30 August 2009

New Labour Proposes to Abolish ALL Disability Benefits - DLA and AA included

What kind of 'Labour' Government are the Trade Unions Funding?

Having already abolished Incapacity Benefit, with barely a squeak or murmur from the trade unions or labour movement, New Labour has signalled that it wants to scrap ALL disability benefits.

On July 14th New Labour published a Green Paper, Shaping the Future of Care. Reading through the spin and waffle, the message is clear. DLA is ‘inefficient’ ‘poorly targetted’ [because it’s not means tested!] and has to go.

In fact DLA is the best benefit there is. If your needs are great enough, if you cannot care and need help with bodily functions for part or all of the day (and night) you are eligible for DLA. There are 3 bands – lower, middle and higher. Receipt of DLA does not overlap with other benefits and is not counted as taxable income. The result is that people who are the most vulnerable and sick in this society see a small increase in their standard of living.

This is what New Labour hate most of all.

The proposal is to use the money for ‘individual budgets’ run by private companies, whereby the disabled, in agreement with the local authority, can spend the money in particular ways. Many people now in receipt of DLA/AA will be ineligible. The whole system will be discretionary and, of course, liable to cuts. Anyone with any experience of the already existing system of individual budgets knows what a nightmare the whole system is.

New Labour's Green Paper openly talks about abolishing Attendance Allowance which is paid to those 65 and over (AA is the equivalent of the care component of DLA). Instead they intend to force the elderly to pay £20,000 to insure themselves!! In conformity with New Labour's belief in spin they talk in the paper of 'disability benefits' as well as Attendance Allowance - a clear sign that it is not just AA which is in their sights. And of course the Green Paper dresses up its purpose with the usual New Labour waffle such as proclaiming that "our aspiration (is) to build a stronger, fairer Britain."

Well quite - abolition of disability is no doubt part of the 'aspiration' to building a fairer Britain in the eyes of New Labour's Paw Law Commissioners such as Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper.

Anyone who believes that New Labour is anything other than an alternative party of capitalism is living in another world. The Attlee Government of 1945-51, which was a right-wing cold war Labour government, nonetheless introduced the building blocs of the welfare state which New Labour is intent on demolishing. They introduced the National Assistance Act intended to act as a safety net for those who fell below a certain level of income. New Labour has virtually abolished Income Support. Successive Labour (and even Tory) Governments have introduced disability benefits. New Labour is determined to abolish them.

New Labour prefers stuffing the mouths of bankers with gold and then expecting the poorest and most deprived sections of the community to pay for it. Meanwhile the leadership of the Trade Unions, like the three wise monkeys, hear nothing, see nothing and say nothing. And more to the point - do nothing.

DLA at the moment is used to pay for the extra costs that result from being disabled. For example my own son is autistic. One of the consequences of this is that he is always breaking things, including windows! DLA is used to remedy this. It also enables him to be taken out by his parents, to enjoy videos and DVDs and live as near as possible a normal life including holidays. This is the kind of thing that New Labour is determined to prevent and in its place will be a free-market, bureaucratically driven National Care Agency which will determine what the needs of the disabled are.

People have been confused because the Green Paper only mentions Attendance Allowance and ‘disability benefits’. However the latter is a clue. If you are going for equivalent of the care component of DLA for the elderly, it makes sense to do so with those under 65. Of course New Labour will try and spin this away so that is why it needs a massive movement to prevent this in its tracks.

Coincidentally the TUC is organising a ‘Poverty Conference’ on Monday October 19th. it is appropriately titled, because it displays the TUC's normal poverty of ideas. Entitled An Alternative Vision for the Welfare State it is organised in conjunction with the Unemployed Workers Centres Consultative Committee.

Earlier this year I resigned from the above committee because in reality it is just the plaything of TUC bureaucrats and staff. It is led by the Unemployed Centres Combine chaired by one Kevin Flynn of Gateshead Unemployed Workers Centre, which also does nothing. Every New Labour attack on benefit claimants so far has been met by silence or worse complicity.

Speaking at the TUC’s Anti Poverty Conference, will be a number of different welfare charities such as Child Poverty Action Committee. CPAG, like most charities, is politically clueless. Having previously welcomed all Gordon Brown’s initiatives such as the tax credit system, as a means of combatting child poverty, a goal which is ever more elusive, they are now paralysed like rabbits in the headlights as New Labour begins taking the axe to the fundamentals of the Welfare State.

This of course is apart from the fact that certain disabled charities like Disability Alliance actually support the government’s proposed abolition of AA/DLA. These charity heads, who have grown fat on the backs of those they purportedly serve, are now rolling over to accept New Labour’s latest spin. Also speaking alongside them will be Jonathan Rutherford of the New Labour think-tank Compass as well as Mark Serwotka of PCS, the Civil Service union. Serwotka has a reputation as a left leader of a militant trade union but when it comes to implementation of benefit cuts and Employment Support Allowance, PCS has gone along with the government without a whimper.

That is why, as Secretary of Brighton & Hove Unemployed Workers Centre, I am calling on people to help organise and join a picket of the TUC in Great Russell Street, London outside its Poverty Conference on Monday October 19th at 10.00 a.m.

Below are links to more information plus a faq sheet on what the Government’s Green Paper means in practice.
1 2 3

What exactly is the Green Paper about?
The green paper is about the problem of paying for care as the UK’s population ages. It proposes setting up a National Care Service, like the National Health Service, to provide a universal system of care throughout the UK. Much of the document is devoted to discussing how to pay for this service, including:

making everyone pay a flat rate of £25,000 before or after they die, whether they ever need care or not; or

making everyone over retirement age pay into an insurance scheme; or

making people pay for part of their care depending on their means.

This is in addition to the proposal to take disability benefits off claimants and hand them over to the care service.

The National Care Service would only deal with your care needs. If you had to go into residential care you would still have to pay for accommodation, heating, lighting, food, clothes, toiletries, etc.

But at least under this system everyone would have the right to the care they need, even though it might mean getting rid of disability benefits, right?

No, not at all. Everyone would have the right to have their care needs assessed but only the most severely disabled would actually receive any care.

The way it would work is that under the National Care Service everyone in the UK would have their care needs assessed using the same criteria wherever they live. This might be done by a national body – it’s easy to imagine a company like Atos who currently do benefits medicals being employed to do the assessments – or it might be done by local social services departments all working to the same system.

As a result of the assessment, some people would be awarded a ‘personal budget’ – a cash amount that could be used to meet their needs. Many people, however, would receive no care whatsoever, because their care needs would be below the threshold set nationally or by individual local authorities.

For example you might be assessed as needing help with washing, dressing and undressing because of arthritis. But you’d be very unlikely to actually get this help from the National Care Service. Resources would be reserved for those with higher needs than yours.

One of the concerns of disability agencies, including RNIB, is that many people who are currently entitled to DLA or AA would not be entitled to a personal budget from the National Care Service. At the moment, most local authorities do not currently provide help for people who ‘only’ need help with washing and dressing.

Still, those with the highest care needs would be able to purchase whatever they wanted with their personal budget, wouldn’t they?

No, not at all. How the budget would be spent would depend on what agreement individuals were able to reach with a social worker.

If you have ME/CFS, for example, you may rely on your DLA or AA to pay for alternative therapies such as acupuncture, homeopathy, herbalism or chiropractice or you may use it to pay for dietary supplements that you know help you. However, professionals may dismiss these as quack remedies and you may not be able to use your personal budget for those sort of things. It wouldn’t be your cash to spend as you choose, in the way that DLA and AA are.

Won’t there be some sort of transitional relief for current claimants?

Yes, there may be. But you might not like it.

One proposal is to ensure that all current claimants get a care package of at least the value of their current disability benefits payments. But the amounts paid for DLA and AA wouldn’t get you very much care.

Middle rate care DLA and lower rate AA are worth £47.10 a week, for example. This might get you help with washing and dressing in the morning and getting into bed at night for two, or at the most three days a week. The other four or five days you’d have to manage alone.

If your care needs are at night, your benefits would pay for one night a week for someone to sleep in your house and not even a single night for someone to stay awake.

Lower rate DLA wouldn’t pay for even two hours of care a week. In fact it might not get you any hours at all, but instead be used to pay for aids or adaptations.

OK, this doesn’t sound great, but this is only a discussion document, isn’t it?

Yes it is, but green papers are the first step on the road to new laws. If politicians sense from the responses – or the lack of them - that disabled people and disability organisations won’t put up too much of a fight then they’ll see that as a green light for abolishing DLA as well as AA.

You keep going on about ‘disability benefits’ but what exactly are they?

Good question. We only keep going on about them because the green paper does. In all, the term ‘disability benefits’ appears 35 times in the green paper. There is no legal definition of disability benefits, as far as we are aware, but most people would agree that the main ones are DLA and AA.

So you’re just scaremongering really aren’t you, because the green paper doesn’t actually refer to ending DLA, does it?
No, it doesn’t go in for that kind of plain speaking. Instead, it talks about ‘integrating‘ ‘disability benefits, for example Attendance Allowance’ and ‘disability benefits such as Attendance Allowance’ into the care system.

