25 February 2015

Waitrose Magazine Carries 32 Page PR Pamphlet with Israeli Tourist Board

‘Tasteless’ Waitrose Exposed

Last week we learnt that the upmarket supermarket (well their prices are up-market!)  Waitrose, a supermarket that flaunts its ‘corporate social responsibility’ and its egalitarian employment practices – has teamed up with the Israeli Tourist Board to produce a special glossy insert for ‘Waitrose Kitchen’, their customer magazine. The 32-page insert is called ‘Taste of Israel Guide’, and is a shameless progaganda vehicle for the ‘Brand Israel’ project. You can find out more here.

On Saturday Feb 21st Brighton Palestine Solidarity Campaign pitched its weekly Saturday stall outside the Waitrose branch in Western Road – not far from the shop formerly known as EcoStream, which we closed down last year, in order to expose Waitrose’s complicity in the attempt to normalise Israel’s appalling record of human rights abuses and violations of international law in occupied Palestine.
Brighton PSC Picket of Waitrose
Beneath the title of the Waitrose/Israel magazine ‘Taste of Israel’, we displayed photos of Israel’s occupation – the wall, demolished houses, arrested children, checkpoints, and shocking photos of Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza last summer – showing the true tastelessness of the company’s partnership with the apartheid regime. Many Waitrose customers were genuinely disgusted to discover that their supermarket had allowed itself to be used as a pawn in Israel’s well-funded programme to prettify its image abroad as an attractive tourist destination for British foodies.

Our anger over the Waitrose/Israel collusion here in Brighton and Hove was replicated in similar demos across the country, as people of conscience heard the news. In his reply to a letter from one activist, Mark Perrill from Waitrose Customer Service helpfully explained: “I’d like to assure you that Waitrose Kitchen is not political – we take adverts from a wide range of different businesses and organisations.” As the activist explained to Mr Perrill in her reply, “Not political? What else do you call it if you support racism and apartheid?… You must know that Israel, while passing itself off as an honest member of the trading community, in actual fact keeps expanding its illegal settlements in the West Bank and lives off the proceeds of land, water and other resources stolen from the indigenous population…I think Waitrose should be better than that.”

We and others around the country will continue to put pressure on the company until it withdraws its tasteless publicity for ethnic cleansing and withdraws from its partnership with Israel.
Thursday 19th February
posted by Morning Star in Britain

PALESTINE supporters have slammed an attempt by Israel’s propaganda machine to promote the apartheid state in co-operation with a British supermarket chain.
Waitrose and Israel’s Tourist Office are to produce a 32-page food and travel guide promoting Israel in Waitrose Kitchen magazine.

Oblivious to the Occupation or Israeli Apartheid we have pages on ‘The history and culture behind Israel's culinary creations’ in a situation where Israel is notorious for claiming that traditional Arab foods and recipes are its own, Why Israeli craft beer is making a name for itself (clue:  it’s blood red)  instructions for creating the perfect falafel and hummus (both stolen foods stolen from the Arabs).  We are told that the Waitrose Kitchen magazine has 680,925 readers.  Presumably Waitrose would have had no problem producing a similar magazine with a certain Aryan state 80   years ago.

You can contact Waitrose at:
Waitrose Customer Service Department
Waitrose Limited
Doncastle Road
RG12 8YA
Email: customer_service@waitrose.co.uk

Waitrose is an early proponent of ethical trade.  In their own hypocritical words:
“Our aim is to raise awareness, encourage suppliers to be honest about the issues they face . . . . ”
(Partnership Corporate Social Responsibility Report 2007)

24 February 2015

“What is she, an Arab?”

Ali Abunimah on Monday 23rd February 2015

This astonishing video of an incident that occurred on an Israir airlines flight from Tel Aviv to the seaside resort of Varna, Bulgaria, last weekend has become a social media sensation among Israelis.
Although all involved in the incident are apparently Israeli Jews, it is nonetheless very revealing and symptomatic of endemic anti-Arab attitudes.

