Unions Against Israel - Port Workers
Daily summary of the Hebrew media Mon 25 July 2011
by Shahar Ginosar in Yedioth Ahronoth 22 July 2011

A few weeks ago a closed meeting was held on this matter that was attended by Israel's business elite, and the warning calls that it issued were unusual. Danny Gillerman, formerly Israeli's ambassador to the UN, who was also the chairperson of the Federation of the Chambers of Commerce, talked about a "catastrophe" for Israel. Idan Ofer, owner of the Israel Corporation, called to take an initiative to prevent a harsh blow to exports, on which half of the Israeli economy is based. The new reality, he said, "will significantly endanger a great number of jobs and households."
 

A huge ship belonging to the Zim company slowly approached a major port in South Africa. The captain was a Polish citizen, the flag of Antigua in the Caribbean flew on the deck —but the cargo was entirely blue and white, products of Israel.

There are a number of workers' unions at this port, and after a rapid consultation among themselves, they decided unanimously not to unload the cargo, and even declared this to the local media.

After that they tried to learn when exactly the ship would be docking at the port, which turned out to be a complicated task: the crew on board had already received initial reports on what to expect, and began diversion attempts. The control tower at the port was given different dates for the docking. It was impossible to know when the ship would be arriving exactly, says Patrick Craven, the unions' spokesperson, but we were determined. We wanted to send a message that we would do everything to ensure that goods from Israel not enter.

Q: Doing this will hurt a great many Israelis. Does that not bother you?
PC: That's the idea, to hurt them. We reached the conclusion that your government only understands economic damage, and we will do everything possible for that to happen. We are promoting this all around the world, and when your dispute with the Palestinians blows up, this will no doubt help us a lot.

Craven's organization is called the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions, COSATU, and it encompasses almost two million workers. Like other similar organizations, it acts completely independently in the international arena, and adopts positions separately from the diplomatic track. Its directors are unimpressed by governments or international resolutions, and mainly give an accounting to their own members and to themselves. Craven, incidentally, is a relatively nice spokesperson. His predecessor issued much harsher statements until he was recently convicted of incitement against Jews.

The above incident in South Africa took place in February 2009. About a year ago it was again possible to get a sense of the power of such organizations, after the IDF's takeover of the Mavi Marmara, when it was decided in a number of large ports world over not to unload goods from Israel—but only for a brief warning period. This step was declared, among others, by a large Indian port, in Sweden and other European states and a large port in the US. Most of us, so it appears, did not notice this at the time, because of other international events.

Organizations such as COSATU and their ilk the world over are taking action so that in the next round, the outcome will be different, in an attempt to affect the Israeli economy and to truly hurt it—so that the scenario that even President Shimon Peres warned against this month will come to pass. Peres said that if the government did not act, "no boycott will be necessary, it will be enough for ports in Europe and Canada to stop unloading goods from Israel."

A few weeks ago a closed meeting was held on this matter that was attended by Israel's business elite, and the warning calls that it issued were unusual. Danny Gillerman, formerly Israeli's ambassador to the UN, who was also the chairperson of the Federation of the Chambers of Commerce, talked about a "catastrophe" for Israel. Idan Ofer, owner of the Israel Corporation, called to take an initiative to prevent a harsh blow to exports, on which half of the Israeli economy is based. The new reality, he said, "will significantly endanger a great number of jobs and households."

Ofer is the first to warn that the Zim ships he owns carry a hefty chunk of Israeli exports. The company's directors have encountered incidents and know what the nightmare scenarios for Israel's economy could look like.

In an attempt to understand what is liable to happen under these circumstances, we approached the relevant figures in the international arena directly. On the one side, we spoke to the organizations that design the delegitimization campaigns against Israel, which wish to hurt Israel and to create great pressure. On the other hand, we also spoke to other organizations that are acting to help Israel reduce the damage that can be expected. The power of the latter is limited, but they are there, and may definitely have an influence.

Our campaign encompassed several continents and we returned with a fairly depressing forecast. Everyone involved in the matter, both those trying to save the situation and the opposite, are confident that this time it will be a lot more complicated for Israel; that there is a danger of deterioration, which will indeed cause Israel damage.

The intensity of the actions against Israel depends, of course, on how the future conflict in the region is depicted in the world. The security establishment assumes that if the impasse [in the peace process] leads to an outbreak of violence, it will of course be affected by the Arab spring of nations.

"The most meaningful difference in this context," says Yitzhak Eitan, who was the OC Central Command in the last clash, "is that the Palestinians realize that in order to achieve an international effect, they have to focus on mass demonstrations against the settlements, with the IDF in the middle." And Eitan is not alone. The security establishment is also talking about one of the most major scenarios they have ever prepared for.

Representatives of organizations in the world that act to help Israel, believe that this battle will give a great advantage to those who wish to boycott Israel and to take steps against it.

