three from electronic intifada

EU snubs Jews who criticize Israel
David Cronin, Electronic Intifada, Jan 21 2021

Margaritis Schinas. Photo: Thierry Monasse/Polaris

Keeping Israel happy has always been the tacit objective of the European Union’s efforts to “combat” anti-Semitism. These efforts began in earnest after the results of an opinion poll were leaked in late 2003. That poll indicated that Israel was regarded as the number one threat to world peace by nearly 60% of respondents. The finding could have led to sober reflection about why participants in the EU-sponsored poll held that view. Rather than engage in that reflection, the Brussels bureaucracy accepted allegations by Israel’s supporters that the survey offered proof of widespread bigotry against Jews. A conference on the surrounding issues was swiftly scheduled by the European Commission, the EU’s executive, for early 2004. Natan Sharansky, then an Israeli government minister, was among those invited. During his speech, he contendedthat there was a “fine dividing line” between acceptable criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. Israel and its network of lobbyists have subsequently sought to make that dividing line even finer. The main weapon in their arsenal has been a definition of anti-Semitism which suggests that strong aversion to Israel’s policies merely camouflages a hatred toward Jews.

To various degrees, the EU has allowed Israel and its lobbyists to set the agenda on anti-Semitism. A new excuse offered by the European Commission for preventing scrutiny of that agenda is deceitful. In 2019, the European Commission formed a working group on anti-Semitism. It brings together pro-Israel lobbyists, police and civil servants from across the European Union’s 27 countries. European Jews for a Just Peace, an organization critical of Israel, asked to participate in the working group but was rejected. Tanja Fajon, a Slovenian member of the European Parliament, submitted a formal query about that rejection in July. More than six months later, she finally received a reply from Margaritis Schinas, a vice president of the European Commission. Schinas “defended” the decision to exclude European Jews for a Just Peace by claiming that “the working group addresses anti-Semitism, not foreign policy issues.” He pointed to how European Jews for a Just Peace campaigns against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

While Schinas and his colleagues have locked out opponents of the occupation, they have no difficulty in consulting the occupation’s supporters. Deniers of the occupation are even welcome. B’nai B’rit is among the pro-Israel organizations admitted into the EU’s working group. In November, B’nai B’rit applauded the announcement by the US that it would label goods from Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as “made in Israel.” B’nai B’rit has previously described the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as “Israeli territory.”

The stance taken by Schinas is deeply disturbing. By only being willing to accept organizations who endorse or deny the occupation, he is treating Jews as synonymous with Israel’s acts of aggression. That approach is inherently anti-Semitic. Moreover, it fails to respect the diversity of opinion among Jews in Europe and beyond. Schinas’ suggestion that the working group does not deal with “foreign policy issues” is contradicted by the documents that the group has published on its activities. In June, for example, its participants heard a presentation from the EU’s diplomatic service, a body that is entirely focused on “foreign policy issues.” Vera Jourova, another European Commission vice president, usedthat same meeting to deliver a warning, which she did not substantiate, about “conspiracy myths and online interference from third countries, in particular Russia and China.”

The working group is guided by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism. The explanatory text accompanying the IHRA definition refers to Israel repeatedly. While Israel is involved in many EU activities, it is not a full EU member. Anything related to Israel is, therefore, a foreign policy issue in the strict sense of that term. Unlike the organizations taking part in the working group, European Jews for a Just Peace has taken issue with the IHRA definition and efforts to censor speech on Israel. Almost certainly, that is why European Jews for a Just Peace has been excluded.

Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU’s coordinator against anti-Semitism, chairs many of the working group’s discussions. Although her formal job description does not mention Israel, she has often overstepped her mandate without being penalized by the EU hierarchy. A freedom of information request revealed that von Schnurbein has held discussions with 17 individuals regarded by the EU as high-level representatives of Israel since taking up her position in Dec 2015. The list of the 17 includes Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president; Gilad Erdan, a politician (and now diplomat) who has led a smear campaign against Palestine solidarity activists in recent years; and Naftali Bennett, a right-wing firebrand who advocates relentless colonization in the West Bank. According to the European Commission, von Schnurbein’s discussions with the 17 were “exclusively on the fight against anti-Semitism in Europe and possible cooperation with the state of Israel in this regard.” “Possible cooperation” with a foreign government is surely a foreign policy matter in the strict sense of that term. Von Schnurbein has lately been promoting a new “handbook” on the IHRA definition.

The “handbook” notes favorably that several EU countries are applying the definition by “referencing it in hate crime legislation” and “establishing an internet monitoring division within the police.” Reading between the lines, it becomes clear that commentary about Israel is being placed under greater surveillance. Although published by the European Commission, the “handbook” was drafted by the Federal Association of Departments for Research and Information on Anti-Semitism in Germany. That association views boycotting Israel as anti-Semitic. Fortunately, the Israel lobby is not having everything its own way. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that calls for the boycotting Israel amount to free speech and should be protected as such. That verdict has been upheld in the past two weeks by a court in Valencia, Spain, which dismissed allegations of anti-Semitism against campaigners who condemned an American singer for cheering on Israel’s war crimes. Constantly trying to please Israel is a pointless exercise. No matter how much the EU engages in that exercise, there will always be ordinary folk willing to speak out.

