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Saturday Art: Will 2014 Be the Watershed Year for Cultural Boycotts of Israel?

11:29 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Moddi

I.  On December 27th, Gaza’s University Teachers’ Association and the Gaza Palestinian Students for the Academic Boycott of Israel wrote to young Norwegian songwriter, Moddi, asking him to cancel his upcoming 2014 concert, in Tel Aviv on February 1st.  Friday the young and rapidly upcoming artist responded, in a Facebook post that links to an article Jello Biafra wrote after he had cancelled an Israeli show, with his band, the Guantanamo School of Medicine, back in 2011.

The Gaza letter is an openly emotional plea.  It recounts some musicians who have recently decided to cancel appearances in the militant expansionist Zionist state:

We call upon your free soul that has been adding uplifting music into this disenchanted world of ours, to join those courageous people of conscience, artists like Elvis Costello, Annie Lennox, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Massive Attack, Gil Scott-Heron, Faithless, Carlos Santana, Vanessa Paradis, Natacha Atlas and Devendra Banhart.

And directly confronts the notion of an Israeli performance being appropriate, from a Gazan perspective:

We ask you now, like so many people of your nation have stood with the oppressed in the past, to stand on the right side of history, to respond to our call from the Gaza ghetto to not turn your back on us. If you play in Israel, then we will be a short distance away from where you are playing. But your beautiful tunes will break our wrenching hearts and not sway our souls.

I’ve watched a few of Moddi’s Youtube videos over the past year, after a student turned me on to his art.  Here is what the Gazan suppliants meant when they wrote “your beautiful tunes.”  Moddi, rendering Smoke, with Katrine Schiøtt, in Istanbul:

Moddi’s Facebook response to the Gazans is as poignant and defiant as his song, Smoke:

I have chosen to cancel my performance in Tel Aviv on February 1st. This is without comparison the most difficult decision I have ever made as an artist, and one that hurts almost as much as it feels right.

The reason for my decision is the situation in Israel and the areas it controls. Although music can be a unique arena for public debate, the debate over these territories has been misused for a long time. Discussion and dialogue creates an impression of constant progress. The realities of politics are very different. An example: as we speak, John Kerry is negotiating peace talks between Israel and Palestine, while at the same time Israel announces the construction of 1400 new settlements on occupied land. While everyone speaks about a two-state solution, the constant scattering of the West Bank through the building of new control posts, security fences and walls are making such a solution practically impossible.

The discourse of peace creates a thick veil, concealing the increasingly tighter besiegement of Gaza, the ongoing fragmentation of the West Bank and the continuing discrimination of Arab-Israeli citizens. By encouraging ‘dialogue’ and ‘tolerance’ as ideals, I am afraid that my voice will do nothing but to increase the already dysfunctional divide between words and action in a conflict where no one seems to trust each other’s intentions.

I know that I disappoint many of my Israeli listeners and I am truthfully sorry that it has to stay like this for now. I believe that you will understand, although you might not agree. Again, I encourage you to read Jello Biafra’s article, which provides many perspectives and no clear answers to the questions he has been faced with. Like him, I am overwhelmed by the complexity of the situation. Therefore, I will be going to Israel and to the West Bank to see things with my own eyes, meet some of the people who have joined the discussion and try to understand the situation better.

As long as ‘dialogue’ continues to be a goal in itself and not a means to solve one of the deepest, most intense conflicts of this time, I will not lend my voice to it. For now I’ll keep away, hoping that things can change for the better and that one day I can carry through with my very first concert on an Israeli stage.

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Former Ambassador Asks U.S. to Criminalize Support for Boycott Against Israel

11:25 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

From the Trinity Alps:

Phosphorous rains down on Gaza

Israeili phosphorous rains down on Gaza

More and more American and foreign academic organizations are looking closely at passing resolutions in support of Boycotting, Divesting from and Sanctioning (BDS) Israeli educational organizations and institutions, for their involvement in the illegal occupation of the West Bank, and for those institutions’ lack of concern for educational infrastructure in the Occupied Territories and in Gaza. This past week, two important American academic organizations have passed motions supporting Global BDS of Israel, and advocating the end of relations with Israeli academic institutions and organizations. Back in April, the Association for Asian American Studies voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Last week, the large and influential American Studies Association passed a resolution calling for academic boycott:

A powerful group of US scholars has voted to launch an academic boycott of Israeli colleges and universities. With a membership in the thousands, the group has become the largest academic collective to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

The American Studies Association (ASA) announced Monday that its nearly 5,000 members voted in favor of the boycott by a 2-to-1 margin on Sunday night. A total of 1,252 members voted on the issue, with 66 percent voting ‘yes’ and 30 percent voting ‘no.’ Three percent abstained from voting altogether.

The boycott calls on US schools and academic research groups to end all work with Israeli groups. It does allow individual Israeli scholars to still attend conferences and speak at American universities, as long as they do not do so in any official capacity of the government.

Yesterday, the Native American Studies Association passed a similar motion:

Another small North American academic association – the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) – decided this week to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

Ohio State English Prof. Chadwick Allen, president of the association and coordinator of American Indian studies at the university, wrote on the association’s website that the move followed a “member- generated” petition asking that the group “formally support the boycott of Israeli academic and cultural Institutions that was initiated by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.”

