Sunday, June 14, 2015

The “High Level International Military Group” on Operation Protective Edge

These are sad days for Israel/Palestine, but today I got a kick out of a story that I thought at first was produced by the satirical mag, the Onion.

It seems that an all male group of generals, security chiefs, and right wing politicians, calling itself the “High Level International Military Group,” has produced a report that not only exonerates Israel of war crimes but praises it for its humanitarian efforts! The timing is viewed as as preemptive assault on the Human Rights Council report due out next week.  Here is how the AP reported the release

In a boost to the Israeli case, the High Level International Military Group, made up of 11 former chiefs of staff, generals and other senior American and European officials who conducted a fact-finding mission, came to similar conclusions. It said: “None of us is aware of any army that takes such extensive measures as did the (Israeli military) last summer to protect the lives of the civilian population in such circumstances.”

It would have been nice had the AP reporter also written a few things about the “High Level International Military Group”. Like, for example, how “the project was sponsored by the Friends of Israel Initiative” and that most of the participants are on record as supporting the IDF before 2014. With the exception of Pierre Richard Prosper, not a single one of them has any experience in human rights. Many of them are experienced warriors, though.

It will be recalled that William Chabas, “the world expert on the law of genocide and international law” resigned from the HRC Commission on the Gaza Op because he had once taken a $1300 fee from the PLO for legal advice. So one would expect that the Friends of Israel Initiative would bend over backwards to get impartial people to give the IDF a clean bill of goods. Wouldn’t that look better? I mean, maybe these guys are biased?

So here are some parts of the biographies of the High Level International Military Group left out by the Friends of Israel initiative.

Giulio Terzi – “former Foreign Minister of Italy,” and founding member of the Friends of Israel.

General Klaus Naumann – former Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee. As described by former military correspondant for Haaretz, Zev Schiff, in 2002, Gen. Naumann “is known as a friend of Israel and of the Israel Defense Forces.

General Vincenzo Camporini – former Chief of the Defense Staff of Italy,

Admiral Jose Maria Teran – former Chief of the Joint Staff of Spain.

Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper – former US State Department Ambassador at Large for war crimes issues. Served under George W. Bush and recently as a Mitt Romney surrogate.  A speaker against “Lawfare”, Haaretz wrote about him in 2002, “"The United States ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, Pierre-Richard Prosper, is Israel's main ally in its battle against being transformed from accuser into accused.”

Mr Rafael Bardaji – former National Security Adviser for the Spanish government and member of the Friends of Israel Initiative.

Lieutenant General David A Deptula – former Standing Joint Force Air Component Commander, United States Pacific Command and senior advisor to the Gemunder Center at the rightwing Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (Jinsa)

Major General Jim Molan – former Chief of Operations, Headquarters Multi National Force, Iraq and Commander of the Australian Defence College and defender of Israel in Cast Lead against the Goldstone report.

Colonel Eduardo Ramirez – Member of Colombian Congress and former Chief of Security, Colombia.

Colonel Vincent Alcazar – former senior United States Air Force officer in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Colonel Richard Kemp – former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, defender of Israel after Cast Lead, and a member of the Friends of Israel initiative and defender of Israel in Cast Lead against the Goldstone report.

I want to make clear that I do not wish to cast aspersions on the gentlemen above, or their expertise in their fields.  For whatever reason they are entitled to be loyal supporters of militaries and Israel.

But if this ad hoc group of military brass, diplomats, politicians is the best Bibi can do, all I can say is 

“Bring back Alan Dershowitz and Irwin Cotler!” 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Anti-Israel Blacklist or Human Rights Protest? How the Media Misreported a Teacher Union’s Request

A story reported last week by Inside Higher Education read like a McCarthyist nightmare:  A Brazilian university administrator urgently requested information on Israeli students and professors  in order to comply with a request from “pro-Palestinian groups”.

According to the story, reported also by  YNET, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and the Jewish Forward,  the administrator, Vice-Rector Prof. Jose Fernando Schlosser, was accused of anti-Semitism and an investigation opened against him. The university, the Federal University of Santa Maria (FUSM) claimed under the law, it was required to provide the information  in accordance with the 2011 Law on the Access to Information.

