31 March 2015

JVP - Standing in the Jewish Tradition of Opposition to ALL Racism

The continued success of Jewish Voices for Peace in the United States gives the lie to those who argue that it is a ‘Jewish Lobby’ or the Number of Jewish Voters who are responsible for US support of Israel and Zionism.  Republicans and Christian Zionists don’t support Israel because they like Jews but because it is in their material interest.

As Jewish opposition to Zionism grows so the Zionists become more and more manic in their reaction.  ‘Self-hater’ is their favourite term.  Most of them are too stupid to realise that this was the same accusation that the Nazis levelled at German anti-fascists.

Tony Greenstein

At a Jewish Voice For Peace Conference: This Is What Solidarity Looks Like

March 20, 2015  

Angela Davis speaks at the Jewish Voice for Peace's National Membership Meeting, March 2015. (Photo from Jewish Voice for Peace)

The victory of Benjamin Netanyahu and the extreme right in the Israeli elections sorely disappointed those who had pinned their hopes on the Labor-led Zionist Camp so they could resume the peace process.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Obama administration and the European Union (EU) now have to face the fact that the Palestinians have no partner for peace. They will have to take actions they had hoped to avoid and ramp up outside pressure on Israel to reach a just and lasting agreement.
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb and Reverend John Anderson protest Hewlett-Packard's shareholder meeting, March 2014.
Yet Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory are not the only battleground where the future of Palestinians and Israelis is being decided. The United States is also an important sphere. And, coincidentally, two major—and very different—American Jewish conferences bookended the Israeli elections. The Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) National Membership Meeting was held in Baltimore from March 13 to 15, and the J Street National Conference is being held this week in Washington, DC, from March 21 to 24.
J Street is the larger and better-funded organization, but JVP is proving to be a real magnet for American Jews who are outraged by Israel’s policies and even more by Netanyahu’s claim to be speaking in their name, and who want to take action, including boycotts. JVP’s roughly 204,000 Facebook “likes” are more than seven times that of J Street’s, and its 41,800 Twitter followers are well over three times those of J Street’s.

J Street, does not support the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, defining itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace” and as part of the American Jewish establishment. JVP, which has supported BDS for years, issued a statement earlier this year fully endorsing the BDS call. It positions itself as pro-justice and universal human rights and says the mainstream Jewish community does not speak for it.
Despite, indeed because, of these out-of-the-box positions, JVP is growing fast. In recent months, the number of chapters across the United States increased from forty-one to seventy-two; the number of members has shot up to 9,000, and online supporters have nearly hit the 200,000 mark. Significantly, much of this growth happened after Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” against the besieged Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014, pushing thousands off the fence of inaction.

JVP’S burgeoning energy and maturity drew hundreds to its conference, which sold out at 600 participants six weeks early; nearly 200 additional video passes were also issued. The theme of the weekend was “We’re Not Waiting,” and participants came from as far as England and California to compare notes, strategize, mourn the lives lost over the summer and celebrate their growing strength. There was a striking number of young people as well as grandparents, long-time activists and newcomers to the cause. And this year, this Palestinian went to the conference, too.

Why would a Palestinian even want to participate in an American Jewish conference? For one thing, JVP is a key player in what is now a fast-growing US movement for Palestinian human rights and equality between Palestinians and Israelis. As a co-founder of another key player—the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (though no longer directly engaged in its work)—I can sense that this movement has come of age.

Within the last generation, several major national organizations have grown out of the efforts of handfuls of volunteers working out of people’s homes, their personal resources stretched to the limit. These organizations are now managing real money and staff out of offices based in DC and all over the US. More important, they are now collaborating effectively both within the movement and across other movements.

For example, several organizations—JVP, the US Campaign, Code Pink, American Muslims for Palestine and others—pooled efforts around the #SkipTheSpeech drive to convince Members of Congress to turn their backs on Netanyahu’s meddlesome foray into US foreign policy. This generated more than a hundred thousand letters, calls and visits, and helped encourage the nearly sixty members who ended up skipping the speech, emboldening them to be critical.

Another example is the way groups in the movement for Palestinian rights are also deeply engaged in the #BlackLivesMatter movement and related campaigns for the rights of individuals and communities violated right here at home.