Some academic organizations have decided not to boycott Israeli academia. The American Association of University Professors (a group I have been a member of) voted against academic sanctions last spring. But the issue is still being debated there, with a recent volume of their journal being devoted to the subject. The Modern Language Association will take up BDS at a January meeting:

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Sunday Art: Preparing to Write About Judith Butler’s Profound Brooklyn University Address

12:26 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Netanyahu-Brezhnev

Last Thursday, philosopher Dr. Judith Butler delivered a profound address at Brooklyn University.  She was one of two speakers at what might have been a small gathering of students and Brooklyn activists, wanting to hear some intelligent ideas about the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.  The movement, begun by Palestinians in 2005, models itself somewhat after similar movements seeking to put pressure on the apartheid South African regime, from the late 1980s, through the fall of that regime in the mid-1990s.

The other speaker was Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of Global BDS.  Barghouti has a Masters degree in electrical engineering from Columbia, and a Masters in philosophy from Tel Aviv University.

Dr. Butler, in her address, which was about 40 minutes long, noted in the opening remarks:

At the time [Butler was invited] I thought it would be very much like other events I have attended, a conversation with a few dozen student activists in the basement of a student center. So, as you can see, I am surprised and ill prepared for what has happened.

What happened was an explosion of invective against Butler, Barghouti, Brooklyn College, its President, and NYC Mayor Bloomberg, for supporting their being able to even talk on campus about BDS under the sponsorship of one of its departments, and without someone on the podium with them who could offer an opposing view.

Judith Butler drew some hearty laughs with this:

Yet another objection, sometimes uttered by the same people who made the first, is that BDS does qualify as a viewpoint, but as such, ought to be presented only in a context in which the opposing viewpoint can be heard as well. There was yet a qualification to this last position, namely, that no one can have a conversation on this issue in the US that does not include a certain Harvard professor [Alan Dershowitz], but that spectacular argument was so self-inflationary and self-indicting, that I could only respond with astonishment.

Haaretz commentator Chemi Shalev wrote Friday:

Far more Americans know of the Palestinian BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement today than did a week ago. Many millions of people have been exposed for the first time to the idea that Israel should be boycotted, divested and sanctioned for its occupation of the territories. Many more Americans, one can safely assume, have formed a positive image of the BDS movement than those who have now turned against it.

Tafasta merube lo tafasta, the Talmud teaches us: grasp all, lose all. The heavy-handed, hyperbole heavy, all-guns-blazing campaign against what would have been, as Mayor Bloomberg put it, “a few kids meeting on campus” mushroomed and then boomeranged, giving the hitherto obscure BDS activists priceless public relations that money could never buy.

Rather than focusing attention on what BDS critics describe as the movement’s deceitful veneer over its opposition to the very existence of Israel, the disproportionate onslaught succeeded in casting the BDS speakers who came to the Brooklyn campus as freedom-loving victims being hounded and oppressed by the forces of darkness.

Judith Butler herself spent a fair portion of her 1997 book, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative, describing aspects of this.  Essentially:

Butler argues that hate speech exists retrospectively, only after being declared such by state authorities. In this way, the state reserves for itself the power to define hate speech and, conversely, the limits of acceptable discourse.

I first came across Judith Butler’s writing in 2004, when researching false uses of the terms “anti-semitic” and “anti-semitism.”  I had been accused in articles, blog posts, and even in an address to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature as one.  Butler’s writing eased my anguish at the time.

I’ve wanted to write an enduring essay about Butler’s Brooklyn College address since reading it.  I’ve re-read it twice now, trying to distill it for popular blog consumption.  That may be a task beyond my ability.

The concept of censorship making an idea being censored more known and attractive predates Butler’s analysis.  The history of people finding ways around such censorship goes back to ancient times too.  When societies begin to break down through hubris, hypocrisy, corruption, pollution and so on, some members of the nomenklatura realize better than others what is happening, what is at stake.

Butler’s writings and talks (on Youtube, for instance) show examples of her sense of irony, and some humor.  Her overall style, though, is quite dry.  Nobody has ever accused her of pandering for attention, within or beyond academia.

Thinking about her irony and perhaps intentional avoidance of populist metaphor and framing today, I found myself listening more closely to the wildly ironic Dmitri Shosatakovich’s 12th Symphony, a work I’m considering conducting in 2014.  He wrote it at the beginning of the end of the paradigm of a communist utopia in the USSR.  He had ceased to believe in the myth long before, but had been rehabilitated, and was commanded to write a triumphal work, dedicated to the memory of Vladimir  Lenin.

He was hesitant, but fulfilled the commission.  It was thought to be a workmanlike, dutiful symphony, but it has never been regarded as one of his masterpieces.

From my first hearing in the mid-1960s, I detected that he was mocking the idolization of Lenin.  He couldn’t be more obvious than he was, or it would not be performed.  He mocked his own film music to the dozens of patriotic Soviet movies he scored.  He parroted the false drive forward of the increasingly failed system that entrapped him and other artists.

