Category Archives: Israeli peace groups

Muzzling Discussion of the Nakba and Palestinian History

By Donna Nevel

Nakba: Palestine refugees 1948

Nakba: Palestine refugees 1948

We know all too well how adamantly pro-Israel forces in the U.S. Jewish community and Israel consider certain conversations and actions critical of Israel “beyond the pale,” and how blatant their hasbara (pro-Israel propaganda) attempts are to silence and suppress them.

Although the parameters (of what is “acceptable”) may change at times, what doesn’t seem to change is how hasbara intensifies as efforts to reveal historical and current truths and demand change become more visible and powerful.

Most recently, Al Jazeera reports that right wing groups have tried to censor schoolbooks and silence organizations that make visible to the Israeli public the Nakba, an Arabic word meaning catastrophe that refers to the forced dispossession and expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and land before, during, and after the creation of the Jewish state.

A bit of context: Some of these recent attempts at muzzling come as Zochrot, an Israeli organization, was planning (and recently held) a monumental conference, “From Truth to Redress: Realizing the Return of the Palestinian Refugees.” The conference had as its focus “the implication of Return for the country’s physical, cultural and economic space, on the nature of its future society, the status of Palestinians and Jews living here, the nature of its regime, and last but not least, the practicalities of returning property after 65 years of refugeehood and the destruction of Palestinian life on the one hand, and the establishment of a Jewish State and the resulting new reality on the other.”  This conference aligned with Zochrot’s ongoing commitment to “challenge the Israeli Jewish public’s preconceptions and promote awareness, political and cultural change within it to create the conditions for the Return of Palestinian Refugees and a shared life in this country.”  

Some of those engaged in the nastiest tactics are extreme right-wing groups like Im Tirtzu or NGO Monitor, which are both closely connected to the Israeli government. Recently, in response to an NGO Monitor report attacking it, the U.S. group, Jewish Voice for Peace, wrote: “NGO Monitor has a long history, broadly documented, of attacking any organization that it believes is effectively criticizing Israeli policies. The organizations NGO Monitor has attacked include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Al Haq, and the New Israel Fund, to name just a few. We are honored to be among them.”

But we also know that attempts to erase the Nakba have been standard policy and practice since the creation of the State, and they have been undertaken by people and groups across the political spectrum.  (More about this in a follow-up piece.)

Although the opposition may step up its tactics–of censoring; spying on organizations; prohibiting groups from even referring to the Nakba; shutting down funding; intimidating justice workers–that won’t change the fact that the history, the stories, the evidence, the documentation about the Nakba are indisputable.

Zochrot is having a truth commission for the events of 1948, to be held in March 2014,  “that will seek to collect and document information about the 1948 events, focusing in particular on the actions that led to the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. By exposing the public to this information, the event will seek to encourage various audiences in Israel to acknowledge these actions and take personal and collective responsibility for them.” This critical work continues.

Hold the Pickle

by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark

Unlike hamburgers, which are either kosher or not, some boycotts are apparently more kosher than others.

The state of Israel and its supporters in the US have launched a full court press against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) — even though they’ve often dismissed the campaign as inconsequential and ineffective. Go figure. Such fruitless efforts have inspired legislation in the Knesset, passed in the spring, that allows targets of BDS to sue its advocates without having to prove that they sustained any harm. And here in the U.S., Malcolm Hoenlein head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, recently announced plans for a major offensive against the BDS movement on college campuses. This drive will be joining a multi-million dollar anti-BDS effort from the Israel Action Network.

But at the end of June, when McDonald’s Israel franchise turned down an invitation to open a branch at a mall under construction in the West Bank’s sprawling Jewish settlement, Ariel, settlers immediately called for a boycott of the chain. Continue reading

Goldstone, Human Rights Watch, New Profile et al. The Israeli govt. assault on human rights.

The proxy war between Israel and its critics is growing more intense, more desperate, more anti-democratic, more comically absurd.

Just a few weeks ago, and with a straight face, professional defender-of-Israeli-human-rights-violations Hillel Neuer of UN Watch happily compared Naomi Klein to Goebbels and said she was “today’s leading opponent of Israel in the Western world.”

