Archive for the ‘sanctions’ category

The Irish Times “clarifies” one error in the Israeli tourism puff-piece – and gives an op-ed to Apartheid’s Ambassador

April 13, 2011

As noted in my posting a couple of days ago, the Irish Times recently published a scandalous Israeli Tourism Ministry sponsored puff-piece, a piece that wiped Palestine off the map and falsely claimed East Jerusalem and Jericho as Israeli territory.

Well today, the Times published a “clarification”. Kind of. The following appeared in the ‘Corrections and Clarifications’ section of the paper:

“A map accompanying an article on Israel in last Saturday’s Go illustrated wrong territorial boundaries.”

Weasel words spewing forth from a mealy-mouth! It’s like when Fr. Jack ‘apologised’ to Bishop Brennan in Fr. Ted. The Times maintains that the article was about Israel, when the majority of sites mentioned are on Palestinian land occupied by Israel since 1967. Nor does it say which “territorial boundaries” it got wrong. Totally and utterly  inadequate.

The Times is on a bit of a pro-Zionist roll this week it seems. Yesterday’s paper featured a 1,000 word op-ed from Boaz Modai, Israel’s Ambassador, on the Goldstone ‘reconsideration’ (which the Times also published in full last Saturday). Modai – Apartheid’s official propagandist in Ireland –  explains why those of us who accuse Israel of committing war crimes during Operation Cast Lead should all say “sorry”. He also manages to get a dig in at the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (along with many, many, many, many others – including members of the UN fact-finding mission Desmond Travers and Hina Jilani) have already published statements and articles rebutting Goldstone’s so-called “reconsideration” (not a “retraction”, not a “revision”). Of course they are all worth reading – but apparently the Times thinks its readers deserve only to hear to the Israeli side. Though there will probably be some kind of right-of-reply from the Palestinian Mission to Ireland tomorrow – the Times playing the familiar game of ‘balance’.

And this Irish Times facilitation of Israeli “normalisation” comes in a week when at least 19 Palestinians have been killed by occupation forces in Gaza.

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An interview with David Cronin: EU complicity in the Israeli occupation of Palestine

April 13, 2011

Below is an interview  I conducted for LookLeft (#5) magazine earlier this year. It’s an interview with Brussels-based Irish campaigning journalist and author (and man who tried to arrest both Tony Blair and Avigdor Lieberman ), the one and only David Cronin. As a new issue of LookLeft (#6) is due out in the very near future (and you should buy it), I think it’s alright to post the article. This is a severely abridged version of a much longer – and more informative – interview we conducted. I will post the full interview on these pages in the near future (i.e., when I’ve found the bloody thing) along with my other article from that issue, which is about history and politics in modern non-fiction graphic novels.

Europe's Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation by David Cronin (Pluto Books, 2010)

Europe's Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation by David Cronin (Pluto Books, 2010)

EU complicity in the Israeli occupation of Palestine
Interview with David Cronin, author of Europe’s Alliance With Israel
LookLeft #5, February 2011

David Cronin, Dublin, December 2010

David Cronin, Dublin, December 2010

Irish journalist David Cronin has just published his new book, Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation (Pluto Books, 2010). He shows that despite occasional mealy-mouthed statements criticising Israeli human rights abuses, the EU and its member states have been busy developing and entrenching economic and symbolic relationships with Israel.  He traces the development of these ties, explains how and why these partnerships function, and exposes the rank hypocrisy underpinning this relationship between institutions that claim to uphold international law, and the serial and systematic human rights abusing Israeli state. The book is an accessible – if depressing – guide to a subject that is under-reported.  LookLeft interviewed David at the book’s Irish launch last December.

LL: Among other things, your book is a litany of EU hypocrisy with regard to Israeli human rights abuses. What do you think are some of the most egregious examples of this?

DC: I would go further – the EU is not merely hypocritical, it’s actually complicit in crimes against the Palestinian people.