Watching the increasingly Sovietesque moves to somehow save Israeli apartheid from being truthfully perceived remind me aspects of the downfall of the USSR – not so much as in the Mother country, but in its satellites.

Here is Yevgeni Mravinsky, conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic in Shostakovich’s iconic slap in the face of false monumentalism, from a 1984 broadcast:

Rift Between Liberal Christian and Zionist Jewish Groups Rapidly Deepens

3:07 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

An Israeli flag

Photo: Ron Almog / Flickr

The response to the October 5th letter to Congress from fifteen mainline, somewhat liberal, and very large Christian denominations or groups, by various Zionist Jewish organizations, is rapidly escalating into something serious.  In an article at the Jewish Telegraph Agency, posted an hour ago, Ethan Felson,vice president and general counsel of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, appears to be threatening to have Congress investigate the Churches, or the signatories of the letter:

Felson said JCPA is considering as a response asking Congress to investigate delegitimizers of Israel and to issue a resolution against their efforts. He said he has not yet decided if he will attend the roundtable.

“We feel strongly that if you want the parties to reconcile, we should model reconciliation,” Felson said. “But that’s difficult to do when we’re up against this brand of antipathy.”

Suggesting that American Jewish groups could retaliate by advocating against U.S. aid to the Palestinians, Felson said the signers of the letter are “opening up a Pandora’s box.” [emphases added]

In an op-ed, posted an hour ago in the Jerusalem Post, commentator Isi Leibler invokes some pretty serious imagery:

The signatories include leaders of the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and National Council of Churches. Although many of the rank-and-file members of these churches are supporters of Israel and unaware of these activities, their radical anti-Israel leaders were obviously not inhibited from taking such action despite being aware of the role of their churches in demonizing, persecuting and murdering Jews over the past 2,000 years.

One is tempted to suggest that some of the current Lutheran leaders have inherited the anti-Semitic poison of their 16th-century founder, Martin Luther, who after failing to convert the Jews called on his followers to murder these “poisonous envenomed worms” and set fire to their synagogues and schools. [emphasis added]

They have simply redirected his anti-Semitic obsessions toward the Jewish state in lieu of individual Jews.

Leibler is referring to this 1543 pamphlet by Luther:  Von den Juden und ihren Lügen

In the JTA article, there is no reference to this morning’s action by the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace (disclaimer – my wife is a member of JVP), in support of the stance of the Christian leaders who wrote to Congress:

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Abe Foxman Threatens to End Jewish-Christian Interfaith Dialogue Over Investigation Request

3:19 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Christian-Israel flag pin

Back on October 5th, the leaders of several American Christian churches sent a joint letter to Congress [PDF]:

We urge an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act which respectively prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of U.S. weapons to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense.”

More broadly, we urge Congress to undertake careful scrutiny to ensure that our aid is not supporting actions by the government of Israel that undermine prospects for peace. We urge Congress to hold hearings to examine Israel’s compliance, and we request regular reporting on compliance and the withholding of military aid for non-compliance.

Here’s the list of signatories:

Rev. Gradye Parsons Stated Clerk of the General Assembly Presbyterian Church (USA)

Mark S. Hanson Presiding Bishop Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Bishop Rosemarie Wenner President, Council of Bishops United Methodist Church

Peg Birk Transitional General Secretary National Council of Churches USA

Shan Cretin General Secretary American Friends Service Committee

J Ron Byler Executive Director Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Alexander Patico North American Secretary Orthodox Peace Fellowship

Diane Randall Executive Secretary Friends Committee on National Legislation

Dr. A. Roy Medley General Secretary American Baptist Churches, U.S.A.

Rev. Geoffrey A. Black General Minister and President United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins General Minister and President Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Rev. Julia Brown Karimu President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Division of Overseas Ministries Co-Executive, Global Ministries (UCC and Disciples)

Rev. Dr. James A. Moos Executive Minister, United Church of Christ, Wider Church Ministries Co-Executive, Global Ministries (UCC and Disciples)

Kathy McKneely Acting Director Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Eli S. McCarthy, PhD Justice and Peace Director Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM)

Some of these religious leaders issued supplementary statements from the offices of their own faith.  The United Church of Christ, representing over a million peopleissued a statement:

The UCC has sought to constrain the militarization of the Middle Area after the passage of a 2005 General Synod resolution, said Dr. Peter Makari, area executive to the Middle East and Europe for Global Ministries.

“The UCC has been consistent in its condemnation of violence, regardless of its source,” Makari said.

The UCC joins its ecumenical partners “in expressing the concern that U.S. assistance to Israel has been and remains unconditional, is in violation of U.S. law on foreign assistance, and contributes toward the continuation of a military occupation of Palestinian lands, which is antithetical to efforts to promote peace between the Palestinians and Israelis,” Makari said.

The churches and religious organizations, committed to seeking a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis, also point to what they write is a “troubling and consistent pattern of disregard by the government of Israel for U.S. policies that support a just and lasting peace. Specifically, repeated demands by the U.S. government that Israel halt all settlement activity have been ignored.”