We understand why people might think why our concerns are just pointless speculation and prophecies of doom. But people said the same thing before employment and support allowance was introduced and the reality is now beginning to look worse than the prophecies.

And bear this in mind. This green paper was many months in the making. It’s signed by no fewer than six secretaries of state, including the acknowledged master of spin, Lord Mandelson. It’s also signed by the chief secretary to the treasury and has an introduction by Gordon Brown himself. You can be quite sure that every phrase in this document has been carefully chosen.

If DLA had been specifically listed as a benefit that was to be axed the government, and particularly the new secretary of state for work and pensions Yvette Cooper, would have expected a much angrier response from disability groups. The use of the imprecise term disability benefits, on the other hand, allows the government to gauge the level of organised opposition before denying or revealing that they wish to axe DLA.

And remember, by passing enabling legislation which gives the secretary of state the power to withdraw any benefits and merge the funds into the National Care Service the government can pave the way for getting rid of DLA without openly admitting their intention. By the time they do admit it, it will be far, far too late to do anything about it.

I’m not convinced - I still don’t believe they would dare to get rid of DLA, so why should I get involved in this campaign?

Well, we salute your optimism. But one reason might be simply that if you’re a claimant yourself you know what a desperate struggle it is to live off benefits. Why would you not offer to support to sick and disabled claimants currently getting AA? Why would you decide that it’s absolutely fine to snatch benefits away from sick and disabled claimants as long as they’re ‘only’ old people?

At the worst you’ll spend a few hours of your time sticking up for some of the least well off in society. In fact a very recent report found that the UK’s pensioners are the fourth poorest in Europe. Yet these are the people who are being told they must suffer cuts in their already low incomes so that investment bankers, for example, can continue to enjoy massive bonuses without having to pay higher taxes.

You might even give politicians the idea that it’s not so easy to push the sick and disabled around after all.

But surely it doesn’t matter what labour proposes, they’ll be out of power by the end of next year, won’t they?

Most people seem to think so, but why would you expect the conservatives to be against the idea of cutting benefits?

Labour and the conservatives have co-operated closely over welfare reform up until now – hence the smooth introduction of employment and support allowance with its harsh new work capability assessment. The only disagreement between the two seems generally to be that the conservatives don’t think that labour go far enough with some reforms. That’s why investment banker and get the sick back to work guru David Freud deserted labour and joined the tories.

There is every reason to suppose that if the conservatives win the next election they will be as keen as labour to cut the cost of benefits rather than, say, raising the rate of tax paid by the very well off. The green paper even points out that ‘If we do not reform the system, in 20 years’ time the cost of disability benefits could increase by almost 50 per cent.’

One thing we can say with certainty, since the publication of the green paper there has been no undertaking from the conservatives that they would oppose getting rid of disability benefits.

If both parties are in favour of axing DLA and AA then there’s no point in protesting, is there?
Yes there is. There are over 4.5 million people in the UK who get DLA or AA and most of them are entitled to vote. In addition, millions have a partner, parent, carer or someone else whose life is closely bound up with theirs and who would also suffer if disability benefits were axed. Together, they make up a very large slice of the electorate.

In addition, there are literally thousands of disability organisations in this country, from the very large ones such as RNIB and RNID to very small local groups. Together, they form a very influential lobby group. No party would lightly go into an election with a huge range of disability groups condemning their proposals for disabled people.

Just as importantly, no MP or challenger wants to fight an election with a local campaign against them mounted by local disabled people. Even Labour MPs in formerly safe seats will be counting every vote. They can probably be relied on to put pressure on ministers to drop policies that are filling their post bags with letters of protest.

But you’ll never get disabled people or their organisations to act together, will you?
No, we won’t. Not on our own – we’re a tiny organisation and we aren’t set up to be a campaigning body. But our campaign will only begin if a thousand people sign up to it. A thousand people each prepared to devote a little time to applying pressure and to encouraging others to join in could genuinely begin to influence the national disability organisations and that might well start to frighten politicians.

What does your campaign actually involve . . . will it include chains and padlocks?

We’re aiming to get people to email MPs, disability groups and others with their concerns. We also want to araise awareness of the plans to abolish disability benefits in discussion forums and local media. We’ll be asking campaigners to demand that organisations that represent them put up a genuine fight against these proposals.

We won’t be asking anyone to chain themselves to anything – though if you do, please send us a pic.

Sign up to our campaign to fight the threat to DLA & AA

But haven’t all the disability groups been “bought” by the government?

Sadly, there are a number of disability bodies who rely increasingly on funding from the government. And there are some who seem to care more about being on first name terms with ministers than they do about representing their members.

But most disability organisations are hard working, decent but woefully underfunded and overstretched bodies. Some are already speaking out against the proposals to axe DLA and AA. Many others simply don’t understand the benefits system and generally try to have nothing to do with it because it’s too confusing and they don’t have the specialist staff. All that may be needed is for enough of their members to start contacting and educating them in order to get them to act.

Some will undoubtedly prefer to steer clear of controversy altogether. But most agencies depend primarily on donations and subscriptions from individual members for their funding. And all rely on being able to claim that they represent the interests of their particular group. None of them will feel comfortable about being publicly and repeatedly condemned for failing to stick up for the very people they claim to represent, because that could have a direct effect on their income and jobs.

This is all very well, but why should we trust anything you say when you’re just out to make money from people claiming DLA & AA?
It’s absolutely true that an important part of our income comes from people subscribing to the Benefits and Work website for information about claiming DLA. But you don’t have to trust us at all. We’ve published links to the green paper itself and to other sites with information about it, so you can make up your own mind.

But in our own defence we should point out that between us we have many years of experience of the benefits system as welfare rights workers, trainers and writers and that one of us is legally qualified.

We started this campaign because we are so outraged that the government wants to make people with mild to moderately high care needs give up their benefits in order to pay for the care of the most severely disabled. We think there are better ways to fund the cost of care, like making bankers with million pound bonuses pay much higher taxes. And we’re astonished that there has been so little reaction to these proposals.

But if you’re right, and we are just hard-faced business people trying to protect our income, then maybe you should be really worried. Because business people wouldn’t invest a lot of time, effort and money into a campaign like this – which will make no money whatsoever – unless they thought the threat to DLA was a very real threat indeed to their business.

OK, fair point. But as a claimant it’s safer just to keep your head down, isn’t it, rather than getting involved in protests?
We can see why people feel that way.

After all, politicians have invested many millions of pounds and years of effort into encouraging society to view those who claim incapacity and disability benefits as workshy frauds.

They happily allow the media to incite hatred towards sick and disabled claimants in a way that would see editors and producers imprisoned if they used similar language in relation to any other minority group. Indeed, it’s very often politicians who provide the soundbites and misleading statistics that fuel another round of claimant bashing

So it’s not surprising that many sick and disabled people are left feeling ashamed and afraid of admitting they claim benefits. And as the recession deepens, scapegoating of claimants as a drain on hardworking taxpayers will only increase.

And that’s the problem: if you don’t raise your voice in protest now it will just carry on getting worse. Benefits will be cut and cut again. Private sector companies will be given greater powers and bigger cash rewards for pushing people into unsuitable and unsustainable employment. And more and more stories of benefits scroungers will be fed to the media to encourage hatred of sick and disabled people, ensuring that they don’t ever organise themselves to resist.

Does that sound safer to you? Or would you rather take a chance and help make things change? And imagine how proud you'll feel if the campaign succeeds in saving DLA and AA and you've been part of it.

Sign up to our campaign to fight the threat to DLA & AA

One example of the success of New Labour's spin in the following article by Debbie Andalo in the Guardian of August 6 2009 which claims that disabled organisations are backing New Labour. Though it is a lie that they represent disabled people in receipt of DLA or AA.

Disabled people could reap huge benefits from the proposed national care service. But issues of how funds would be allocated were again top of the agenda

Disabled people and those organisations that represent them are backing the vision of a new national care service outlined in the green paper Shaping the Future of Care Together published earlier this month. But they believe that the document focuses too much on the needs and demands of a care and support system created by an increasing ageing population rather than those of younger people with a disability who need long-term support, according to the views expressed at a roundtable convened to debate the green paper.

The event was the second roundtable organised by Society and sponsored by the Department of Health. The first, held a week earlier (Society, 29 July), was devoted to the implications of the proposed national care service for an increasing ageing population. The latest roundtable, which included a minister and representatives from user groups and other organisations representing disabled people and their carers, focused on how a new national care service would meet the needs of adult disabled people.

There was also widespread criticism of the name "national care service" and the language used in the green paper, with its emphasis on "care" and being "looked after", which participants said is patronising to young adults who are seeking support to live as independently as possible. The words that resonate with today's young disabled adults were "entitlement, rights, equality, inclusion and diversity", the roundtable was told.

Participants attending the event were also concerned about the tone of the green paper, which they thought suggested that disabled people were a "burden" that had "investment implications." One participant said: "We have missed a massive opportunity to see care and support as an investment. We need to do far more to identify and communicate the cost benefits of caring because at the moment it's seen as a primary burden."