EU-Israeli relations are covered by an “association agreement” which contains a legal clause stating that both must respect human rights. Despite Israel’s refusal to abide by that commitment, the EU has happily deepened its cooperation. For example in 2008, despite increased illegal settlement building, the EU “upgraded” relations with Israel, granting it many economic benefits.

“Scientific research” is an extremely lucrative form of Israeli cooperation with the EU. Israel takes part in over 800 schemes with European universities and companies, with a total value of €4.3 billion. By 2013 it’s expected that Israel will have received more than €500 million worth of EU grants. People should be outraged that Ireland’s European Commission representative, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, is administering these grants. Among the beneficiaries are arms-makers like Elbit and IAI, who produce the pilotless drones and warplanes regularly used in attacking the people of Gaza.

LL: The EU continues to ignore human rights abuses in pursuit of Israeli ‘integration’ into the EU. Is this for military, economic or ideological reasons, a Holocaust guilt hangover – or a mixture?

DC: A mixture, I would say. The Holocaust left a indelibly shameful stain on Europe’s history. But it’s a gross insult to Holocaust victims to allow them – metaphorically speaking – be exhumed and abused as part of a sordid propaganda war.

Israel has also presented itself as indispensable in the “war on terror”. Israel’s economy is increasingly reliant on the euphemistically titled “security” industry, exporting weapons and technology that have been “battle-tested” against Palestinians.  The EU has warmly embraced these merchants of death, even involving some of them in the EU-Israel business forum, where CEOs brainstorm on trade cooperation.

LL: You argue that once the EU continues to embrace and reward Israel, peace will never be achieved. What do you say to people seeking a just peace?

DC: Simple – get involved with your nearest Palestine solidarity group, get active in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. We can’t rely on politicians to deliver justice, so it falls to ordinary people to take action.

This is an abridged version of a longer interview that will be published here in the coming days.

Note: The full interview has now been published (at last) here.

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Palestine, Israel, BDS and the Left

January 14, 2011

Below is a series of articles I wrote for Socialist Voice between September and October 2010 dealing with leftwing and liberal opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. They were published between September and November 2010.

BDS

Palestine, Israel, BDS and the Left (Part One)
Socialist Voice, September 2010

I am confident most readers will not need to be convinced of the justness and necessity of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign aimed at forcing the rogue state of Israel to comply fully with international law and respect the full human, civil, political and national rights of the Palestinian people.  However, there remain those – groups and individuals – on both the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ left that, for a variety of reasons, refuse to support the BDS campaign despite being supporters of the Palestinian struggle for justice.

The first thing to be said about BDS is that it is not an invention of Western ‘do-gooders’, it is what the Palestinian people – through their worker and civil society organisations – have called on internationals to engage in. Who are we, living 1000s of kilometres away, to say “actually, we know better”? It is not we who have suffered the brunt of Zionist-Israeli violence, occupation and colonisation for more than six decades. The call, issued five years ago, comes from the oppressed, and we should respect and observe it, and do all in our power to build the BDS campaign in this country.

I would like to deal first with the ‘soft’ left, wherein the main counter-argument to BDS runs something like “we cannot boycott one side in this conflict, we need to respect both sides and encourage them to resolves issues through dialogue”. There are a two false assumptions inherent in this reasoning – at least for anyone who is serious about Palestinian obtaining their freedom.

The first is the idea that there are two more-or-less equal parties in this “conflict”. In fact, on one side there is an oppressive colonial state with the fourth largest army in the world, which enjoys the overt support of US imperialism, the complicity of the EU, and the tacit support of the UN and various corrupt Arab regimes. On the other side there is an oppressed colonised people, badly armed with little meaningful international support aside from civil society campaigns, terrorised, brutalised and humiliated on a daily basis. We do not need to “respect” the brutal oppressor in this equation, indeed, it deserves only our contempt and we should do all we can to help defeat it.

