Monthly Archives: April 2009

Pt. III Israel a racist state? Usama Halabi and Alan Dershowitz

[Updated] Seumas Milne of the UK Guardian has one of the best analyses I’ve seen thus far of Durban and the hypocrisy and gamesmanship of the European countries.

He looks at the issue of calling Israel a racist state, which is considered verboten by the European diplomats, but entirely uncontroversial for most of the Arab the world.

In fact, some 700,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes to make room for the Jewish state, and while people in my family who have never set foot in the Middle East have the right to citizenship under Israel’s Right of Return law, Palestinians who still have the keys to their homes can not go back. The Israel Land Authority (ILA) holds nearly 94% of Israeli land in trust for Jews only [see video about JNF's Canada Park], and now Israel has a foreign minister who openly advocates for transfer of Arab Israelis and wants those left, I suppose, to take a loyalty oath. (And of course, the litany regarding racist history and institutions in my own country, the United States, is longer. Talking about it openly hardly means I want to destroy the United States. On the contrary, it means I want to make it live up to its promise.)

The issue of racism within Israel comes up in the conference in a dramatic way. At the Dershowitz/Voight panel on Palestinians as Nazis, Palestinian civil rights lawyer Zaha Hassan questions Natan Sharansky about the bombing of Gaza. Sharansky’s response is too mild and Dershowitz steps in and starts demanding loudly that Zaha tell him just one international law that has been violated by Israel during the war on Gaza. Usama Halabi shouts out “proportionality” and suddenly the focus is on him. He says he is an Israeli  citizen, but he has transgressed by trying to get a word in and suddenly Dershowitz is arguing with him. (Usama tells me that someone told him that later, Dershowitz told him to go back to Ahmedinejad. I’m going to review my tape on the plane.)

Halabi is an expert on the legal status of Arab Israelis: he is a lawyer, has written 7 books, and has served on the boards of Adalah, and Betselem. And like every other Palestinian here, he is forced to make his point in 60 seconds if he is lucky enough to get called on by a speaker. He has no official voice here, no place to make his presentation, no space to share his analysis.

I talk to Halabi in the hallway the next day:

Our lands are taken to this day, even those who go into the army. I am a Druze. So our land is being taken despite the fact that many people go into the army and serve. A false argument in Israel: if you don’t give full obligations, you don’t deserve full rights. This is totally false, because I know of many people who give everything and get nothing or almost nothing.

Continue reading

Jews are aboriginals and the Christians love us.

Last night I went to a support Israel rally at the Plaza des Nations, the spot with the chair. Unlike the side-events inside organized by the UN Watch and Anne Bayefsky’s Eye on the UN/Hudson Institute, which have each escalated the rhetoric of demonization, this rally is a paragon of “positive messaging”. The message control is tight-no home made signs here. Nothing about Muslim terrorists. It’s all about wanting peace and democracy (versus, you know, them.) But I’m almost grateful. Nobody tries to whip up the crowd, a la Dershowitz, by declaring Palestinians Nazis and terrorists.

Everyone is crowded at the front, but when you stand in the back of the plaza, which isn’t that big, the place looks empty. I actually suddenly share  a sense of communal anxiety for the Jews in the crowd (well, at least half the crowd, the others are Christians, it turns out). It’s a metaphor for living in Europe. There really aren’t that many of us left and it is easy to feel threatened and tiny, so we project bigger and scarier. My Jewish friend who lives here has been telling me about the anti-Jewish comments she has heard from the white Swiss- the Jews control this, we do that.

I get there just as former Canadian attorney general Irwin Cotler is speaking. He has been ubiquitous at the conference. I am rather astounded by what he is saying. Jews are aboriginal people. This is the first time I’ve heard this formulation, though it makes sense to try it at a conference where indigenous people are pressing for their rights. But I’m not sure the people in the crowd really go for it. Here is what he has written about the topic:

For Israel, rooted in the Jewish people, as an Abrahamic people, is a prototypical First Nation or aboriginal people, just as the Jewish religion is a prototypical aboriginal religion, the first of the Abrahamic religions. Continue reading

Entire world captivated by civil society groups!

Here’s the media gallery at the UN today when the civil society groups from around the world that work on racism and various forms of discrimination finally get to speak- each gets 3 minutes.

Of course, the outcome document was actually voted on and finalized yesterday, so these speeches, the moment for which some NGOs have been preparing all year, are merely symbolic, if that.