One participant said the opportunity to take part in the Big Care Debate, the title the government has given to the public consultation on the green paper, was a "oncein- a-generation opportunity to transform social care services" and offered the opportunity for a "massive cultural change". The consultation runs until November and will help inform a care and support white paper due to be published next year.

The proposals, the participant added, will give people with a disability "wraparound services", with greater personal choice and greater control. The green paper, the speaker said, "embodies the disability movement … and its vision about what it is to be disabled and what rights and equalities are all about. It's a massive capturing of a strand of thinking that some people have been arguing about... for many years, and here we have moved it into mainstream government policy. We shouldn't underestimate the importance of that cultural shift."

Single needs assessment
There was universal support at the roundtable for the green paper's proposal to create a single needs assessment for a disabled person that would be "portable" – recognised by any local authority wherever an individual lived in England. Seen as a landmark in social care policy, the new assessment would break down one of the biggest barriers to social and economic mobility cited by people with a disability. One participant described it as a "huge leap forward."

The government is optimistic that the change will help bring an end to the current "postcode lottery", where the amount of care and support an individual receives varies according to where they live – even if they have the same level of need.

But participants were less optimistic than ministers because the green paper failed to offer any details or promises about the services an individual could expect and what would be provided under the new system. One participant said: "People need to know what they have a right to and then pass that duty on to the local authority. There needs to be a nationally resourced, allocated system – everything else follows from that."

The roundtable was also worried about another key proposal. Under the new system the government would establish the level of need at which somebody qualifies for state funding. It would also decide what proportion of their care would be funded by the state, and what percentage, if any, would be met by the individual. But the green paper is undecided about how much money a person would be entitled to in order to meet their care needs.

It puts forward two ideas, which are part of the present public consultation. The first option is that it would be up to an individual local authority to decide how much money a person should receive. This option, according to the green paper, would give councils flexibility in deciding how much of their total budget to spend on care and support; it would allow a council to raise funds through council tax to help meet the costs. The disadvantage, says the green paper, is that this system still has the potential to create a postcode lottery because the amount of money a person receives could vary according to where he or she lived – even if their level of need was identical.

The second idea is that the government, rather than a council, would decide how much funding a person would be entitled to. The advantage of this scheme is that it is likely to bring an end to regional disparities as an individual would be entitled to the same budget to meet their level of
need wherever they lived. The down side, according to the green paper, is that local authorities would be committed to rigid care budgets that do not reflect the fact that the cost of providing care is very different in different parts of the country. Local authorities would also lose the flexibility to raise additional money through council tax to supplement central government funding.

Opposition to central funding
The roundtable was told that some local authorities have already warned that they would oppose any new national care service being "imposed" on them. One participant pointed out: "There are difficult issues around how we run local government finance and how money is resourced … some local authorities have [already] expressed strong views on this." Another recalled how he was at a recent meeting where a representative from the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents local councils, "made it absolutely clear that a national service wasn't on, and that there had to be local discretion because conditions, circumstances and costs were different." The participant was worried that if the influential LGA decided to "challenge one of the really valuable things about the green paper" it would win.

However, another participant pointed out it would be naive to think that any national model of care service would bring an end to regional inequalities. The person said: "Let's be real about it – the NHS is a national service but we still get a postcode lottery … don't fool yourself that a national structure brings equality."

Another issue that dominated the debate, and which was also a key concern of those who attended the first roundtable, was worry over proposals to change the system of disability benefits to fund the new national care service. The roundtable was assured that the disability living allowance (DLA) – a non means-tested benefit paid to disabled people of working age – would remain intact. But, the roundtable was told, there was no such guarantee for attendance allowance (AA) – a non means-tested benefit paid to the over 65s to help with the additional costs of being disabled that are not met by their care plans. One participant was opposed to any benefit disappearing: "For AA and DLA to be put at risk is a terrifying prospect." Another added: "DLA and AA are the original personal budget – and I would be terrified if they were to be merged into some local authority government system [of care and support]."

But one participant said during times of limited resources it was important to consider what presented better value for money and maybe there was a need to "move money from A to B" to get that. The speaker added: "We can enshrine rights until the cows come home, but the quality of provision is the thing that makes the difference."

The roundtable was conducted under the Chatham House rule: quotes are non‑attributable to any of the participants
At the table

Lord (Victor) Adebowale, chief executive, Turning Point
Professor Peter Beresford, director of the centre for citizen particpation, Brunel University
David Brindle (chair), public services editor, The Guardian
Baroness (Jane) Campbell, health and social care policy adviser
Caroline Ellis, deputy chief executive, Radar
Jane Finnerty, member, public affairs committee, National Federation of Women's Institutes
Lorraine Gradwell, chief executive, Breakthrough UK
Phil Hope MP, minister of state for care services, Department of Health
Alexandra Norrish, head of social care strategy, and head of the green paper team, Department of Health
Dame Philippa Russell, chair, Standing Commission on Carers
Patrick Vernon, chief executive, The Afiya Trust
Dame Jo Williams, co-chair, Learning Disability Coalition

See also plan to make elderly pay £20,000 to insure themselves

29 August 2009

The Cultural Boycott - John Greyson Withdraws His Film "Covered" From Toronto Film Festival

Below is an open letter that the Canadian gay film-maker, John Greyson, wrote to the organiser of the Toronto Film Festival when withdrawing his film ‘Covered’. The film "Covered" is about the cancellation of the Sarajevo Queer Film Festival. For the duration of the Festival, "Covered" can be seen at:
August 27, 2009

Piers Handling, Cameron Bailey, Noah Cowan
Toronto International Film Festival
2 Carlton St., 13th floor
Toronto Canada M5B 1J3

Dear Piers, Cameron, Noah:

I've come to a very difficult decision -- I'm withdrawing my film Covered from TIFF, in protest against your inaugural City-to-City Spotlight on Tel Aviv.

In the Canadian Jewish News, Israeli Consul General Amir Gissin described how this Spotlight is the culmination of his year-long Brand Israel campaign, which includes bus/radio/TV ads, the ROM's notorious Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, and "a major Israeli presence at next year's Toronto International Film Festival, with numerous Israeli, Hollywood and Canadian entertainment luminaries on hand." Gissen said Toronto was chosen as a test-city for Brand Israel by Israel's Foreign Ministry, and thanked Astral, MIJO and Canwest for donating the million-dollar budget. (Astral is of course a long-time TIFF sponsor, and Canwest owners' Asper Foundation donated $500,000 to TIFF). "We've got a real product to sell to Canadians... The lessons learned from Toronto will inform the worldwide launch of Brand Israel in the coming years, Gissin said."

This past year has also seen: the devastating Gaza massacre of eight months ago, resulting in over 1000 civilian deaths; the election of a Prime Minister accused of war crimes; the aggressive extension of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands; the accelerated destruction of Palestinian homes and orchards; the viral growth of the totalitarian security wall, and the further enshrining of the check-point system. Such state policies have led diverse figures such as John Berger, Jimmy Carter, and Bishop Desmond Tutu to characterize this 'brand' as apartheid.

Your TIFF program book may describe Tel Aviv as a "vibrant young city... of beaches, cafes and cultural ferment... that celebrates its diversity," but it's also been called "a kind of alter-Gaza, the smiling face of Israeli apartheid" (Naomi Klein) and "the only city in the west without Arab residents" (Tel Aviv filmmaker Udi Aloni).

To my mind, this isn't the right year to celebrate Brand Israel, or to demonstrate an ostrich-like indifference to the realities (cinematic and otherwise) of the region, or to pointedly ignore the international economic boycott campaign against Israel. Launched by Palestinian NGO's in 2005, and since joined by thousands inside and outside Israel, the campaign is seen as the last hope for forcing Israel to comply with international law. By ignoring this boycott, TIFF has emphatically taken sides -- and in the process, forced every filmmaker and audience member who opposes the occupation to cross a type of picket line.

Let's be clear: my protest isn't against the films or filmmakers you've chosen. I've seen brilliant works of Israeli and Palestinian cinema at past TIFFs, and will again in coming years. My protest is against the Spotlight itself, and the smug business-as-usual aura it promotes of a "vibrant metropolis [and] dynamic young city... commemorating its centennial", seemingly untroubled by other anniversaries, such as the 42nd anniversary of the occupation. Isn't such an uncritical celebration of Tel Aviv right now akin to celebrating Montgomery buses in 1963, California grapes in 1969, Chilean wines in 1973, Nestles infant formula in 1984, or South African fruit in 1991?

You're probably groaning right now -- "inflammatory rhetoric!" -- but I mention these boycott campaigns because they were specific and strategic to their historic moments, and certainly complex. Like these others, the Israel boycott has been the subject of much debate, with many of us struggling with difficult questions of censorship, constructive engagement and free speech. In our meeting, for instance, you said you supported economic boycotts like South Africa's, but not cultural boycotts. Three points: South Africa was also a cultural boycott (asking singers not to play Sun City); culture is one of Canada's (and Israel's) largest economic sectors (this spotlight is funded by a Canadian Ministry of Industry tourism grant, after all); and the Israel rebrand campaign explicitly targets culture as a priority sector.