NPR: No Palestinians Radio
Michael F Brown, Electronic Intifada, Jan 20 2021

Daniel Estrin (NPR)

Palestine activists have long criticized NPR as No Palestinians Radio. Recently, the broadcaster provided yet another example of how it freezes out Palestinian voices: Daniel Estrin’s 12 January coverage of the decision by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem to call Israel an “apartheid regime” that upholds “Jewish supremacy” between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea. No Palestinian viewpoint was included in his report. As the Biden administration takes office, with Sec State Blinken committed to maintaining the Trump administration’s key pro-Israel policies, this is an indicator that major national outlets remain as unwilling as ever to challenge the anti-Palestinian consensus in Washington. Matt Duss, foreign policy adviser to Bernie Sanders and an admirer of Blinken, asserted that NPR’s coverage was “poorly done.” Duss, despite moving toward the Democrat establishment, wrote on Twitter:

He has a strong point. Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights defender and co-founder of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, told the Electronic Intifada:

Censoring Palestinian voices is simply racist.

Emily Kaplan, legislative and electoral grassroots organizer at Jewish Voice for Peace Action, told The Electronic Intifada:

The failure to include Palestinian voices in reporting on the realities of Palestinian daily life under the Israeli government’s discriminatory and racist military occupation is shocking. When journalists exclude the perspectives of those most directly impacted, they help perpetuate the oppression of Palestinians.

Compounding the exclusion of Palestinian voices was Estrin’s determination to find Israeli voices to undercut Hagai El-Ad, B’Tselem’s director, with whom Estrin did speak. Estrin stated:

Many Israelis firmly reject the comparison. They boast of a vibrant Israeli democracy, say Palestinians have representation in their own semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority, and justify restrictions on Palestinians as necessary security measures in the absence of peace.

This is not reporting but apologia masked in the language of false neutrality. This becomes patently clear if the same sentence is rewritten in the context of, say, 1985 South Africa:

They boast of a vibrant democracy in South Africa, say that Blacks have representation in their own semi-autonomous Bantustans, and justify restrictions on Blacks as necessary security measures in the absence of peace.

Who but an apologist for apartheid would write something like that? Meanwhile Estrin ignores the views and experiences of Palestinian citizens of Israel who comprise more than 20% of Israel’s population. Indeed Estrin’s report is outright false, when he claims it’s a “commonly held notion” that the country’s “Palestinian Arab minority shares equal citizenship and rights with its Jewish majority.” In fact, Palestinian citizens of Israel live under dozens of laws that discriminate against them in virtually every area of life just because they are not Jewish. This grossly unequal treatment is further entrenched in Israel’s Nation-State law passed in 2018. Estrin did, however, quote notorious anti-Palestinian think tankers Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor and Eugene Kontorovich of the Kohelet Policy Forum criticizing the B’Tselem report. Good times and remarkable media reach for those trying to excuse the horrors of flattening Palestinian lives under apartheid. But Palestinians who have been making the case for decades that Israel’s regime constitutes apartheid were nowhere to be found in Estrin’s coverage. Barghouti welcomed the B’Tselem report, saying:

This is what the Indigenous Palestinians have been experiencing, documenting and sharing for seven decades. I hope it will help people around the world finally to recognize that Israel was built on the ruins of Palestinian society. It has always been an apartheid state, not just a settler-colony.

Yet for Estrin, the veracity of the apartheid claim can only be determined by Israel’s Jewish community. Too many reporters for US media have a similar implicit bias that favors Jewish voices over Palestinian voices. There is a structural geographic bias that comes from the fact that many Western journalists are deeply embedded in Israeli Jewish society and identify with it. This bias makes these journalists complicit in what B’Tselem describes in its report, thus:

This is a process that has gradually grown more institutionalized and explicit, with mechanisms introduced over time in law and practice to promote Jewish supremacy.

Not challenging and exposing this Jewish supremacy, just as not challenging and exposing other forms of racism, is acquiescence. When Estrin excludes Palestinian voices, falsely claims that equality exists and exclusively consults Jewish speakers on the subject of Israeli apartheid, it reveals a profound problem of racism against Palestinians at NPR that the network has for decades failed to confront. Yet even the biased reporting of NPR is probably preferable to the manner in which the NYT covered the B’Tselem report. The newspaper of record, with its famous motto “all the news that’s fit to print,” decided B’Tselem’s highlighting of Israeli apartheid from the river to the sea wasn’t fit to print at all. Antony Blinken faced Israel-related questions Tuesday from US senators during his confirmation hearing. He denied that Israel is a “racist state” when asked by Lindsey Graham. Blinken also applauded the normalization deals several countries recently made with Israel, unsurprisingly overlooking the problematic nature of agreements with an apartheid state.