This is a transcript of the video from Israel’s Walla! News, translated by Israel expert Dena Shunra. Be warned, it contains very foul language:

Passenger A: You’re gonna sell me chocolate, do you understand that? You work for me, I paid money for you.
Flight attendant: I don’t work for you. You wish I’d be working for you.
Passenger A: I want the chocolate. What reason do you have not to sell me the chocolate? I want the chocolate. What is this? I want the chocolate.
Flight attendant: If you think that if you’ll raise your voice and be a little more violent – then you’ll probably not get what you want.
Passenger B (A’s sister, shouting from the other side of the plane): Sell her the chocolate, what is she, an Arab? Kuss rabak [Arabic expletive], sell chocolate! Do you hear? She paid the flight price, sell her chocolate! Yalla! Tone it down quick! Sell her chocolate quick! You piece of garbage. What do you mean he’s not selling her chocolate? Piece of garbage. You are not going to sell my sister chocolate?
Flight attendant (to Passenger B): mark my words. Varna? You’re not going to get there.
Passenger seated near passenger A: I put my dick on you, and on Varna, your mother’s mother’s cunt, you maniac, you son of a whore, you fucker, you piece of a son of a thousand…
Meanwhile his companions, including passengers A and B, move to stop his outburst. The passenger later grabs onto the flight attendant’s elbow. The flight attendant warns him: “Watch out.”

Thuggishness and sexual harassment

Walla! News provides additional context about the incident: the flight attendant had been selling duty free items in order of seat rows, and Passenger A did not want to wait until he reached her row.
An airline spokesperson said that the incident “is not something that I can call unusual, but we’re glad to say that it does not happen exactly every day” and that “the phenomenon of disrespect to air crew, verbal thuggishness, and aggressive conduct with the crew is a phenomenon we identify as increasing, not only in ours but in very many airlines.”

Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Israir also said that “a security officer on the flight declined to intervene in the argument because it was not a security incident.”

If several Palestinian or other Arab passengers had behaved in the same manner, is it possible to imagine they would not have been deemed a “security” threat?

A female flight attendant with the Israeli state airline ElAl is quoted by Walla! News about the harassment workers routinely experience: “There’s a custom of addressing the flight attendant not by pushing the call button but by touching her buttocks or pulling the crease of her trousers or the hem of her skirt. He [the passenger] doesn’t do this thinking sexually, but you get off a flight after quite a few passengers have touched you or pulled your trousers or skirt. It is definitely unpleasant.”

“What is she, an Arab?”

“The question asked by Passenger A – ‘What is she, an Arab?’ – touches some very core issues inside Jewish Israeli society,” Shunra observes.

The phrase is extremely colloquial, Shunra says. It rarely appears in writing – but can be found often in online comment threads.

Shunra points to it being used in a number of ways – for example to denote bad taste, to assert normativity and belonging to the mainstream and to assert being well-behaved and civilized in supposed contrast to Arabs.

The phrase briefly made its way into the American mainstream days after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.

Benjamin Emanuel asserted that Obama’s appointment of his son, Rahm Emanuel, as White House chief of staff would be beneficial to Israel.

“Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel,” the elder Emanuel, a former member of the Irgun Zionist terrorist group, said. “Why wouldn’t he be? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House.”

What all of these usages have in common is an assumption that the speaker of the rhetorical question “What is she/am I, an Arab?” occupies a superior position, while Arabs are clearly inferior.

One sarcastic Twitter user subverted the question to highlight Israel’s systematic discrimination, writing, “Connect her village to a sewage line, why not, is she an Arab?”

on Twitter

This is an apparent allusion to the fact that Israeli authorities refuse to provide basic services to dozens of so-called unrecognized villages inhabited by Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The question evokes the casual contempt captured last year when a couple of Israelis filmed themselves shoving an Arab woman into a lake just for the fun of it.

The woman was pushed into the water precisely because she is an Arab.

And lawmaker Haneen Zoabi was again banned from running in Israel’s upcoming election for precisely the same reason: she is an Arab who loudly challenges Israel’s official racism and discrimination. The decision was later overturned by Israel’s high court.