Many will still say a boycott prevents much needed dialogue between possible allies. That's why, like Chile, like Nestles, the strategic and specific nature of each case needs to be considered. For instance, I'm helping organize a screening in September for the Toronto Palestinian Film Festival, co-sponsored by Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and the Inside Out Festival. It's a doc that profiles Ezra Nawi, the queer Israeli activist jailed for blocking army bulldozers from destroying Palestinian homes. Technically, the film probably qualifies as meeting the technical criteria of boycott -- not because it was directed by an Israeli filmmaker, but because it received Israeli state funding. Yet all concerned have decided that this film should be seen by Toronto audiences, especially Jews and Palestinians -- a strategic, specific choice, and one that has triggered many productive discussions.

I'm sorry I can't feel the same way about your Tel Aviv spotlight. Despite this past month of emails and meetings, many questions remain for me about its origins, its funding, its programming, its sponsors. You say it was initiated in November 2008... but then why would Gissen seem to be claiming it as part of his campaign four months earlier? You've told me that TIFF isn't officially a part of Brand Israel -- okay -- but why haven't you clarified this publicly? Why are only Jewish Israeli filmmakers included? Why are there no voices from the refugee camps and Gaza (or Toronto for that matter), where Tel Aviv's displaced Palestinians now live? Why only big budget Israeli state-funded features -- why not a program of shorts/docs/indie works by underground Israeli and Palestinian artists? Why is TIFF accepting and/or encouraging the support of the Israeli government and consulate, a direct flaunting of the boycott, with filmmaker plane tickets, receptions, parties and evidently the Mayor of Tel Aviv opening the spotlight? Why does this feel like a propaganda campaign?

This decision was very tough. For thirty years, TIFF has been my film school and my community, an annual immersion in the best of world cinema. You've helped rewrite the canon through your pioneering support of new voices and difficult ideas, of avant-garde visions and global stories. You've opened many doors and many minds, and made me think critically and politically about cinema, about how film can speak out and make a difference. In particular, you've been extraordinarily supportive of my own work, often presenting the hometown premieres of my films to your legendary audiences. You are three of the smartest, sharpest, skillful and most thoughtful festival heads anywhere -- this isn't hyperbole, with all of you I speak from two decades worth of friendship and deep respect -- which makes this all the more inexplicable and troubling.

What eventually determined my decision to pull out was the subject of Covered itself. It's a doc about the 2008 Sarajevo Queer Festival, which was cancelled due to brutal anti-gay violence. The film focuses on the bravery of the organizers and their supporters, and equally, on the ostriches, on those who remained silent, who refused to speak out: most notoriously, the Sarajevo International Film Festival and the Canadian Ambassador in Sarajevo. To stand in judgment of these ostriches before a TIFF audience, but then say nothing about this Tel Aviv spotlight -- finally, I realized that that was a brand I couldn't stomach.

John Greyson

For the duration of TIFF, I've posted Covered at:

Uri Avnery – The Muddle Headed Zionist Opposes Boycott

Uri Avnery is unique among Zionists. He opposes the consequences of Zionism whilst supporting an idealised version of what he would like Zionism to be! Of late he seems to be obsessed with trying to prevent fellow Israelis in the peace movement drawing the right conclusion about Zionism, namely that it is inherently racist and discriminatory. First he criticised Dov Yermiya for rejecting Zionism and now Neve Gordon with his call for a Boycott of Israel.

In an overlong and rambling article, Tutu’s Prayer Uri Avnery demonstrates nothing so much as his own political limits. Despite his undoubtedly brave and lonely record in opposing the appalling war crimes of Israel, the Apartheid Wall et al, he ends up in the camp of the oppressor not the oppressed.

He argues that a Boycott of Israel will drive people into the hands of the far-right. Presumably Avnery was taking a siesta when the present Israeli coalition were elected and Liebermann made Foreign Minister? Or do they represent Israel’s left-wing now?

The major fault of the article is when Avnery says that the primary difference between Israel and South Africa is the Nazi holocaust. The fact is that it is not. When holocaust survivors first came to Israel they were treated with contempt and called ‘soap’ after the myth of holocaust victims being turned into soap. [see Tom Segev ‘The 7th Million’ and Amos Elon ‘Israelis: Founders & Sons’]. Indeed they still are treated with contempt. Only this week there was a story of one such living on the streets whilst the State waxes fat on the reparations that were meant for them. Avnery points out that the Afrikaner leadership supported the Nazis and he's right. But wasn't John Vorster, Prime Minister of South Africa, who was interned during the war for that support, an honoured guest of Yitzhak Rabin and the Israeli State? He was welcomed to Yad Vashem, the Israeli State’s memorial to the holocaust victims. As Israel Shahak, a childhood survivor of Belsen and the Warsaw Ghetto, noted of Yad Vashem in Kol Ha'ir (Jerusalem) 19.5.89:
Yad Vashem (official state Holocaust museum in Jerusalem - Ed.) theatre, I do not wish to speak, at all. It, and its vile exploiting, such as honouring South Africa collaborators with the Nazis are truly beneath contempt.
Avnery argues that the fact that Avigdor Lieberman accused the whole Swedish nation of collaborating with the Nazis is proof of this fact. But it isn't. It's proof that Lieberman is an idiot and an ignoramus. That fascists are liars or fools or both is nothing new but Lieberman's use of the holocaust proves nothing other than that Zionism consciously used and uses the memory of the most terrible racial persecution in order to perpetuate yet more racial persecution.

Of course fascists use past memories, as the Nazis themselves did with their pretence that the Jews' role as middlemen in medieval times was still a current phenomenon. In fact it was Sweden, despite the attempts of the Zionists to prevent it from being a safe haven, who took in the whole of the Danish Jewish community who escaped the initial roundup, some 7,200 people, thereby saving them from extermination. See the response of one such holocaust survivor Dr Zandman’s in Yediot Aharanot on-line.

Avenry expressed his doubts about the effectiveness of the Boycott of South Africa and went on to ask Desmond Tutu about its utility, only to be told it was immensely important. After that Avnery dropped that line of attack. Because of course it is indisputable that Boycott is the most effective weapon there is against Zionism and its treatment of the Palestinians. For Avnery to oppose it therefore means that when push comes to shove, he prefers the company of the Israeli Occupation Forces to that of the Palestinians. And therein lies the rub.

Avnery's demographics, which he uses to ‘prove’ his point, seem a bit off beam as well. There is a rough 50-50 correlation between Palestinians, including Israeli Palestinians and Israeli Jews, in what was Mandate Palestine. My understanding of South Africa's population was that the Whites were about 20-25% not 10% when Apartheid was abolished and that there were roughly 25 million not 50 million people living there. But these quibbles aside, the demographic parity in Palestine suggests a number of things such as the feasibility of a binational or unitary democratic, secular state for all peoples. It also suggests that the solution to the Palestine conflict cannot be found simply within the borders of Palestine but involve social revolution in the Arab East as a whole, and Iran too.

The apocryphal tale of de Klerk's response to Tutu (and contrary to Avnery's assertion, de Klerk was not a moderate white leader, he defeated a moderate white leader to become President and he was the leader of the vehemently pro-Apartheid Transvaal section of the Nationalist Party) when he asked for the Boycott to be called off immediately he assumed power, suggests that the Boycott was indeed the major thorn in the side of the white nationalists in South Africa. That is the lesson to be drawn from that remark not Avnery's wittering about relative population sizes.

Avnery says a boycott is founded on despair. No more so than South Africa. If it is despair, then it is despair that Israeli Jews will ever rid themselves of the privileges of apartheid. In this they are not unique. If it had been left to White South Africans then Apartheid would still be here. It is only through outside pressure that Israel can be moved.

Yes there are differences, such as exclusion of Palestinians rather than their exploitation, but on the question of race, however defined, there are clear similarities. Indeed the very example Avnery gives, of an Israeli Arab not being able to live with his/her spouse from the West Bank, in order to preserve Israel's Jewish demographic majority, suggests that the concept of race is indeed alive and well. How else can you describe the desire to preserve an artificial majority based on the fact of being Jewish? Since there is nothing scientific about 'race' then any arbitrary factor will do. It could be blue or brown eyes, it could be religion and/or it could be biological inheritance. The Zionist definition of what it is to be Jewish, which is the basis of Israel’s Law of Return, uses the Nazi definition of having one Jewish grandparent. Clearly this is a racial, biological definition. In fact the Nazi definition of Aryan was defined in the negative, i.e. not being Jewish, because there could not be a positive definition of something which doesn't exist. Being Jewish in Israel is being Aryan in Germany and the preservation of a demographic majority is exactly what race theory strives for. Unsurprisingly most of the early Zionists, when these things were in fashion, did indeed subscribe to blood and soil racism. People such as Max Nordau, Arthur Ruppin, Moses Hess and now Avigdor Lieberman and Netanyahu.