"We are still able to explain Israel," says Eric Lee, a major activist helping Israel in Britain. "And in a lot of matters, we are also able to persuade people in the hostile unions. For example, in regard to the danger from Hamas and Iran, which are not liked by any union. But there are subjects that even the attempt to justify them intensifies Israel's isolation. A civilian clash in the territories or in the settlements will definitely make it difficult and will cause great damage."

We will relate to organizations such as those of Eric Lee later, as well as the strong battle that will take place between them and such organizations as COSATU in South Africa, but first we must understand how the mechanism of promoting sanctions works.

Like in Israel, in every state there are workers' unions that represent millions throughout the world. Like in Israel's Histadrut, in every large union there is an "international department," by means of which activity is carried out in parallel with diplomacy. This takes place with no connection to the governments or to the Foreign Ministry, and these organizations adopt independent positions, and sometimes take initiatives and real action.

Once every few years all the representatives go to an international congress, and recently, along with their natural focus on workers' rights, matters relating to the conflict in the Middle East were also raised. This is the "orderly" track of trying to impose sanctions, in which Israel has managed very well until now, thanks to a number of large unions that take its side, like the Americans, the Canadians and the Germans, which act together with the Histadrut and its chairperson, Ofer Eini. A year ago, for example, such a congress was held in Vancouver, Canada, and a proposal for a sweeping boycott of Israeli goods was rebuffed.

But, in tandem, there is also the "wild," spontaneous track, in which unions react quickly to current affairs, when their members are angry at Israeli policy. This is the more dangerous track, which we first receive a taste of after Operation Cast Lead, when the Zim ship encountered difficulties when entering South Africa.

We also encountered this about a year ago, after the flotilla to Gaza incident. Israeli ships discovered that in several ports, the workers had decided not to unload Israeli goods, as a warning signal, for periods that sometimes lasted as long as two weeks. This happened in Sweden, Norway, India and even in Oakland in the US, where the American dock workers declared that this was the first step against an Israeli ship and that they were forgoing their salaries that day.

In India, the incident took place in the port city of Cochin, where a demonstration of workers was also organized next to the offices of Zim, when a ship named Livorno was approaching. Its cargo had already been unloaded on a barge that was approaching the port, but the unions announced that they would prevent it from being handled.

At the demonstration, among the people who spoke was the secretary general of the port workers union and the vice president of the water workers federation in India. "This is a warning of what can be expected in the future," said the secretary of the union of the transport workers, Kunju Jamal. "There were representatives of all the unions at the port who came to show what we think about your government. The Israeli goods were eventually handled, but if, in the future, we see violence in the Middle East, we will have to stop receiving Israeli goods. Don't think that this will happen exactly in September. It could also happen half a year later or at some other time, but it will happen. The unions that demonstrated here against Zim, they will decide how to act."

India is a relatively moderate country. Compared to Jamal, P. S. Ashique, the president of the union, spoke to us this week in a conciliatory tone, and invited Israelis to talk to him and said that the boycott was a one-time event and promised: next time, we will make do with demonstrations.

The more difficult problem for Israel is the professional unions whose determined action is liable to affect the moderate critics of Israel, which have sufficed with demonstrations up until now. That, for example, is the situation in Norway, where the transport union decided a year ago not to unload goods from Israel. When we talked to the president of this union, Jan Siversten, we encountered invective that we prefer not to put into writing.

Before hanging up on the grounds that we "support the Jews," he explained his odd program for helping the Palestinians by means of more flotillas to Gaza: "If more people like me are killed by your army," he explain, "in other words, if civilians from countries in Europe are hurt, then the world will wake up. This will cause a change against Israel. I am willing to fight alongside the Palestinians shoulder to shoulder, personally."

Anyone trying to understand what is liable to happen if the impasse continues after September, must take into account the determination of the union leaders such as Siversten, or his South Africa counterpart. The South Africa spokesperson explained to us, incidentally that the decision to define Israel as the "Jewish" state in 1948 after the Holocaust was a "mistake" by the UN.

The Norwegian, like him, enthusiastically supports a boycott and is confident that if another clash breaks out in the territories, the messages from him and his colleagues world over will be relayed easily. "The union is already talking to companies in Norway," he explained, "in order to organize a halt to all imports from Israel. A lot of Norwegians don't buy Israeli goods if they have an alternative. It's true that a boycott will hurt Israeli civilians, but you have to pay the price of your political decisions."

It seems today that these boycotts by the unions have always been around, but this is a phenomenon that began to spread only from 2007. Then, on the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War, many unions marked this date, and not because they were celebrating Jerusalem's liberation. For them, they explain, this date underscores the fact that 44 of the 65 years of existence of the State of Israel, the IDF has been ruling over a large Palestinian population.

To battle this trend, two years ago an organization was formed called TUFI, to promote Israeli-Palestinian trade union cooperation, which joined a similar organization called TULIP (trade unions linking Israel and Palestine). Their goal is to prevent boycotts, in an attempt to strengthen ties between Israel's Histadrut and the Palestinian labor unions. It is headed by two leaders, one of them is the secretary general of the current Australian union Paul Howes, and the other is Roger Lyons, who in the past was the president of the British Trade Union Congress.