20 February 2015

Syria's Torture and Murder of Its Palestinians

Hundreds of Palestinians Have 'Disappeared' at the Hands of Assad's Secret Police Thugs

Ali Al Shihabi
Most supporters of the Palestinians and anti-imperialists support Syria against its Islamic opponents, Al Nusra and ISIS and oppose imperialist attempts to intervene in the civil war.  But there is a danger that in defending the Syrian regime and people against imperialism that one will defend its truly appalling and atrocious human rights record.

It was noteworthy that Jeremy Bowen of the BBC’s interview with President Bashar al-Assad last week, there was no mention of human rights and the torture and disappearance of opponents and perceived opponents of the regime, not least its attack on Palestinians.

Socialists and anti-imperialists should not make the mistake of saying that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  Assad would make his peace with imperialism at a moment’s notice, as Iran is attempting to do, if he could.  However he is surrounded by regimes which want to see his downfall, not least Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Victim of Torture
When the United States was rendering prisoners one of its favourite destinations was Syria, whose torture of prisoners was notorious for its brutality.  Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen was rendered at New York’s JFK airport and sent to Syria where he was tortured.  He later received $10.5 m compensation from the Canadian government and an apology from its Prime Minister Stephen Harper [see Syria has made a curious transition from US ally to violator of human rights Mehdi Hasan http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/feb/19/syria-us-ally-human-rights]. Soon after US officials attacked Syria’s human rights record.

Hezbollah is in particular involved in fighting on behalf of Assad’s regime.  Its reasons being to preserve an Iranian ally which allows the shipment of weapons to Lebanon.  However in the longer term Hezbollah, which is Israel’s main enemy in the region (being the only Arab group to have defeated Israel militarily) faces being isolated, especially if Iran makes its peace with the USA.

Tony Greenstein

18 February 2015

Palestinians who fled Syria protest in Gaza City in October 2013.
Aidah Tayem, a Palestinian woman from Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus now living in the occupied West Bank village of Beitin near Ramallah, has gone through a lifetime of trials.

She was hardly seventeen when her father was imprisoned by Syrian security forces in Damascus during the 1980s for his affiliation with the Fatah party which had split with the government. She quickly became the head of the family, running her father’s business and supporting her younger siblings.
Only few thousand Palestinians left in Yarmouk
Among only a handful of Palestinian refugees in Syria who received permits from the Palestinian Authority to enter the West Bank, her parents were among the Palestinians who came there after the signing of the Oslo accords in the 1990s.

She appears incredibly tough but behind her stoic demeanor is a woman clutching at the straws of hope — the hope of kissing her eldest son, Oday.

Oday Tayem, a 21-year-old Palestinian refugee born and raised in Yarmouk, was detained by Syrian security forces in August 2013 during an evening raid on his home in Jaramana, southeast of Damascus. Oday was an activist — “peaceful” is the description emphasized to this writer by his friends — and contributed to relief work both in Yarmouk refugee camp and in other besieged areas. This is believed to be the reason for his arrest.

Since he was taken into custody, his family has yet to receive any confirmed news regarding his whereabouts. Aidah knows too well what it’s like to have a loved one languishing in political detention; after all, her father was imprisoned for ten years, most of them spent in the notorious Tadmor desert prison.
But it’s the scarcity of information that makes Oday’s absence even more excruciating. When Oday’s favorite song pops up on her phone, Aidah hangs on to his picture as tears well up in her eyes.

Aidah is among many women who, as Syrian journalist Jihad Asa’ad Muhammad writes, “do not seek consideration or sympathy from anyone. They ask for only one thing: to know the whereabouts of their forcibly disappeared loved ones.”

It is impossible to estimate the number of Palestinians detained in Syria. The Syrian government doesn’t provide any data regarding political prisoners. Neutral local or international monitoring and human rights groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, are not granted access to the numerous prisons and detention facilities across the country.
And many families keep quiet about the detention of their loved ones. They stay anonymous, fearing the repercussions and backlash of publicity both on them and on the prisoners.

The Action Group for Palestinians in Syria, a London-based monitoring organization founded in 2012, has documented the names of 756 Palestinians currently being detained and nearly 300 more missing.