The second false assumption is that Israel negotiates in good faith, when history has shown the exact opposite. A mere example: during the so-called Oslo “peace process” years, illegal Israeli colonial settlements doubled in a clear violation of the terms of Oslo. As far as Israel is concerned, currently negotiations serve as nothing more than a fig-leaf while it busies itself with creating “facts on the ground”. Israel would be more than happy to endlessly “negotiate” until there are no Palestinians left in Palestine!

Of course, for reasons outlined above and more, Israel can act this way because it enters negotiations from a position of power while the Palestinians enter from a position of relative weakness. Capitalist states do not act “out of the goodness of their hearts”, they act in their own self interest and thus to expect such a powerful state to cede anything meaningful to a weaker adversary is absurd.

This is why, if one accepts – as most soft-leftists do – that only talks can provide a genuine road to a just peace, then there must be some degree of parity between the negotiating parties. BDS offers us – international civil society – the means to help achieve this parity. BDS enables us to pressure the Israeli state to show that its actions have repercussions internationally and that it is no longer acceptable for it to act as it does. BDS aims to isolate and weaken Israel, and as a corollary, strengthen the hand of the Palestinians. On this basis it is logical that BDS can play only a positive role in laying the groundwork for future genuine negotiations on a more-or-less level playing field, as thus far “negotiations” and “balance” have only produced further colonisation and imbalance. Without BDS, negotiations are essentially pointless.

Palestine, Israel, BDS and the Left (Part Two)
Socialist Voice, October 2010

It is often argued that the boycott campaign will hurt “good Israelis” or “Israeli workers”. To deal first with the former point, the “goodness” or otherwise of any given individual Israeli is irrelevant to the campaign. The boycott’s target is the Israeli state – and while the state governs a society made up of individuals, it is also the apparatus via which Palestinians have been oppressed, colonised, murdered and ethnically cleansed. As long as the state is Zionist-colonialist in outlook and practice, it will be the target for boycott. The aim is that all Israelis, “good” and “bad” alike, will realise that it is not in their individual or collective interest to be part of an Apartheid state that is shunned by the world and that steps toward the reforming of the exclusivist-supremacist state will begin from within. Being determines consciousness, and one thing is certain, existing in a state where there are no repercussions for outrageous action will never lead people to re-examine commitments to Zionist-colonial fundamentals. To quote Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, “Israelis don’t pay any price for the injustice of the occupation, so the occupation will never end”.

As regards specifically Israeli workers for whom it is sometimes argued, the boycott “drives into the arms of the ruling class” – while one shouldn’t fall into the trap of viewing the Jewish-Israeli working class as a single homogenous ideologically immovable reactionary bloc, an objective look at the reality on the ground will show that these workers vote overwhelmingly for parties of the right – including the Labor Party. The only major non-Zionist working class party in Israel, HADASH, gets the overwhelming majority of its votes from Palestinian citizens of Israel. The unfortunate fact is that Jewish-Israeli workers are already in the blood-drenched clutches of the ruling class. In theory it is fine to suggest – as some far left groups do – that these workers “have more in common with the oppressed Palestinian masses than their own capitalist class”, and that a common struggle be waged against Israeli colonial-capitalism. In the short-term, unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen. While there are of course class divisions in Israeli society – some of them acutely sharp – Palestinians cannot afford to sit around waiting for the magical day when Jewish-Israeli working class wakes up and decides to throw off the shackles of Zionism and embrace their Palestinian brothers and sisters.

In addition, BDS is being endorsed by small but growing radical sections of Jewish-Israeli society. Organisations such as Boycott From Within, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, the Alternative Information Centre as well as individuals like Ilan Pappe, Neve Gordon and Yitzhak Laor have fully endorsed the Palestinian call for BDS, while others have embraced limited aspects of it. It is clear that the Israeli state view even these small developments with alarm as there are now laws being drawn up to criminalise Israeli BDS activists.