The major fault with Avnery’s thesis is that it is based on his supposition that the root of the conflict in Palestine is one of national conflict. It is not. The Zionists did not seek to expel and exclude on the basis of nationality. There was no such thing as a Palestinian nation in 1882 or indeed 1900, when the first and second aliya (waves of Zionist emigration) took place. Their actions were directed against anyone who was indigenous and not Jewish. Hence why they were classic settler colonials.

Coming in the wake of his criticism of Dov Yermiah, the veteran ex-Mapam IDF officer who at 95 has drawn anti-Zionist conclusions from Israel’s barbarities, it is sad that someone like Avnery is lending his support to Lieberman, Barak and Netanyahu’s efforts to combat the growing Boycott Divestment and Sanctions strategy.

Tony Greenstein

Tutu’s Prayer


By Uri Avnery

HOW MUCH did the boycott of South Africa actually contribute to the fall of the racist regime? This week I talked with Desmond Tutu about this question, which has been on my mind for a long time.

No one is better qualified to answer this question than he. Tutu, the South African Anglican archbishop and Nobel prize laureate, was one of the leaders of the fight against apartheid and, later, the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which investigated the crimes of the regime. This week he visited Israel with the “Elders”, an organization of elder statesmen from all over the world=20 set up by Nelson Mandela.

The matter of the boycott came up again this week after an article by Dr. Neve Gordon appeared in the Los Angeles Times, calling for a world-wide boycott of Israel. He cited the example of South Africa to show how a world-wide boycott could compel Israel to put an end to the occupation, which he compared to the apartheid regime.

I have known and respected Neve Gordon for many years. Before becoming a lecturer at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, he organized many demonstrations against the Separation Wall in the Jerusalem area, in which I, too, took part.

I am sorry that I cannot agree with him this time – neither about the similarity with South Africa nor about the efficacy of a boycott of Israel.

There are several opinions about the contribution of the boycott to the success of the anti-apartheid struggle. According to one view, it was decisive. Another view claims its impact was marginal. Some believe that it was the collapse of the Soviet Union that was the decisive factor. After that, the US and its allies no longer had any reason for support the regime in South Africa, which until then had been viewed as a pillar of the world-wide struggle against Communism.

“THE BOYCOTT was immensely important,” Tutu told me. “Much more than the armed struggle.”

It should be remembered that, unlike Mandela, Tutu was an advocate of non-violent struggle. During the 28 years Mandela languished in prison, he could have walked free at any moment, if he had only agreed to sign a statement condemning “terrorism”. He refused.

“The importance of the boycott was not only economic,” the archbishop explained, “but also moral. South Africans are, for example, crazy about sports. The boycott, which prevented their teams from competing abroad, hit them very hard. But the main thing was that it gave us the feeling that we are not alone, that the whole world is with us. That gave us the strength to continue.”

To show the importance of the boycott he told me the following story: In 1989, the moderate white leader, Frederic Willem de Klerk, was elected President of South Africa. Upon assuming office he declared his intention to set up a multiracial regime. “I called to congratulate him, and the first thing he said was: Will you now call off the boycott?

It seems to me that Tutu’s answer emphasizes the huge difference between the South African reality at the time and ours today.

The South African struggle was between a large majority and a small minority. Among a general population of almost 50 million, the Whites amounted to less than 10%. That means that more than 90% of the country’s inhabitants supported the boycott, in spite of the argument that it hurt them, too.

In Israel, the situation is the very opposite. The Jews amount to more than 80% of Israel’s citizens, and constitute a majority of some 60% throughout the country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. 99.9% of the Jews oppose a boycott on Israel.

They will not feel the “the whole world is with us”, but rather that “the whole world is against us”.

In South Africa, the world-wide boycott helped in strengthening the majority and steeling it for the struggle. The impact of a boycott on Israel would be the exact opposite: it would push the large majority into the arms of the extreme right and create a fortress mentality against the “anti-Semitic world”. (The boycott would, of course, have a different impact on the Palestinians, but that is not the aim of those who advocate it.)

Peoples are not the same everywhere. It seems that the Blacks in South Africa are very different from the Israelis, and from the Palestinians, too. The collapse of the oppressive racist regime did not lead to a bloodbath, as could have been predicted, but on the contrary: to the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. Instead of revenge, forgiveness. Those who appeared before the commission and admitted their misdeeds were pardoned. That was in tune with Christian belief, and that was also in tune with the Jewish Biblical promise: “Who confesseth and forsaketh [his sins] shal l have mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)

I told the bishop that I admire not only the leaders who chose this path but also the people who accepted it.

ONE OF the profound differences between the two conflicts concerns the Holocaust.

Centuries of pogroms have imprinted on the consciousness of the Jews the conviction that the whole world is out to get them. This belief was reinforced a hundredfold by the Holocaust. Every Jewish Israeli child learns in school that “the entire world was silent” when the six million were murdered. This belief is anchored in the deepest recesses of the Jewish soul. Even when it is dormant, it is easy to arouse it.

(That is the conviction which made it possible for Avigdor Lieberman, last week, to accuse the entire Swedish nation of cooperating with the Nazis, because of one idiotic article in a Swedish tabloid.)

It may well be that the Jewish conviction that “the whole world is against us” is irrational. But in the life of nations, as indeed in the life of individuals, it is irrational to ignore the irrational.

The Holocaust will have a decisive impact on any call for a boycott of Israel. The leaders of the racist regime in South Africa openly sympathized with the Nazis and were even interned for this in World War II. Apartheid was based on the same racist theories as inspired Adolf Hitler. It was20easy to get the civilized world to boycott such a disgusting regime. The Israelis, on the other hand, are seen as the victims of Nazism. The call for a boycott will remind many people around the world of the Nazi slogan “Kauft nicht bei Juden!” - don’t buy from Jews.

That does not apply to every kind of boycott. Some 11 years ago, the Gush Shalom movement, in which I am active, called for a boycott of the product of the settlements. Its intention was to separate the settlers from the Israeli public, and to show that there are two kinds of Israelis. The boycott was designed to strengthen those Israelis who oppose the occupation, without becoming anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic. Since then, the European Union has been working hard to close the gates of the EU to the products of the settlers, and almost nobody has accused it of anti-Semitism.

One of the main battlefields in our fight for peace is Israeli public opinion. Most Israelis believe nowadays that peace is desirable but impossible (because of the Arabs, of course.) We must convince them not that peace would be good for Israel, but that it is realistically achievable.

When the archbishop asked what we, the Israeli peace activists, are hoping for, I told him: We hope for Barack Obama to publish a comprehensive and detailed peace plan and to use the full persuasive power of the United States to convince the parties to accept it. We hope t hat the entire world will rally behind this endeavor. And we hope that this will help to set the Israeli peace movement back on its feet and convince our public that it is both possible and worthwhile to follow the path of peace with Palestine.

No one who entertains this hope can support the call for boycotting Israel. Those who call for a boycott act out of despair. And that is the root of the matter.

Neve Gordon and his partners in this effort have despaired of the Israelis. They have reached the conclusion that there is no chance of changing Israeli public opinion. According to them, no salvation will come from within. One must ignore the Israeli public and concentrate on mobilizing the world against the State of Israel. (Some of them believe anyhow that the State of Israel should be dismantled and replaced by a bi-national state.)

I do not share either view – neither the despair of the Israeli people, to which I belong, nor the hope that the world will stand up and compel Israel to change its ways against its will. For this to happen, the boycott must gather world-wide momentum, the US must join it, the Israeli economy must collapse and the morale of the Israeli public must break.

How long will this take? Twenty Years? Fifty years? Forever?

I am afraid that this is an example of a faulty diagnosis leading to faulty treatment. To be precise: the mistaken assumption that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resembles the South African experience leads to a mistaken choice of strategy.

True, the Israeli occupation and the South African apartheid system have certain similar characteristics. In the West Bank, there are roads “for Israelis only”. But the Israeli policy is not based on race theories, but on a national conflict. A small but significant example: in South Africa, a white man and a black woman (or the other way round) could not marry, and sexual relations between them were a crime. In Israel there is no such prohibition. On the other hand, an Arab Israeli citizen who marries an Arab woman from the occupied territories (or the other way round) cannot bring his or her spouse to Israel. The reason: safeguarding the Jewish majority in Israel. Both cases are reprehensible, but basically different.

In South Africa there was total agreement between the two sides about the unity of the country. The struggle was about the regime. Both Whites and Blacks considered themselves South Africans and were determined to keep the country intact. The Whites did not want partition, and indeed could not want it, because their economy was based on the labor of the Blacks.

In this country, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs have nothing in common – not a common national feeling, not a common religion, not a common culture and not a common language. The vast majority of the Israelis want a Jewish (or Hebrew) state. The vast majority of the Palestinians want a Palestinian (or Islamic) state. Israel is not dependent on Palestinian workers – on the contrary, it drives the Palestinians out of the working place. Because of this, there is now a world-wide consensus that the solution lies in the creation of the Palestinian state next to Israel.