The Goldstone Report goes further than Ahmadinejad and the Holocaust deniers by stripping the Jews not only of the ability and the need but of the right to defend themselves. If a country can be pummeled by thousands of rockets and still not be justified in protecting its inhabitants, then at issue is not the methods by which that country survives but whether it can survive at all. But more insidiously, the report does not only hamstring Israel; it portrays the Jews as the deliberate murderers of innocents–as Nazis. And a Nazi state not only lacks the need and right to defend itself; it must rather be destroyed.

Yglesias points out, “the Goldstone Report just doesn’t say anything remotely like this.”

But these uncommonly vicious, nasty and unintentionally campy attacks are no coincidence.

In The Nation, Adam Horowitz and Philip Weiss have a very important article detailing the range of human rights groups that are being targeted by Netanyahu’s right-wing government.

“For the first time the Israeli government is taking an active role in the smearing of human rights groups,” says Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch workers had long been a target of Gerald Steinberg’s NGO Monitor, which seeks to gut the international law enforcement infrastructure because they believe it is a threat to the Israeli status quo- which of course it is. (They call journalists, diplomats and human rights workers part of the ‘axis of evil.’)  Steinberg has been busily scanning the internet to build extensive dossiers on anyone who has worked in the Middle East division at HRW, and is also part of the campaign to defund human rights groups in Israel that get EU funds. But there’s more:

The Israeli government has also sought to quash domestic dissent. In April it targeted the anti-militarism organization New Profile, seizing computers and detaining activists. In July, when a group of Israeli veterans called Breaking the Silence released dozens of anonymous soldiers’ testimonies from the Gaza assault describing indifference to civilian targets, the Israeli government went, well, ballistic. It threatened to cut off the financial support the group receives from the Dutch, Spanish and British governments and warned those governments that their support was illegal. Israel indicated that it would look into foreign support that Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem and Machsom Watch receive as well.

Ron Dermer, a Netanyahu adviser who was raised in Florida, struck a fearsome tone: “We are going to dedicate time and manpower to combating these groups. We are not going to be sitting ducks in a pond for the human rights groups to shoot at us with impunity.”

Meanwhile, Isi Leibler, writing in the Jerusalem Post, ominously wants to “exorcise the [Jewish] renegades from our midst,” through some form of excommunication.

In Toronto, Jews were at the forefront of a campaign to boycott Israeli films at a film festival because the anniversary of Tel Aviv – ‘built on the destroyed villages of Palestinians’ – was being celebrated; two Israeli women who evaded national service are conducting a North American campus tour under the auspices of ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’ to persuade students to intensify their role in the “resistance movement”; in San Francisco the local Jewish Federation is providing funds for a film festival which promotes the vilest anti-Israel films; radical Rabbi Michael Lerner invited a woman who justifies suicide bombings to address his synagogue on Yom Kippur; and so on.

IM EIN ani li mi li? If we are not for ourselves, who will be? We are engaged in a battle against fiendish enemies committed to our destruction. The Israeli government must now take steps to neutralize the impact of renegade Jews who present themselves as legitimate alternative Jewish viewpoints. Such an initiative by a country which provides genuine democratic rights to all its citizens, including Arabs, could hardly be categorized as eradicating freedom of expression. It would rather represent a highly overdue effort to exorcise such odious groups from the mainstream and expose them as unrepresentative fringe groups with no standing.

The heightened discourse of nastiness is matched on the ground by what many observers believe is an  intentional effort by Netanyahu to trigger a third intifada.

Cecilie Surasky

Who’s afraid of young Israelis talking?

Are Israeli youth allowed to speak about their views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Not always.

Some believe that the ideals of Israeli democracy and free speech stop at the border. Take the example of the young Israeli conscientious objectors — the Shministm — currently in speaking tours both in the United States and in South Africa.

Here’s Dan Klein, the North America campus director for StandWithUs, speaking to the JPost on the issue:

I definitely understand that Israelis have the right not to agree with their government. That`s fine. Every citizen in a democracy has that right. But you take that up in your country. Once you take that abroad, what does that gain you?

I do not understand the distinction he makes. Maybe Dan believes that news and information stop at the border, at any border. Or maybe he ignores the fact that the Shministim have already gathered a great deal of international attention while they were still in Israel: over 60,000 letters of support and counting, over 53,000 hits on their short film in Youtube, and a great deal of media attention in a good number of countries around the world.

Here’s Dan again,

I definitely do not agree with what they`re trying to do because I think they`re misguided.

