Zionism battles BDS, branding it the new Ahmedinajad

The past fortnight has seen proliferating opportunities to champion Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Just a few examples:

A Palestinian move to expel Israel from FIFA mesmerised global sports media until attention shifted to mind-boggling corruption allegations against FIFA bosses. In the corporate world, the AGM of security giant G4S was almost entirely dominated by calls for the company to stop profiting from contracts with the Israeli security apparatus. On stages in theatres up and down the UK, triumphant performances by the Jenin Freedom Theatre were followed by lively discussions in which cultural boycott always came to the fore.

Against this background, liberal Zionist Peter Beinart continued – in the words of leading Palestinian BDS activist Omar Barghouti, “his ongoing, futile attempts to circle the square by claiming that Zionism … can be reconciled with liberal values”

Barghouti commends Beinart’s latest piece in Ha’aretz for its unusually accurate portrayal of what BDS is and why it is growing so fast. It suggests that Zionists, deprived of a convenient bogeyman since the departure of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iranian president, are now casting BDS in the vacant role.

We reproduce the full text of Beinart’s piece below.

 

 

The era of Iran is over; the age of BDS begins

How the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is changing organized American Jewish life.

By Peter Beinart

The news that Sheldon Adelson will this weekend host a secret conference for Jewish groups aimed at countering the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is yet more evidence that “pro-Israel” activism in the United States is entering a new phase. The Iran era is ending. We are entering the age of BDS.

The Iran era started in the mid-1990s. During the cold war, American Jewish groups had defended Israel primarily against Arab regimes and the PLO. The most famous episode in AIPAC’s history had been its 1981 struggle against the Reagan administration’s bid to sell AWACS surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia.

But in 1993, the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist and began negotiating with it as part of the Oslo peace process. The following year, Jordan made peace too. With most Arab regimes at least tacitly supporting Oslo, Yitzhak Rabin argued that Iran—which supported rejectionist groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad—constituted the new threat. In 1994, according to Argentine prosecutors, Iran and Hezbollah blew up a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, thus further linking the Islamic Republic to anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish terrorism. The prospect of Tehran developing a nuclear weapon made it all the more sinister.

American Jewish groups, suddenly deprived of their traditional Arab and PLO enemies, gladly followed Rabin’s suggestion that they focus on Iran instead. In his indispensable book about Iranian-Israeli relations, “Treacherous Alliance,” Trita Parsi quotes Shai Feldman, an Israeli foreign policy expert now at Brandeis University, as explaining that “AIPAC made Iran a major issue since they didn’t have any other issue to champion. The U.S. was in favor of the peace process, so what would they push for?”

The Iran era reached its apex during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose Holocaust denial and rhetorical aggression helped American Jewish groups portray Iran as a regime plotting genocide against Israel. But since 2013, Ahmadinejad’s successor, Hassan Rohani, has made Iran appear less menacing. And in Barack Obama, he has found a partner eager to end the long-standing U.S.-Iranian cold war. That effort could still fail.

But given the two leaders’ determination, it is more likely that they will strike a deal, which Benjamin Netanyahu and the Republican Congress will prove unable to torpedo. Already, Israeli security experts are talking about using Israel’s acquiescence to a nuclear agreement to win new military guarantees from the United States. And if Israel does eventually acquiesce, even tacitly and sullenly, the two-decade era in which Iran dominated “pro-Israel” activism in the United States will end.

Enter BDS. If American Jewish groups began focusing on the Iranian threat once the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was born, BDS is growing in large measure because the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has died. For six years, Netanyahu has publicly rejected the idea of a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines, with land swaps. Most Palestinians have lost any faith that negotiations with Israel can bring them a state anytime soon. And Mahmoud Abbas’ failure to end the occupation, or stand for election, has wrecked his legitimacy among Palestinian activists.

The BDS movement has entered this breach. It offers Palestinian activists a way to bypass their divided, corrupt, ineffectual politicians by taking the struggle against Israel into their own hands. Its three planks — an end to Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and the return of Palestinian refugees—offers something for each of the three main Palestinian populations (those in the occupied territories, those inside Israel proper and refugees) and thus unites a divided people. As a nonviolent movement that speaks in the language of human rights and international law rather than Islamic theology, the movement also attracts progressive allies who would never join a movement defined by suicide bombings and the Hamas charter.