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, representing over 3.4 million parishioners, issued a long statement regarding the letter to congress, quoting the head of the church,the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop:

“When as Lutherans we say that all the baptized will strive for justice and peace in all the earth, it means that we will be immersed in complex issues. While we do not all agree on the best way to establish justice and bring peace, we will be involved in lively, respectful, passionate conversations,” said Hanson.

“From Palestinian Lutherans, I hear discouragement about the lack of progress and questions about where the voice is of American Christians,” said Hanson. “Our letter seeks to be a partial answer to such questions, that we are clear in our resolve to continue to work for a just and lasting solution for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Together, the signatory churches represent more people than live in Israel of all faiths.  Yet there were almost no news articles about the letter in the American press, outside of some Jewish community news outlets and sites, when the investigation request was sent and announced.  There were a number of them in the Israeli press.

Late this past week, though, the story gained more notice, when Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League protested the letter, and then announced he is pulling out of an upcoming National Council of Churches meeting:

The Anti-Defamation League said Thursday (Oct. 11) it has withdrawn from an Oct. 22 U.S. Jewish-Christian interfaith meeting to protest a letter from some Protestant participants that urged Congress to rethink U.S. funding to Israel.

ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said the signatories’ actions — without first informing Jewish groups — have “seriously damaged the foundation for mutual respect” necessary for interfaith dialogue.

Daniel S. Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, called the letter “a thinly veiled attempt to try to harm Israel, and U.S.-Israel relations.” The Reform movement’s Washington-based Religious Action Center said the letter “mischaracterizes” the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories, “wrongly holds only Israel accountable” for regional problems “and does not advance the regional and security interests of the U.S.”

Interestingly, J Street, the lobbying group formed in April, 2008, as a liberal alternative to AIPAC (I hosted J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami here at firedoglake in 2011, for a book salon on his work, A New Voice for Israel), has condemned the Christians’ letter:

It was inevitable. Constantly under pressure from the Jewish center-right (Reform rabbis, for instance), J Street has thrown in the towel. Read its document of surrender. 

In response to the letter from Christian denominations urging that aid to Israel be compliant with U.S. law, J Street has joined Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation league and the half-million a year hacks that run the other Jewish organizations to blast the Christians. (See Foxman letter).

J Street agrees with them that aid to Israel is an entitlement. It must never be questioned unless you also add ” criticism of Israel’s behavior with appropriate criticism of, for instance, rocket fire from Gaza into Israeli civilian areas.” You must also  ”put the present situation into a historical or political context that might provide a fuller appreciation for the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over many decades.”

Each new month brings another Christian group to question what its relationship should be with the increasingly hostile, increasingly racist and overtly apartheid state of Israel.  And increasingly, Jewish groups in America are being asked to be openly critical of  these moves, whether it be this one, or votes to consider divesting from businesses in Israel, or with firms which enable the occupation and colonization of the West Bank.

Rather than inquire as to why these spiritually-founded religious bodies feel impelled to sanction Israel, many Jewish organizations, commentators and public figures are likening these moves to anti-Semitism, which it most certainly is not.  These Jewish protesters seem to fail to understand that these labels, thrown around like they are in such cases, not only will not stick or sting, they will further alienate Christians who are already committed to courses of action they have tied to the doctrines of their beliefs.

Marc Ellis observed the following, while covering the debate during the Presbyterian assembly vote on divestment, last summer:

When it became clear that Israel as a state wasn’t interested in justice for Palestinians and that Jewish leadership in America was only interested in silencing Christian misgivings about Israeli occupation policies, it was only a matter of time before the Jewish-Christian love fest came to an end.

Among the liberal Christian denominations, Christian support for Israel is on life support. The back-up oxygen tanks, already in use, are running empty. There isn’t any way of resurrecting the interfaith ecumenical deal. The “Christians are evil/Jews are innocent” genie is out of the bottle, never to return.

Indeed, it is out of the bottle.  Here is a comment to an article on Foxman’s announcement in Arutz Sheva:

If you really respected the other guy’s faith, you’d be practicing it. Just as is said about gays, you can hate the sin and love the person, there is nothing to love about religions that have persecuted and murdered millions of Jews for the past 2,000 years.

The bottom line is that Christian-Jewish ecumenical relations have entered a new phase over the past two years.  I expect these actions protesting Israeli and American policies will grow more acute, rather than less.

Should firedoglake Take a Position on the Global BDS Movement?

6:04 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Update: For more information on what Global BDS is (the worldwide campaign to encourage boycott, divestment and sanctions of the Israeli state over treatment of Palestinians) please see the bottom of this essay.*

******

March 30 is Global BDS Day of Action 2011.  According to the BDS Movement’s web site:

Activists in the Europe and North America held actions over the weekend as a contribution towards tomorrow’s Global BDS Day of Action. Looking at some of the planned actions, today is looking like it is set to be the biggest and widest day of action to date!

-       Flashmobs and BDS demonstrations will take place in dozens of cities, from Rabat to Toronto, from Prague to Melbourne.

-       The international campaign against the Jewish National Fund will be officially launched.

-       New initiatives, resources and campaigns will be launched by groups all over the world.

What is a flashmob?

