Recent Articles

If Israel continues to target Palestinian families, what’s the point of a ‘peace process’?

by Ben White     August 27, 2013 at 9:01 am

Human Rights Watch this weekend released a must-read item on demolitions in Israel that they say are intended “to drive [Palestinian] families off their land”, part of a wider regime of “forcible transfer” and “discrimination”.

The report notes that some 3,800 Palestinians have been displaced by Israeli home demolitions since Prime Minister Netanyahu took office in 2009.

The continuation and even escalation of Israeli violations of international law during peace talks illustrates that the official “peace process” only serves to protect Israel from accountability over its policies. What Palestinians actually need is a protection of their basic rights and an end to the impunity enjoyed by the state of Israel.

Early yesterday morning, Israeli forces invaded Qalandia refugee camp near Ramallah and shot dead three residents, wounding many more. The killings come a week after the IDF shot dead another Palestinian in Jenin.

Israel has now killed 13 Palestinians in the West Bank this year.

Even before the deadly raid, there was yesterday’s approval of the budget for an expansion of Ramat Shlomo settlement – along with millions more in government money for a “national park” operated by a right-wing pro-settler group in illegally-annexed East Jerusalem.

The country’s Housing Minister personally helped dedicate new settlement housing over the weekend, declaring a Palestinian state “will never happen“.

Soon after the announcement of the resumption of peace talks a month ago, the Israeli government put 91 Jewish settlements on a national priority funding list, while official figures showed three times as many settlement housing starts in the first quarter of 2013 compared to 2012.

And it is not just the settlements (Amnesty International points out they are a war crime): just last week, dozens of Palestinians were displaced by the demolition of their homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

That is why the British government and others need to go beyond support for the deeply flawed US-managed negotiations and mealy-mouthed disapproval, and instead use real leverage and sanctions against a state which, without meaningful consequences, will continue to colonise and kill with impunity.

Major defeat in case claiming union was anti-semitic

by Ben White     March 27, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Pro-Israel pressure groups in the UK have suffered a major defeat in efforts to repress Palestine solidarity activity within the trade unions, as an Employment Tribunal dismissed a high-profile case brought against the University and College Union (UCU).

Academic Friends of Israel director Ronnie Fraser, represented by leading lawyer Anthony Julius, claimed he suffered antisemitic harassment in the UCU, complaints judged by the tribunal to be “without substance” and “devoid of any merit”.

Fraser called dozens of witnesses, including MP John Mann, former MP Denis Macshane, the Jewish Leadership Council’s Jeremy Newmark, Harry’s Place blogger Sarah AB, and Michael Whine of the Community Security Trust (CST).

Newmark was found to have given partly “untrue” evidence, as well as making a “preposterous claim” while “playing to the gallery”. Both Mann and Macshane were deemed to have given “glib evidence, appearing supremely confident of the rightness of their positions”.

The tribunal’s conclusions were damning:

Lessons should be learned from this sorry saga. We greatly regret that the case was ever brought. At heart, it represents an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means. It would be very unfortunate if an exercise of this sort were ever repeated…

We are also troubled by the implications of the claim. Underlying it we sense a worrying disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression.

While the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) welcomed the ruling and its implications for trade unionists wishing to pursue boycott campaigns, anti-boycott activist David Hirsh claimed the Employment Tribunal’s decision was itself anti-semitic.

Revealingly, Israel advocates had been hoping for a “huge victory“, and the likes of Martin Bright hailed Ronnie Fraser for “an act of considerable personal courage”. An editorial in The Jewish Chronicle called it “this decade’s version of the Irving trial“.

Was the Israeli government involved too? A senior official at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently revealed that, “over the last six months Israel has taken on two (court) cases in partnership with UK Jewry” in fighting Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS). This very likely includes Fraser’s case, yet Anthony Julius had previously denied any such links, saying that to assume the case was “being supported by the Israeli government” is a “fantasy”.

Last autumn, Jews for Justice for Palestinians called Fraser’s demands “bizarre and undemocratic”, and described the case as a “ludicrous, bullying and dictatorial attempt at shutting down debate”. They were right.

Meet Israel’s new, supposedly ‘left-wing’, governing coalition

by Ben White     March 21, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Immediately following Israel’s election in January, some Israel lobbyists spun the results as representing a victory for the so-called ‘centre’ or even ‘centre-left’.

Now an Israeli government has finally been formed, let’s take a look at some of the views represented in the new cabinet:

Trade and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett supports the annexation of most of the occupied West Bank (he’s not the only member of the cabinet with this position).

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has said that “the Palestinian threat harbours cancer-like attributes”. The track record of his deputy minister includes a proposal for obtaining an ID card to be conditional on a declaration of loyalty to the state.

Another minister, Uri Orbach, wrote in a national newspaper in 2008 that “we, the Jews, have no intention to commit suicide and lose our Jewish State in the name of our democratic values.”

Minister Yair Shamir’s views on the West Bank: “The Arabs there who call themselves Palestinian, they’ll stay or go, but we’ll definitely stay. We need to keep building in the land.”

Minister Yuval Steinitz has previously backed legislation denying citizenship to Palestinian spouses in order to protect the “demographic balance.”

Those are just a few examples. In addition, note that the new speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, is a West Bank settler who believes the Arabs are a “damaged nation”. Which isn’t so bad compared with the Knesset’s deputy speaker, Moshe Feiglin, who was banned from entering Britain in 2008.

Remember the response of the EU to the participation in Austria’s ruling coalition of Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party? Or the current justified anger at what is happening in Hungary? So why should an Israeli government of racist, international-law defying ministers be exempt from diplomatic isolation and other appropriate measures?