Already, BDS is changing the landscape of organized American Jewish life. First, it is making Washington less important, which may make AIPAC less important. AIPAC’s power rests on the relations between its members and members of Congress. But the BDS movement bypasses Congress in favor of universities, liberal Christian groups and trade unions, where it can gain a more sympathetic ear. The response has been a gold rush among American Jewish groups seeking to lead the anti-BDS charge. In 2010, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs created the Israel Action Network to combat Israel’s “delegitimization.” As the Forward notes, AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee have all recently “set up operations geared at students” largely to do the same thing. In Washington, AIPAC still dominates. But in these new arenas where the BDS struggle will be fought, AIPAC is just one Jewish group among many.

The second consequence of the rise of BDS will be to increase the prominence of Jewish Voices for Peace. Right now, many establishment-minded American Jews don’t know what JVP is. In their mind, J Street still represents American Jewry’s left flank. But as the only significant American Jewish group to support BDS, Jewish Voices for Peace will grow in prominence as the movement itself does. Already, non-Jewish BDS activists cite JVP as evidence that American Jews do not monolithically oppose their cause. The more that mainstream American Jews hear this, the more enraged at JVP they will become. How exactly that rage will express itself, I don’t know. But as JVP grows, its battles with the American Jewish establishment will make those of J Street look tame.

Finally, BDS will spark a growing debate among American Jews about Zionism itself. American Jews are used to thinking of Palestinians as residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. (By using the phrase “Arab Israelis,” American Jews even delude themselves that the Arabs living inside the 1967 lines are not really Palestinian.) But many of the Palestinians active in BDS live in the West or hail from Israel proper or both. That means that for them personally, the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel and the rights of Palestinian refugees are at least as important as the rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Ending Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza doesn’t threaten its character as a Jewish state. To the contrary, it may help preserve it, which is why many centrist American Jews support the two-state solution. But as the BDS movement grows more prominent, it will spark more debate about Palestinian citizens and Palestinians refugees, both subjects that expose the tension between Israel’s democratic character and its policies — in immigration and public life — that privilege Jews.

Inside the American Jewish establishment, the first response to the BDS movement’s challenge to Zionism has been to cry anti-Semitism. But that response conceals a dirty little secret: that many “pro-Israel” activists haven’t thought much about the tension between Jewish statehood and liberal democracy, and thus don’t really know how to justify Zionism to an audience of skeptical, progressive non-Jews.

Justifying Zionism to liberals is not an impossible task. But neither is it intellectually or morally simple. And it will require establishment-minded American Jews to defend principles they have long taken for granted. Of all the BDS movement’s consequences for American Jews, that may prove the most significant of all.

 

Exposed – Israel lobby’s threat to artistic and academic freedom

Letters in today’s Guardian (April 6) highlight the growing threat to artistic and academic freedom by pro-Israel lobbyists seeking to criminalise criticism of the Zionist state.

Playwright Caryl Churchill, a leading signatory of the UK Artists’ Pledge for Palestine, noted the alarming conjunction of a threat to funding of arts institutions that decline Israeli state links and cancellation of an academic conference planned for April 17-19 at the University of Southampton after Zionist pressure.

The organisers have launched a legal challenge to the decision to cancel. See lower down this post for a message from Southampton Students for Palestine explaining the campaign to raise funds to support the challenge.

“All Charlie Hebdo?” wrote Churchill, alluding to the collective outpouring of official outrage at the murder of cartoonists in France in January. “Except when freedom of expression means freedom to criticise Israel.”

Culture Secretary Sajid Javid’s comments on Israeli sponsorship ‘breached the principle of an arms-length relationship between the government and the arts’, writes playwright Caryl Churchill. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Another letter, from Professors Hilary and Steven Rose, prominent proponents of the academic boycott, said the university had “shamefully capitulated to pressure from the pro-Israel lobby”, as evidenced by the statement issued by the university authorities.