In short: the two conflicts are fundamentally different. Therefore, the methods of struggle, too, must necessarily be different.

Back to the archbishop, an attractive person whom it is impossible not to like on sight. He told me that he prays frequently, and that his favorite prayer goes like this (I quote from memory):

“Dear God, when I am wrong, please make me willing to see my mistake. And when I am right – please make me tolerable to live with.”

When Rats Fall Out - the Sad Tale of Atzmon, Rizzo & Edna

Atzmon’s Attack on Moshe Machover Backfires!

Sad as it might seem, Mary Rizzo seems to be getting over her infatuation with Gilad Atzmon. Admittedly it has taken a long time and for a middle-aged woman it might be thought somewhat naff to drool over the latest drivel by the phony philosopher, but better late than never!

Back in June Atzmon penned another of his nonsensical racist tirades, this time against the veteran anti-Zionist and founder of Matzpen, Moshe Machover. Machover has been a tireless and unceasing campaigner against Zionism, but his problem as far as Atzmon was concerned was that he was Jewish. In short there was Marxism and ‘Jewish’ Marxism. Quite which category Karl Marx would have fitted into beggars the imagination! [see my critique ATZMON AND “JEWISH MARXISM”].

But instead of the usual laudatory comments about how wonderful and insightful his article was, he faced a storm of criticism, with only the despicable racist Sarah Gillespie supporting him.

Atzmon took exception to Machover’s unexceptional remark that
“The subsequent emergence of Islamism holds a false promise. While it poses a challenge to Western domination, it is backward looking and inherently unable to deliver progress.”
In fact he omitted the following crucial sentence which provided the context:
‘Nor can it possibly be a uniting force: on the contrary, it is deeply divisive as between Sunnis and Shi‘is, and has no attraction whatsoever for non-Muslim and secular Arabs (including Palestinians), let alone Hebrews.’
Machover was criticising Political Islam/Islamism as a divisive force which in the end can’t even unite Muslims, as Iraq has graphically demonstrated. One might have thought that the events in Iran, where opponents of Ahmedinajad's corrupt and murderous regime, a regime which fed off the hostility of George Bush, might have given pause for thought, with reports that hundreds of demonstrators were killed and tortured before being buried secretly (a tip they no doubt learnt from Israel).

For Atzmon though, the problem was that
‘For very many years the Palestinian solidarity discourse was dominated by leftist ideology carried largely by Jewish Marxists…. No one needs the odd kosher ‘righteous Jew’ to approve that this is indeed the case.’
One contributor, Dave
‘found this piece to be nothing more than rant. The important issue raised in the opening quotes are correctly drawn Marxist conclusions regardless of the author's ancestral tree. You are conflating faith in Islam with the political program of Islamic movements. You may criticize the author's Marxist conclusions — i.e. if you are not a Marxist. But in your obsession with "Jewish" you appear to the reader as nothing but another racist.’
Elias Nasrallah a Palestinian wrote that
‘I found it disturbing to read such a personal attack on Moshe Machover, hidden behind the pseudo philosophical arguments of Gilad Atzmon. Atzmon tried to convince us he is attacking Machover from the left as someone who cares dearly for the Palestinians. To be quite honest and with a great deal of experience, I am yet to understand exactly where Atzmon stands politically. His article does not clearly manifest his opinion about Zionism. He makes clear that he is anti-Marxist, but fails to elucidate the more important and reality based question of whether or not he is anti-Zionist. We know, as a matter of fact, and as Atzmon himself attests, that Machover is Anti Zionist.’
And that is the nub of it. In his desire to attack ‘Jewish’ Marxists, Atzmon has no hesitation in joining hands with Zionists, as I’ve demonstrated on this blog before, with Atzmon's praise for Anthony Julius. And who better than the Arab-American Zionist, Hussein Ibish. Atzmon therefore cites without any criticism or disapproval whatsoever the view of Ibish that Israel is not a settler-colonial state. Unsurprisingly, Ibish’s criticism of those who hold that Israel is a settler colonial state, which Atzmon has always shared, is the basis of his opposition to a Boycott of Israel. And who else opposes a Boycott? Step forward Gilad Atzmon, who is on record, in the context of the academic boycott, as saying that
‘I am against any form of gatekeeping or book burning.’
‘Klein's argument that Zionism is a form of racism based on economic exploitation seems to me a very poor explanation of the conflict indeed. I have heard this many times before and it seems to me an effort to smash the square peg of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into the round hole of traditional colonialism and imperialism.’
But none of this should be any surprise. I have argued for a long time that the frame of reference of Atzmon’s politics is a Zionist one. His hatred of Jews derives from a similar Zionist contempt. Likewise his conflation of being Jewish and Zionist. And nor should one forget that for all his vapid rhetoric, Atzmon retains deep down a belief that the Israeli state is capable of change internally. When Amir Peretz was elected as leader of the Israeli Labour Party, a party that is ‘left’ in name only and has been responsible for all the major tragedies of the Palestinians, notably the Nakba and the 1967 Occupation, Atzmon was gushing in his words of praise:
'For the first time, the Israeli Labour party is led by a real fiery working class leader…. It becomes clear that the only way to confront global capitalism is to fight it locally and socially. This is what the Israeli Labour party has decided to do.'
Unfortunately shortly after Atzmon wrote this, Peretz as Defence Minister led the invasion of Lebanon! But our great philosopher has never been good at predicting events.

This failure to analyse the specifics of the Zionist state and its foundations is not at all surprising. If you reject, as Atzmon does, the idea that Israel was set up as a colonial venture, then the only other explanation is that Zionism is an inherent part of Judaism and Jewish people. Hence why his anti-Zionist Jewish critics, such as Machover, Mike Rosen and myself, are all ‘crypto-Zionists’. But a careful reading of his own writings e.g. Not in My Name make it clear that for Atzmon, being Jewish and Zionist is synonymous.
‘I really do not understand those who fight Zionism in the name of their secular Jewish identity. I have never understood them. I have never really understood what secularism means for the Jewish people.
To demand that Jews disapprove of Zionism in the name of their Jewish identity is to accept the Zionist philosophy. To resist Zionism as a secular Jew involves an acceptance of basic Zionist terminology, that is to say, a surrendering to Jewish racist and nationalist philosophy. To talk as a Jew is to surrender to Weizman’s Zionist philosophy.’
Atzmon’s argument is extremely simple. Where is the motherland of Israel? All settler-colonial states have motherlands therefore Israel cannot be a product of colonialism!! But logic is not something that Atzmon has much time for. What defines settler colonialism is not where the colonists come from, nor who sponsors or supports them, but what they do. If the original settlers of Virginia dispossessed the indigenous population and expelled or murdered them, what does it matter if they depended on support from a British Governor? It’s what they do and their relationship to the indigenous American Indians that matter not their life support system.

In fact the same could have been said of Apartheid South Africa. The Boers had no motherland when they trekked into the Transvaal and Orange Free State. It was a rebellion against the British for interfering with their right to do as they wish, including enslavement, of the Black peoples. The American colonists did not cease to be colonists simply because they also waged a War of Independence against Britain from 1775-1783. The expansion westwards took place after that but they didn’t behave different in California from how they had behaved in Maryland. If anything it was worse. In fact the Zionists did have a motherland. It was called Great Britain. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 established the British state as its protector, as and until they became strong enough to stand on their own two feet. When in 1945 they had achieved a critical mass they had no hesitation in jettisoning GB and turning to the USA. But in terms of land confiscation, mass murder, apartheid discrimination the Israeli state was if anything more colonial after 1948 than before. After all, the Jewish National Fund had actually had to buy the land it settled before 1948 but in 1950 they came into possession overnight of twice as much land as they had bought in 30 years prior to independence.

But Ibish is an ideal tame establishment Arab for Atzmon. He, like Atzmon himself, is an opponent of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and in his article ‘Why boycotts are the wrong strategy for Palestinians’ he makes clear that he rejects BDS in an attack on Naomi Klein for her advocacy of the same. No doubt according to Atzmon, Klein is following her ‘Jewish’ interests. In all of this Mary Rizzo stays faithful to her mentor.

But whereas Atzmon attacks anyone who criticises Political Islam as an ‘Islamaphobe’ Mary discerns a difference between the religion, in all its variations, and the political movements that claim it as a source of legitimation. Indeed it would appear that, ever so slowly, she has begun to recognise that you can support for example Hamas or Hizbollah in their fight against imperialism and Zionism without supporting their ideology.