Misguided? Now, that’s a bit patronizing, isn’t it? These young Israelis do not need ‘guidance.’ They have been smart enough to develop their own political analysis of the Israeli occupation (you can read their letter here) and brave enough to go to jail for their convictions.

The Shministim have been greeted with interest in many campuses throughout the United States (UC Berkeley, University of Arizona-Tucson, University of Southern California, Cornell University, Hunter College, Brown University, Clark University, Vassar College, and Brandeis University to name a few.)

Why the interest? Many people are past the StandWithUs propaganda, either you are with us or against us kind of thinking. The Shministim offer a view of the Israeli occupation that is both critical of the human rights abuses and compassionate towards Palestinians and Israelis. And they’ve been extraordinarily open to dialog with those that disagree with them. I’ve been to a number of their talks in the Bay Area. They opened each presentation inviting people to share their ideas — whether in agreement or disagreement — and they answered all questions with care and respect.

Not everyone sees it that way, of course. Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler referred to them as ‘renegade Jews.’ He called them,

‘non-Jewish Jews,” many with no prior involvement in Jewish life, [who] exploited their Jewish origins or Israeli nationality to defame Israel.

In hysterical terms, he starts by calling for their excommunication and ends by calling for their exorcism.

Lucky for them, they are not alone. Dr. Neve Gordon, Naomi Klein, Eve Ensler, and many others — including me! — join them in that grey space between the excommunicated Baruch Spinoza and the exorcised dybbuk.

Some South African Jews may be victims of Leibler’s hysteria. Reportedly, some Jews in Cape Town are concerned that a visit by three Shministim could fuel anti-Semitism.

Here’s National Vice Chairman of the South African Zionist Federation David Hirsch,

They are speaking out to the greater South African population, that does not really know or understand the complex issues of the conflict in Israel.

You see, only us Jews really understand it.

Hold the presses… not even Jews can be exposed to the Shministim heresy!

They have been refused a chance to give a talk in Cape Town’s largest Jewish day school. One talk. This says a lot about the level of dialog and openness in Jewish communities around the world to be able to talk about what is going on in Israel from all points of view.

The Shministim are coming to talk about the Israeli occupation, about its effects on Palestinians and Israelis, and about the nonviolent path they have chosen for themselves. In other words, the Shministim are coming to present a more complex picture of the situation, not a simpler one. This should have been a welcome development.

I leave you with Ilan Strauss, of Open Shuhada Street (one of the groups sponsoring the Shministim’s South Africa tour),

…it is important that South Africans are exposed to these courageous, non-violent perspectives, which adhere to human rights for both parties and aim to ensure a just resolution to the ongoing violence.

If you are in South Africa, you should go hear them yourself.

– Sydney Levy

Netanyahu’s attempts to silence Breaking the Silence

Netanyahu has asked Spain, Britain and The Netherlands to stop directly funding the Israeli human rights group Breaking the Silence (BTS).  BTS has been releasing IDF soldier testimony on the invasion/massacre in Gaza.  The accounts by the soldiers are harrowing and document war crimes.  The Israeli government claims that governmental support of “politicized” NGOs undermines democracy in the Jewish state.  Netanyahu is    “contemplating legislation that would ban foreign government funding for groups such as Breaking the Silence.”   The main argument is that foreign governmental funding of non-governmental institutions that are ostensibly working “against” the interests of the duly elected government are undemocratic.  Ron Dermer, Netanyahu’s senior political adviser, was quoted as saying that funding from foreign embassies for the group amounted to “blatant and unacceptable” intervention in Israel’s internal affairs.

But Don Futterman (program director, Israel, of the Moriah Fund, a private American foundation working in Israel to support civil society and democracy, immigrant absorption and education.) has a different take,

“If our defense minister (Avigor Lieberman) wants us to live up to the claim that the IDF is “the most moral army on earth,” he should welcome soldiers who speak out about illegal acts that they have witnessed or were asked to perform. In our post-war rush to elections, we unfortunately – and perhaps, conveniently – skipped over any discussion concerning the morality of what the army has done. But even our fears of one-sided international condemnation of our actions in Gaza cannot justify official attempts to silence the messenger, especially when that messenger is us.”