I have now heard from 2 sources that the French were about to bolt (presumably because of Ahmedinejad and the larger campaign against the conference) so they quickly voted on the document early before hemorrhaging more countries. It’s just one more way that a conference about racism has ended up being a conference about Israel.

I spoke to one delegate of African descent who told me about an earlier meeting with the NGOs and the general commissioner. The biggest applause line was after one delegate got up to call out the ways the conference had been hijacked by the Israel lobbyists here, resulting in the marginalization of everyone else’s voices.”They have made few friends here,” she says.

Pt. II Dershowitz et al, “The worst two hours of my life.”

That’s what a Palestinian friend from the West Bank said after what was at times a hateful, nasty 2-hour long harangue by Anne Bayefsky, Jon Voight, Elie Wiesel, Alan Dershowitz, Natan Sharansky and Shelby Steele. “I just listened to 2 hours of demonization of Palestinians and Muslims fueled by racism and hate,” said my clearly shaken friend.

I already posted some choice quotes by Jon-the-new-Holocaust-Voight. The tour de force of the session, ostensibly on anti-semitism but really promoting anti-Arab/Palestinian/Muslim hate, was Alan Dershowitz. (Although conservative African American scholar Shelby Steele, who gets plenty of applause from a room  filled with white people, reaches a whole new depth in his theory about the end of white supremacy and the deep shame of people of color regarding their own inadequacies.)

Dershowitz is the schoolyard bully all grown-up, very smart and even angrier. Watching him, you feel like he might explode. Like all good demagogues, he knows how to whip up an audience at the most nasty applause lines. I admit it. I’m scared of him.

In the age of Obama and Iraq war exhaustion, the War on Terror clearly no longer provides the right wing Israel lobby with the umph it needs to delegitimize Palestinian claims for justice or, frankly, simple human decency. Here, Dershowitz launches a new frame. Netanyahu et al have been pushing the Hitler/Ahmedinejad comparison for some time now. But this is the first time I’ve heard such a sweeping condemnation of Palestinians (with a few exceptions of course, because Dersh “doesn’t like to generalize”) as Nazis. Excerpts from video above:

“Painful truths about the Holocaust today are being suppressed by college campuses, they’re being suppressed wherever the Palestinian conflict is being discussed. My painful job today is to talk about one of those very difficult historical truths that many would prefer to see ignored..

The terrible, terrible, terrible tragedy is that there is a direct unbroken line between Hitler and [the anti-semitic Palestinian Mufti} Husseini  on the one hand, and today Hamas and radical Islamic Jihadists on the other hand. They are the heirs of Hitler. Ahmedinejad their spoonsor is the heir of Hitler. Those who are complicit in that evil are complicit in the evil of  Nazism. Nazism has not disappeared from the world today. It has the same genocidal goals….

Woe unto any of you out there who support Hamas. You are supporting Hitler’s heirs. Whether you consider yourself a leftist or a centrist, you are complicit in the worst evil of the twentieth century. And there is no way of breaking that bond. As long as Hamas maintains its genocidal attitudes towards the Jewish people…

This conference is a hate fest. Like Nuremberg was a hate fest…

Durban I traces its roots to Nuremberg. It traces its roots to the Nazi-Husseini alliance.

There is a lot to say about his line of reasoning. In future posts.

More Darfur propaganda

All NGO (non-governmental organization) literature has the name and contact information of the organization that published it. That is, after all, the whole idea. This literature, with absolutely nothing printed on the back, was left on the NGO tables at the Durban Review Conference. There is no name printed on the cards because they don’t want you to know who published them. Clearly the Darfur card, which uses a likely inflated figure, has not been printed by a Darfur advocacy group. It has been printed by one of the right-wing Israel advocacy groups. The objective is somewhat unclear. Not sure why they didn’t just write, “the UN doesn’t care” to continue their message.

Durban Review Conference Roundup

Scholar Stephen Zunes does a terrific job of putting the Durban happenings in a broader context:

Legitimate concerns about Israeli policies regularly appear at international forums sponsored by the United Nations. But they have sometimes been contaminated by sweeping statements condemning the state of Israel itself, and portraying some of the most racist and chauvinistic aspects of Zionism as representative of Jewish nationalism as a whole. However, these kinds of discriminatory resolutions have been declining in recent years, as countries have become more willing to recognize that, while some governments may pursue racist policies, no state should be singled out as inherently racist in and of itself. Efforts by anti-Israel delegations at the 2001 anti-racism conference in Durban were defeated and weren’t considered a realistic threat at the Geneva Conference either.