Finally there is sometimes a contradistinction drawn by left groups between “individual” consumer boycott action – portrayed as “ineffective” – and “collective” trade union led boycott action – seen as “effective”. A recent article by an English far left group argued – in relation to the temporary dockers’ boycott actions in the US, Sweden, Greece and elsewhere which occurred in the Flotilla massacre aftermath – that “[these actions]are dangerous to the Zionist ruling class. The same cannot be said of the BDS campaign as a whole.”

This is an utterly false dichotomy. Of course no one in the Palestinian solidarity movement would argue against trade union boycotts – indeed we continually argue in favour of such action, were enthusiastic in our support for the dockers’ actions and hope they can be built upon and expanded – or argue against their effectiveness, as they stop Israeli goods at source. Counterposing the two is pointless and elitist, ignoring as it does that most of those who “individually” boycott Israeli products are workers themselves. It also ignores the fact that the dockers’ actions were not the result of some spontaneous awakening, but argued for by activists who have been promoting and laying the groundwork for BDS since 2005. Boycott has to start somewhere – in this country it started on the streets and has grown to include the trade union movement. ICTU passed a boycott resolution in 2007 and is now initiating a consumer boycott awareness campaign amongst its member organisations. Of course, this is far from the optimum action trade unions can take and Palestinian solidarity activists – especially those in the trade union movement – should continually push for stronger action, but it is a start and should be welcomed.

All advances in the boycott campaign, whether they come from individuals, trade unions or indeed among the business community, are welcomed by Palestinians and they should be welcomed by those of us who stand in solidarity with them. To end on a question, if “individual” boycott actions are so “ineffective”, then why is the Israeli state and its international operatives also seeking to criminalise consumer boycott actions and activists?

Palestine, Israel, BDS and the Left (Part Three)
Socialist Voice, November 2010

The final part of this series of articles will deal with some of the other important aspects of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel and opposition to it from left and
liberal circles.

Sporting & Cultural Boycotts – The most common refrain of argumentation in opposition to this is that “sport/culture and politics do not mix”. Anyone who was involved in the South African anti-apartheid campaign will know this is nonsense. It is through sport and culture that states most often present their “acceptable faces” to international audiences. Indeed, the Israeli Foreign Ministry makes no bones about this and openly promote what they call “Brand Israel” as the liberal face of a brutal occupation that denies Palestinians space for their own cultural and sporting expression.

At a recent Israeli Embassy hosted dinner before the Irish and Israeli women’s soccer teams played each other, Embassy staff distributed disgusting anti-Palestinian propaganda that attempted to link Palestinian resistance to the Holocaust. As the Israeli state actively uses sport and culture to legitimise apartheid, we should have no qualms about using boycotts to highlight this apartheid.

Academic Boycotts – It is often argued that an academic boycott would “limit free speech and exchange of ideas”. It does no such thing – the Academic Boycott is not aimed at individual academics, but at Israeli academic institutions which themselves form an important part of the matrix of oppression by maintaining, defending or otherwise justifying apartheid policies.

Meanwhile, Palestinians enjoy no semblance of academic freedom, not even the freedom to travel to school unhindered.

Divestment – The opposition to campaigning for businesses to divest from Israel stems from the basic idea that it is pointless to ask capitalists to “be nice”. Actually the aim of the divestment is to make it unacceptable for companies to invest in Israel. Israel craves legitimisation and to be perceived as a normal “Western” state – the divestment campaign argues that the exact opposite is true and that companies that invest there are in fact complicit in propping up an apartheid system. Indeed, some companies – such as the Irish firm CRH whose cement is used to build the Wall and illegal colonial settlements – are directly complicit in the commission of serious violations of international law.

Successful divestment campaigns serve to increase the pressure on Israel and those companies that continue to invest there. Unfortunately, at present we live in a capitalist world, but if we can make it taboo for capitalists to do business in Israel then that is a point of attack we cannot afford to dismiss. It doesn’t make one pro-capitalist to see the value in this.