Earlier in the day, Rashida Tlaib stated that “Israel is a racist state” and an “apartheid state” during an interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman. The battles over Israel in the Democrat Party are likely to become more contentious over the next four years. But Blinken’s closeness to Biden indicates that the White House remains in denial over Israel’s apartheid reality. Indeed, Blinken made clear to Ted Cruz, recently seen trying to overturn the democratic will of American voters, that the Biden administration will stand by Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The US embassy will also remain in the city. The most racist and anti-Palestinian president in recent memory got his way, and the Democrats will apparently do nothing to reverse it, plainly suggesting that they support Donald Trump’s anti-Palestinian racism. That racism, so obvious in today’s Republican Party, also infuses much of the Democrat Party. The fight to root out this bigotry among Democrats could start at noon on Wednesday with Biden’s swearing in. But that would require grassroots Democrats to refuse to assume, as many did in 2009 with Obama, that all is fine with someone from their own party back in the White House.

Israel censored this film. Watch it here
Tamara Nassar, Electronic Intifada, Jan 21 2021

Every act of censorship inadvertently achieves its opposite by drawing attention to its subject. Last week, an Israeli court ordered the 2002 film Jenin, Jenin to be banned in Israel and all copies of it confiscated. The film, which was directed by Mohammed Bakri, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, has been the subject of censorship attempts since its release around 18 years ago. Nissim Magnaji, a soldier who appears on archival footage in the film for just a few seconds, sued Bakri for defamation in 2016. His suit was supported by former Military Advocate General Avichai Mandelblit. An Israeli judge ruled in Magnaji’s favor last week, ordering Bakri to pay more than $50k to the soldier and another $15k in court fees. Israeli government and military officials welcomed the court’s ruling. Bakri is now planning to appeal the ruling in Israel’s highest court. Following the court’s ruling, social media users shared links to the video and Bakri gave a number of interviews. The Palestine Film Institute, a body that preserves and promotes Palestinian cinema, decided to make the film available to everyone. You can watch it for free at the top of this page.

The film is a collection of interviews with residents of Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank following an Israeli military invasion in Apr 2002 that lasted almost two weeks. It is “probable,” according to a UN report at the time, that the Israeli military committed a massacre in the camp, killing at least 52 Palestinians and injuring scores of others. Israeli forces also shelled 150 buildings, leaving 450 families homeless. According to the report, 23 Israeli soldiers were dead by the end of the operation. Israeli historian Ilan Pappé wrote in The Electronic Intifada in 2017:

It was not just the numbers involved that shocked the world at the time, but the brutal nature of an Israeli assault that was unprecedented even in the harsh history of the occupation.

Bakri said he snuck into the camp on foot through the mountains about 10 days after the invasion to witness what Israel had done and speak to camp residents. Bakri told his son Adam Bakri in an interview on Sunday about his emotional reaction after he first arrived in the camp. He said:

I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t hold my body, I mean, when I saw these things around me and I smelled that smell of death.

Little in the camp was left unscathed. A young Palestinian girl tells Bakri in the film:

Their bombs came down on us like water. I saw dead bodies, houses in ruins and undescribable atrocities. After all I’ve been through, what will become of my life?

The girl, who Bakri identified as Najwa in later interviews, gained notoriety for her remarkable courage and became an iconic face of the film. The documentary-style film combines rapid-fire shots in between interviews with dramatic sound transitions for aesthetic effect. It is genre-bending. It has no voiceover and it doesn’t identify anyone. Bakri, who is often shown walking away from the camera, is sometimes heard, but he never turns around. The film does not pretend to do more than bear witness. The filmmaker isn’t new to dealing with censorship and lawsuits pertaining to his film. Five soldiers sued Bakri following the film’s release accusing him of defamation. Their cases were later dismissed, because, as Bakri wrote in The Electronic Intifada in 2008:

I do not know them, and they are neither mentioned or shown in the film.

Magnaji tried to get the film censored on relatively similar grounds. Magnaji appears briefly in the film with two other soldiers as a camp resident recounts how during a raid on his home, an Israeli military officer robbed him of his life’s savings that he had set aside in the hope of having a child one day. The elderly man recounted asking the military officer about his money. As a clip is shown of three Israeli soldiers walking near a military vehicle, including Magnaji, according to Israeli media, the man recalls:

He said, “Shut up or I will kill you!”

Getting the film censored may provide Magnaji and his supporters in Israel’s government with some temporary satisfaction. But no amount of censorship will change the indisputable fact that the Israeli military committed atrocities in that camp and in others during the second intifada, nor that these soldiers were members of the military that has reinforced occupation and committed countless crimes against Palestinians. No amount of intimidation will shake the legendary courage and resilience of each camp resident who witnessed Israel’s crimes that month. And no amount of lawsuits will make them forget. That’s just a truth Israel and its soldiers will have to live with.

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