The mix and vitality of the movement was reflected in the mix of speakers at the JVP national meeting: legendary activist Angela Davis, Rabbi Brant Rosen, feminist and anti-violence crusader Andrea Smith and Dream Defender Ahmad Abuznaid, among others. The vast majority of participants were Jews, but, ironically, almost the first people I met at the conference were three other Palestinians, including one who had trekked in from California. “We wanted to be here,” they told me, “to speak about the work we’re doing and to learn from others.”

JVP has always invited Palestinian voices to speak on its panels; indeed, I spoke at its 2011 conference. But there had been few other Palestinians then; now there were many, alongside participants from several Christian denominations and representatives of other national organizations. JVP provided a safe and embracing space for all those present, allowing the most difficult discussions to take place with heat but without rancor, including around anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
Beyond taking the pulse of the movement, it was important to be at the JVP conference in order to gain insights into the changing discourse around Israel-Palestine in America. In a sense, the Israel-Palestine battleground in the United States is all about shaping the discourse. How are Palestinian rights defined these days? What are the goals of the movement? How and in what form can/will Jews and Palestinians live together? When does joint Palestinian-Jewish activism tip over into normalization of the brutal status quo?

National and local grassroots organizations have been engaged in changing the discourse for years, alongside professional media organizations such as the redoubtable Institute for Middle East Understanding. And the BDS campaigns that so many groups are now working on do help to provide some of the answers. But much of the discourse still needs framing. Moreover, there has been a tendency to see BDS as a goal in itself, overlooking the fact that the Palestinian civil society call for BDS specifically spells out the goals as the achievement of freedom from occupation, justice for the Palestinian refugees and equality for the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Israel and its US allies are only too well aware of the importance of shaping the discourse. They have been trying hard to clamp down on criticism of Israel, seeking to conflate such criticism with anti-Semitism. Israel’s supporters have successfully driven resolutions at student associations describing legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies as anti-Semitism.

JVP is among the groups pushing back against this conflation. It is vital for the larger movement that Jewish voices consistently reaffirm that criticism of Israel’s occupation and denial of rights to generations of Palestinians is not anti-Semitic; it is a stand against policies and practices that are just plain wrong.

But JVP is also joining other groups in pushing the boundaries of the discourse, in imagining how to resolve the conflict and shape a different future. As a Palestinian, I never imagined I would witness such a thoughtful—and brave—discussion of the Palestinian right of return in a public American space, let alone an American Jewish space. But here it was. Liat Rosenberg of Zochrot (“Remembering”) and Basem Sbaih of Badil (“Alternative”) were invited to keynote a plenary titled “Reclaiming the Past in Order to Realize the Future” that was moderated by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark, an emeritus professor at New York’s Baruch College and a longtime activist.
One of my fondest memories of the conference was when Rosenberg pointed out how much land would be available for returning Palestinian refugees given that most Israeli Jews are still concentrated around the Tel Aviv area. “Oh, a land without a people,” was Neimark’s riposte, quick as a flash.
So many players in the American Jewish establishment have for decades deployed their skills and energies in the service of Israel’s illegal colonial enterprise. And here, at this conference, were a multitude of Jews, at their most savvy and strategic, working in favor of Palestinian rights and equality for all.

The last person I saw at the conference was a freshly minted attorney, a thoughtful young Muslim American woman of South Asian heritage who had also flown in from California. “Why did you want to be here?” I wondered. “We need to show JVP that they have allies,” was her moving response. “It’s a lonely battle.”

Yes it has been. But not any more.

Embracing Israel Boycott, Jewish Voice For Peace Insists on Its Jewish Identity

Group Now Has More Facebook Followers Than AIPAC and J Street

By Evan Serpick

Published March 28, 2015, issue of April 03, 2015.