Sanctions – “Asking capitalist governments to change their  self-interested policies is pointless” is the most common claim made about campaigning for sanctions. But then what is the point of any form of social struggle that aims to win reforms from the capitalist state? Using such logic, all demands made upon the state by political and protest groups are basically a waste of time. Of course, capitalist states never simply grant reforms out of generosity – they are pressured into concessions by social movements.

The aim of the sanctions campaign – as it was with the South African campaign – is to make it politically and socially unacceptable for any government to be seen to be pro-Apartheid. Part of this campaign involves meeting with politicians and part of it involves building support on the streets and in society for the BDS campaign – the two strands are not mutually exclusive, in fact they are deeply intertwined.

Finally, to those who maintain that the BDS campaign is “ineffective”, perhaps they should look at the Israeli state and its international lobby groups’ reaction to the growing threat of BDS. Just last week pro-Zionist groups in the US launched a $6 million anti-BDS initiative. In Israel BDS activists are being criminalized, while in February the Reut Institute, a think tank close to the Israeli government, called on Israel to “sabotage” and “attack” the BDS movement. At the very least, we are doing something right – we have them worried!

Gaza Freedom Flotilla Hijacked by Israel

August 2, 2010

Below is an article I wrote for Socialist Voice (July 2010)

Gaza Freedom Flotilla Hijacked by Israel

In the early hours of Monday 31st May Israeli commandos hijacked the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in a brutal attack that left 9 international aid workers dead and many others severely injured. The flotilla was on a mission to break the illegal siege of Gaza and deliver 10,000 tonnes much needed aid and supplies to the tiny coastal strip that is home to over 1.5m Palestinians. The cargo included items that Israel has banned reaching Gaza such as construction materials, children’s toys, paper and pencils. The attack, which happened in international waters, horrified and outraged the world.

The Israel PR machine immediately spun into action – releasing selected video clips and photographs, claiming that this was a premeditated attack by those on the Mavi Marmara and the heavily-armed commandos were only ‘protecting’ themselves. There were claims that weapons were on board, along with “active terror operatives”. What we know now is that the ‘weapons’ the people on board used to defend their ship from this act of piracy were items found on any ship – metal rods, galley knives etc. And we also have evidence that while the commandos were murdering people in cold blood, activists on board were actually treating captured wounded commandos! After their kidnapping many of the international activists received beatings while in detention, and suffered the theft of all their electronic items – laptops, cameras, phones etc.

Less than a week later, the Irish ship MV Rachel Corrie was also hijacked in international waters as it attempted to bring 1,100 tonnes of supplies to Gaza.

Yet despite the best efforts of Israel’s propagandists, the attack has seen something of a watershed in terms of Israel’s standing in the world. Relations between Israel and Turkey (Israel’s longtime ally in the region) have reached an all-time low and the siege of Gaza has become a point of contention the world over. So much so that Israel has been forced to announce what it calls a “liberalization” of the blockade by allowing the import of “civilian” goods to Gaza, but restricting “problematic dual-use” items. This is nothing but a PR stunt, a purely cosmetic response as Israel will still define – according to its own cynical criteria – what constitutes “problematic”. Nor has there been any mention of exports from Gaza. Any easing of the siege is to be welcomed in a humanitarian sense, indeed it represents a significant victory for international solidarity activism. However, a mere ‘easing’ should be unacceptable – the siege of Gaza must end completely and immediately. Palestinians in Gaza must enjoy freedom of movement, trade and be able to rebuild on their own terms.

The Irish government, to its credit, was forceful in its condemnation both of the Israeli attack – calling it “completely unacceptable” – and of the siege of Gaza in general, saying that it is “unacceptable under any circumstances”. Yet when it comes to Israel mere words are not enough, this rogue state will respond only to action. Unfortunately the Irish government is unwilling at present to impose or even support sanctions and is thus talking out of both sides of its mouth. The government can cease buying military equipment from Israel; support the suspension of Israel from the Euro-Med Agreement; oppose any further upgrades in EU/Israel relations; and cut diplomatic ties. However they will not do any of this unless sustained public pressure is brought to bear by the people of this country. People in Ireland can id the Palestinian struggle for self-determination by joining the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (www.ipsc.ie) and helping build the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Future flotillas by the Free Gaza Movement and others have been announced, but at the time of writing are still in the early planning stages with nothing confirmed.