Reporting for Inside Higher Education, respected editor and journalist Scott Jaschik writes:
The idea that such information might be released to those [“pro-Palestinian”] groups has raised alarm in Israel and among Jewish groups in Brazil. Many have expressed fears that Israelis at the university could be harassed, and questioned why a university should be releasing such information about its foreign students.
Why indeed?  Had anybody  taken five minutes with Google and Google Translator (which led me to  Brazilian peace activist, Moara Crivelente), the readers would have received  a somewhat different story:

On August 28 2014, following Israel’s massive shelling of Gaza in which heavy civilians losses and damage were sustained, and amidst  ongoing protests against  FUSM’s  involvement with Israeli firm Elbit’s Brazilian subsidiary AEL Systems (involvement allegedly having to do with military microsatellite and space weapon research), a freedom of information request was made of the university’s president by three groups: the Trade Union Section of FUSM Teachers, the Central Directory of Students, and  the Association of FUSM Employees (misidentified as “Palestinian” or “pro-Palestinian” organizations in the media reporting.)  To their representatives’ signatures were affixed signatures of members of the Santa Maria Committee for Palestinian Solidarity.

The request, available here, begins with considerations that led to  the request, including the military cooperative research,  and the recent Gaza operation. The request then contains the following five sections:
1) Does the FUSM have any participation in the Space Hub in [the Federal state of] Rio Grande do Sul? If so, in what way? What document underlies this relationship?

2) Does FUSM have any relationship with juridical Israeli persons (private companies, public entities, NGOs, etc.?), including through their Brazilian subsidiaries or, even if indirectly, through cooperation with other Brazilian institutions that might be related to them? Which document underlies this relationship?

3) Is there any action (Plan, Program, Project, Covenant or Agreement of Cooperation, Protocol of Intentions, etc.) registered and/or in effect with juridical Israeli persons, including through their Brazilian subsidiaries or, even if indirectly, through the cooperation with other Brazilian institutions that might be related to them? Which document underlies this relationship?

4) Are there, at the moment, or is there a prospect for the UFSM to accept Israeli students/professors/authorities/professionals? If so, through whose invitation/proposal?

5) Is UFSM, or will it be, beneficiary of any material or human resource of Israeli origin, even if indirectly, that is, through the relationships referred to at items 2 and 3 retro?
There is no request here for names of Israeli students and teachers but whether Israeli students will be accepted in the university, and if so, in what departments. Even in the request sent out by the vice-provost, there was no request for names of Israelis students and teachers. The information requested was not about the students at all but about the programs accepting them.

And the Teacher’s Union response, available here, makes clear its intentions, which was “to clarify press reports that the UFSM participated in  scientific cooperation agreements with companies that provide weapons and technologies to the Israeli war machine”

Was the request itself justifiable? My opinion is the request, despite justifiable intentions, was  carelessly,  and much too sweepingly, worded. The organizations wanted to know whether there were Israeli students and professors invited to study in areas with implications for the military,  and were there research agreements in areas with military-use implications.  That is why they asked “at whose invitation or proposal” the Israelis were invited. But the intention should have been made clearer.

But is even that justifiable? Let us recall that in the US, Iranian students are prohibited from studying the following fields: “petroleum engineering; petroleum management; nuclear science; nuclear engineering; or, a related field” and “Individuals seeking to study in other fields, such as business, management or computer science, but who intend to use these skills in Iran's oil, natural gas or nuclear energy sectors, are also ineligible for visas.”  Clearly the petitioners were concerned, rightly or wrongly, with FUSM’s complicity with military-industrial complex.

But a poorly-worded request for information is not the same as creating a blacklist of opponents (for that idea see a pro-Israel website here.) Nobody asked for names of Israelis, and nobody was interested in harassing or harming Israeli students or professors.

But most sadly – nobody asked for the petitioners’ side of the story.

Inside Higher Education should publish a follow-up.

(Acknowledgment: This post could not have been written without the generous help of Moara Crivelente)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) and the “Anti-Semitism” Charge

Many people have different positions on the wisdom, and even the legitimacy, of tactics involving boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) directed against alleged human rights abuses in Israel/Palestine. But all should condemn recent attempts in some quarters to brand these tactics as “anti-Semitic”. BDS is neither motivated by anti-Semitism, nor it is it, in effect, anti-Semitic. The “anti-Semitism” charge against BDS is false, intellectually lazy, and morally repugnant.

The “Anti-Semitism” Charge against BDS is False. Anti-Semitism has been defined as “a prejudice against, hatred of, or discrimination against Jews as an ethnic, religious, or racial group”. Anti-Semitism is commonly considered a form of racism, in its broadest sense. By contrast, the BDS movement is a movement initiated by Palestinian civil society and its supporters to promote and defend the human, civil, and political rights of the Palestinian people living in Israel, the Occupied Territories, and the Palestinian diaspora, most notably the rights of liberty, equality, and self-determination. The movement comprises people of different creeds and nationalities, including Israelis and Jews, and explicitly condemns all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. The BDS movement is in its essence a human rights movement, grounding its call on international human rights law, conventions, and decisions. It not only explicitly opposes anti-Semitism; it is diametrically opposed to it.