Death under torture

The vast majority of prisoners documented are held in the various detention facilities run by the Syrian government, but some are detained by jihadist or armed opposition groups. One of those is Bahaa Hussein from Yarmouk, detained by Jabhat al-Nusra in late January for blasphemy.

The same group has recorded the death under torture of 291 Palestinians in Syrian government detention since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011. Each of them has a face and a story, but very few of them have made the news.

Among them is Khaled Bakrawi, a prominent activist and cofounder of the Jafra Association for Aid and Development, which works to improve conditions in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria.
A refugee from Lubya, Bakrawi was active around Palestinian refugee rights well before the uprising began and was shot by Israeli occupation forces in June 2011 during the Naksa Day march to the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. But after masses of displaced Syrians sought refuge in Yarmouk, he directed his efforts towards organizing humanitarian aid to them.

Bakrawi’s friends told me that he was arrested by Syrian security forces in January 2013 and his family learned of his death in September of that year. One of the most tragic aspects of death in Syrian prisons is that families are not even allowed to pay a final farewell glance to their dead and their bodies are not delivered back to them. Instead they are called up by security services only to claim the ID cards and the personal possessions of slain prisoners. Not only is it believed that Bakrawi was tortured to death, but his family and friends couldn’t even bury him or give him a proper funeral.

Unlike Bakrawi, Samira Sahli was not a known activist, but some details of her life are known from a profile published by the independent news site Siraj Press. A mother of four, Sahli regularly cooked for displaced Syrians filling Yarmouk’s schools back when the camp was still a refuge for people fleeing violence in neighboring areas. As siege intensified, she and her kids, like the 20,000 residents trapped inside the camp, relied on the sparse food aid sporadically allowed in.

According to Siraj Press, the 53-year-old was arrested at a government checkpoint while going to receive her food basket. Five months later, her family was informed of her death, making her the first Palestinian woman known to be killed in regime prisons since 2011.

“Tortured in the name of Palestine”

In an interview with The Electronic Intifada conducted via Skype, Abu Julia, a Palestinian activist who sought asylum in Germany at the end of 2013, where he remains, gave a glimpse into the horrors faced in Syrian regime jails.

The 29-year-old asked to be identified as Abu Julia in reference to the name of his first-born. When he was arrested by Syrian security forces, his daughter Julia was only five months old. He was arrested in October 2012 and released a year later, but there were moments when he thought he’d never live to see her again.

Abu Julia told the Electronic Intifada that he faced eighteen charges, the most serious of which was inciting against the state, as well as charges related to working in makeshift hospitals; sowing division and fueling chaos in Yarmouk camp; working with local coordination committees; making contacts with foreign agents and aiding the wounded.

“I was held in a detention center called ‘Palestine,’ which is a security branch established by Hafez al-Assad specifically for Palestinian factions in Syria,” he said, referring to the father of the current head of state. “That’s the most painful thing: being tortured in the name of Palestine.”

Abu Julia recalls being “welcomed” with a beating as soon as he entered the branch. He was placed in Cell One, which held 48 prisoners upon his entry. Detainees crammed in the 36-square meter cell reached as many as 120 in the hours before Abu Julia’s release.

“Following the first interrogation, which included beating with electric wires, I was told to forget my name. They handed me the number 16/1,” he recalled. “When you get in you lose everything: you lose your name, your confidence in people, in your family and in yourself. You lose your hope and love for life even though you hang on by the hope of returning to life.

“You are stripped of your feelings and turned into an animal who is only allowed to eat and drink, and even sleep is only permitted by a military order. Perhaps the only thing you don’t lose is your ability to dream while asleep.”

The decisive day of Abu Julia’s life came two days after his arrest. Following the interrogation in which he refused to make a confession, the interrogator ordered his torture for a week in the narrow corridors near the cells, he recalled.

“I was hung in the air several hours each day and I was subjected to whips and burns,” he explained in graphic detail. The physical torture was accompanied with cursing, such as being called “Palestinian dog,” and being told “we hosted you in our country and now you betray us, traitor.”