The university had initially listened to the hundreds of academics who rallied in support of the conference despite a barrage of attacks from a roll-call of Tories and Israel lobbyists, among them Communities Minister Eric Pickles, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Zionist Federation.  Pickles & Co alleged that the conference was a one-sided antisemitic rant against Israel’s “right to exist” and threatened demonstrations and disruption if it went ahead. This seems to have been what forced vice-chancellor Prof Don Nutbeam to announce the cancellation on unconvincing “health and safety” grounds.

A letter the Guardian declined to publish,  submitted by Tony Greenstein on behalf of J-BIG (full text at the bottom of this post) contrasted this cowardice with the fate of Danish film director, Finn Noergaard, killed at a cafe in Copenhagen in February while defending the right to debate freedom of speech.

The organisers of the three-day Southampton conference, titled International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism, had assembled an array of expert participants from around Europe, North America and the Middle East, including many Jews.   If the conference programme lacked representation from Israel’s friends, it is because invitations issued by the organisers to defenders of Zionism were rejected by the recipients.

As explained by Prof Haim Bresheeth on the website of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP),  Israel and its apologists are resorting to all possible means to prevent the issues addressed by the conference being aired.

One of the conference organisers,  engineering professor Suleiman Sharkh, a Palestinian from Gaza, explained its importance.

“International law was responsible for our misery. It was used to legalize the theft of our homes and it continues to be used to legalize the ongoing oppression of my people by the State of Israel. The questions asked by the conference are therefore questions that I have been asking all my life. They are important questions that need to be answered.”

 

Information from Southampton Students for Palestine.
Subject: Conference donations: update & important information
Q1: What is the final university decision in relation to the conference? 
The university’s initial decision to withdraw its consent was appealed by the organisers but the internal appeal was rejected by the Vice Chancellor and the withdrawal of consent was confirmed. University’s public statement: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/news/statements.page#.VRxbTkFmtTw.twitter
Q2: Are you collecting donations now or shall we wait further notice?
Donations are being collected now. Please see information on donations below.
Q3: Does this mean that you are proceeding with legal action?
Yes. Legal action has been initiated today. Please see official organisers’ statement attached hereby. Also see: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/17842-academics-pursue-judicial-review-over-cancelled-israel-conference
Q4: Why are we making donations to Student Palestine Solidarity/Students for Palestine? 
You are not making donations to these organisations. They are only carriers of the funds to help facilitate payment since we are not using any personal accounts to collect donations.
* Information on donations*
Many thanks to those who have already sent their donations and sent me a confirmation email in that regard, I can confirm that they have been received.
If you are yet to donate, please find bank/paypal details below. Kindly consider a bank transfer as a first option (if possible) since paypal are deducting a fee on each incoming transaction. If a bank transfer is not possible then please feel free to make your donation via paypal. 
UK bank transfer:
Account name: Students for Palestine Southampton
Account number: 26617360
Sort Code: 30-90-34
 
International bank transfer:
Bank: LLoyds Bank
IBAN (for International Transfers Only): GB84 LOYD 3090 3426 6173 60
BIC (for International Transfers Only): LOYDGB21148
Paypal: 

J-BIG LETTER SUBMITTED TO THE GUARDIAN

The decision of Southampton University to cancel a Conference on Israel and the State of Israel [University event questioning Israel’s right to exist is cancelled, Guardian 31st March] is a disgraceful surrender to powerful bullies.  Zionist groups have a long track record of trying to ban anything they disagree with, given their inability to defend the indefensible.  The normal response is to stand up to them.

It was less than three months ago that four million people and world leaders marched in France in support of freedom of speech, in the wake of the murder of the journalists of Charlie Hebdo.  Amongst them was David Cameron.  If Cameron was sincere he would sack Eric Pickles MP from his government for having lent his support to the call to ban an academic conference.

The use of health and safety as the pretext to cancel the conference is absurd and illogical.  Is it really being suggested that Southampton University was incapable of protecting those attending the conference?  The Police were quite confident they could deal with any threats.

Southampton’s charter includes a commitment to secure academic freedom. With this decision it has been shown to be worthless.