Both of them sounded worried this week, and mainly they are concerned that the next time that they will have to come to Israel's defense, the task will be impossible. The strengthening of the support for a boycott is liable to bring, for example, the Norwegians to influence their colleagues from Sweden, who a year ago also announced that they would not unload goods from Israel for two weeks. The chairperson of the Swedish union Bjorn Borg told us that as far as it were up to him, this was a one-time event and it was not likely to recur.

"My goal is not to fight the hardest countries," explains the secretary general of the Australian union, Paul Howes. "You can't influence the most radical unions, which compare Israel to apartheid. That's a lost cause, but my intent is to prevent this from spilling over to more countries. It has to be said honestly that the struggle has become very complicated. Among other reasons, because today there is no country that accepts the expansion of settlement in the territories, and that's why it is a lot harder for us to deal with the anger and to defend you so as to prevent a boycott."

Howes, it should be said, has come under personal attack in Australia for his support for Israel and has taken criticism from activists in other unions.

One country that has become a principal player in promoting sanctions is Britain. The retrained British don't have a spontaneous style of boycotting goods at the docks, even though their dock workers union is considered, as far as Israel is concerned, as one of the toughest. But even in their restrained fashion, when they have decided to act, they were fairly effective.

"We approached the government in an orderly fashion," says Ben Moxham, who represents Britain in the European Trade Union Confederation, "and even though there were arguments on Israel's and the Palestinians' position, everyone agreed on one thing: that what should be boycotted now are the settlements. In practice, we began the process that is now spreading in Europe in which at first the goods are marked on the shelves with special labels, and after that they simply vanish. Today in England it is impossible to find such goods because of our cooperation with the British government. We have yet to make a decision about September, but it's clear that we've stopped talking and issuing statements to the press. We realized that this isn't helpful and we have to move to action."

As mentioned, the person who is trying to forestall actions by the general congress of the British unions is Eric Lee, who coordinates with Israel's Histadrut, and is one of the founders of TUFI. Lee is not a union leader, but he is a well-known blogger and is active in workers' organization, who goes to meetings and who is invited to speak as the official representative to defend Israel and to provide information against the boycott.

A month ago he prepared for a public debate against the deputy general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union Hugh Lanning, who is considered a prominent figure in his activity against Israel's policy in Britain. Lee calls him a "Hamas supporter," among other reasons, because of his outspoken opposition to Israel's policy in Gaza and because of his connections with Palestinian organizations that support the idea of a Palestinian state.

A week before the debate, Lee sounded relaxed and optimistic and confident about his ability to succeed. "This will be a special debate," he told us. "It will be held in one of the only organizations in Britain that supports Israel. For Lanning, it will not be easy to speak there."

The subject of the debate was simple: a request to approve the position of a small union called Community, not to take anti-Israeli positions. In the exact phrasing, the representatives of 70,000 workers were asked to reject the attempt to turn the Israelis or the Palestinians into scapegoats.

Lee and Lanning took the stage and gave speeches, and then a vote was held. To Lee's disappointment, the pro-Israeli proposal was defeated by a fairly large majority. There is no point in trying to hide the scope of the defeat, he later wrote in his blog. The representatives were influenced by problematic reasoning.

To this day, it is important to stress that boycotts against Israel have mainly been of a symbolic nature. The decision of the workers at the Swedish port to not unload goods for two weeks was also a protest that could be contained and handled in a reasonable manner. It could be that this is the reason for the smugness displayed by high ranking Israeli officials, the most prominent of them being Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon, who scornfully rejects concerns of the damage that could be caused to Israel by international isolation. He says that all the talk on the subject is the initiative of figures in Israel who are trying to pressure the government into making concessions.

It is impossible to know, of course, what will happen and we can hope that Yaalon is right, but a thorough examination of the situation, and the trans-continental inquiry that we made in this tough arena, indicate that the possibility of a significant boycott is not the imagination of Israelis and is not a theoretical matter. Those who warn of this are at the forefront of the battle and are trying to help Israel.

In addition to the Australian Howes, Eric Lee and others, the person who best explains the picture is Roger Lyons, the former president of the British Trade Union Congress, who today is the president of Trade Unions for Israel. As of today, only products of the settlements are boycotted, he said, sounding worried, from his home, "but I know the unions very well, and this is liable to change quickly. A few weeks ago I went to the Israeli embassy in London and I warned that they have to understand the danger. To my regret, up until now the Israeli government has simply wasted time and put itself into a very difficult situation insofar as our ability to cope with the economic boycotts and to stop the unions in the world that are hostile toward Israel which will organize and cause true damage."

 

 

Bantustans and the unilateral declaration of statehood
Virginia Tilley, Electronic Intifada, 19 November 2009

"Every major media opinion page and academic blog has been saying that the two-state solution is dead and Israel will imminently face an anti-apartheid struggle that will inevitably destroy Jewish statehood. So a unilateral declaration by the PA that creates a two-state solution despite its obvious Bantustan absurdities is now the only way to preserve Jewish statehood, because it's the only way to derail the anti-apartheid movement that spells Israel's doom."