At the moment Rizzo has confined her criticisms to the personal and stylistic, e.g.:
‘sorry gilad, as much as i admire you, I can't believe you would go on a rampage about a plural pronoun when you yourself used this is a comment just some hours earlier:’

She gives short shrift to Sarah Gillespie, Atzmon’s faithful rottweiller and echo chamber:
‘I just spent a while talking with Gilad about this stuff, and it seems as if you are merely repeating by rote some lines of his without adding anything of your own or original to substantiate it, which also seem kind of strange coming from someone who in the past has indeed felt free enough to criticise this or any other religion.’
Clearly the scales are falling from her eyes. And she even shows signs of personal irritation, always a good indication!
‘well, gilad, taking folks out of context is not that cool. It is a shame that you haven't really bothered too much to engage in the quite well-argumented discussions of Luis…. This space would have been refreshing if someone could read it without looking at trouble and a lot of hostility. Oh well, it didn't work out. It is too bad you didn't give Luis that much due respect.'
and in what is almost a warning to her partner-in-crime (ex?). ‘You can interpret this as you want, but personal attacks will not be approved should ring clear to everyone. I (like it or not) have to manage the comments in a fair way, or is this not the case?’ as well as a thinly veiled attack on Atzmon’s view of himself as an intellectual! 'calling him lazy, unsophisticated or ideologically trapped, which is not the greatest thing for a real intellectual to do’. Ouch!

Perhaps even more surprising is the vicious attack by Edna Spennato, who has been taken aback it would seem, by an article Atzmon posted entitled ‘God Blessed America’. which is a long and boring paean to Obama. One wonders of course where these people have been. But one should welcome converts, however long their journey to Damascus takes!
‘When a writer continuously "salutes" the zionist politician and front-man carrying out a policy of genocide against the world's Muslim population, refuses to inform himself of these facts on the ground, and then engages other people in an endless nit-picking discussion about Islam vs Islamism, calling all those who don't agree with him ignoramuses and islamophobes, one can only wonder about his real agenda.
Perhaps it's time to introduce a new term to the lexicon - Reborn Zionist?’
And there is more! Edna picks up on Atzmon’s lovely little paragraph wherein he states that:
‘Being raised as a Jew, i was trained very much like you to believe that my culture was superior. In my attempt to fight the Jew in me, I have managed to get rid of most traces of superiority (i am still an arrogant tosser [agreement for once – TG] … in order to liberate the marxist we must liberate Marxism of it its Kosher (cultural) grip.’
Edna asks ‘Are you saying there was "superiority" to begin with? This to me would seem to be a very supremacist notion. Or when you say "I have managed to get rid of most traces of superiority", do you really mean, "I have managed to get rid of most traces of imagined superiority." ?? If so, I would beg to differ.

And then Edna asks the question that Atzmon is determined not to answer:
‘However, perhaps you could throw some light on how you manage to expose that dangerous ideology with a statement like this one from your recent piece, "God Blessed America":
"He (Obama) is now marching America towards humanism. He reclaims the American ideology of liberty. I salute the man, I salute the great intellect, I salute the humanist.’

Even more amusing are the questions Edna poses for Atzmon:
‘1. Why are you not able to respond to the question about your support for the imperialists, who you have relabeled as "humanists"?
2. Why is zionism more palatable to you when touted by an 'arab' such as Ibbish or a person you regard as
'black' such as Obama? (Much more palatable than anti-zionism touted by a 'jew')
3. What is your understanding of the concept of 'reverse racism'?
Easy Peasy.’
But of course these questions are not easy peasy for Atzmon. The answer of course as to why Arab or Black Zionism is more palatable than Jewish anti-Zionism is quite simple really. Atzmon is a died-in-the-wool anti-semite, who like his Zionist friends hates anti-Zionist Jews. Indeed Atzmon hates anti-Zionist Jews far more than Zionists.

Atzmon himself is the ‘super-Islamicist’. For him the main problem ‘is the acceptance of the notion of ‘Islamism’ as a distinct form or political version of Islam. Islam is a ‘way of life’. Its politics and even armed Jihad are integral part of Islam though they have different interpretations.’ And from there it is but one short step to the idea that
‘Hamas’ ideology is Islam and to say that Islam is reactionary is nothing short of Islamophobia. Probably the most problematic issue is the use of the word ‘Islamism’ which to my opinion reveals a sever lack of understanding of Islam as a unified ‘way of life’…. From an Islamic perspective there is no distinction between Isalm and Islamism.’
Just as for Atzmon there is no distinction worth drawing between Judaism and Zionism, both are interchangeable, so Islam and the political interpretations and movements derived from it are one and the same. The fact that an Islamic regime in Iran is as corrupt and bloodthirsty as any in the world passes him by completely. The idea that political movements have historically taken as their source of legitimacy is something that has escaped our esteemed philosopher. Because whereas ‘Islam and Christianity are universalist precepts (Judaism isn't). They are all about brotherhood. In practice things can appear differently …the same applies to Marxism.’

Nonsense and gibberish though this is, it is interesting to see that Judaism isn’t seen as a universal religion, which just goes to show that ignorance and bigotry are usually handmaidens. In fact Judaism, of which Islam and Christianity are in many ways offshoots, was a clearly universal religion. That is what monotheism, with a single causal explanation (a single divinity) is. Of course in practice there were many variations of Judaism, such as Hasidism, which in practice believed in the existence of more than one god and the Bible, stripped of its intepretative post-hoc justification, makes it clear that the history of the Hebrew tribes was a conflict between polytheism and monotheism.

But as Atzmon proudly proclaims: ‘Actually, i transform self hate into an argument. This is my way.’ Indeed it is.

But then Atzmon is nothing if not a simpleton. For him ‘Political Islam is our way to interpret Islam within world current affairs. I refuse to talk about Islamism or political islam unless we agree that it is western terminology that we refer to rather that the 'thing in itself' For me the big question is who promotes the notion of 'political islam'. Why Zionists, Neocons and Marxists are so keen to use it? And why you of all people use it?’ A sure sign of desperation. If Zionists or Neocons use the term ‘political Islam’ that means that it is automatically redundant. In fact it is obvious that the rise of the clerical ruling class in Iran, tied by their own class interests to the bazaari merchants was a classical development of a religious come political movement. And because of its class interests they have used the weapons of terror, torture and mass murder to perpetuate their hold on the levers of power.

It is somewhat ironic therefore that Edna, in view of her own previous comments, has to give Atzmon the clearest message: ‘The enemy is Zionism, Gilad, not Jews or Marxists or anti-zionists, or even all of those rolled into one big boogeyman.’

And likewise Mary states the obvious to Gilad that:
‘now you are getting silly. The oppression of muslims is located in an ideology called lots of names, Global Hegemony, Empire, Culture Clash, Zionism, Market Capitalism, and especially the USA foreign policy.’

The only other interesting thing about this debate is how Atzmon determinedly ignores the questions that Edna poses. After asking repeatedly, in one form or another, the simple question
‘why a writer who labels everyone else an "islamophobe" when he looks the other way while the "occupying powers" expand their genocide and ethnic cleansing of the "Muslim world", referring to it as "humanism" and an "ideology of liberty", and publicly "saluting" the chief war criminal. Care to answer that question regarding the use of faulty terminology in your "God Blessed America", Gilad?
Gilad, for once, is tongue tied!

25 August 2009

Israeli University Lecturer calls for a Boycott of Israel

The article below was printed as an Op-Ed in the LA Times. It has caused a furore. Neve Gordon, a lecturer at Ben Gurion University in the Negev, has come to the conclusion that only a boycott of Israel will be effective in putting pressure.

Neve Gordon supports, wrongly in my opinion, the 2 States solution. It is a non-starter. ‘Facts on the ground’ have ensured that. In any case a 2 State solution would have concretised apartheid, not eliminated it.

But Neve Gordon is not a supporter of Apartheid and his support of 2 States, like that of Norman Finkelstein, is on the grounds of practicality. He doesn’t support a Jewish state in order that Jews can have privileges but in order that they can get out of the hair of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

In the article below from Ha'aretz, it would seem that Neve Gordon’s support for BDS has thrown Los Angele’s Zionists into a panic. Indeed it would seem that some have lost their marbles (or what there was anyway!). Ha'aretz carries the following article in which the LA Zionists are mulling over whether to retaliate against Gordon’s call for a Boycott of Israel by Boycotting the University in which he teaches!! Someone should tell them that’s exactly what they should do!!

The final article is from Jewish Voices for Peace and asks you to write letters in support of Neve Gordon, who is coming under immense pressure as a ‘traitor’ etc. All the usual Nazi-type slurs that one expects in fact. Like Ilan Pappe, it is probably only a matter of time before Neve Gordon, like many other Israeli academics, finds that the Jewish State is an inhospitable climate for Jewish dissidents.

Tony Greenstein

An Israeli comes to the painful conclusion that it's the only way to save his country.

Israeli newspapers this summer are filled with angry articles about the push for an international boycott of Israel. Films have been withdrawn from Israeli film festivals, Leonard Cohen is under fire around the world for his decision to perform in Tel Aviv, and Oxfam has severed ties with a celebrity spokesperson, a British actress who also endorses cosmetics produced in the occupied territories. Clearly, the campaign to use the kind of tactics that helped put an end to the practice of apartheid in South Africa is gaining many followers around the world.

Not surprisingly, many Israelis -- even peaceniks -- aren't signing on. A global boycott can't help but contain echoes of anti-Semitism. It also brings up questions of a double standard (why not boycott China for its egregious violations of human rights?) and the seemingly contradictory position of approving a boycott of one's own nation.