At the opening plenary of Jewish Voice for Peace’s recent national conference, Rabbi Alissa Wise, JVP’s co-director of organizing, asked the crowd of some 600 how many were attending their first such gathering; about three-quarters of the room shot up their hands.
For the group whose advocacy of boycotting, sanctioning and divesting from Israel makes it a pariah in most of the rest of the Jewish community, these have been boom times. And for many of its members, the reason appears to be a continuing desire to assert their opposition to Israel’s fundamental policies in a Jewish context rather than abandon their Jewish identity altogether.
 One of those raising his hand was Noah Knowlton-Latkin of California’s Claremont Colleges. Like many of those in attendance, Knowlton-Latkin, a sophomore, was involved earlier in Students for Justice in Palestine, a campus group devoted to organizing students to oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza. The group also pushes college administrations to cut their economic and academic ties to Israel.
But last summer, Knowlton-Latkin reached out to JVP to express his concerns in a Jewish context. “It was great to find out that this existed,” said Knowlton-Latkin, who came to the conference with two other Jewish Claremont students, both members of SJP.
JVP’s recent conference, which took place in Baltimore from March 13 to 15, was notable for several new developments. Two weeks earlier, after a lengthy process that included study committees and membership surveys, JVP’s board of directors voted to fully support the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel, or BDS, as it is popularly known. JVP’s call for a full economic boycott of Israel comes after years of supporting a more limited boycott of only companies that operated in the occupied territories.
 JVP’s full embrace of BDS includes endorsing a right of return for Arabs and for descendants of Arabs who fled or who were expelled by Israel’s army in the 1948 war that established the state. That population, most of whom remain stateless refugees, now numbers more than 5.2 million. Israel and its supporters, including even dovish Zionist parties such as Meretz, argue that full implementation of the United Nations resolution calling for their return would render Jews a minority in their own state. It would mean, they say, the end of Zionism.
 But JVP’s president, Rebecca Vilkomerson, told the Forward: “For there to be a sustainable and just peace, that is one of the issues that we have to grapple with. We believe that there can be a homeland for Jewish people that is not based on the systematic denial of rights of Palestinians.”
 JVP does not offer details on how that could be if such a return indeed took place.
 Most striking at this conference was the way Israel’s hard-right turns, and particularly last year’s war in Gaza, have fueled JVP’s growth among a cohort of mostly young people who find the response of other Jewish groups, including the dovish group J Street, simply inadequate. JVP’s leaders anticipate that this trend will only quicken following the recent election victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They point to his election eve disavowal of a two-state solution and his election day warning about Arabs voting, plus the prospect that he will soon lead an even more right-wing government.
There are now 65 JVP chapters, up from 40 a year ago. Vilkomerson says JVP now has 9,000 dues-paying members, compared with 600 when the Forward last profiled the group in 2011. In the tax year that ended in June 2013, JVP had $1.1 million in donations. Vilkomerson said she expects this year’s total to top $2 million, almost all of it from individuals. The group has more than 204,000 Facebook followers, more than twice as many as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and about eight times as many as J Street.
For all their alienation from the mainstream community, JVP members seem to share an urgent need to voice their angst in a Jewish context, and to project it outward to the world, also citing their status as Jews. Critics condemn this as mere exploitation of their Jewishness in order to gain a hearing the group would otherwise be denied.
But many JVP members do come from backgrounds of serious Jewish engagement. The conference itself opened on a Friday night, with the group celebrating Kabbalat Shabbat, and included a memorial service for those killed in the war in Gaza, during which members chanted the Mourner’s Kaddish and the prayer for the dead, El Maleh Rachamim. JVP says the group offers the members a place to be their “whole selves.”
“21yrs in many jewish spaces & I’ve never felt so at home,” one participant, Talia Bauer, wrote on the group’s Facebook page after the conference.
Another participant wrote, “For three days, I was immersed in a Jewish community unlike I have ever been a part of, one rooted in justice that welcomed all of me.” She wrote anonymously, she said, to avoid her family learning of her involvement with JVP.
In Vilkomerson’s view, “the mainstream Jewish community should be thanking us. We are bringing many people back into a Jewish community. There’s so much angst in the Jewish community about the loss of community, and losing the young people, and what is going to happen, and the apathy. Nobody here is apathetic; nobody here is unconnected. To the contrary.”
Some in the mainstream grant them this point. “Any sort of Jewish engagement by young people is a positive thing,” said Steven M. Cohen, a professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion who studies the American Jewish community. He said that JVP, along with anti-democratic far-right groups and “any group that represents lots of Jews,” should be invited to be members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and similar mainstream organizations. “JVP doesn’t show concern for the security of the State of Israel and doesn’t care if there is a Jewish State of Israel or not,” he added. Nevertheless, he said, “We should not exclude JVP from conversations — we should engage them.”
That view is unthinkable to many Jewish community standard-bearers.
“The positions and actions taken by Jewish Voice for Peace are anathema to mainstream Jewish organizations,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, in a statement to the Forward. “The group’s activities, which include partnerships with anti-Israel organizations that deny Israel’s fundamental right to exist, put them at the farthest fringe of the Jewish community and would certainly preclude their participation among mainstream organizations.”
JVP, he said, “uses its Jewish identity to provide the anti-Israel movement with a veneer of legitimacy and to shield the movement’s most demagogic supporters from allegations of anti-Semitism.”
For many, the decision to join JVP was a painful, personal one, reflecting a lost faith in the State of Israel. Rabbi Brant Rosen, a co-chair of JVP’s rabbinical council, who served as a congregational rabbi in suburban Chicago for 17 years, joined in 2009, after Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, its military campaign into Gaza, with numerous reports — contested by Israel — of high civilian deaths rates.
Michael Davis, a congregational cantor in the Reform movement and a member of JVP’s rabbinical council, grew up Orthodox in Israel. He said that his own worldview changed after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin at a fateful Tel Aviv peace rally in November 1995. “That was the end of the dream for me,” he told the Forward.
For Vilkomerson, it was the second intifada, starting in 2000. “There are these moments of cracking open, where people sort of make the leap,” she said.
Rosen added, “Historically, that’s how JVP has grown, unfortunately, tragically.”
Speaking after the Israeli election, Vilkomerson says she now expects another wave of people to come into the JVP fold. “Given that the American Jewish community is generally interested in peace and democratic values, we expect a lot of self-reflection about how to support a true peace in the days to come,” she said.
Contact Evan Serpick at feedback@forward.com
Read more2 