It was barely a month ago that Danish film director, Finn Noergaard, was killed [while defending the right to] debate [on] freedom of speech.  The actions of Southampton University’s Vice Chancellor Don Nutbeam and the university administration in failing to uphold the basic norms of a democratic society are an act of abject cowardice.  If they have any integrity left they should collectively resign.

Yours faithfully

Professor Haim Bresheeth

Mike Cushman

Deborah Fink

Tony Greenstein

Professor (Emeritus) Moshe Machover

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

(Dr) Les Levidow

Roland Rance

 

Palestinian Football Association demands FIFA suspend Israel FA

 THE PALESTINIAN FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION (PFA) FORMALLY SUBMITS A RESOLUTION TO FIFA DEMANDING THE SUSPENSION OF THE ISRAEL FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION (IFA) . 

Press Release by the Red Card Israeli Racism campaign.

On 20 March 2015 the PFA submitted its resolution to be considered at the 28-29 May FIFA Annual Congress in Zurich.  The full text has not yet been published, but it calls for the suspension of the IFA from FIFA until certain conditions are satisfied, including:

 

  • Players, staff and officials can move freely into, out of and within Palestine; football equipment can be imported without hindrance.
  • Football facilities can be developed in Palestine without hindrance.
  • Football clubs established in the illegal settlements in the West Bank are banned from playing in IFA competitions.
  • The IFA takes firm action to eliminate racist and apartheid practices from its own leagues.

 

These conditions address long-standing grievances.  The PFA has supported initiatives by FIFA over the last almost two years to address them.  Regrettably, the PFA’s attempts to work with the FIFA Task Force have been undermined by Israel and have come to naught.   As a result, strong pressure in the form of suspension of the IFA is needed to help bring about the necessary change.

A PFA report on signing the resolution is, in Arabic: http://www.pfa.ps/index.php/news/et7ad-news/1789-2015-03-20-18-38-46.html.

UEFA taking sides against the PFA?

A recent web report quotes UEFA’s Platini as advising the IFA to enlist diplomatic channels to thwart the PFA motion at the FIFA Congress.  Such actions would contravene FIFA’s Statutes on the independence of national football associations from the influence of third parties.  Surely Platini cannot recommend undermining one of football’s basic principles?

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4641433,00.html

Israeli repression.

Israel continues to perpetrate its devastating military occupation of Palestinian territories, to flout international law, disregard UN resolutions, kill and maim innocent civilians and imprison Palestinians without charge.  Full details on the impact on sports and football in particular are given in the PFA blog:Israeli Occupation Transgressions against Palestinian Sports.

The IFA to all extents and purposes is a State institution – it reports to the State Comptroller and is financed in part by the State.   A 2009 declaration in the Knesset clarifies that the PFA is an “organ of the State”.  Therefore it is complicit in the actions of the Israeli civil and military authorities and so breaches FIFA’s Statute 3, which prohibits racist actions punishable by suspension or expulsion.   However, regardless of such technicalities, FIFA has the moral duty to take a stand against Israeli repression.

South African precedent.

From 1964 to 1992 South African Football Association was excluded from FIFA membership.  Several prominent South African  leaders who experienced apartheid in South African including Archbishop Tutu state that Israeli apartheid is far worse than South African apartheid ever was and that Israel is guilty of far more serious crimes against humanity.

Leaders’ concerns.

The President of the Asian Football Confederation, Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, recently declared his commitment to tackling the “illegal Israeli practices” hindering Palestinian soccer.   Frederic Kanoute and about 50 other prominent footballers had earlier expressed their concern over Israel’s hosting of the 2013 UEFA under 21 finals tournament, and he was joined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Ken Loach and other leading humanitarians.   There were similar objections to Israel’s 2014 proposal for Jerusalem to be a host city for the 2020 Euro competition, which was rejected by the UEFA administration, partly due to our campaign’s intervention.

