three from EI

Racist to deny us right to oppose Zionism, British Palestinians tell Labour
Asa Winstanley, Electronic Intifada, Sep 18 2020

British Palestinians condemn the “shrinking space” in Labour for their rights. PSC

A group of leading British Palestinians have condemned what they say is a shrinking space in Labour to criticize Zionism and oppose Israeli policies. In an open letter to the party on Friday, the group rejected Labour’s recent attempts to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Jewish hate, insisting on “the right of Palestinians to accurately describe our experiences of dispossession and oppression.” Demanding the right “to openly criticize the ideology of Zionism,” the signatories insist this is their right as an oppressed people and “a right of freedom of expression” which should be upheld by Labour. Signatories include former Labour councillor Atallah Said, Labour activist Chris Khamis, Palestine Solidarity Campaign director Ben Jamal, academic and author Ghada Karmi, novelist Selma Dabbagh, think-tank president Nadia Hijab, human rights advocate Tamara Ben-Halim, Qattan Foundation founder Omar Al-Qattan and University of Southampton professor Suleiman Sharkh. Writing about Zionism, the signatories insist:

We cannot but reject this ideology, and to deny us the right to do so is a form of anti-Palestinian racism. Zionism is a political ideology and movement that has led to our dispossession, and that sustains a state that discriminates against us.

The letter reiterates Palestinian rejection of the IHRA “working definition” of anti-Semitism, a bogus definition which has for years been pushed by Israel and its lobby. The signatories say they were “alarmed” by the promise earlier this year by Labour’s shadow communities minister Steve Reed to tell all Labour’s council leaders to adopt the definition “in full and with all its examples including, reminding them not to support actions that seek to delegitimize the state of Israel.” This ignores “the evidence of how councils have previously used the IHRA to limit the rights of Palestinians, and of others advocating on their behalf,” the signatories insist. Last year, a Labour council in East London banned a charity bike ride to raise money for Palestinian children, basing its decision on the IHRA definition. The signatories warn of “threats posed by the IHRA examples to core Palestinian rights and to freedom of expression from Palestinian civil society,” and cite a 2018 declaration opposing the definition by more than 80 Black, Asian and minority ethic organizations “including Black Lives Matter UK, prominent members of the Jewish community, leading lawyers and academic experts on anti-Semitism and the Institute for Race Relations.” The Labour Party, they write, has a special responsibility to stop ongoing injustices against the Palestinians, “because of the role Britain played as a colonial power leading up to the 1948 Nakba, when Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes.” Since left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stepped down in April, his right-wing successor Keir Starmer has increasingly shifted the party towards Israel, in defiance of the party grassroots, which is now demoralized and divided. Palestine solidarity activists and academics have been purged from the party and in June, Rebecca Long-Bailey was sacked as a shadow minister for tweeting an article which (apparently unbeknownst to her) contained a passing criticism of Israel.

Update: Mark Seddon, former editor of Tribune, says that three different Labour-associated publications were offered this letter months ago. Right-wing publications the New Statesman and LabourList both refused, but even supposedly socialist magazine Tribune did not reply to the British Palestinians’ request to publish. Due to this, the letter was instead published today on the open website Medium. Seddon says that the current editors of Tribune were offered it in July, with at least three follow-up attempts made. The Electronic Intifada has reached out to Tribune for comment and will update this post if we hear anything back. Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of the US publication Jacobin, bought Tribune in 2018, relaunching it as a magazine. Decades ago, it was the newspaper associated with the Labour left, but like most of the Labour Party at the time, it was also strongly supportive of British imperialism and as such was a supporter of the Zionist movement. One Tribune editorial, Aug 20 1948, was titled “Let’s Stay in Africa” and opposed any removal of British colonies from the continent, writing:

Africa offers huge material resources which can be exploited for the benefit of Britain and the world.