Bantustans and the unilateral declaration of statehood
Virginia Tilley, The Electronic Intifada, 19 November 2009

From a rumor, to a rising murmur, the proposal floated by the Palestinian Authority's (PA) Ramallah leadership to declare Palestinian statehood unilaterally has suddenly hit center stage. The European Union, the United States and others have rejected it as "premature," but endorsements are coming from all directions: journalists, academics, nongovernmental organization activists, Israeli right-wing leaders (more on that later). The catalyst appears to be a final expression of disgust and simple exhaustion with the fraudulent "peace process" and the argument goes something like this: if we can't get a state through negotiations, we will simply declare statehood and let Israel deal with the consequences.

But it's no exaggeration to propose that this idea, although well-meant by some, raises the clearest danger to the Palestinian national movement in its entire history, threatening to wall Palestinian aspirations into a political cul-de-sac from which it may never emerge. The irony is indeed that, through this maneuver, the PA is seizing -- even declaring as a right -- precisely the same dead-end formula that the African National Congress (ANC) fought so bitterly for decades because the ANC leadership rightly saw it as disastrous. That formula can be summed up in one word: Bantustan...

Apartheid South Africa's Bantustans were not simply sealed territorial enclaves for black people. They were the ultimate "grand" formula by which the apartheid regime hoped to survive: that is, independent states for black South Africans who -- as white apartheid strategists themselves keenly understood and pointed out -- would forever resist the permanent denial of equal rights and political voice in South Africa that white supremacy required. As designed by apartheid architects, the ten Bantustans were designed to correspond roughly to some of the historical territories associated with the various black "peoples" so that they could claim the term "Homelands." This official term indicated their ideological purpose: to manifest as national territories and ultimately independent states for the various black African "peoples" (defined by the regime) and so secure a happy future for white supremacy in the "white" Homeland (the rest of South Africa). So the goal of forcibly transferring millions of black people into these Homelands was glossed over as progressive: 11 states living peacefully side by side (sound familiar?). The idea was first to grant "self-government" to the Homelands as they gained institutional capacity and then reward that process by declaring/granting independent statehood...

It didn't matter that the actual territories of the Homelands were fragmented into myriad pieces and lacked the essential resources to avoid becoming impoverished labor cesspools. Indeed, the Homelands' territorial fragmentation, although crippling, was irrelevant to Grand Apartheid. Once all these "nations" were living securely in independent states, apartheid ideologists argued to the world, tensions would relax, trade and development would flower, blacks would be enfranchised and happy, and white supremacy would thus become permanent and safe...

Hence the supreme irony for Palestinians today is that the most urgent mission of apartheid South Africa -- getting the indigenous people to declare statehood in non-sovereign enclaves -- finally collapsed with mass black revolt and took apartheid down with it, yet the Palestinian leadership now is not only walking right into that same trap but actually making a claim on it.

The reasons that the PA-Ramallah leadership and others want to walk into this trap are fuzzy. Maybe it could help the "peace talks" if they are redefined as negotiations between two states instead of preconditions for a state. Declaring statehood could redefine Israel's occupation as invasion and legitimize resistance as well as trigger different and more effective United Nations intervention. Maybe it will give Palestinians greater political leverage on the world stage -- or at least preserve the PA's existence for another (miserable) year.

Why these fuzzy visions are not swiftly defeated by short attention to the South African Bantustan experience may stem partly from two key differences that confuse the comparison, for Israel has indeed sidestepped two infamous fatal errors that helped sink South Africa's Homeland strategy. First, Israel did not make South Africa's initial mistake of appointing "leaders" to run the Palestinian "interim self-governing" Homeland. In South Africa, this founding error made it too obvious that the Homelands were puppet regimes and exposed the illegitimacy of the black "national" territories themselves as contrived racial enclaves. Having watched the South Africans bungle this, and having learned from its own past failures with the Village Leagues and the like, Israel instead worked with the United States to design the Oslo process not only to restore the exiled leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its then Chairman Yasser Arafat to the territories but also to provide for "elections" (under occupation) to grant a thrilling gloss of legitimacy to the Palestinian "interim self-governing authority." It's one of the saddest tragedies of the present scenario that Israel so deftly turned Palestinians' noble commitment to democracy against them in this way -- granting them the illusion of genuinely democratic self-government in what everyone now realizes was always secretly intended to be a Homeland.

Only now has Israel found a way to avoid South Africa's second fatal error, which was to declare black Homelands to be "independent states" in non-sovereign territory. In South Africa, this ploy manifested to the world as transparently racist and was universally disparaged. It must be obvious that, if Israel had stood up in the international stage and said "as you are, you are now a state" that Palestinians and everyone else would have rejected the claim out of hand as a cruel farce. Yet getting the Palestinians to declare statehood themselves allows Israel precisely the outcome that eluded the apartheid South African regime: voluntary native acceptance of "independence" in a non-sovereign territory with no political capacity to alter its territorial boundaries or other essential terms of existence -- the political death capsule that apartheid South Africa could not get the ANC to swallow.