…Still, even some of the more reasonable resolutions critical of Israel proposed at the 2001 conference distracted attention from the broader issues at stake. Such efforts often result in dividing Jews — themselves a historically oppressed people — from their natural allies among people of color. Furthermore, other governments that have as bad or even more racist policies than Israel have not been subjected to as much attention at such conferences.

The JTA reports:

The United Nations pulled credentials from a number of Jewish activists who disrupted a speech by the Iranian president at the Durban Review Conference.

Of the 46 badges that were pulled this week for disruptive behavior, the vast majority were from individuals accredited through Jewish organizations. Notably, the French Union of Jewish Students lost 21 badges.

Credentials were stripped as well from four members of the European Union of Jewish Students and one B’nai Brith member. Between them, the French and European Jewish student groups had 370 members accredited, amounting to more than one-third of all the NGO activists at the conference.

U.N. officials said they believed Jewish activists who already had their credentials pulled swapped badges with members of another group, Coexist.

Antony Loewenstein has some things to say:

The purpose of Durban remains essential, namely finding ways to address genuine human rights issues across the globe. Israel should not be protected from criticism or abuse. It’s a normal country, like any other.

Pt I: Poor Angelina: Jon Voight’s “New Holocaust”

Jon Voight starred in the first movie that ever made me really cry: Conrack. It was one of those classic patronizing white people fantasy movies about the inspiring white teacher  who saves the poor black kids living in the segregated South. But I was a kid and I cried through the whole thing.  Ironic now, since Voight made me cry again but for an entirely different reason.

He used to be liberal but he’s become a born-again lover-of-the-Torah (see video) and a somewhat incoherent anti-communist. He said of Obama recently:

This is a perilous time, and more than ever, the world needs a united and strong America. If, God forbid, we live to see Mr. Obama president, we will live through a socialist era that America has not seen before, and our country will be weakened in every way.

He started off  his talk at the anti-semitism Dershowitz hate-fest panel with an ode to the Jews. He’s cultish in his fetishization of the Jews. He kicked off  with a couple poems about how we Jews are pretty much the cat’s meow. We’re even good in business. It’s weird and embarrassing. We’re chosen alright:

The Jewish people have given mankind the perfect tools for living, the teachings of the great Torah, which if followed, bring us to peace love courage wisdom and justice and every possible answer to life’s needs.

(Photo: My bad picture of Voight and Wiesel) This is hard core. I don’t even know any Jews, including the practicing ones, who believe that. Those Chabdniks are good. After letting us know what a “righteous Christian ” he is, he gets into it:

Last year I visited the victims of suicide bombings. It was very difficult for me to spend time with these people. Ron Kerma is here-his daughter, 17 years old, was killed in a senseless act. I looked in their faces and my heart was almost torn out. I spoke to a young girl who was victim of a bombing, and she expressed to me she is trying to find ways to forgive. We spent time in Sderot which has been a victim of 7,000 bombings since the turn of the century. All the children have the syndrome that comes from being in battle- they wake up screaming.

Then he cuts to the chase:

I feel complete complete outrage at anyone who can make excuses for this barbarism. And I feel complete contempt for anyone who is not intelligent enough to see that this propaganda in the media painting the Palestinians as poor victims is capable of destroying the Jewish nation of Israel. (I think he means the Palestinians are capable of destroying..)

We’re witnessing a new type of holocaust. And we good people of all faiths should express outrage and demand the truth be heard. The Palestinian radicals have only one prayer on their lips. And it is to kill and rid every Jew young and old from Israel. Let us pray for the courage to stand up and fight against all antisemitism that has found its way  to all the evildoers, let us pray for peace with the understanding we do not bend to terrorism in any shape or form for the sake of peace. God bless us. [text corrected]

That’s the new line. It’s not even enough these days to shut everybody down by saying they’re anti-Semites. The new line set forth in this session, and drawn aptly by Alan Dershowitz later on, is that this is all the new Holocaust. Thousands of Palestinians die, but this is a new Jewish Holocaust. And the moral Israelis, as ever, are simply defending themselves from the evil radical Palestinians who want nothing more than to kill the Jews.

Scholars have to study this. It’s just too amazing. Shoahism.

How do you decide who really wins?