Red Card Israeli Racism campaign

For four years we have campaigned for the rights of Palestinian football.  We fully endorse the PFA’s proposal to suspend the IFA until certain important conditions have  been satisfied.  For further information see our website: Red Card Israeli Racism

Red Card Israeli Racism campaign

27 March 2015

STATEMENT ON THE BANNING OF A CONCERT BY GILAD ATZMON

Israeli-born saxophonist Gilad Atzmon has been targeted for intimidation by the Zionist zealots of the North West Friends of Israel (NWFOI), resulting in the cancellation of a concert at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.
Atzmon’s views have set him at odds with the BDS movement and in particular with its Jewish supporters, but this must not prevent us standing up to acts of censorship by the pro-Israel lobby.
J-BIG founder member Prof Moshe Machover has written the following statement.
Dear Friends,
Regarding this article from the Manchester Evening News:
I know Gilad Atzmon personally and am familiar with the opinions that he spreads, which I find loathsome.
He is not so much anti-Zionist as anti-Jewish. Not so much a holocaust denier as holocaust justifier.*
At the same time I must protest strongly against  banning his appearances, muzzling him, and especially preventing his concerts.
Views, however unacceptable, should be defeated by argument, not by bureaucratic bans.
Moshé Machover

 

HUNDREDS OF UK ARTISTS PLEDGE: ‘We won’t work with Israeli institutions’

Print  

700 UK artist announced on Friday (Feb 13) their pledge not to accept professional invitations to Israel as long as the state continues to deny basic Palestinian rights.

 

Among those who have signed the Artists’ Pledge for Palestine, from diverse artistic and cultural backgrounds including many Jews, are:

 

– Writers Tariq Ali, William Dalrymple, Aminatta Forna, Bonnie Greer, Mark Haddon, Hari Kunzru, Liz Lochhead, Jimmy McGovern, China Mieville, Andrew O’Hagan, Laurie Penny, Michael Rosen, Gillian Slovo, Ahdaf Soueif, Marina Warner, Benjamin Zephaniah

– Film directors Mike Hodges, Asif Kapadia, Peter Kosminsky, Mike Leigh, Phyllida Lloyd, Ken Loach, Roger Michell, Michael Radford, Julien Temple

– Comedians Jeremy Hardy, Alexei Sayle, Mark Thomas

– Musicians Richard Ashcroft, Jarvis Cocker, Brian Eno, Kate Tempest, Roger Waters, Robert Wyatt

– Actors Rizwan Ahmed, Anna Carteret, David Calder, Simon McBurney, Miriam Margolyes

– Theatre writers/directors Caryl Churchill, David Edgar, Dominic Cooke CBE, Sir Jonathan Miller, Mark Ravenhill

– Visual Arts Phyllida Barlow, John Berger, Jeremy Deller, Mona Hatoum

– Architects Peter Ahrends, Will Alsop.

 

The full text of the pledge reads:

 

We support the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality. In response to the call from Palestinian artists and cultural workers for a cultural boycott of Israel, we pledge to accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.

 

Former English PEN president, writer Gillian Slovo, said in a statement on the Artists for Palestine UK website, ‘As a South African I witnessed the way the cultural boycott of South Africa helped apply pressure on the apartheid government and its supporters. This Artists’ Pledge for Palestine has drawn lessons from that boycott to produce an even more nuanced, non-violent way for us to call for change and for justice for all.’

 

More than one hundred of the pledge signers gave their reasons for signing in an open letter to British artists published in the Guardian. It said Palestinians remained under relentless attack since the war on Gaza last summer. The letter continued:

 

‘Israel’s wars are fought on the cultural front too. Its army targets Palestinian cultural institutions for attack, and prevents the free movement of cultural workers. Its own theatre companies perform to settler audiences on the West Bank – and those same companies tour the globe as cultural diplomats, in support of “Brand Israel”.’

 

It recalled that musicians opposing apartheid in South Africa pledged not to ‘play Sun City’ – Johannesburg’s playground for the rich. In that tradition, today’s pledge signers are undertaking not to collaborate with Israeli state-funded institutions to ‘play music, accept awards, attend exhibitions, festivals or conferences, run master-classes or workshops,’ until Israel ends its apartheid policies towards the Palestinians.

 

The letter invited all those working in the arts in Britain to add their names to the pledge. There is a sign-up form  here.

 

Artists for Palestine UK (APUK), which organised the pledge, said artists were incensed that speaking out for Palestine regularly attracted smear campaigns by pro-Israel lobbyists.