Responses from Israel have been mixed. The government does seem jumpy and has broadcast its "alarm," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has threatened unilateral retaliation (unspecified) and government representatives have flown to various capitals securing international rejection. But Israeli protests could also be disingenuous. One tactic could be persuading worried Palestinian patriots that a unilateral declaration of statehood might not be in Israel's interest in order to allay that very suspicion. Another is appeasing protest from that part of Likud's purblind right-wing electorate that finds the term "Palestinian state" ideologically anathema. A more honest reaction could be the endorsement of Kadima party elder Shaul Mofaz, a hardliner who can't remotely be imagined to value a stable and prosperous Palestinian future. Right-wing Israeli journalists are also pitching in with disparaging but also comforting essays arguing that unilateral statehood won't matter because it won't change anything (close to the truth). For example, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened unilaterally to annex the West Bank settlement blocs if the PA declares statehood, but Israel was going to do that anyway...

In fact, the briefest consideration should instantly reveal that a unilateral declaration of statehood will confirm the Palestinians' presently impossible situation as permanent. As Mofaz predicted, a unilateral declaration will allow "final status" talks to continue. What he did not spell out is that those talks will become truly pointless because Palestinian leverage will be reduced to nothing. As Middle East historian Juan Cole recently pointed out, the last card the Palestinians can play -- their real claim on the world's conscience, the only real threat they can raise to Israel's status quo of occupation and settlement -- is their statelessness. The PA-Ramallah leadership has thrown away all the other cards. It has stifled popular dissent, suppressed armed resistance, handed over authority over vital matters like water to "joint committees" where Israel holds veto power, savagely attacked Hamas which insisted on threatening Israel's prerogatives, and generally done everything it can to sweeten the occupier's mood, preserve international patronage (money and protection), and solicit promised benefits (talks?) that never come. It's increasingly obvious to everyone watching from outside this scenario -- and many inside it -- that this was always a farce. For one thing, the Western powers do not work like the Arab regimes: when you do everything the West requires of you, you will wait in vain for favors, for the Western power then loses any benefit from dealing more with you and simply walks away.

But more importantly, the South African comparison helps illuminate why the ambitious projects of pacification, "institution building" and economic development that the Ramallah PA and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have whole-heartedly embarked upon are not actually exercises in "state-building." Rather, they emulate with frightening closeness and consistency South Africa's policies and stages in building the Bantustan/Homelands. Indeed, Fayyad's project to achieve political stability through economic development is the same process that was openly formalized in the South African Homeland policy under the slogan "separate development." That under such vulnerable conditions no government can exercise real power and "separate development" must equate with permanent extreme dependency, vulnerability and dysfunctionality was the South African lesson that has, dangerously, not yet been learned in Palestine -- although all the signals are there, as Fayyad himself has occasionally admitted in growing frustration. But declaring independence will not solve the problem of Palestinian weakness; it will only concretize it.

Still, when "separate development" flounders in the West Bank, as it must, Israel will face a Palestinian insurrection. So Israel needs to anchor one last linchpin to secure Jewish statehood before that happens: declare a Palestinian "state" and so reduce the "Palestinian problem" to a bickering border dispute between putative equals. In the back halls of the Knesset, Kadima political architects and Zionist liberals alike must now be waiting with bated breath, when they are not composing the stream of back-channel messages that is doubtless flowing to Ramallah encouraging this step and promising friendship, insider talks and vast benefits. For they all know what's at stake, what every major media opinion page and academic blog has been saying lately: that the two-state solution is dead and Israel will imminently face an anti-apartheid struggle that will inevitably destroy Jewish statehood. So a unilateral declaration by the PA that creates a two-state solution despite its obvious Bantustan absurdities is now the only way to preserve Jewish statehood, because it's the only way to derail the anti-apartheid movement that spells Israel's doom.

This is why it is so dangerous that the South African Bantustan comparison has been neglected until now, treated as a side issue, even an exotic academic fascination, to those battling to relieve starvation in Gaza and soften the cruel system of walls and barricades to get medicine to the dying. The Ramallah PA's suddenly serious initiative to declare an independent Palestinian state in non-sovereign territory must surely force fresh collective realization that this is a terribly pragmatic question. It's time to bring closer attention to what "Bantustan" actually means. The Palestinian national movement can only hope someone in its ranks undertakes that project as seriously as Israel has undertaken it before it's too late.

Full analysis here at Electronic Intifada 19 Nov 2009
Virginia Tilley is a former professor of political science and international relations and since 2006 has served as Chief Research Specialist at the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa. She is author of The One-State Solution (U of Michigan Press, 2005) and numerous articles and essays on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Based in Cape Town, she writes here in her personal capacity and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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Murdoch's ambitions in the Middle East
Dahr Jamail
AAl Jazeera 20th July 2011

"My own perspective is simple", Murdoch told the Anti-Defamation League on December 13, 2010. "We live in a world where there is an ongoing war against the Jews...Some believe that if America wants to gain credibility in the Muslim world and advance the cause of peace, Washington needs to put some distance between itself and Israel. My view is the opposite."

