electronic intifada

Judicial overhaul delay lands on backs of Palestinians
Michael F Brown, Electronic Intifada, Mar 30 2023

The Israeli compromise to delay its judicial overhaul was made on the backs of Palestinians. They are the ones who will pay the price of a “new” national guard. The commotion about Israeli “democracy” was always about preserving democracy for Jews without addressing long-standing apartheid for Palestinians. We can anticipate worse to come as Israeli politicians unite around reinvigorating anti-Palestinian policies.

Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir both agreed on Monday that judicial change would go forward after a temporary pause. Additionally, Ben-Gvir appears set to walk away with the new national guard he has been seeking, putting forward his plan this coming Sunday at a cabinet meeting. Notably, the idea of a national guard was formally announced in Jun 2022 by then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett who headed a “historic diverse coalition government,” the term favored by ill-informed liberals in the US Congress, yet presided over apartheid all the same. That unit is part of the Border Police and would be expanded under Ben-Gvir. One such unit envisioned by Ben-Gvir may already have been established in the city of Lydda, a city where roughly 30% of the population is Palestinian. A euphoric Ben-Gvir tweeted Monday:

The reform will pass. The national guard will be established. The budget I demanded for the Ministry of National Security will be passed in its entirety.

Adalah noted earlier this year that a national guard would be comprised of Israel’s Border Police, army reservists and civilian volunteers, marking the Israeli government’s “clear intention to establish an independent armed force, the main purpose of which is violent action against Palestinians.” For his part, Ben-Gvir says:

A national guard is a basic critical need for the state of Israel, without which we will not be able to protect the security of our citizens in order to fight terrorism, the phenomenon of protection, nationalist crime and restore governance to the cities of Israel.

Rights groups are alarmed that the national guard will prove to be a private militia for the far-right minister.

Haaretz journalist Anshel Pfeffer, however, thinks Netanyahu made an empty promise to Ben-Gvir. Time will tell, but as a desperate Netanyahu has caved repeatedly in the last three months to extreme right demands it does seem highly probable that Ben-Gvir will get his national guard. Ben-Gvir has been convicted of both support for a terrorist group and racist incitement. He could well move to collapse the government if he doesn’t get his way on the national guard.

Notwithstanding all the anti-Palestinian hate Netanyahu has helped to stir in the last three months, the prime minister may be rewarded with a visit to the White House because of the judicial overhaul delay he negotiated at the expense of Palestinians. Tom Nides, the US ambassador to Israel, said:

He obviously will be coming, I assume after Passover.

Passover ends Apr 13. Later, however, a US NSC spox claimed:

As Ambassador Nides said, there is no plan for Prime Minister Netanyahu to visit Washington. Israeli leaders have a long tradition of visiting Washington, and Prime Minister Netanyahu will likely visit at some point.

President Joe Biden himself said Netanyahu would not be visiting “in the near term.” Thomas Friedman in the NYT called Netanyahu “an irrational actor” threatening “important American interests and values.” But Friedman reached this level of concern only because the prime minister endangered democracy for Israel’s Jewish citizens, not because he had carried out apartheid against Palestinians for all his years in office. Biden expressed ongoing concern Tuesday, saying:

Like many strong supporters of Israel I’m very concerned. I’m concerned that they get this straight. They cannot continue down this road. I’ve sort of made that clear.

But it hasn’t been made at all publicly clear that there would be any military aid ramifications for Israel. In fact, Congresswoman Susan Wild stated earlier this month, in the midst of the consternation over the possible judicial shakeup, that she thought the Biden administration would not condition aid to Israel. She said:

I believe the Biden administration has either signaled or actually said that they will not condition aid to Israel on what happens with the judicial system there. I think that’s the current Biden administration position on it.

To be sure, Biden will not touch that aid. Words are only apt to delay Netanyahu for a time and then only on judicial matters, not on his life’s work of entrenching apartheid for Palestinians. Former Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas writes in Haaretz:

One of the matters most troubling Biden was Netanyahu’s decision Monday to buy time with his ultranationalist partners by awarding them with a militia, no less, to operate extrajudicially. The US has seen such militias in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This would be a striking new level of concern from the White House, but it is one I have not seen publicly voiced. In any event, within hours of Biden’s comments, Netanyahu was pushing back, tweeting:

Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz, a staunch anti-Palestinian demagogue, anti-leftist fabulist and pro-Likud extremist, reliably has Netanyahu’s back.