Emgage has “no courage” on Palestine, says ex-employee
Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, Sep 18 2020

Emgage, the Muslim American group whose close ties to the Israel lobby were exposed earlier this month by The Electronic Intifada, must be hoping that Palestinian American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib can help restore its battered reputation. It needs all the help it can get. On Friday, a former senior Emgage employee painted a damning picture of the organization, calling its get-out-the-vote-efforts for the fast-approaching American election a sham, and slamming its lack of courage on Palestine. Last Monday, Emgage posted this video on Twitter of Tlaib thanking the group for its “critically important civic engagement work” in her Detroit, Michigan, district and “across the country.”

It is unclear whether the video was filmed before or after The Electronic Intifada published its Sep 9 exposé on Emgage. But Tlaib and Palestinian American activist Linda Sarsour are among several individuals being advertised as speakers at Emgage’s Michigan “virtual gala” this Sunday.

Tlaib, who was endorsed by Emgage’s political action committee, handily won her primary in August, all but assuring her return to Congress after November’s general election. A request for comment has been sent to Tlaib’s office. But if posting the video was intended by Emgage to stem community outrage over how it is undermining the Palestinian struggle for justice, it has not succeeded. A growing number of activists definitely do not share Tlaib’s rosy assessment of the group. Emgage’s earliest attempt to tamp down concerns came in a statement published the same day as The Electronic Intifada’s exposé. That statement, which did not deny or contradict the facts reported by The Electronic Intifada, failed to convince dozens of Palestinian and Muslim community activists. They signed an open letter last Friday calling on community organizations and leaders to drop affiliations with Emgage. They also urged Joe Biden to fire Faruq Mitha, the Emgage board member appointed as the Democratic presidential nominee’s “Muslim engagement adviser.” In the last week, the number of signatories has reached more than 150, including a dozen delegates to the DNC. Now comes a damning insider’s portrait of Emgage written by Olivia Cantu, one of the signers of the open letter. Cantu says she worked at the group for the last four years, starting out as “doe-eyed volunteer” and rising to become its Florida director of operations. She says she was recently “fired from Emgage for speaking out.”

Some of the concerns she details in her article for Mondoweiss include how “Emgage has failed to effectively mobilize Muslim voters, because it lacks legitimacy in the Muslim community.” She says the organization “misrepresents its power through sham data” and “cannot deliver on its promises to the Democratic Party,” the boldest being that it will mobilize a million Muslim voters for November’s election. Cantu writes:

I have first-hand knowledge of all its inner workings, its lack of finances, its lack of development, its lack of diversity and its patriarchal system that views women as secretaries, but most of all its extreme inefficiency.

When it comes to foreign policy, Cantu says:

Emgage’s position on Uyghur and Rohingya Muslims is pretty much the same even as Trump’s stance. There was no courage in tackling major issues like Palestine, Kashmir, drones and Zionist normalization.

Cantu witheringly observes:

If Emgage did not exist, the only people who would be harmed are the careerists who would lose out on administration jobs and access to power.

There have also been discussions among leaders of the US Council of Muslim Organizations, of which Emgage is a member. The Electronic Intifada understands that members of the umbrella body have been putting pressure on Emgage to deal transparently and forthrightly with recent revelations. But its response, in the form of a new statement from Emgage board co-chair Khurrum Wahid, fell far short of expectations. Published Wednesday, the statement attempts to shore up Emgage’s pro-Palestinian bona fides. Wahid addresses the criticism generated by his participation and that of other Emgage personnel in the Muslim Leadership Initiative, junkets to Israel organized by the Shalom Hartman Institute, an organization which has close ties to the Israeli military and shares a major funder with some of the most Islamophobic organizations in the US. Wahid says:

On behalf of those who participated in this trip, I would like to apologize for the pain that this has caused, it was a wrong decision.

But Wahid does not address how senior Emgage leaders continue to collaborate with Israel lobby groups including the ADL and the AJC. Instead he mischaracterizes earlier reporting by claiming that Emgage was accused of having “programming with ADL and AJC.” Wahid asserts:

Emgage has no such programming.