Murdoch received the American Jewish Committee's National Human Relations Award in March 2009, less than three months after the end of Israel's bombardment of Gaza.  He said: "The free world makes a terrible mistake if we deceive ourselves into thinking this is not our fight. In the end, the Israeli people are fighting the same enemy we are: cold-blooded killers who reject peace ... who reject freedom."

Ari Rabin-Havt, Executive Vice President of the media watchdog group Media Matters, says Murdoch's Fox News in the US "is one of the most bigoted, anti-Muslim channels on TV"...

Billionaire Prince Walid bin Talal bin Abdelaziz Al-Saud...the richest man in Saudi Arabia...is also the second biggest shareholder (at seven per cent) in News Corporation, only behind Murdoch himself...Prince Walid declared himself to be a "good friend" of Rupert Murdoch and his son James, and staunchly defended the men amid the ongoing NewsCorp scandal...

"They [Muslims] are much harder to integrate into a community than the average Indian or Chinese or Japanese even," Murdoch told the Sydney Morning Herald on June 26, 2006.

Bill O'Reilly, a leading host on Murdoch's Fox News channel, said, during his broadcast on October 18, 2010: "Folks are fed up with politically correct nonsense. There's no question there is a Muslim problem in the world."...The next day, O'Reilly repeated the claim that there was "a Muslim problem in the world"...

Days after the closing of the News of the World newspaper, senior executives Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton resigned over the scandal.

Their resignations came after Prince Walid urged Murdoch and his son James to "cooperate fully" with inquiries into the scandal. "If the indications are for [Mrs Brooks'] involvement in this matter ... for sure she has to go, you bet she has to go," Prince Walid told Newsnight.

Possibly underscoring Prince Walid's power in News Corp, fewer than 24 hours after that interview was broadcast, it was announced Brooks had resigned from her position as chief executive of News International...

 Read Dahr Jamail's full report here

Demonising the Fly-in: Welcome to Palestine, Unwelcome to Israel
Les Levidow
20 July 2011

The 'Welcome to Palestine' initiative aimed to challenge Israel's blockade on Palestinians receiving foreign visitors. They have been effectively barred from Palestine unless pretending to be tourists or Christian pilgrims. Even prisoners have some rights to receive visitors, but the Israeli prison known as 'the West Bank' keeps out pro-Palestinian visitors.

To challenge this restriction, several hundred of us planned to arrive at Ben Gurion airport on 8th July for a week-long programme of events.1 In the publicly advertised plan, we would openly declare our intention to visit Bethlehem and to be hosted by the Al-Rowwad Cultural Centre there. This initiative came to be called the fly-in. Some mass media called it the flytilla, by analogy to the Gaza flotilla being simultaneously blocked by Greece, though our week-long programme had been planned several months earlier.

Nearly all of us were blocked enroute to Palestine (see below), resulting in high-profile massmedia coverage in Israel and Europe. This achieved a major aim of the initiative, said Dr Mazin Qumsiyeh:

The local organizers of the "Welcome to Palestine" campaign, while sad about our continuing isolation from the international community, are pleased that this episode and brutal Israeli assault removes one of the last illusions about "Israeli Democracy."2

Blocking hooligans?
Just before 8th July, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced us as 'provocateurs' intending to cause disturbances and criminal damage. 3 'Our intelligence says some of these people want to cause confrontation', he said. He personally inspected prison facilities for detaining us. Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharomowitz warned, 'We will block these hooligans from entering the state.'4

Pre-emptive actions ensued. Israel sent airline companies a list of banned individuals, who the day before received email messages barring them from their flights, e.g. from Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt and Geneva. On 8th July protests at those airports were filmed and posted on YouTube with the title 'Israeli checkpoint'.5 A spokesperson for the fly-in said, 'Charles de Gaulle Airport is under Israeli occupation.'6

The Israeli government encouraged such a view of its political influence in Europe. Commenting to the mass media, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said that Israel's diplomatic efforts led to the airlines' cooperation in preventing the departure of the activists.

This political basis was denied by airlines: 'The fact that we prevented the activists from boarding the planes is no evidence of our supporting the State of Israel against the activists, or the opposite.'7 According to Lufthansa, their action was legally constrained: airlines are obliged to block anyone 'whose entry is refused by the destination country, as in this case'.8

We learned about the Europe-wide blockages on the day before our departure and so anticipated problems at London's Luton airport on Friday morning 8th July. Fortunately, we smoothly boarded our Easyjet flight (except for one well-known activist who had been interviewed on Israeli TV and radio). As we proceeded to the passenger area upstairs, some of us were stopped by a British official – probably from MI5, the political police. He asked to see our boarding passes, apparently to identify anyone on the Tel Aviv flight, and then asked exactly where we planned to go or whether we planned to attend a demonstration. When one woman said no, she was accused of lying. Here the UK government was turning Luton airport into an Israeli checkpoint, acting on the paranoia and lies of the Israeli government.