The week of torture in the corridors, in which Abu Julia remembers that at least six inmates were killed, was followed by another, longer round of torture after he refused to confess to any of the charges again.

As Abu Julia meticulously detailed what he went through, it was hard not to wonder how he actually coped with all of this.


You know what really made me survive? My Palestinianness. This feeling of being Palestinian is what helped me persevere throughout all of this. Somehow, Palestinians would be on the verge of death and remain defiant,” he said.

For Abu Julia, this feeling, this added “Palestinianness” he found after his detention was not a cliché but an actual harbor. “It was a kind of response we developed during times of need. We drew strength and solace out of being Palestinian. When we were tortured or faced the interrogator, we just reminded ourselves that we are Palestinian,” he added.

After ten months in the Palestine branch, Abu Julia was transferred to Adra, the central prison in Damascus, and when he was moved from the car that transported him to a military court that he saw sunshine for the first time in ten months.

I spent nearly a month and a half in Adra before being released … and then I hugged Julia; she was able to walk and say baba and mama,” he recalled.

Even while telling his harrowing story, Abu Julia still cracked jokes. “I weighed 129 kg when I was arrested and was only 65 kg when I was released. This free diet is the only good thing that happened to me there,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ammar, Aidah Tayem’s son and Oday’s seventeen-year-old brother, is still hoping for his brother and best friend to get out.

“I’m waiting. Actually waiting for him is the only thing I’m doing.”

Waiting is the punishing ordeal to which thousands of Palestinians and Syrians are sentenced.

Budour Youssef Hassan is a Palestinian anarchist and law graduate based in occupied Jerusalem. She can be followed on Twitter: @Budour48.

Board of Deputies Treasurer Laurence Brass Resigns to Speak Out on Israel

Shocked by What he Saw on the West Bank

Laurence Brass (left) next to war criminal Blair, Rabbi Sacks and Israel's far right ambassador Ron Prossor
 The Board of Deputies of British Jews has an appalling record on most issues.  In the 1930’s it told Jews to keep their heads down and stay indoors as Sir Oswald Moseley and his British Union of Fascists strutted through the East End.  At the Battle of Cable Street, when Moseley and the BUF were prevented from marching, the Jewish population, in alliance with ordinary trade unionists, Catholic dockers and the unemployed, ignored them as 100,000 people defied the Metropolitan Police’s defence of the anti-Semitic BUF.  Today the Met opposes ‘anti-Semitism’ as part of its attacks on Muslims.

The Board of Deputies also has an appalling record when it comes to Israel.  It sees, hears and speaks no evil.  It defends Israel right or wrong and attacks all critics as ‘anti-Semites’.  It is therefore doubly surprising that a senior officer of the Board, Laurence Brass, has spoken out against human rights abuses on the West Bank and settler attacks and now resigned.  According to reports in Ha’aretz he received a standing ovation.

Naturally he has been criticised by people like Gerald Steinberg of the McCarthyist organisation NGO Monitor, which is dedicated to supporting all attacks on Palestinian civilians.  Steinberg, a fascist Professor, would have made an excellent PR advisor to a certain Adolf Hitler.  Eric Moonman, who was a failed right-wing Labour MP, was another to criticise Brass for having the temerity to  object to settler attacks on Palestinians.

Laurence Brass is an asylum judge and certainly no anti-Zionist.  He is a supporter of Yachad, which is the equivalent of J-Street in the US, which describes itself as pro-Israel and pro-Peace, i.e. a 2 State organisation which sees Israel as losing the propaganda war.  Nonetheless Brass’s resignation is a significant step, not least in his criticism of the Board of Deputies’s silencing of all criticism of Israel.

The Board of Deputies today opposes what it terms 'anti-Semitism' i.e. criticism of Israel, and loses no opportunity to identify British Jews with Israeli attacks on Palestinians, which is the main motor for anti-Semitic attacks such as we have seen in France and Denmark. 

Tony Greenstein

The Board of Deputies Attitude to Israeli Attacks on Palestinians

Laurence Brass says he had been 'bursting to criticize the Israeli administration' for six years and took the board to task for preventing honorary officers from expressing personal opinions.