The Electronic Intifada did not however report that Emgage has joint programs with either of these groups. Rather, we reported accurately that senior Emgage leaders including Wahid and CEO Wa’el Alzayat are involved in faithwashing initiatives with these organizations. Faithwashing is a propaganda strategy that aims to falsely portray the situation caused by Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestine as a religious dispute. It also employs Muslim-Jewish “interfaith dialogue” as a cover for normalization with Israel and a way to co-opt and silence criticism of Israel’s crimes from Muslim activists and leaders. Wahid does say:

We recognize that we, as an organization, have not done enough to make our positions on Palestine as clear and prominent as we have with other areas of international and domestic policy. To that end, Emgage is committed to improving our engagement with the Palestinian American community.

But Wahid’s statement is “disappointing to say the least,” according to Raja Abd’ul-Haq, a founder of the Palestinian news website Quds News Network and the executive director of Majlis Ash-Shura: Islamic Leadership Council of New York. Abd’ul-Haq wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday:

The statement failed to address most of the issues that were reported by Ali Abunimah, instead, they only half-apologized for participating in MLI trips.

Palestinian scholar and activist Sami al-Arian had a similarly dim assessment, calling Wahid’s response a “pathetic statement.” Al-Arian told The Electronic Intifada:

The Emgage board chairman uses straw man arguments. He states accusations that were never made so that he could deny them and knock them down. He thinks he could fool people by calling for the ‘liberation of the Palestinian people’ not the ‘liberation of Palestine.’

Regarding Emgage leaders’ ongoing ties to Zionist organizations, al-Arian said:

These accusations were never addressed, nor denied nor apologized for, nor dissociated from. No-one has announced resignations from their positions.

ICC closes door on Gaza flotilla probe
Maureen Clare Murphy, Electronic Intifada, Sep 19 2020

Palestinians in Gaza City hold portraits of the humanitarian activists killed during Israel’s siege on the Mavi Marmara on the 10th anniversary of the massacre, May 31 2020. Photo: Yasser Qudih/APA

A panel of judges at the International Criminal Court has dismissed an appeal over the chief prosecutor’s decision not to proceed with an investigation into Israel’s deadly attack on a ship in international waters in 2010. Israeli soldiers fatally wounded 10 people aboard the Mavi Marmara after raiding the ship, which was part of a civilian flotilla aiming to break the ongoing siege on Gaza. The pre-trial chamber’s decision this week seemingly brings an end to seven years of legal proceedings and back-and-forth between the prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, and the panel of judges which repeatedly requested that she reconsider her decision not to investigate. Bensouda has acknowledged that “there is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes were committed” by Israeli forces when they boarded the Mavi Marmara. But she has insisted that the Israeli attack on the high seas is not “sufficiently grave” to warrant prosecution.  Judges have identified a series of errors that Bensouda was asked to correct. In their decision this week, the judges state that Bensouda “has not genuinely reconsidered” her 2014 determination to avoid an investigation. She also “committed new errors” in the reaffirmation of her decisions last year, according to the judges. These errors include the prosecutor’s assessment of the gravity of any potential cases arising from the situation.

In her 2019 reaffirmation of her decision not to prosecute, Bensouda stated that the Israeli commandos who stormed the Mavi Marmara appeared to bear the greatest responsibility for alleged crimes and would therefore be the focus of any investigation. She found that there is no reasonable basis to believe that senior Israeli commanders and civilian leaders not present on the Mavi Marmara were responsible. As the judges summarize, Bensouda has argued that the scope of potential cases is likely to be limited and the identification of perpetrators of the crimes of wilful killing and serious injury would be difficult given the “chaotic circumstances” during the attack on the Mavi Marmara. The judges note that the prosecutor has “essentially excluded from the scope” of any potential investigation “all categories of persons apart from the direct perpetrators, from the immediate commanders to the senior commanders and Israeli leaders.” The judges add that an initial assessment “should never lead to the exclusion of certain categories of persons before the investigation has even begun.” The prosecutor has stated that she was not directed by the pre-trial chamber to “consider whether the investigation would extend” to senior commanders and officials, “but whether it would extend to those most responsible, whoever they may be.” Bensouda has additionally relied only on the information made available to her by Nov 2014. That would exclude evidence arising by way of testimony by PM Netanyahu and DM Barak to a public commission.