Continue reading

Ezra Nawi’s Sentence Postponed; We Still Have Time to Stop His Muzzling

As Cecilie Surasky has been reporting from Jerusalem, Ezra Nawi will not be sentenced until August 16th.  This announcement came after nearly 80 of Ezra’s supporters were barred from entering the courtroom; but their passionate stand against these preposterous and politically motivated charges could not be ignored.  Nor could the 14,000 letters which have been sent so far in support of Ezra.  The judge knows that her ruling will be highly scrutinized and cannot be made lightly.  Let’s keep up the pressure and triple his letters of support before the next hearing date.  Click here to send a letter, and send this link to your family, friends, and colleagues!

Noted Israeli Peace activist and commentator banned from speaking

Jeff Halper has been one of the foremost voices against Israeli destruction of Palestinian homes, as well as being an astute commentator on the nuts and bolts of the US supported Israeli settler colonial project. While striving against terrible injustice committed against a mostly incarcerated people, he has acted with dignity and perseverance, not only on behalf of Palestinians but more generally on behalf of a just and stable peace in the region  -  a peace that would benefit people on both sides of the green line. His tireless efforts are a beacon of hope in very dark times. Unfortunately, it comes as no surprise that a mainstream Canadian Jewish group (similar to the JCRC) effectively censored a scheduled talk with no reason except the seeming fear of hearing an alternative viewpoint. We have seen such censoring myriad times before, whether it is Desmond Tutu our own Joel Beinin.  A primary focus of muzzlewatch is to report on just such incidents. Implicitly, it is our hope that such efforts will help to expand the discussion, to push the envelope of what is considered acceptable debate about the middle east. The following article details the recent cancellation of a scheduled speech Jeff Halper was to give in Canada.

Tuesday, January 13, 2008

Independent Jewish Voices Montreal condemns political
censorship of Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper: calls on Gelber
Centre to allow Halper to address the Jewish community in

Israeli peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Jeff
Halper and Independent Jewish Voices Montreal (IJVM) will
hold a press conference at noon in front of the Gelber Centre,
to condemn the Federation Combined Jewish Appeal’s (FCJA)
last-minute cancellation of Halper’s public presentation to the
Jewish community at the Centre on January 15.   IJVM had
previously arranged and advertised Halper’s presentation,
“Peace in Israel? Peace with Gaza? Yes We Can.”  As
cause for the cancellation, the FCJA initially cited safety
concerns about hosting the Halper presentation at the same
time as an event of conservative group Amiti’s Quebec-Israel,
even though no threats were issued. Later, they said Amiti’s
Quebec-Israel simply objected to the presentation.

Continue reading

Extremists try to kill Israeli peace advocate, Peace Now head also under protection

Israel’s Public Security Minister Avi Dichter called the pipe bomb blast that [lightly] injured Haaretz columnist and peace advocate Prof. Ze’ev Sternhell earlier today an “assassination attempt” and a “nationalistic terror attack perpetrated, in all likelihood, by Jews, which pushes our society many years backward.”">Ze\'ev SternhellIsrael’s Public Security Minister Avi Dichter called the pipe bomb blast that [lightly] injured Haaretz columnist and peace advocate Prof. Ze’ev Sternhell earlier today an “assassination attempt” and a “nationalistic terror attack perpetrated, in all likelihood, by Jews, which pushes our society many years backward.”

The LA Times reports that Israeli leftists say this isn’t about a few nuts, but is part of an escalation of attacks, linking it to increased settler violence against Palestinians.

Israeli leaders including Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak lined up to decry the attack as an affront to Israeli democracy.

A vocal critic of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians and the settler movement who also identifies himself as a super-Zionist, earlier this year he won Israel’s most prestigious honor, the Israel Prize. But it also caused an angry outcry from many in the illegal Settler movement, likely leading to this attack on his home where the bomb exploded. (Many Israelis talk openly about how the conflict with the Palestinians serves at least one important function, uniting Israelis so they can postpone confronting their own massive and growing secular/extremist religious internal divide.)

Shortly after the bombing, police found “fliers offering more then NIS 1 million to anyone who kills members of left-wing human rights organization Peace Now.” That’s about $300,000. Police are now offering protection to Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheimer.

BELOW: Video of recent settler attacks on Palestinian village of Asira, which Israeli leftists say is part of overall escalation of violent attacks, including the assassination attempt on Sternhell. The video is posted by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which opened its first US office yesterday.