Theatre director Hilary Westlake, a member of the organising collective, said APUK’s message to British artists is: ‘You are not alone. Together we can defend our right to decide whose patronage we accept, despite groundless accusations of antisemitism and threats of financial and reputational ruin.’

 

http://artistsforpalestine.org.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ArtistsforPalestineUK

Twitter: @Art4PalestineUK

Dozens of signatories have written statements which can be found here). Here is a small selection.

 

  • Nobody questions [Israel’s] right to exist, but, sadly, to support Israel’s cultural institutions now is to support hypocrisy, film director Mike Leigh (honoured with a BAFTA Fellowship award last week).

 

  • I have signed up for a cultural boycott of Israel … Signing in support of the Israeli Cultural Boycott is more of a signing of support for Palestinian Artists … a positive rather than a negative.Phyllida Barlow, visual artist

 

  • I signed because I am a human being. All forms of art change people by opening their eyes to humanity in all its suffering and its beauty. I feel it is incumbent on Israel to treat Palestine and its people justly before it can seek to be a patron of the arts overseas. Hanan Al-Shaykh, writer

 

  • As an artist I wish to pursue a moral journey through life and the right and wrongs here are very clear to me. A suffering group has asked for my support; it cannot be withheld. Miriam Margolyes, actor

 

  • So what does it achieve? It sends a message: ‘We will not perform in Israel since we believe that by performing there we will be endorsing the status quo. We don’t support it and we won’t be part of it.’ Brian Eno, composer

Artists for Palestine UK (APUK) exposes Israel’s use of culture as a smokescreen for its violence against Palestinians and its simultaneous attempts to shut down criticism with accusations of antisemitism.

 

 

‘Support for the Pledge grew in response to a smear campaign mobilised by supporters of Israel against the Tricycle theatre in northwest London during Israel’s assault on Gaza last summer’ said theatre director Hilary Westlake, a member of the APUK organising collective.

Tricycle had been vilified as ‘antisemitic’ for asking the UK Jewish Film Festival it has hosted for eight consecutive years to forego Israeli embassy funding.

‘For every one of us who has made a stand for justice by signing the pledge, there are many more musicians, actors, writers, directors, visual artists, architects who are fearful of the slander, bullying and threats they may face if they follow suit,’ Westlake said.

‘APUK’s message is: you are not alone. Together we can defend our right to decide whose patronage we accept, even against groundless accusations of antisemitism and threats of financial and reputational ruin.’

A full list of Pledge signatories, alphabetically and by art form, is available here.

 

BDS PROTESTERS VINDICATED AS ELBIT DRONE MAKERS’ CASE COLLAPSES

The prosecution of 9 activists who occupied a UK Elbit factory that makes drone engines has collapsed after Elbit refused to give evidence about the legality of its activities in court.
elbit protest
The story about the collapse of the case from the UK’s Independent newspaper is below and the group’s press release is here: http://londonpalestineaction.tumblr.com/post/109598110614/israeli-arms-company-and-uk-government-running.
Michael Deas, representing the Palestinian BDS National Commmittee  in the UK, said massive support for the protesters had demonstrated how much energy there is for campaigning around Elbit and the demand for a military embargo on Israel.
Outcry as prosecution service drops trial of anti-drone protesters at last minute
 