Here’s one, early today from March 26th, creatively protesting in Grand Central Station:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myt23xhMEMk&feature=player_embedded

There have been many BDS flashmob actions over the past year or so.  One, held last year in St. Louis, featuring heroic Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, was removed from youtube because the flashmob singers and dancers used material created by Lady Gaga.  Others remain:

What is the international campaign against the Jewish National Fund?

Max Blumenthal has managed to document several aspects of the JNF’s ongoing activities inside Israel itself (as opposed to his documentation of Israeli activities in the occupied territories of the West Bank) that remind me of government actions against black citizens in South Africa in the 60s, 70s and 80s.  Here’s a video Max ran at his blog last month “depicting the 17th(!) pogrom against the Bedouin village of Al-Arakib by the criminal syndicate known as the Jewish National Fund and the End Timers at GOD TV,” as Max described it.

The campaign against the JNF has been described by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network:

A key pillar of the colonization of Palestine – from the founding of the State of Israel to the present – has been the Keren Kayemet LeIsrael (KKL), commonly known in English as the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The JNF enjoys charity status in over 50 countries. This is despite its role in the on-going displacement of indigenous Palestinians from their land, the theft of their property, the funding of historic and present-day colonies, and the destruction of the natural environment.

Land Day 2011 will welcome the launch of internationally coordinated campaigns to challenge the JNF-KKL. As part of the global movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), in solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle, and until such time as the State of Israel respects and implements international law, the Palestinian BDS National Committee and many other organizations call on global civil society to join in a campaign to challenge the JNF.

Why should firedoglake take a position for or against the BDS movement?

I was not in favor of the idea until 2010, even though I have been arguing for and working for Palestinian rights since late in the last century.  What changed my mind in 2010?

1.  The continuing expropriation of Palestinian lands inside Israel itself, in East Jerusalem and in countless places in the West Bank.

2.  The growing strength of the ultra far right in Israeli politics and government ministries.  Just this week the Knesset passed a new “Citizenship Law” that, although watered down from the initially proposed “Loyalty Oath” legislation, leaves much room for further implementation of apartheid policies or worse against Palestinians who are Israeli citizens:

Initially, Israel Beiteinu pushed for legislation requiring a loyalty oath to a “Jewish and democratic” state, but the current law was the compromise that the faction managed to secure from the coalition.

“Another promise made by Israel Beiteinu to its voters has been fulfilled,” responded Lieberman minutes after the vote. “Without loyalty, there can be no citizenship. Any person who harms the country cannot enjoy the benefits of citizenship and its fruit. The law will help confront the phenomenon by which there are those who take advantage of our democracy in order to undermine it, and by which those who are called citizens collaborate with the enemy.”

In a gibe at Arab MKs who presented outspoken and impassioned opposition to the bill, Lieberman added that “unfortunately, we are witness to these incidents even among members of the Knesset.”

3. The brazenly unlawful and unnecessary attack on the MV Mavi Marmara, the hundreds of deaths or injuries in 2011 of Palestinians, almost half of them children, and the continuing insinuation of Israeli-based interest groups into American politics helped spur me toward supporting BDS.

4. Already, before I supported BDS, I felt strongly about the negative effects of Israeli-centric American policies. I was asked this 15 months ago:

I don’t understand your preoccupation with Palistine. How about giving some balanced blog space and advocacy for the oppressed people of countries such as North Korea, Tibet, China, Sudan, Somalia, Myanmar, etc.?

My reply,  in January 2010:

We don’t send hundreds of billions of American tax dollars to the North Koreans so that they can drop or shoot white phosphorus onto schools and hospitals, where kids like the one at the upper left have to end up dead or looking like him.

We don’t write tax policies that enable the Han Chinese to invest in housing projects that eject Tibetans from their homes in Lhasa.

We don’t cater to lobbyists from Sudan who constantly encourage us to go to all-out war against a neighboring country that hasn’t attacked one of their neighbors in generations.

We don’t have a Pentagon whose offices are stuffed with people with dual Somali-American citizenship, who manufacture false premises to march us into a series of wars in the heart of Africa.

We aren’t experiencing a time when a small group of ruthless Burmese generals and politicians have hijacked Buddhism, turning it into a militant version of what had once been a great religion, and branding anyone who doesn’t believe in a Myanmar expansion version of Buddhism as anti-Burmese or anti-Buddhist.

Additionally, no North Korean, Chinese, Sudanese, Burmese or Somali general, politician, general or warlord is openly bragging that the United States is fighting two wars and threatening to start a third one, on their behalf.

Also, and importantly, there is no large body of American people who openly believe that we need to foster violence in North Korea, Tibet, China, Somalia, Venezuela, Cuba, Sudan or Burma, so that we may enable the second coming of Jesus Christ, and implement a new age. And there is no cynical tie-in between Columbian politicians who hope to bring money to their country because of some apocolyptic religious myth, and American fundamentalist sects who total in the tens of millions of misguided believers.

I’ve come to actively support the global BDS movement. I encourage others to do the same. I would like to hear the thoughts of readers on whether or not this might be a laudable goal for fdl to also pursue.