This conference is taking place on multiple levels. There are diplomats meeting behind closed doors; NGOs meeting in the lounge; large scale formal gatherings in the main room; and rallies outside its gates. And then there is the international media coverage which may define the story in the end. Further, there are thousands of people here, all with different agendas. How you turn all of this chaos into a coherent narrative depends, in part, on how you define power.

News accounts suggest the Israeli leaders are thrilled with how the conference has turned out, meaning they are happy that Ahmadinejad effectively delegitimized the proceedings.  They needed him. I overheard a low level Palestinian diplomat say, on the other hand, that he is tired, angry, frustrated and pissed off. An Arab Israeli NGO delegate told me, “The Palestinian delegation gave up everything. They let them take every word about Israel and occupation out of the final outcome document, and they got absolutely nothing in return.”

Meanwhile, Eye on the UN’s Anne Bayefsky and company (sponsors of the Alan Dershowitz session) continue to make Israel the victims. It’s an amazing magic trick. Thousands of Gazans are either dead or hospitalized after this January’s war, but Israel, and we Jews, are the only victims that matter here.

Continue reading

American NGO delegation: “the fix is in.”

Members of the US civil society delegation, all part of the US Human Rights Network, held a press conference yesterday. I came directly from the session with Alan Dershowitz et al, which was so jammed with people and cameras and reporters that folks were locked out the room. It was a striking contrast to this press conference in a tiny room with a few reporters in the basement. It was a perfect metaphor for the different ways power has played out in these halls.

(Similarly, I’m writing from the media are of the main hall right now. When Achmedinejad was here, there was standing room only. Today, dozens of country reps are getting up to actually address racism and discrimination, and the media area is nearly empty. Turns out that people talking about helping others is boring.)

Ajamu  Baraka of the network and the others on the panel seemed shell shocked when minutes before the conference started, they learned the final outcome document had already been approved. It was only day 2 of a 5 day conference, and none of the NGOs who had spent thousands of dollars and human hours to get here, had had a chance to make their statements. While acknowledging this is primarily a state driven process, Baraka said, “the fix is in.” Indeed.

There is no struggle against racism without the NGOs, but governments are here to angle for their own interests. Got a complaint against the UN? Get in line. The difference of course, is that groups doing human rights work here generally respond to the laundry list of inadequacies by talking about how the UN might be strengthened. The UN Watch/NGO Monitor right wing Israel lobby types seem to really want to destroy the UN, and at this conference they generally don’t mind taking everyone else down with it.

Ijm Dike (pictured above) of the Urban Justice Center’s Human Rights Project, the driving force behind much of the US delegation, has an entirely different frame on what’s really going on here- why the US and other states backed out from the conference. The whole demonization of Israel issue is a sham. These folks believe the United States was deeply worried about efforts to pursue recognition that slavery is a crime against humanity and reparations.

They’re mad at Obama. Really mad. This is a defining moment and Obama has failed the test, letting politics get in the way of a sincere commitment to address systematic racism.

Internal documents show the United States was against the draft statement of 2001 because of these issue, over a year before Durban I took place. Think about some of the countries that boycotted- besides the US and Israel, you have Canada, the Netherlands and Australia, all with lengthy histories of repressing their indigenous populations and/or the slave trade . Hence the boycott, with a convenient excuse handed to them by the Israeli campaign of counter- demonization.

Their statement: “US activists call on the international community to take responsibility for ensuring the DRC address issues of Racism for all people and that we do not allow for the narrow focus that has been allowed to derail this conference and overshadow important issues of racial discrimination, including poverty, gross inequality, and persecution based on race and caste.”

Stand with us: Exploiting Darfur and Jewish teenagers

Around 6, I leave the conference to catch the tram home. The stop is at the same plaza where the Holocaust Remembrance ceremony was last night. The place with the chair. I hear chanting and sure enough, there are the same kids from Monday who had the fake pro Human Rights signs. Scary right wing group Stand with Us (folks who have absolutely nothing to do with Darfur) is boasting about their good work.

Only now, they have switched outfits, different signs (except for a few), and Darfurian friends. At least in front. Behind them there appear to be numerous handlers. The grownups, if you will. The kids are from the French and European Unions of Students. I feel sorry for them. I bet most of them are real idealists. They have no idea that they, like the Darfurians, are being used as part of a hateful effort.

Now mind you, some of these kids have already done a major action today. Monday, Stand with Us handlers had them with duct tape and “human rights” posters, including the one with the fake photo of a Muslim woman being stoned.

Continue reading