Arriving at Ben Gurion airport, when we told passport control that we intended to travel to Bethlehem, 14 of us were detained – but were never questioned by Israeli authorities.9 Delegates arriving earlier from other countries had a similar experience; only a few of them were questioned. We all had stated our travel destination in order to challenge the blockade.

Nevertheless the government attributed subterfuge and deception to us. An official told the mass media that 'most of the activists were identified and taken in for questioning during the afternoon hours', implying that they had a great task to identify us.10 Moreover, the Prime Minister later commented: 'We stopped the defiant fly-in against the state of Israel. Israel will continue to frustrate provocations and attempts to break through our borders, whether by land, sea or air.'11 Such paranoic language attributes physical force to people seeking to enter the country in the normal way. If openly visiting Palestinians is 'against the state of Israel', then what kind of the state is it?

While awaiting transfer from the airport to prison, at least 60 of us were crowded into an office of the Border Police. Officials there seemed unprepared for dealing with us, even embarrassed at detaining us. After a couple hours, 21 soldiers and police stormed in, grabbed some activists and dragged them downstairs to a police vehicle, where handcuffs were waiting and applied.

Meanwhile the police were filming us, perhaps hoping to get a violent response to show the mass media, though we simply huddled together for protection. We would have appeared as implausible hooligans, especially given our social composition: more than half were women, and approx. one-third were more than 50 years old. Without physical resistance, the rest of us walked downstairs to the police vehicles, which took us to Givon Prison near Ramle. There a wing had been allocated to us, with separate sections for the men and women.12 This prison is normally used to detain people who are classified as 'illegal immigrants', originating mainly from the global South.

We never received an official explanation for why we were detained. According to the UK consulate's second-hand account from the Israeli government, officially we had never entered Israel and so were still 'in transit', despite being imprisoned 30 km from the airport. Although Israel has formal rules and rights for illegal immigrants, 'You are in another dimension', the Givon Prison chief told us. In response to the blockage, the Welcome to Palestine organisers stated: 'Over 120 internationals attempting to visit Palestine are still being illegally detained – kidnapped – in two Israeli detention centers, in Ramle and in Beer Al-Saba' (Beersheva).'13

Demonising Arab-European activists
After our imprisonment, the Israeli authorities attempted to salvage their original storyline that the fly-in posed a violent threat. Here is how...

The day after we arrived in the prison, a couple Border Police officials visited the prison with an offer – initially to me: 'For humanitarian reasons, you can go to Bethlehem if you sign a document promising not to visit any place where there is conflict with the Army.' I asked, 'Couldn't there be conflict with the Army anywhere?' They clarified that the restriction meant places such as Bilin, Silwan, Jayous, etc. – i.e., flashpoints around the Apartheid Wall. 14 As they also clarified, this offer was open to all the prisoners more than 55 years old.

After discussion among the older men, we agreed to accept the travel restriction – if the offer was extended to all the prisoners, regardless of age. We discussed our idea with the younger men, who supported our counter-proposal. Then we put this to the Border Police officials, who gave no verbal response.

Why the age limit in the Israeli proposal? Youth was being used as a marker for the dangerous Other: the French and Belgian younger men (approx. 30-50 years old) were mainly of North-African Arab descent, while only one older man was. The Border Police aimed to use the older men for a political aim: if we accepted their offer, then the ethnically Arab-European men could be isolated and stigmatised. Israel more widely uses youth as a marker for danger, e.g. in its 2009 ruling that only the under-15s and the over-50s males could go pray in Al Aqsa during Ramadhan and for a few weeks afterwards.

The Israeli offer to us was repeated several times. It was put individually to some older prisoners during our four days there. And was put again to eight of us (Brits and Americans) when brought back to Ben Gurion airport on Tuesday 12th July. An hour before our London flight, the Border Police repeated the offer. 'We can take you to Jerusalem this evening', one said half-jokingly.

In my final opportunity to probe the rationale of the Border Police, our interchange went as follows:

Q: Why is this offer only for the older people?
A: We first made this offer especially to you.

Q: Why me?
A: Because we know that you won't act in a violent way.

Q: When we proposed to accept your offer if it was open to all the prisoners, why didn't you agree?
A: Because our intelligence agency has information about the others.

Q: What information?
A: Involvement in terrorism.