It is indeed not a simple matter for me as an Israeli citizen to call on foreign governments, regional authorities, international social movements, faith-based organizations, unions and citizens to suspend cooperation with Israel. But today, as I watch my two boys playing in the yard, I am convinced that it is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself.

I say this because Israel has reached a historic crossroads, and times of crisis call for dramatic measures. I say this as a Jew who has chosen to raise his children in Israel, who has been a member of the Israeli peace camp for almost 30 years and who is deeply anxious about the country's future.

The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state. For more than 42 years, Israel has controlled the land between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea. Within this region about 6 million Jews and close to 5 million Palestinians reside. Out of this population, 3.5 million Palestinians and almost half a million Jews live in the areas Israel occupied in 1967, and yet while these two groups live in the same area, they are subjected to totally different legal systems. The Palestinians are stateless and lack many of the most basic human rights. By sharp contrast, all Jews -- whether they live in the occupied territories or in Israel -- are citizens of the state of Israel.

The question that keeps me up at night, both as a parent and as a citizen, is how to ensure that my two children as well as the children of my Palestinian neighbors do not grow up in an apartheid regime.

There are only two moral ways of achieving this goal.

The first is the one-state solution: offering citizenship to all Palestinians and thus establishing a bi-national democracy within the entire area controlled by Israel. Given the demographics, this would amount to the demise of Israel as a Jewish state; for most Israeli Jews, it is anathema.

The second means of ending our apartheid is through the two-state solution, which entails Israel's withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders (with possible one-for-one land swaps), the division of Jerusalem, and a recognition of the Palestinian right of return with the stipulation that only a limited number of the 4.5 million Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return to Israel, while the rest can return to the new Palestinian state.

Geographically, the one-state solution appears much more feasible because Jews and Palestinians are already totally enmeshed; indeed, "on the ground," the one-state solution (in an apartheid manifestation) is a reality.

Ideologically, the two-state solution is more realistic because fewer than 1% of Jews and only a minority of Palestinians support binationalism.

For now, despite the concrete difficulties, it makes more sense to alter the geographic realities than the ideological ones. If at some future date the two peoples decide to share a state, they can do so, but currently this is not something they want.

So if the two-state solution is the way to stop the apartheid state, then how does one achieve this goal?

I am convinced that outside pressure is the only answer. Over the last three decades, Jewish settlers in the occupied territories have dramatically increased their numbers. The myth of the united Jerusalem has led to the creation of an apartheid city where Palestinians aren't citizens and lack basic services. The Israeli peace camp has gradually dwindled so that today it is almost nonexistent, and Israeli politics are moving more and more to the extreme right.

It is therefore clear to me that the only way to counter the apartheid trend in Israel is through massive international pressure. The words and condemnations from the Obama administration and the European Union have yielded no results, not even a settlement freeze, let alone a decision to withdraw from the occupied territories.

I consequently have decided to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that was launched by Palestinian activists in July 2005 and has since garnered widespread support around the globe. The objective is to ensure that Israel respects its obligations under international law and that Palestinians are granted the right to self-determination.

In Bilbao, Spain, in 2008, a coalition of organizations from all over the world formulated the 10-point Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign meant to pressure Israel in a "gradual, sustainable manner that is sensitive to context and capacity." For example, the effort begins with sanctions on and divestment from Israeli firms operating in the occupied territories, followed by actions against those that help sustain and reinforce the occupation in a visible manner. Along similar lines, artists who come to Israel in order to draw attention to the occupation are welcome, while those who just want to perform are not.

Nothing else has worked. Putting massive international pressure on Israel is the only way to guarantee that the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians -- my two boys included -- does not grow up in an apartheid regime.

Neve Gordon is the author of "Israel's Occupation" and teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba.

Defend academic freedom. Defend the right to talk about boycott, divestment, and sanctions
On Thursday, August 20 the LA Times published an op-ed in which Ben Gurion University Professor Neve Gordon, a prominent political scientist and long-time peace activist, wrote that the question that kept him up at night, both as a parent and as an Israeli citizen, was how to ensure that his two children as well as the children of his Palestinian neighbors do not grow up in an apartheid regime. His pained conclusion is that the only strategy left is "massive international pressure" in the form of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). He therefore endorses the Palestinian BDS campaign proposed by a wide swath of Palestinian civil society.(1)

Following the publication of the article there has been a vehement and aggressive attack against Gordon in Israel that calls into serious question Israel's committment to academic freedom and the democratic right to free speech.

We now believe that "massive international pressure" will be needed to keep him from being fired from his job.

Tell Ben Gurion University and the Israeli Minister of Education to defend academic freedom.

Prof. Gordon's endorsement of economic pressure offers what Naomi Klein termed "the most effective tools in the nonviolent arsenal" to address the Israeli occupation (2).

And yet, Prof. Rivka Carmi, the President of Ben Gurion University, was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying that the "university may no longer be interested in his services." She added that "Academics who feel this way about their country, are welcome to search for a personal and professional home elsewhere." (3)

Is Prof. Carmi really calling on Prof. Gordon to leave his country?

Several Knesset members from the right called upon Carmi and the Minister of Education to sack Neve Gordon, while Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar called the article "repugnant and deplorable."(4) In the thousands of talkbacks generated by articles in Israel, hundreds of angry readers have called Gordon a traitor, a virus, cancerous, and have threatened to expel him from Israel and some have even called for his execution. Unsurprisingly Israeli rights-abusive policies, the occupation and how one might resolve the conflict are side-stepped, and the central issue becomes how to do away with the messenger.

In Prof. Gordon' words: "From the responses to the article it seems most people don't have the courage to discuss the main issues: Is Israel an apartheid state? How can the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be resolved? Is the settlement project good for Israel or will it cause the state's destruction? It's easy to criticize me while evading the tough and important questions." (5)

The dismaying response to Prof. Gordon's article is but the latest manifestation of attempts to silence dissent within Israel. In only the last six months, activists from New Profile have been arrested and investigated, Ezra Nawi is in danger of going to jail for non-violently defending the destruction of a Palestinian home, and just last week the Vice Prime Minister called Peace Now "a virus." Are these the actions of a democracy?

BDS is a legitimate non-violent strategy with a storied history, most famously in South Africa. It deserves honest, thoughtful appraisal, such as Dr. Gordon offered in his recent article. By supporting Professor Gordon, we are protecting the ability to talk openly about the Israeli occupation and about nonviolent options to address it, including boycott, divestment, and sanctions.

Write a letter to the President of Ben Gurion University and to the Ministry of Education in Israel to defend Dr. Neve Gordon's, and every Israeli's, ability to discuss political issues without fear of losing their jobs.

Sydney Levy
Jewish Voice for Peace

(1) http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-gordon20-2009aug20,0,1126906.story
(2) http://www.naomiklein.org/articles/2009/01/israel-boycott-divest-sanction
(3) http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1249418674692&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
(4) http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1109492.html
(5) http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3765612,00.html

L.A. Jews mull boycott of Israel university over 'apartheid' op-ed

Members of the Los Angeles Jewish community have threatened to withhold donations to an Israeli university in protest of an op-ed published by a prominent Israeli academic in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, in which he called to boycott Israel economically, culturally and politically.

Dr. Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University in Be'er Sheva, a veteran peace activist, branded Israel as an apartheid state and said that a boycott was "the only way to save it from itself."

Gordon, a political scientist, said that "apartheid state" is the most accurate way to describe Israel today.

"3.5 million Palestinians and almost half a million Jews live in the areas Israel occupied in 1967," Gordon wrote, "and yet while these two groups live in the same area, they are subjected to totally different legal systems. The Palestinians are stateless and lack many of the most basic human rights. By sharp contrast, all Jews - whether they live in the occupied territories or in Israel - are citizens of the state of Israel."

"It is indeed not a simple matter for me as an Israeli citizen to call to suspend cooperation with Israel,"
he further wrote. "The words and condemnations from the Obama administration and the European Union have yielded no results, not even a settlement freeze, let alone a decision to withdraw from the occupied territories."

Gordon was in the public spotlight in 2002, during Israel's assault on the Palestinian Authority, as one of the Israelis who stayed with Yasser Arafat in his compound. In 2003, he was a vocal critic of Paratroopers Brigadier Col. Aviv Kochavi.

In the wake of the publication of the article, Israel's Consul-General in Los Angeles, Yaakov (Yaki) Dayan sent a letter to the president of Ben-Gurion University, Prof. Rivka Carmi, in which he said that such statements may be detrimental to the university.

"Since the article was published I've been contacted by people who care for Israel; some of them are benefactors of Ben-Gurion University," Dayan wrote. "They were unanimous in threatening to withhold their donations to your institution. My attempt to explain that one bad apple would affect hundreds of researchers turned out to be futile."

"I believe that the definitive answer to anti-Zionist lecturers like Gordon is to set up a center for Zionist studies, which unfortunately does not exist in Israeli academia," he continued. "This center would help dispel the lies disseminated by Gordon in the name of your university."