*Update: Here is a statement about the origins and goals of the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against the Israeli Government policies against the Palestinian people:

On July 9 2005, a year after the International Court of Justice’s historic advisory opinion on the illegality of Israel’s Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), a clear majority of Palestinian civil society called upon their counterparts and people of conscience all over the world to launch broad boycotts, implement divestment initiatives, and to demand sanctions against Israel, until Palestinian rights are recognised in full compliance with international law.

The campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) is shaped by a rights-based approach and highlights the three broad sections of the Palestinian people: the refugees, those under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinians in Israel. The call urges various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law by:

  1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall;
  2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
  3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

The BDS call was endorsed by over 170 Palestinian political parties, organizations, trade unions and movements. The signatories represent the refugees, Palestinians in the OPT, and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Resources on BDS can be found at the Global BDS web page:

Pete Seeger Joins BDS – Updated

11:52 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

From Haaretz:

American folk music legend Pete Seeger yesterday officially joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign – an international movement to pressure and sanction Israel through economic means.

Seeger, 92, one of the fathers of American folk music, is a veteran political and peace activist. In the 1950s he was interrogated by the McCarthyist House Unamerican Activities Committee and two years ago performed for U.S. President Barack Obama’s inauguration concert.

Seeger has been labelled many things over the years, but after doing a google search, it doesn’t appear anyone has yet called him an anti-Semite. That will soon change.

Those defending the increasingly racist and eliminationist Israeli government, in the face of a tidal wave of revolutions by young people who are aware that the U.S. and Israel have helped suppress their countries’ search for true democracy, as it comes crashing down, will attack Seeger tomorrow. And the next day. But his joining the ranks of people opposed to Israeli apartheid will probably shake the performing arts community more than the defections of such luminaries as his friends Theodore Bikel or Gil Scott-Heron.

Monday, Adam Horowitz covered Seeger’s change of opinion on this matter:

During a January meeting at his Beacon, NY home with representatives from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and Adalah-NY, Pete Seeger explained, “I appeared on that virtual rally because for many years I’ve felt that people should talk with people they disagree with. But it ended up looking like I supported the Jewish National Fund. I misunderstood the leaders of the Arava Institute because I didn’t realize to what degree the Jewish National Fund was supporting Arava. Now that I know more, I support the BDS movement as much as I can.”

Jeff Halper, the Coordinator of ICAHD, added, “Pete did extensive research on this. He read historical and current material and spoke to neighbors, friends, and three rabbis before making his decision to support the boycott movement against Israel.” Seeger has for some time given some of the royalties from his famous Bible-based song from the 1960s, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” to ICAHD for their work in rebuilding demolished homes and exposing Israel’s practice of pushing Palestinians in Israel off their land in favor of development of Jewish villages and cities.

The November virtual rally “With Earth and Each Other” was billed as an apolitical effort to bring Israelis and Palestinians together to work for the environment. Dave Lippman from Adalah-NY noted, “Arava’s online event obfuscated basic facts about Israel’s occupation and systematic seizure of land and water from Palestinians. Arava’s partner and funder, the JNF, is notorious for planting forests to hide Palestinian villages demolished by Israel in order to seize their land. Arava was revealed as a sterling practitioner of Israeli government efforts to ‘Rebrand Israel’ through greenwashing and the arts.”

Regarding Seeger’s friend Bikel, Horowitz adds:

Pete Seeger’s long-time colleague Theodore Bikel, an Israeli-American known for his life-long involvement with Israeli culture, recently supported the Israeli artists who have refused to perform in a new concert hall in Ariel, a large illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

The times, they are a-changin’. Solidarity may be growing as more young people hope for the planet to be this land – yours and mine, in peace.

Is that such a strange dream??

Update – Tuesday 1:30 pm PST: Late Monday, when I wrote this post, there wasn’t much on the web about Seeger’s decision, except for the Haaretz article quoted at the top, and Adam  Horowitz’s background post at Mondoweiss.  Now the Jewish Telegraph Agency has published a short article, and JPost a more extended one, with comments attached.  Here are selected comments:

Very nice Pete…now it not only LOOKS like you support the people who started 3 wars with the intention of destroying the State of Israel…now we know it’s a fact…

and:

I put all the LP’s and CD’s into “little boxes” and “turned, turned” them into the landfill where they belong.

and:

Wherever he shows his ugly face, people should protest. I will be glad to do so. He deserves no less for his support of terrorism.

and finally:

The man is a male “Jane Fonda” without the looks . No surprises there and who gives damn about him anyway. He is just another anti Viet war “has been”

Max Blumenthal – The Great Fear

12:06 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Last Sunday, author, journalist, lecturer, videographer and blogger Max Blumenthal brought out his most important article since the publication of his book, Republican Gomorrah, in the summer of 2009. Initially published at TomDispatch.com, The Great Fear has been reprinted at Max’s own site, Mondoweiss, Antiwar.com, Counterpunch, War in Context and other places.