The prosecution of arms-trade protesters who occupied a British drone engines manufacturer has been dropped at the last minute, after the company refused to hand over evidence about its exports of weaponry to Israel, The Independent can reveal.
The nine demonstrators had been due to go on trial next month for aggravated trespass after they halted production during a sit-in at the Staffordshire factory of UAV Engines Ltd, a subsidiary of the Israeli defence giant Elbit Systems – one of the largest manufacturer of military drones.
The activists were arrested after they targeted the company at the height of last summer’s assault by Israel on Gaza, to highlight claims that British-made weaponry was being used by Israeli forces.
But charges against them were dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service last week, just hours before a deadline expired to provide the defendants with details of arms export licences granted to UEL to send its hi-tech engines to Israel for use in the Hermes 450 – a drone widely deployed by the Israeli military. Although the drone was used in the Gaza campaign, UEL has insisted the version used by Israel’s armed forces is not powered by its engines.
The CPS told The Independent it had been forced to discontinue the case after it was informed that two witnesses from the company were no longer prepared to give evidence, and that documentation – understood to be the arms export data – would not be forthcoming.
“We deemed that there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction,” the CPS said.
Lawyers for the protesters criticised the failure to obtain the export data, saying the information would have cast crucial light on whether weaponry produced in the UK was deployed by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in Operation Protective Edge – the assault on Gaza which cost more than 2,000 Palestinian and 73 Israeli lives.
The protesters from London Palestine Action had been granted permission by a district judge to obtain disclosure from the CPS of “any and all” material held by public bodies, including the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), about export licences granted to UEL and Elbit Systems since 2003. It is understood that the CPS itself made no effort to obtain the data from the Whitehall department.
Mike Schwarz, a partner with law firm Bindmans, said: “The information would have shed light on the links between UK arms companies and Israel’s assault on Gaza. With no court date, there’s no public scrutiny. Indeed, that seems to be what the affected business desperately wants and the Government is more than content to let happen.”
Britain’s lucrative defence trade with Israel has proved controversial for the Coalition. The refusal of the Government to suspend 12 export licences last summer led to the resignation of the Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi.
UEL did not respond to requests to comment. BIS said none of the export licences granted to UEL were for use in Israeli military drones but it confirmed that licences had been granted to an unnamed supplier for engines used in IDF drones as recently as 2010.

 

Reasons to be wary of Holocaust commemoration

“We have become very good at remembering. . . . . It’s acting on the remembrance that defeats us.”

So says the ever-thoughtful Robert Cohen in his blog Micah’s Paradigm Shift.  Here follow his meditations on the manner in which horrific events have been “used, abused and politicised”

Auschwitz revisited

In the week we have been commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz I have been trying to understand why I am so weary and wary of the Holocaust. Despite the undoubted emotional pull of the survivors’ testimonies, is there any lasting meaning be found in the ashes at Auschwitz? Should it even be looked for?

I didn’t always feel this way.

We recently moved house and a few weeks ago my older son and I were unpacking boxes of books and finding new homes for them. I noticed just how much reading I had done on the subject of the Holocaust, mostly more than twenty years ago.

I had straight histories like ‘The War Against the Jews’ by Lucy Dawidowicz and ‘Holocaust’ by Martin Gilbert. I’d read ‘Last Waltz in Vienna’ by George Clare, Elie Wiesel’s ‘Night’, ‘Europa, Europa’ by Solomon Perel and Primo Levi’s ‘If This is a Man’, and ‘The Drowned and the Saved’. There were Art Spiegelman’s graphic novels ‘Maus’, where Nazis and Jews become cats and mice. Ghetto accounts such as ‘A Cup of Tears’ by Abraham Lewin and Marek Edelman’s ‘The Ghetto Fights’. I remembered being completely absorbed by Theo Richmond’s detailed account of the destruction of one tiny shtetl village ‘Konin’. I had the complete transcript of Claude Lanzmann’s epic documentary Shoah. Hannah Arendt’s account of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in the 1950s. And of course, Anne Frank’s diary, the fully annotated critical edition.

My reading had been a search for meaning – historical, political and theological. I had been trying to make sense of something I knew was shaping my adult Jewish identity.

Last weekend I visited my 88 year old father and asked him to recall for me the visit he made to Auschwitz in the late 1960s while on a business trip to Poland. Perhaps his account could restore my faith in the possibility of finding a purpose in the week’s commemorations beyond honouring the memory of the dead.

My father’s visit to the death camp took place in a very different world from today. For the first two decades after the war the mood had been for moving on, for forgetting not remembering. The Holocaust was very far from being the defining event of the Second World War it has now become.

While he was on his trip, my father and three work colleagues found themselves with time on their hands when a public holiday was announced to coincide with a Soviet Russian State visit. Their local client, the factory manager of a smelt works in Katowice, suggested they visited Auschwitz, which he explained now ran as a museum.