According to Alex Kane in Jewish Currents, some of the most progressive members of the US House and Senate are pushing back in a new letter to Biden and Blinken. Congressman Jamaal Bowman and Senator Bernie Sanders are leading the effort. Reportedly, other House signers so far are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Summer Lee, Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar, Betty McCollum, André Carson and Ayanna Pressley.

Acknowledging failed diplomatic efforts from the Biden administration, they write:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government includes far-right, anti-Palestinian individuals and parties. Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir openly encourages and praises violence against Palestinians. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich responded to the recent Israeli settler attacks on the Palestinian town of Huwara in the occupied West Bank by declaring that the whole town should be “wiped out.” Their presence in the government has made this the most far-right, illiberal government in Israel’s history. True to their records, these figures are pushing repressive, anti-democratic policies and escalating violence towards the Palestinian population… We know your administration has met repeatedly with Israeli officials to reiterate US support for “equal measures of freedom, dignity, security and prosperity” for both Israelis and Palestinians. Unfortunately, these good faith entreaties have had no effect. Furthermore, despite massive street protests and a general strike, the Israeli government has merely delayed its judicial overhaul for a short time, and none of the agreements reached this week will lessen the systemic violence against Palestinians, including annexation of Palestinian land. The Israeli government’s actions are in clear violation of international law and commitments made to the US; its agenda will further devastate Palestinian communities and heighten tension with violent consequences for both Palestinians and Israelis. Only clear steps to change political conditions will pave the way for peace. As such, we call on your administration to promptly ensure US taxpayer funds do not support projects in illegal settlements, and determine whether US-origin defense articles have been used in violation of existing US laws, including for a purpose not authorized by the Arms Export Control Act, or to commit or support gross violations of human rights by the Israeli government in violation of the Foreign Assistance Act. Furthermore, we call on your administration to ensure that all future foreign assistance to Israel, including weapons and equipment, is not used in support of gross violations of human rights, including by strengthening end-use monitoring and financial tracking. We ask that you respond with a detailed plan as to how the administration plans to achieve that goal.

This language is far more vigorous in defense of Palestinian rights than has generally been seen in Washington, where most of the concern has been focused on distress over Israeli “democracy” and how a judicial overhaul would affect it. AIPAC, termed a “hate group” by Congresswoman McCollum, pushed back against the letter and some of its signers.

AIPAC did not include Congresswoman Tlaib in its attack as J Street retracted its endorsement of the congresswoman when she announced support for equal rights in one state. Despite a bit more vigor in his words than usual, Biden lacks the courage to take the steps proposed by the letter writers even in the face of the Israeli government’s obvious racism. Decades of apartheid policies haven’t moved Democrats to condition or cease US military aid. Consequently, it comes as no surprise that the flagrantly racist rhetoric of Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition allies also fails to rouse the Biden administration to action. The Biden administration is making clear that it is willing to challenge Netanyahu to protect democracy for Jews living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, but unwilling to extend the same courtesy to Palestinians in the exact same geographic location. Equal rights in one state isn’t yet politically feasible in Washington. But backing and funding an apartheid state, as has been the case for decades, is not just feasible but strongly advocated by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Normal rules don’t apply to EU anti-Semitism chief
David Cronin, Electronic Intifada, Mar 31 2023

Katharina von Schnurbein speaking at the “summit” earlier this week.

“Turmoil” is the word that has kept leaping out from headlines over the past few days. The mainstream media apparently regard it as the best term to describe a saga featuring Benjamin Netanyahu as the main character. The latest episode left the Israeli prime minister looking much less of an invincible alpha male than before as he backed away, temporarily perhaps, from smashing up a judicial system that isn’t sufficiently deferential to him and his allies. Luckily for them, many of Israel’s supporters in the West are immune to turmoil. A “summit” called by the lobby group known as the European Leadership Network went ahead as planned, albeit with minor changes to its agenda, in Berlin this week. The event followed the standard playbook: allege that everyone who Israel sees as an opponent, academics, activists or ice-cream makers, is motivated by a hostility toward Jews.

Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Union’s coordinator against anti-Semitism, was much in demand at the “summit.” She did not seem bothered by how a number of MEPs had called on her to withdraw. The lawmakers were angered by the inclusion of Amichai Chikli in the original program for the event. Chikli has a penchant for racist outbursts. He has gone as far as to allege that an entire Palestinian generation has been raised “in the spirit of the Hitler Youth.”

While Chikli finally found himself unable to attend the “summit,” von Schnurbein wouldn’t dare disappoint the European Leadership Network. She is a regular participant in that group’s activities and has signaled that she wants to keep things that way. In a video discussion several months ago, von Schnurbein confirmed that she had already accepted an invitation for the European Leadership Network’s 2023 annual “policy conference.” A separate event from this week’s “summit,” it is scheduled to take place in Paris during May. Documents obtained through a freedom of information request show that the European Leadership Network flatters von Schnurbein. It has expressed the desire to “honor” her work. When the European Leadership Network sponsors tables at gala dinners, von Schnurbein is high on its list of favored guests, judging by these documents.

Under the EU’s staff regulations, she requires permission from the Brussels hierarchy to accept gifts “of any kind whatever” from outside bodies. Von Schurbein did not reply when asked if she had sought approval before agreeing to eat meals paid for by the European Leadership Network. The staff regulations state, too, that officials “shall neither seek nor take instructions from any government, authority, organization or person outside this institution.” Von Schnurbein routinely breaches the spirit and probably the letter of that rule. Although her formal job description does not mention Israel even once, she is constantly helping that state and its professional advocates to weaponize anti-Semitism.

In another freedom of information request, I asked to see copies of all correspondence between von Schnurbein and the Israeli government since she began her current post in Dec 2015. The European Commission (the EU’s executive) replied that it had identified 21 documents relating to such correspondence. After consulting the Israeli authorities, the European Commission refused to release those documents. Doing so, it claimed, “might undermine the protection of the public interest as regards protection of international relations.” Keeping mum about the EU’s dealings with an apartheid state such as Israel does not serve the public interest. And, in any event, the unelected and anti-democratic European Commission’s efforts to present itself as a defender of the public interest have zero credibility. Despite efforts to shield her from scrutiny, it is evident that von Schnurbein is pursuing Israel’s agenda. She is either taking instructions directly from that state and its supporters or can be relied on to regurgitate Israel’s talking points off her own bat. I have challenged her on a number of occasions about her close connections to Israel. She responded to one challenge in Oct 2021 by citing the EU’s strategy for combating anti-Semitism (which had just been published).

The strategy, heavily influenced by the pro-Israel lobby, does not say that she may ignore the EU’s staff regulations. They stipulate that “an official shall abstain from any action and, in particular, any public expression of opinion which may reflect on his position.” Von Schnurbein has broken that rule time and again. In May 2021, she even gave the thumbs-up to Israeli attacks on Jerusalem and Gaza. If the regulations were properly enforced, she would have been disciplined, perhaps even dismissed, for applauding aggression. But Von Schnurbein need not fear being reprimanded. She has held her current position for more than seven years now. The declared commitment of the European Commission to job rotation, moving managers between posts every five years or so, has been conveniently forgotten about in her case.

In an apparent attempt to appear balanced, the European Commission appointed a coordinator against anti-Muslim hatred on the same day it made von Schnurbein the coordinator against anti-Semitism. Since then, at least three different people have held the post of coordinator against anti-Muslim hatred. They have been allocated fewer resources than von Schnurbein has been and at one point the post was left vacant for a long period. The Brussels bureaucracy is clearly not fighting every form of bigotry with the same urgency. Its work on anti-Semitism is being shaped by a lobby that exploits the Holocaust and other crimes against Europe’s Jews to erect a smoke guard around Israel so that it may continue oppressing Palestinians with impunity. Anti-Semitism, as defined by Israel and its lobby, is a high priority. Anti-Muslim hatred is not. And the rules applying to every EU civil servant have somehow been waived for the benefit of Katharina von Schnurbein.

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