Max Blumenthal’s article begins with these three paragraphs:

Nine years after 9/11, hysteria about Muslims in American life has gripped the country. With it has gone an outburst of arson attacks on mosques, campaigns to stop their construction, and the branding of the Muslim-American community, overwhelmingly moderate, as a hotbed of potential terrorist recruits. The frenzy has raged from rural Tennessee to New York City, while in Oklahoma, voters even overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure banning the implementation of Sharia law in American courts (not that such a prospect existed). This campaign of Islamophobia wounded President Obama politically, as one out of five Americans have bought into a sustained chorus of false rumors about his secret Muslim faith. And it may have tainted views of Muslims in general; an August 2010 Pew Research Center poll revealed that, among Americans, the favorability rating of Muslims had dropped by 11 points since 2005.

Erupting so many years after the September 11th trauma, this spasm of anti-Muslim bigotry might seem oddly timed and unexpectedly spontaneous. But think again: it’s the fruit of an organized, long-term campaign by a tight confederation of right-wing activists and operatives who first focused on Islamophobia soon after the September 11th attacks, but only attained critical mass during the Obama era.  It was then that embittered conservative forces, voted out of power in 2008, sought with remarkable success to leverage cultural resentment into political and partisan gain.

This network is obsessively fixated on the supposed spread of Muslim influence in America. Its apparatus spans continents, extending from Tea Party activists here to the European far right. It brings together in common cause right-wing ultra-Zionists, Christian evangelicals, and racist British soccer hooligans. It reflects an aggressively pro-Israel sensibility, with its key figures venerating the Jewish state as a Middle Eastern Fort Apache on the front lines of the Global War on Terror and urging the U.S. and various European powers to emulate its heavy-handed methods.

He goes on to describe “the network” in detail.  The sections of the essay are almost the size of chapters of a book:

The Birth of a Network

The Network Expands

From Scam to Publicity Coup

Inspiration from Israel

Blumenthal has been very busy, both in the U.S. and in Israel. Max’s coverage of last month’s Mt. Carmel forest wildfire, The Carmel Wildfire is burning all illusions in Israel, was reprinted widely. Here’s a brief excerpt:

Four days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to place thousands of migrant workers from Africa and Southeast Asia in a prison camp deep in the Negev Desert because, as he claimed, they pose a “threat to the character of [the] country,” a burning tree trunk fell into a bus full of Israeli Prison Service cadets, killing forty passengers. The tree was among hundreds of thousands turned to ash by the forest fire pouring across northern Israel, and which now threatens to engulf outskirts of Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city. Over the last four days, more than 12,300 acres have burned in the Mount Carmel area, a devastating swath of destruction in a country the size of New Jersey. While the cause of the fire has not been established, it has laid bare the myths of Israel’s foundation.

Israelis are treating the fire as one of their greatest tragedies in recent years. A friend who grew up in the Haifa area told me over the weekend that he was devastated by the images of destruction he saw on TV. His friend’s brother was among those who perished in the bus accident. Though he is a dedicated Zionist who supported Netanyahu’s election bid in 2008, like so many Israelis, he was furious at the response — or lack of one — by the government. “Our leaders are complete idiots, but you already know that,” he told me. “They invested so much to prepare for all kinds of crazy war scenarios but didn’t do anything to protect civilians from the basic things you are supposed to take for granted.”

On 3 December, Netanyahu informed the country, “We do not have what it takes to put out the fire, but help is on the way.” To beat back the blaze, Bibi has had to beg for assistance from his counterpart in Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and Israel’s American and British patrons. Israel is a wealthy country which boasts to the world about its innovative spirit — its US-based lobbyists market it as a “Start-Up Nation” — but its performance during the forest fire revealed the sad truth: its government has prioritized offensive military capacity and occupation maintenance so extensively that it has completely neglected the country’s infrastructure, emergency preparedness and most of all, the general welfare of its citizens.

Last week, Max participated “in a debate at Princeton University on the “ethics and efficacy” of BDS.”

The debate was held as a bookend to the battle over a resolution calling for adding an alternative in the campus cafeteria to Sabra Hummus, an Israeli brand produced by a company which has sponsored the IDF’s Givati and Golani brigades (the resolution was defeated). In my opinion, though the students from the Princeton Committee for Palestine who initiated the effort to sideline Sabra were not successful, they won anyway by forcing an open and honest discussion about Israeli war crimes, occupation and discrimination. And the students who voted against the alternative hummus resolution were simply stupid, not necessarily because they obstructed a campaign targeting a military unit that has been implicated in hideous crimes, but because they resigned themselves to a brand of hummus that contains the preservative known as sodium benzoate, which has been directly linked to everything from cancer to Parkinson’s to a variety of degenerative diseases.

Youtubes of Max’s opening statement, his debate partner Rebecca Wilkomerson’s opening statement (Wilkomerson is Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace), and a set of excerpts from the debate are available at Max’s description of it at his blog. A very interesting critique of the debate has been posted at Mondoweiss.

All this is important work. Max’s long article, The Great Fear, though, is one of the most notable articles on the nature and architecture of American Islamophobia and its relationship to militant expansionist Zionism to yet appear. As I noted in a comment at a discussion on Blumenthal’s article:

It appears, from the depth of research in Max’s newest article, The Great [Fear], that he is in the process of looking into this problem similarly to the way he dissected the fundamentalist Christian right in his 2009 book.