Although my father was familiar with the name Auschwitz, he told me his knowledge of the how the Nazi’s had implemented their killing was vague and sketchy at the time of his visit to Poland. Two of his colleagues had served in the army during the war but their understanding was even less than my father’s. So the four British businessmen hired a driver and set off for the day with little or no expectation of what they were about to see.

They reached Auschwitz less than an hour after leaving Katowice and found the camp/museum almost deserted despite the public holiday. In fact, my father and his colleagues seemed to be the only visitors there and were rewarded with a personal tour by one of the senior officials.

They were taken to long wooden huts sectioned off into large glass fronted display cases. Inside the first display were bails of material that my father could not identify. “What is this?” He asked. “Human hair” came the reply, “shaved from the heads of those about to be exterminated.” Nothing went to waste, it was explained, “The hair could be weaved into cloth and used for insulation”. Next came a display of walking sticks and crutches neatly stacked in huge piles. Then shoes, all sizes, suitcases still with name and home address labels attached, spectacles and false teeth. Apparently, it all had revenue potential for the Third Reich.

After three hours of the tour my father was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the attitude of their guide. “He was more interested in the Nazis’ attention to detail, administrative diligence and mechanical ingenuity than in the morality of what had taken place there.” Finally, they were taken to see the furnaces that burned day and night, fueled by human corpses.

But what had been new and revelatory to my father nearly fifty years ago has become burdensome and problematic to me. When I look at all the books on my shelves relating to just 12 years out of three thousand years of Jewish history, I have no desire to revisit them or even flick through the pages.

As a student I had thought there were lessons to be learnt and meaning to be divined from what had happened. But now it feels as if the event has been used, abused and politicised, and, from a moral perspective, largely ignored.

As time has passed I have become increasingly pessimistic about our ability to take something meaningful and positive from the horror that is now summed up by the single word ‘Auschwitz’.

Some, especially the remaining survivors, see denial and forgetfulness of the Holocaust as the biggest concern we should have. But I think these are the least of our Holocaust problems.

Holocaust denial will remain a fringe issue. The documentation is secure in its veracity and overwhelming in its volume. If anything, today’s school children are in danger of thinking that Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin went to war against Hitler because of what was happening to the Jews.

And we have become very good at remembering. We do it with great care and respect and afford enormous dignity to the survivors and their testimonies. This week’s marking of the Russian army’s liberation of Auschwitz proved this once again. So, we remember with no difficulty. It’s acting on the remembrance that defeats us.

Since the end of the Second World War we have had Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. All of which suggest that despite the creation of so much international law on human rights and genocide, humankind has not progressed an iota as a result of Auschwitz.

I can now see that my own long-term reaction to the Holocaust has led me not to focus on anti-Semitism and Jewish security (although neither can be ignored) but on the values and teaching that I see as central to Judaism. Justice, Compassion, Humility, individual and collective Responsibility. These are not new lessons but very old ones. As a Jew, I choose to apply these to our relationship with the Palestinian people because this is the issue on which we must judge ourselves. In the 21st century this is ‘the Jewish question’.

While a growing number of Jews both in Israel and around the world share this perspective, it is still a minority opinion.

When it comes to the Palestinian people, the Holocaust has hardened our hearts and closed our minds. The scale of our own suffering has made us blind to their suffering – which we see as all of their own making.

Perhaps this was inevitable. Why should a people abused and broken become saints? The opposite result is more often the outcome. I am asking for too much. Expecting something that no group is capable of.

And so I have become both weary and wary of trying to take meaning or lessons from the Holocaust. Yes we must continue to teach it as an appalling stain on humanity. And an exercise in empathy is never wasted. But we must not expect it to unlock the human heart.

Maybe all we have are the stories of bureaucratised murder, random survival, and unexpected acts of kindness that Primo Levi called ‘Moments of Reprieve’.

My father and his colleagues had planned to eat a meal together that night back at the hotel in Katowice. But after the visit nobody was hungry.

On the return journey my father asked their driver if he had known about the camp during the war. “Oh, yes”, he replied. “We knew something was happening. We could smell it.” My father asked him whether anyone at the time felt they could do anything about it? The driver replied “Yes, we would wind up the windows tight, so we couldn’t smell the stink”.

See also: A Letter to Anne Frank