BOD Does Its Best to Associate British Jews with Israeli Crimes
The treasurer of the United Kingdom Jewish Board of Deputies, the representative body of British Jewry, has stepped down saying he “could not contemplate another three years of not being able to speak freely,” the Jewish Chronicle reported.

Laurence Brass, an asylum judge, had been tipped to run for board president in the May election after being twice elected as treasurer. But he told a plenary meeting of the executive on Sunday that “I decided that to be true to my principles and beliefs was more important than seeking office.”
Brass said he had been “bursting to criticize the Israeli administration” for six years and took the board to task for preventing honorary officers from expressing personal opinions.
Laurence Brass“I felt constrained not to have been able to speak out on subjects that are close to my heart, such as the treatment of the Palestinians in the occupied territories and the discrimination still being suffered by Arab citizens of Israel,” Brass said.

“There have been countless occasions over the last six years when I’ve been bursting to criticize the Israeli administration, but I’ve restrained myself.

“I want to be released from the chains of office to contribute to the wider debate on the Middle East, as well as on the critical political issues that I consider to be important here at home.”

Saying that he had encountered “very harsh and often quite abusive personal criticism” when speaking out, Brass called for his replacement to be free to speak out.

Brass received a standing ovation after his speech, the Chronicle reported, but board president Vivian Wineman cautioned other executive members to maintain their silence.

“People aren’t interested in our private opinions; they’re interested in what the Board thinks and what the Jewish community thinks,” Wineman said. “When we express ourselves, we always have to bear that in mind.”

See Envoys support Laurence Brass in Israel criticism row

26 June 2014

Board of Deputies treasurer ‘shocked’ by visit to West Bank

By Simon Rocker, May 2, 2014

Board of Deputies treasurer Laurence Brass has said he was horrified at what he witnessed during a visit to a West Bank village, describing it as an “eye-opener”.

Mr Brass, who was spending Pesach in Israel, took part in a private capacity in a one-day trip organised by Yachad UK and led by a guide from the anti-occupation Israeli army veterans’ group, Breaking the Silence.

His experience, as one of around a dozen Anglo-Jewish participants taken to the Palestinian village of Susiya, was shocking, he said.

“The village spokesman told us that he was very worried at the prospect of local Palestinian children being attacked by settlers on their way to school.

"Just 48 hours after we left, a six-year-old girl from the neighbouring village of Atuwani was admitted to hospital with head wounds after being stoned on her way to school, just as we had been warned might occur.

“I was shocked that this type of behaviour goes unchecked by the IDF.”

Mr Brass added that the abiding memory of his visit would be “the sight of an old rusty car being
dumped down the village well, thus preventing the locals from having fresh water."

“I had also not known previously that, on the majority of the road signs in the area, the Arabic words have been deliberately obliterated. I had also not previously appreciated the ever increasing number of settler outposts which have sprung up all over Area C, which, although illegal, no one appears willing to prevent.”

“Area C” represents West Bank zones under the control of Israel.

Mr Brass said: “The miserable existence of the Palestinian villagers we met will stay with me for a long time. It was difficult to reconcile that we were celebrating the festival of freedom, while these villagers were surviving in such squalid surroundings. I returned very depressed.”

Yachad, which campaigns for a two-state solution, ran 17 trips to East Jerusalem or the West Bank in 2013, for over 400 members of Zionist youth movements.

Is an anti-occupation revolt brewing in the British Jewishestablishment?

By Larry Derfner

|Published February 22, 2015

Leader in top communal organization announces he is leaving post to speak out freely against Israeli policies — and gets standing ovation from membership.

For many years I have felt that the only way to end the occupation is through outside pressure because Israel is just scorched earth politically, and will never do it on its own. On that basis, the announcement last week by a prominent figure in the British Jewish establishment, and the reaction to it by his colleagues, was a more hopeful sign than anything that’s happened in the current Israeli campaign or is about to happen on Election Day on March 17.