Palestine: Victories and setbacks in the BDS campaign

August 2, 2010

Below is an article I wrote for Socialist Voice (June 2010).

Palestine: Victories and setbacks in the BDS campaign

The past few months have seen a number of major developments – both positive and negative – in the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against the Israeli state. Below we outline some of the most important ones.

BDSIn early May, the BDS movement in Ireland scored a major victory when Dublin City Council voted unanimously in favour of a motion calling on the City Manager not to sign or renew any contract with Veolia until it ceases its apartheid-enabling operations in Palestine. Veolia, who operate the LUAS and private waste and water management services, are involved in the running of the Jerusalem Light Rail which links illegal Israeli colonial settlements in and around Palestinian East Jerusalem. While this is a somewhat symbolic victory – the City Manager says he will ignore the democratic wishes of DCC – it is nonetheless a very powerful statement of solidarity, representing a European capital city saying ‘no’ to companies that collude with Israeli apartheid. It adds to the string of defeats Veolia has suffered internationally, and Dublin is now the third Irish council – along with Sligo and Galway – to pass such a motion. The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) will continue working with councils to ensure many more of these resolutions are passed, and stepping up the pressure on the Rail Procurement Agency, the body responsible for the granting of the Metro North contract which Veolia (as part of Transdev) are tendering for.

Also in May, the Irish multinational CRH – which, through its Israeli subsidiary Mashav/Nesher is supplying the cement being used in Israel’s apartheid wall and colonial settlements – held its AGM in Dun Laoghaire. The IPSC organised a loud and colourful protest featuring a scale-model of the wall outside the meeting. It was heartening to see that so many local people were not only supportive, but fully aware of CRH’s complicity with Israel’s human rights abuses against the Palestinians. Meanwhile, inside the AGM members of the IPSC who are shareholders dominated the proceedings, asking a series of awkward questions and distributed an ‘Alternative Annual Report”. Many ordinary shareholders were supportive, including one who spoke of his “shame” upon seeing the wall for himself while visiting Jerusalem last year. The following day reports and pictures of the IPSC’s intervention appeared in the business pages. While this not a victory per se – CRH did not suddenly divest from Israel – it was a strong opening salvo in what will be a sustained and high profile campaign against CRH until it divests.

In April ICTU held a major conference on the Middle East and how to move forward with their own BDS campaign. Over 150 delegates attended and were resolute in their commitment to trade union solidarity with Palestine. The presence of a leading member of the Zionist trade union federation Histadrut had no effect – indeed she may have done even more damage to their cause. The pièce de résistance of her presentation was a video of a former British army commander defending the Israeli massacre in Gaza. Clearly someone forgot to remind her of what country she was in! The Scottish TUC also reaffirmed its commitment to BDS the following week.

There have also been a number of victories on the Cultural Boycott front, with musicians Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana, Gil Scott Heron and Irish theatre group the Gare St Lazare Players all cancelling dates in Israel under pressure from fans and BDS campaigners.

Finally, last week saw the publication of a joint IPSC/Phoenix magazine supplement on Palestine, focusing on “war crimes in apartheid Israel”, in which prominent Irish politicians from all the Dail parties called for sanctions against Israel.

Unfortunately there have been some setbacks too – the most important of which was the accession of Israel into the OECD. Despite expressing “reservations”, Ireland failed to use its veto to stop Israel’s membership. However, the very fact that reservations were expressed shows that they knew public opinion was against them on the issue. The EU Commission reportedly signed an agreement about selling Israeli pharmaceuticals (though insiders report it is doubtful the EU Parliament will ratify it), while of course no action has been taken to suspend Israel from the Euro-Med Agreement which grants it favourable trading status, even though it is clearly in violation of its human rights clause (Article 2).