At the time Max’s book was reviewed at firedoglake, I wrote an appreciation of the quality of his writing and the originality of his approach. The essay concluded with the question that I asked myself after reading Republican Gomorrah, “How did we let these dangerous people gain so much control over our lives?”

The same question should be asked regarding the people and organizations Max describes in this solid article. Blumenthal, more than anyone else writing now, has best described how these two groups – the makers of our GOP right-wing paradigm, and the backers or the creepiest aspects of the Zionist right-wing mindset – intersect: Islamophobia.

I went on to observe “I doubt Max will get the coverage this excellent article certainly deserves. ”

He is beginning to get some coverage, though. Not by Joe Scarborough, who was bested twice by Blumenthal on Morning Joe, back in 2009. Not by Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann. He was interviewed Wednesday by RT TV:

Go read Max’s article.

UK Methodists Support Boycott of Israeli Goods from the West Bank as UK Court Makes Incredible Ruling

12:51 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Two groundbreaking events occurred in the UK this week:

1. "The Methodist Church of Britain voted on Wednesday to boycott Israeli-produced goods and services from the West Bank because of Israel’s ‘illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.’”

2. "Five activists who caused £180,000 damage to an arms factory were acquitted after they argued they were seeking to prevent Israeli war crimes."

The move by the UK Methodists has caused concern by interfaith groups there, particularly the Council of Christians and Jews:

David Gifford, the chief executive of the Council of Christians and Jews, said he was disappointed that the Israeli narrative was not heard during the debate.

“I was very disappointed at the emotive nature of the debate which again did not hear fairly also the pain and cry of the Israeli,” Gifford said. “It was right to hear the pain of the Palestinian but in the end the vote of the Methodist Conference was to boycott goods and services that originate from the West Bank. We shall have to see how this will affect future relationships of the Methodist Church with other churches, the CCJ [Council of Christians and Jews] and with the British Jewish community.”

But the UK Methodists’ decision is in line with the view of the World Council of Churches:

“The Methodist Conference notes the call of the World Council of Churches in 2009 for an international boycott of settlement produce and services and the support given for such a boycott by Christian leaders in Palestine in the Kairos document, Palestinian civil society and a growing number of Jewish organizations both inside Israel and worldwide and calls on the Methodist people to support and engage with this boycott of Israeli goods emanating from illegal settlements,” the church said.

Commenters at the Jerusalem Post article on the UK decision show rage:

The problem is that we have not made our case clear about the rights of the Jewish People to live in all parts of the Land of Israel, regardless of any political situation. Let’s here a call from Jewish organizations in Britain and elsewhere to buy products from Israel – especially from Judea and Samaria

.

and:

Sure blame Israelis for the hatred that exists in Israel. The CHURCH has never done anything to help the Jewish people. My bible says "to the Jew first",and that’s in ALL things. Christians are commanded to support them with finances, military,and prayers. I’ve witnessed the hatred the Arabs have for the Jewish people. Since you "methodist" don’t read the same Bible I do, go ahead and boycot it will come back and slap you in the face.

and:

So the Methodist Church is going to Boycott Israel. Wow,what a shame. Oh by the way, Methodist is no longer a church. Any ‘church’ that permits lesbian priests or whatever they call them is not a Bible believing, God fearing church. So in a way, Israel can consider their boycott to be a compliment.

The Jewish Chronicle, London’s oldest Jewish newspaper, reports:

Delegates at the conference in Portsmouth overwhelmingly passed every recommendation of the report, which also included a call to review whether Zionism was compatible with Methodist beliefs.

The Reverend Graham Carter, who chaired the working party that produced the report, said that while some people had wanted a boycott of all Israeli goods, “we did not feel that was the right thing to bring to conference”.

The Presbyterian Conference begins in the USA this month, and they will be taking up this same issue.

Meanwhile, a court in Brighton in the UK has cleared five of seven activists who destroyed armaments bound for Israel during the early 2009 IDF attack on Gaza:

The five were jubilant after a jury found them not guilty of conspiring to cause criminal damage to the factory on the outskirts of Brighton.

The five admitted they had broken in and sabotaged the factory, but argued they were legally justified in doing so.

They believed that EDO MBM, the firm that owns the factory, was breaking export regulations by manufacturing and selling to the Israelis military equipment which would be used in the occupied territories. They wanted to slow down the manufacture of these components, and impede what they believed were war crimes being committed by Israel against the Palestinians.

After being acquitted, one of them, Robert Nicholls, told the Guardian: "I’m joyful really, at being a free man. The action was impulsive really, we just wanted to do something that would make a real difference to the people of Palestine."

Another, Ornella Saibene, said: "I’ve felt very peaceful all the way through the trial because I’m proud of what I’ve done. It was the right thing to do."

These are both remarkable events. They point toward increasing awareness among Christian organizations and among jurors of the gulf between Israeli actions in Gaza and the West Bank and the world’s understanding of what this means in the context of so called "Judeo-Christian" values, or in understanding of what constitutes lawful action to prevent illegal war and war crimes.

Meanwhile, on the cultural front: