreme violence. Mordechai led a battalion during Operation Cast Lead – an attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. Soldiers under his direction reportedly took part in bombarding the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City and may have been involved in killing an eight-year-old hospital patient.

Today, Mordechai is in charge of overseeing the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. In that capacity, he is directly tasked with enforcing a medieval siege.

But you would not know that from Harel’s dispatches. Rather, he applauds Mordechai for extending the area in which Gaza’s fishermen may work – without observing that the fishermen are constantly fired upon by the Israeli navy – and for allowing the entry of some extra trucks into Gaza – without noting that the boundary crossings for people and goods are routinely closed.

The only problem with Mordechai is that he “can’t produce miracles,” Harel suggested in May.

Earlier this year, Harel interviewed Naftali Bennett, perhaps the most extreme minister in the Israeli government. Bennett argued that Lebanon should be sent “back to the Middle Ages” and that all its civilian infrastructure should be considered “legitimate targets” if another conflict breaks out between Israel and Hizballah.

That call for massacres was arguably genocidal; it was made by a politician who has boasted that “I have killed many Arabs in my life” and who participated in the 1996 massacre of more than 100 civilians in the Lebanese village of Qana.

You would learn little about Bennett’s record, however, if you relied on the interview by Amos Harel. To him, Bennett’s comments were “interesting.” Not once in his article did he express anything that could be qualified as disapproval.

At times, Harel’s columns read like briefing papers on military strategy. When it appeared that the massive 2014 attack on Gaza was nearing its end, Harel helpfully prepared a list of issues that would “need to be addressed” before future operations were undertaken.

When Harel criticizes the Israeli military he does so timidly. More than once lately, he has written about “mistakes” being made.

Elor Azarya, the Israeli army medic who shot dead a Palestinian lying on the ground, made one such “mistake,” Harel has implied. Azarya was filmed carrying out an extrajudicial execution but the soldier’s youth and “turbulent emotional state” meant there were “mitigating circumstances,” according to Harel.

This is the kind of garbage that Haaretz publishes regularly.

Egregious human rights abuses are downgraded to unfortunate errors on the pages of a “liberal” paper. No matter how heinous Israel’s atrocities are, Amos Harel has his explanations at the ready.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 13 July 2017.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

How Britain brought waterboarding to Palestine?

Were the Palestinians dispossessed by a sadistic lawyer?

Norman Bentwich was the chief legal officer with the British administration in Jerusalem between the two world wars. A committed Zionist, he drafted many of the ordinances that enabled Jewish settlers to seize land which indigenous Palestinians had farmed for generations.

Arguably, then, he was more responsible for uprooting Palestinians than anyone else in that period, except perhaps for his political overlords. There are strong reasons to suspect that Bentwich took pleasure in the pain that he caused.

In his book Mandate Memories, Bentwich admitted that a system of apartheid was introduced during that period, even using the term apartheid. The admission was not, it would appear, made through any sense of remorse. Rather, he applauded the violence by which the system was entrenched.

Orde Wingate, a British military commander who insisted that Palestinians be tortured and killed, imposed the “strictest discipline” and inspired “daring and devotion” among the Jewish troops that he mentored, according to Bentwich.

Over the past few years, I have plowed through the records left by many Britons who ruled Palestine from the 1920s to the 1940s. I was disgusted, if not surprised, by the sense of imperial hubris captured by these documents.

Yet it was a single line in Bentwich’s memoirs that unnerved me most. He noted casually that most members of a gendarmerie which the British dispatched to Palestine in the early 1920s “had been in the celebrated Black and Tan Brigade in Ireland, formed to crush the Irish rebels” during that period.

No excuse

My great granduncle, Patrick Hartnett, was shot dead by the Black and Tans – British forces stationed in Ireland during its war of independence. If a “rebel” meant somebody who was involved in an armed revolt – as Bentwich implied – then Patrick Hartnett was not a rebel.

Hartnett was a postman from Abbeyfeale, County Limerick. On 20 September 1920, he was chatting with Jeremiah Healy, a blacksmith, as they walked along a country road. The men were caught unawares by Thomas Huckerby, a member of the Black and Tans.

Huckerby shot the two men at close range, killing both of them.

A military court of inquiry accepted, in effect, that Huckerby had no excuse for his actions.

Such courts routinely handed down verdicts of “justifiable homicide” when examining killings by British forces. In Huckerby’s case, the court of inquiry merely recorded that Hartnett and Healy died because of “revolver shots fired by T.D. Huckerby.” Neither of the victims had been involved in the Irish Republican Army.

According to a local historian, Tom Toomey, Huckerby was “by far the most notorious of all the Black and Tans in County Limerick.” His other victims included John Hynes, a 60-year-old man shot dead on the way home from a pub.

Huckerby resigned from the Black and Tans towards the end of 1920. Although he had not been punished for his misdeeds, disciplinary charges were pending at the time he left the force.


His barbarity was by no means atypical. The Black and Tans may have been “celebrated” in the mind of Norman Bentwich. To the Irish, they were feared and despised.

Patrick Hartnett and Jeremiah Healy were not the only ones killed by the British forces on 20 September 1920. Two men were also “done to death” – the words engraved on a commemorative stone – that day in Balbriggan, County Dublin, the town where I grew up.

The killings left a lasting bitterness. I can still recall one of the town’s residents ranting in the early 1980s against the “bastards” who killed those two men – Seamus Lawless and Sean Gibbons – more than six decades earlier. The killings took place during the “sack” of Balbriggan, when British forces burned down numerous houses and pubs and a factory on which hundreds relied for employment.

I was fascinated to learn that the gendarmerie sent to Palestine in the early 1920s was comprised largely of men who had served with the Black and Tans and a similar division called the Auxiliaries. It was that fact which prompted me to write my latest book Balfour’s Shadow.

British forces perceived their role in Palestine as similar to that which they had performed in Ireland. As Geoffrey Morton, one British officer, observed, they were “intended to be used not as real policemen but as shock troops.”

The gendarmerie to which Norman Bentwich referred was assembled in response to Palestinian anger at Britain and its sponsorship of the Zionist colonization project. The British authorities had declared a state of emergency in Palestine during the early 1920s. As a result, there were few bounds on what the British police could do.

Douglas Duff had worked with the Black and Tans in Galway. He confessed to “going berserk” after being dispatched to Palestine.

Duff, who became a police chief in Jerusalem, may have been a pioneer of waterboarding. In his memoirs, he wrote about how a torture victim would be “held down, flat on his back, while a thin-spouted coffee pot poured a trickle of water up his nose.”

Malcolm MacDonald, then Britain’s colonial secretary, stated during 1938 “that we must set our faces absolutely against the development of ‘Black and Tan’ methods in Palestine.” His plea came too late. Black and Tan methods had been used for almost two decades at that point.

Every so often, someone asks me why Irish people empathize with the Palestinians.

In the past, I have struggled to give a succinct reply. Now I am convinced that the question can be answered in four words: the Black and Tans.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 10 July 2017.