The “Anti-Semitism” Charge against BDS is Intellectually Lazy. One of the arguments for BDS’s alleged anti-Semitism is that in singling out Israel for moral opprobrium, the movement reveals its true motivation, which is hatred of the Jewish state, ergo Jews. This is the tired argument of all those who wish to deflect attention away from their own human rights violations. Similar arguments were made by South Africa in response to calls for divestment during the apartheid era; by the Soviet Union, in response to calls for sanctions during the struggle for Soviet Jewish rights; by some southern US states, in response to calls for integration during the civil rights movement. To expect of Palestinians and their supporters that they will devote more of their energies to human rights abuses that little concern them is morally unreasonable. It is also hypocritical, in so far as those who criticize the BDS movement usually devote more of their own energies to supporting Israel than to fighting human rights violations elsewhere in the world. By their example they undermine their own argument.

Another argument is that the global BDS movement, in so far as it deals not only with Palestinian human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, but also calls for full equality for Israeli’s Palestinian citizens and recognition of the Palestinian right of return, wishes to delegitimize and destroy the State of Israel. And since the State of Israel understands itself as the expression of Jewish self-determination, the BDS movement is, in effect, if not by design, opposed to Jewish self-determination, ergo anti-Semitic. Yet this argument rest on a string of questionable assumptions. It concedes, unnecessarily, that the State of Israel can only survive if it foundationally discriminates against its non-Jewish citizens, or defies international recognition of the refugees’ right of return. It confuses criticism of Israel on these points with anti-Zionism, and anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, all of which are distinct positions.

As for the “delegitimization” charge: Israel is a member of the United Nations and recognized by many countries. Its political legitimacy is no more nor less than that of the United States, Germany, Russia, North Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran. But its moral legitimacy, like that of all states, rests on its adherence to human rights standards expected of all states.

The final argument is that the BDS movement, while itself not anti-Semitic, has attracted supporters who are either motivated by anti-Semitism, or who use anti-Semitic stereotypes and tropes. But even conceding this point, similar things are true of the pro-Israel movement, which has attracted supporters who are Islamophobes, anti-Palestinianist, Nakba deniers, and advocates of Jewish spiritual and metaphysical superiority. Bigotry is, unfortunately, a common vice, and its manifestations are to be condemned. But just as opponents of BDS are not necessarily, or even mostly, anti-Palestinian bigots, so the proponents of BDS are not necessarily, or even mostly, anti-Israeli bigots, much less anti-Semitic.

The “Anti-Semitism“ Charge against BDS is Morally Repugnant. Anti-Semitism, like racism, is one our era’s “mortal sins”. To accuse a movement of anti-Semitism is not only to criticize or delegitimize it; it is to tar it as immoral. The BDS movement has been embraced, in part or in whole, by the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people and its leadership. To label as “anti-Semitic” Palestinians and their supporters who are fighting for their rights using tried and true non-violent tactics is morally repugnant and itself represents a sort of bigotry. Moreover, in supporting the charge with insufficient evidence and sloppy arguments, one not only fails to establish one’s point; one trivializes and cheapens genuine anti-Semitism.

In short, the “anti-Semitism” charge against BDS is not only offensive to Palestinians; it is offensive to all those who reject anti-Semitism.

It should have no place in the ongoing, legitimate debate over BDS.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Two States in One Homeland Initiative–Thanks but No Thanks

I was asked last summer by a friend what was my reaction to the Two States in  One Homeland initiative. My short answer was that it had some positive elements but it read like a very liberal Zionist document. I went through the proposal and sent the friend comments, mostly my reservations.  Since the initiative may or may not have a conference next week – people are dropping out like flies – I will repeat what I wrote my friend. Here are my comments.

1. The implicit acceptance of Zionism by Palestinians. I cannot see many Palestinians accepting the notion that Jews have an attachment to the land by “profound historical, religious, and cultural ties,” that in any way provides them with a claim or even an interest in it being a homeland, certainly not in the way that this is expressed. I note with satisfaction the use of the weak term “ties”. But, frankly, this seems to be a (weak) recognition of the legitimacy of Zionism, and I don’t think it is reasonable to expect most Palestinians to accept this, and they should not be considered unreasonable or intolerant for not doing so. Of course, if some wish to do so, fine but that’s not a great basis for shared dialogue. I think it is perfectly reasonable for Palestinians to say, “We understand that the longing for residence in “Eretz Yisrael” has played different roles in the Jewish religious tradition over the centuries, and that traditional Judaism teaches that “Eretz Yisrael”  is the patrimony of the Jewish people, that Jerusalem is holy to the Jews, that the Temple was built on the Haram as-Sharif,“ etc. But that is in no way an admission of the truth, much less legitimacy, of any of these claims.  Again, if some Palestinians want to do so, that’s their business.