Reporter paints protest against diplomat as racist

by Ben White     February 21, 2013 at 3:55 pm

A senior reporter for The Jewish Chronicle has disingenuously insinuated that student protests yesterday at the University of Essex against the presence of Israel’s deputy ambassador were antisemitic in nature.

Marcus Dysch initially tweeted, without evidence, that embassy official Alon Roth-Snir had been at risk of physical “attack” and was thus “forced to flee for his safety”.

He then rowed back on this with a quote from university authorities saying there had been “no threat of violence” (the university’s Head of Communications dismissed Dysch’s claim of an attempted “attack” as “an exaggeration”).

But it was Dysch’s next tweet that was most shocking:

What rank hypocrisy. We know very well what the response would be from Dysch and his Stephen Pollard-edited paper if a politician or journalist was caught conflating “Jews” and “Israel” – yet the same people don’t bat an eyelid about doing it themselves to smear Palestine solidarity activists.

Dysch received a number of tweets back pointing out his error, including one that said he “surely [meant] Israeli diplomat. We should not fall into our enemies trap”.

Unfortunately, this kind of cheap, deniable intimation is par for the course. When pro-Israel groups attacked a senior Amnesty International employee on the flimsy pretext he had targeted three MPs for a joke on their basis they were Jewish – rather than of their political views – Marcus Dysch and The Jewish Chronicle were only too happy to help.

So when someone deliberately suggests that the issue with an Israeli diplomat or pro-Israel politicians is the fact they are Jews, not the policies they represent or defend, exactly who is encouraging anti-semitism?

Why the Cooperative is still right to boycott Israeli settler produce

by Ben White     August 22, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Four months ago, a national supermarket chain with an admirable ‘Ethical Trading’ policy decided to cut ties with four suppliers whose sourcing decisions make them complicit in severe breaches of international law.

Nothing particularly extraordinary there, you might think, but since these were Israeli companies and the products come from illegal settlements in the West Bank, pro-Israel advocacy groups have been attacking the Co-Operative ever since.

Those criticising include Luke Akehurst, head of Israel advocacy group BICOM’s ‘We Believe in Israel’ initiative.
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Why is Patrick Sookhdeo still advising the British army?

by Ben White     July 18, 2012 at 4:07 pm

I can reveal that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) was, until recently, getting advice on its “religious engagement strategy” in Afghanistan from a man who believes Islam might “be the rod of God’s anger”.

Patrick Sookhdeo, a Visiting Professor at the UK’s Defence Academy and former advisor to the Permanent Joint Headquarters, is still serving as a “cultural adviser” to the MOD.

He is also a regular speaker at churches and Christian organisations internationally.
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Chart: how Israel’s blockade of Gaza has gutted its economy

by Ben White     June 12, 2012 at 11:13 am

Israel has a major problem explaining its Gaza policy, and it is particularly obvious when it comes to the question of exports.

To mark five years since Israel’s heightened closure of Gaza (movement restrictions actually go back to 1991), Israeli NGO Gisha released some excellent resources for understanding what 1.7 million Palestinians have been enduring.

That include information on Israel’s deliberate “separation policy” and one illustrating 5 years of closure. The data speaks for itself.
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How the Jewish Chronicle is trying to smear Jeremy Corbyn MP

by Ben White     April 23, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Last week, following a judge’s decision to reject Theresa May’s attempt to exclude Raed Salah from the UK, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn participated in a press conference featuring Salah’s lawyer.

Corbyn said it was necessary to have an inquiry into how the Home Secretary Theresa May made her decision to exclude Salah. Speaking separately, Salah’s lawyer Tayab Ali also said he felt was the role of the ‘pro-Israeli lobby’ in shaping certain government policies.

Subsequently, the blog Harry’s Place (HP) ran a post ridiculously titled, “Labour MP calls for public inquiry into Jewish influence in the Conservative Party”.
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Mensch to speak at ‘extreme’ Israeli conf

by Ben White     November 4, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Conservative MP Louise Mensch is set to appear at a conference organised by the UK branch of Israeli lobby group – StandWithUs.

According to a publicity poster, Mensch will be a “guest speaker” on a day aimed especially at students.

The attendance of a Member of Parliament at such an event is troubling, given StandWithUs’ track record of promoting extreme positions and working with disturbing allies.

The UK chair of StandWithUs disputes the international legal consensus that Settlements in the Occupied West Bank are illegal.

A 2009 investigation into StandWithUs’ donors accused the group of having “a web of funders who support organisations that have been accused of anti-Muslim propaganda and encouraging a militant Israeli and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East”.

The group’s activists have also been accused of intimidating Palestine solidarity activists in the past.

A StandWithUs event of the same name happening in the US this month features Itamar Marcus, an Israeli settler who features in Islamophobic film ‘Obsession’.

Here in the UK, StandWithUs is working with religious fundamentalists, sending their national coordinator to speak at a conference promoted by those who believe that God will “curse those who curse Israel”.

Israel’s defenders are free to choose the allies they want – but should an MP be giving them support?

Politicising art from the Middle East? It has already happened

by Ben White     September 15, 2011 at 5:23 pm

When pro-Palestinian activists interrupted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at the Proms, critics of the action often repeated variations of the same line: ‘Don’t politicise art!’

Without unpacking this formulation’s assumptions, there is something missing here – the fact that the Israeli government itself is deliberately ‘politicising art’ in order to distract from the occupation.

In May this year, leading Israeli chef Michael Katz told Australian media:
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