Bensouda’s claims have been contested by the government of Comoros, where the Mavi Marmara was flagged. In an appeal filed during March this year, Comoros argued that the evidence “demonstrates that the entire operation was carefully planned and directed by several ministries and the top echelons” of the Israeli military. The requests by the pre-trial chamber for Bensouda to reconsider her decision, however, held that this “must be conducted on the basis of the information already in the prosecutor’s possession.” The prosecutor already possessed at that time information that “may reasonably suggest that there was a prior intention and plan to kill the passengers,” the judges note. This was the use of live fire by the Israeli military prior to storming the Mavi Marmara. The judges also faulted as “premature” the prosecutor’s determination that Israeli soldiers’ alleged mistreatment of passengers on the Mavi Marmara did not qualify as inhumane treatment. “The prosecutor should have recognized that there was a reasonable basis to believe that the war crime of torture or inhumane treatment was committed,” the judges state. They add that “the deliberate denial of medical treatment has been found in the jurisprudence of the court and of other courts to amount to cruel treatment as a war crime … or to other inhumane acts as a crime against humanity.” Israeli soldiers and police routinely deny medical treatment to Palestinians shot in what Israel alleges are attacks on its forces but in what many instances amount to unlawful killings.

The judges also fault the prosecutor for introducing considerations irrelevant to the assessment of the gravity of the potential case, by referencing the “passengers’ violent resistance” on the Mavi Marmara, even positing that Israeli soldiers may have acted in self-defense. In her 2014 decision not to investigate, Bensouda determined that passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara were protected under the Geneva Conventions and that their killing and injury amounted to war crimes. Bensouda had found there was a reasonable basis to believe that a crime within the court’s jurisdiction had been committed. Because of this, the judges state, “it is inappropriate for her to rely on uncertainties or the existence of several plausible explanations as to the alleged commission of the crimes.” The judges also fault the prosecutor for failing “to demonstrate how she has assessed the harm suffered by the victims,” leading them to conclude that she “has not assigned any weight to the impact of the alleged crimes on the direct and indirect victims.”

This is separate from the scale of the crimes, which “relates to the number of victims, the geographical area affected, and the span and intensity of the alleged crimes over time.” Impact relates to the extent of harm experienced by victims, whether physical, psychological or material, according to the judges. They state that the number of victims registered to participate in the proceedings concerning the Mavi Marmara siege “is close to 500.” Other cases “of comparable or lesser gravity” than the Mavi Marmara situation were determined to warrant further action by the court, the judges note. Bensouda’s “failure to apply the gravity requirement with consistency opens the court up to criticism of double standards and arbitrariness,” they state. The judges, however, ultimately rejected the appeal by the government of Comoros to proceed with an investigation, because of a lack of clarity “whether and to what extent it may request the prosecutor to correct the errors identified by the chamber.” Fewer than 10 paragraphs of the judges’ 51-page filing are dedicated to explaining its rejection. It is a jarring conclusion, given the criticism of the prosecutor’s failure to address errors to their satisfaction in the rest of the filing. The ICC closing the door to war crimes investigations will no doubt frustrate the Mavi Marmara victims who have sought justice for more than a decade. Once again, Israel faces no lasting consequence for alleged war crimes.

But it has not washed its hands of the ICC. In December last year, after a lengthy preliminary investigation, Bensouda recommended that the court investigates alleged war crimes perpetrated in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The same pre-trial chamber of judges that closed the Mavi Marmara situation at the ICC is currently considering whether the international tribunal exercises jurisdiction in occupied Palestinian territory. The Trump administration in Washington has taken the unprecedented measure of placing economic sanctions on Bensouda and another ICC staff member because of the court’s pursuit of investigations in Afghanistan, which could see the indictment of US personnel, as well as the situation in Palestine. Despite how Comoros referred the Mavi Marmara situation to the ICC, there is speculation that the Indian Ocean island will be among the next Arab League nations to normalize relations with Israel.

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