So the original threat was upgraded – from provocateurs and hooligans to terrorists. Supposedly the Israeli officials had such information yet had not warned airlines about 'terrorists' on passenger lists.15

Colluding with the Occupation
Non-violence was a central principle of the 'Welcome to Palestine' fly-in.16 As peace-keepers, international solidarity activists often join Palestinians in trying to protect their houses or their olive crops against pressures from illegal settlements. Sometimes the presence of internationals helps to deter terrorist activities by the IDF and settlers. So, how could Israel label the fly-in participants as hooligans or terrorists? Like its precedents in European colonialism, the Zionist state has generally projected its terrorist activity onto its colonial subjects, thus portraying its own crimes as self-defence against 'terrorism'.17

Unfortunately, this strategy has ideological resonance with EU laws conflating terrorism with any resistance to oppression and even verbal solidarity. Under EU law, a vaguely defined 'terrorism' encompasses offences committed with the aim of 'unduly compelling a Government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act', anywhere in the world.18 On this basis, the EU banned a list of organisations (e.g. Hamas) as 'terrorist' and even authorised penalties against anyone associated with 'terrorism', as a means to deter European solidarity with resistance against oppression abroad.

In particular, bank accounts in Europe can be denied or frozen, simply on grounds of suspicion. This happened to the UK's Viva Palestina convoy, though eventually it found an alternative bank. A Muslim charity providing aid to Palestine has been disrupted by three investigations about supposed links to terrorism, on the basis of no credible evidence.19

By contrast to those political targets, the EU's allies are never subjected to the vague definition of terrorism. For example, President Sarkozy is sponsoring a September 2011 conference on victims of terrorism. The organisers emphasise attacks on Israelis but remain silent about their attacks on Palestinians.20

In those ways, the EU political-legal system encourages Israel to portray its war crimes as selfdefence by an innocent victim. When the Border Police attempted to isolate Arab-European men from other European delegates, this attempt complemented the EU's 'counter-terror' regime. The European fly-in became another target of Israel's racist apartheid system, especially its demonization of resistance.

In the future we may face more systematic collusion between the EU and Israel in protecting its Occupation of Palestine against international solidarity. How best to anticipate and challenge this collusion?

==================================================
This article is also available in French and German .

Author's note
Thanks to the following: the 'Welcome to Palestine' network for organising the event, Scottish PSC for coordinating the London Easyjet contingent, fellow delegates for helpful comments on an earlier draft and of course the Givon Prison residents for camaraderie.

Bio-note: Les Levidow has been opposing the Israeli Occupation through various UK campaigns since the 1980s. These include: the 'Return' petition against the Israeli Law of Return (late 1980s), Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Jews Against Zionism (JAZ),21 Jews for Boycotting Israel Goods (J-BIG), and the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP). He also participates in the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC), www.campacc.org.uk, which opposes 'anti-terror' powers of the EU and UK.

Notes/References
1 Palestine Justice Network, www.palestinejn.org
2 http://palestinejn.org/palestinianspring/
3 http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=227768
4 http://mondoweiss.net/2011/07/netanyahu-effort-to-travel-to-the-occupied-territories-through-ben-gurionairport-is-an-effort-to-undermine-israel's-right-to-exist
5
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4IFBVMWLLk, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhny5X977Bo, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kExgVOQo8Dc
6 http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?ID=228474&R=R1
7 http://www.freedomflotilla.eu/en/home/groups/viewdiscussion/2577-Israel+begins+deportation+of+proPalestinian+flytilla+activists?groupid=4
8
http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/world/israel-deports-detains-allows-some-activists-58912.html
9 Another UK participant was allowed through passport control, soon received a phone call about our detention, tried to protest, was arrested and then was detained with the rest of us.
10 http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/65-pro-palestinian-fly-in-activists-transferred-to-detentionfacilities-1.372215
11
http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/51664/flytilla-now-greens-leader-lucas-asks-hague-why-activists-werebanned
12 For more on the experience of the London Easyjet travellers, see www.scottishpsc.org.uk, and especially from the women's perspective at http://agtottenham.blogspot.com/2011/07/released-from-israeli-jail.html
13 'Israeli authorities set stringent conditions for release', http://palestinejn.org/palestinianspring/, which includes reports on experiences of French and Belgian detainees.
14 When the 'Welcome to Palestine' tour reached Bilin, 'There Israeli soldiers prevented the bus-loads of passengers and local Palestinians and Israeli supporters from holding a peaceful demonstration', see 'Israeli authorities set stringent conditions for release', http://palestinejn.org/palestinianspring//
15
A Zionist website tried another demonization tactic, saying that older members of the delegation had been 'flirting with fascism', e.g. by effectively supporting Hamas or Hizbollah via involvement in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, http://cifwatch.com/2011/07/10/guardian-airbrushes-extremist-links-of-british-flytilla-participants/
16 Mazin Qumsiyeh, Popular Resistance in Palestine, Pluto Press, 2010.
17 'Zionist Origins of the War on Terror', http://www.palint.org/article.php?articleid=25
18 http://www.statewatch.org/terrorlists/listsbground.html
19 http://www.interpal.org.uk/en/press-release/130-interpal-vindicated-by-charity-commission-inquiry
20 Alain Gresh, 'Un congrès imposture sur le terrorisme', Le Monde diplomatique, 17.07.11,
http://blog.mondediplo.net/2011-07-16-Un-congres-imposture-sur-le-terrorisme
21 Speech on behalf of JAZ on Al Quds Day 2008, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gqh-72Ilruk

 

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