2. The parity between the Jewish and Palestinian peoples. There is no parity in the eyes of most Palestinians;  there is certainly no parity between the Zionists and the Palestinians. In  the document there is no mention of Zionist as a settler colonialism, of the forced displacement of the majority of the Palestinians and the importing of Westerners with the national consciousness (of some) that they are returning to their imagined homeland.  Perhaps it is best not to go down that road, but then there is no reason to accept the liberal Zionist narrative of “two peoples struggling over one land” – unless the two peoples are the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples, not the Jewish and Palestinians peoples. I could see using “Israeli Jews” rather than “Jews” in many places in the document; that would be less objectionable.

3. Immigration and Naturalization:  Here the proposal is intriguing, more so than I thought at first reading. It may be possible to implement the right of return based on the acceptance of 900,000 Palestinian refugees and their families, and the acceptance of proportional number of permanent residents.  For instance, according to the proposals, Palestinian refugees can be naturalized in Palestine and then can reside in Israel, as permanent residents, and with compensation by Israel.  Let us assume that there are around 4 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, and around 600,000 Israeli Jews living over the green line (not counting the Golan Heights). That’s about 15%.  That means up to 900,000 Palestinians (including refugees) can live as permanent residents within the State of Israel, presumably on lands close to their native landscapes, or other strategic parts. For example, several hundred thousand Palestinians can be settled on lands to the West of Jerusalem, in what are now JNF forests, thus providing a demographic balance to the West of Israeli Jewish settlement to the North, South, and East of Jerusalem over the green line. But all this is only after the right of return is recognized by Israel and refugees are given the choice of returning to their native landscapes and families, as guaranteed by international law.

4. Jerusalem. No mention is made here about sovereignty. Who does Jerusalem belong to? To God? To the world?

5. Security

I take it, then, that there will be two modern armies of more or less equal capacity, or at least acting in coordination. Does this mean decreasing the size and power of the IDF? Am I right here? If so, this is a vast  improvement to the Geneva Initiative, where the Palestinians had to farm out their security to a multi-national force.

6. Joint Institutions

Nothing to add; all good ideas.

7. Palestinians with Israeli citizenships.

Here again the parity breaks down and betrays the liberal Zionist  spirit of the document.  Why give a Jewish minority within Palestine rights as a national minority, and not give, say, the Christian minority those same rights? Because Jews are members of a nation and not a religion? But that’s the view of Zionism! Moreover, why would Palestine agree to naturalize any Jews as part of a national minority, especially those with outspoken irredentist aims who are in their land illegally? There are over a half-million Palestinian Israeli citizens and their numbers have been artificially kept at 20% in order to preserve a Jewish state that is democratic, what I call ethnic cleansing in the “service” of democracy. Will they have rights as a national minority? Where is the parity because settling Jews illegally in occupied territory and resettling Palestinians legally, according to their legal and recognized rights?

None of the above would be necessary if Israel and Palestine were to become states of all their citizens, in which all disadvantaged minorities would expect affirmative action to improve their representation in society, etc.  Of course, as predominantly Jewish, Israel’s culture, language, calendar, would be predominantly Jewish, a “Jewish America”, as it were. But as I oppose the State of Israel that is an ethnocracy with some trappings of democracy, that would be alleviated, to be sure, by granting minority ethnic rights, so I oppose the State of Palestine as an ethnocracy with some trappings of democracy. As the document says, one does not correct injustice with injustice.

8. Reparations

I do believe that reparations should be paid both individually and collectively to Arabs and Jewish refugees  from 48 and 67, not just for loss of property, but for much more. However, realistically speaking, close to a 100% of this burden will be placed on Israel, and it is hardly reasonable to expect Israel to be fair in determining the nature and amount of the compensation. This can only be done as a result of internationalization of this question, for which, see below.

I object on principle of including mention of the flight of Jews from Arab lands within this document. The flight of Jews from Arab lands is not the affair of the Palestinians, and they are under no obligation to mention this in connection with the Palestinian refugees, Arab and Jewish, internal and external. I understand that there is no official connection – but the reference in the document  I find insulting insofar as it singles out the Palestinians.

Moreover, why are Palestinians expected to call for the return of Jews, if possible, to their native lands, but they are not expected to call for the return of their own refugees to their own land, if possible, in the same document?

9. The international dimension.

Under the present circumstances, the notion that Israel will allow any matter of internationalization strikes me as odd. If this is put in there in order to sweeten the bill, it will clearly be rejected. But of course, Israel will reject everything.