What happened was that Laurence Brass, treasurer of the leading British Jewish organization, the Board of Deputies, told a meeting of the board’s plenary that he was quitting the leadership ranks after the board’s May election, The Jewish Chronicle reported. The reason, he told the plenary, was:
I felt constrained not to have been able to speak out on subjects that are close to my heart, such as the treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and the discrimination still being suffered by Arab citizens of Israel.

When he had tried to voice his opinions in the past, he said he faced “very harsh and often quite abusive personal criticism …”

What’s even more encouraging is that Brass, according to The Jewish Chronicle, “received a standing ovation after his speech.”

Is something happening in the British Jewish establishment? It sure seems that way. It sounds like there’s a potential revolt against Israeli policies simmering in the ranks of the most pro-Israel – or supposedly most pro-Israel – citizens in all of Great Britain.

When I look at how far the international movement against the occupation has to go before it will be strong enough to force Israel’s hand, I tend to despair. But then I see how mortally frightened the Israeli and pro-Israeli establishment is of this movement, and I say – maybe something is brewing here.

The attempt to muzzle Brass when he first began speaking out, following his visit to the West Bank last spring, was remarkable for the fear it revealed on the part of Israel’s mouthpieces. A lone individual, the treasurer of the British Board of Deputies, starts criticizing the occupation – and NGO Monitor’s hit man-in-chief Gerald Steinberg, as well as Netanyahu’s former head of hasbara and current head of the blue-chip Institute for Zionist Strategies, Yoaz Hendel, pile on him.

A Ta’ayush activist argues with an Israeli soldier in the South Hebron hills, August 11, 2012. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)
Brass, after going on a Passover tour led by Breaking the Silence to see how Palestinians in the south Hebron hills are persecuted by settlers and the army, said:

The miserable existence of the Palestinian villagers we met will stay with me for a long time.
Shock and dismay beset the communal leadership. Former Board of Deputies vice president Eric Moonman said Brass should apologize for his remarks or resign as treasurer.

But then a line-up of elder statesmen of Israel’s peace movement – ex-Meretz leader Yossi Sarid, ex-New Israel Fund president Naomi Chazan, ex-attorney general Michael Ben-Yair, and ex-ambassadors to South Africa Alon Liel and Ilan Baruch – wrote a letter in support of Brass. Lauding his “willingness to see the grim reality on the ground in the West Bank,” they added, “What a shame that there are not more leaders of the Anglo-Jewish community willing to tackle these troubling issues.”

More shock and dismay. Steinberg, who said Liel, Chazan and the Israeli combat veterans of Breaking the Silence “are not the people to provide ethical grades to diaspora Jewish leaders,” accused Brass of taking a “radical position based on what he is told and sees through the lens of a very narrow Israeli constituency.”

Hendel, however, went further, joining Moonman in saying such talk as Brass’ cannot be tolerated from British Jewish leaders:

If someone comes to Israel and hears the point of view of only one side, and is not aware of the efforts made by the state of Israel and the IDF on behalf of Palestinian citizens in the area, or of the challenges, obstacles and limitations we face but encounters only a point of view that is used to delegitimize Israel, he should ask himself about his continued service as a leader of the Jewish community.

My favorite line of attack here is that Brass expressed his opinions after hearing “only one side.” As a 40-year veteran of the British Board of Deputies, Brass has been swimming his entire adult life in “only one side,” the official Israeli side, he can recite this side backwards and forwards, and for once he dares to hear the real other side, the side Steinberg, Hendel, the British Board of Deputies and pro-Israel forces everywhere have always muzzled, and suddenly he’s being “one-sided.”

Brass, a judge, has been elected twice as Board of Deputies treasurer and was considered a contender for the presidency before he went rogue. He told The Jewish Chronicle:

There have been countless times over the last six years when I’ve been bursting to criticize the Israeli administration, but I’ve restrained myself. I want to be released from the chains of office to contribute to the wider debate on the Middle East …

How many Board of Deputies members who gave Brass that standing ovation were thinking the same thing? Here’s what I’m thinking: It’s premature for despair. And thank you, Judge Brass; you’ve struck a nerve.