18 March 2015

The Blog that Predicted the Victory of Netanyahu

Likud’s Triumph Emphasises the Irrelevance of Labour Zionism 

When all the pundits predicted that Netanyahu and the Right would be defeated in the Israeli General Election, this blog stood alone in predicting that  the Zionist Right would triumph once again. 

Jews voting for the Joint Jewish-Arab List

How could one disagree?
 In a blog post and article for Weekly Worker of 5th March 'Polarisation Will Continue to Grow' I wrote:

Zionism racist?  Perish the thought
The Israeli Labour Party, running with Tsipi Livni’s Hatnuah, has high hopes of forming the next government. It is likely to be disappointed.  

Netanhayu addresses Congress
I did not, and do not, possess a crystal ball.  Nor was it, as I posted to Antony Lerman's blog  a hunch or guess.  It is based on an analysis that Zionism has no need today of the appearance of a 'socialist' cover.  A nakedly free market society adapts ideologically and in Israel's case it jettisons the old rhetoric of collectivity.  State capitalism as represented by Histadrut, which until the late 1980's and early 1990's was the second largest employer in Israel after the state itself, has given way to massive privatisation.  The welfare state has been progressively dismantled.  

Herzog - the Zionist Union (Labour) leader - Gaza should have been hit harder and earlier
The Israeli Labour Party, which pioneered the confiscation of Arab land, the military rule over the Arabs and the creation of an apartheid state, is now redundant, a left-over from the past.  In its wake there is a hysterical nationalist xenophobia that binds the settler majority and treats the Arab minority as a fifth column.  Arabs play the same role as the Jews did in Nazi mythology.  They are the traitors within, waiting to perform the 'stab in the back'.

This is my post:

Tony Greenstein

Antony says that he guessed that Netanyahu would win the election.  Perhaps he did but in an article for the Weekly Worker I was one of the few who put their cards on the table with an article The Right & Far Right Will Almost Certainly Win the Israeli Elections  (unexpurgated).

Israel's fascist foreign minister Lieberman - taking an axe to Israel's Arabs.  Leader of the Zionist ISIS
But it's not a question of who was right but why I predicted that the Right would win.  It was not a question of guessing.  Labour Zionism, to which Antony had a childhood attachment and still has a fondness for, is a busted flush.  It has served its political purpose.  It laid the basis for Begin's victory in 1977 and as Ze'ev Sternhell wrote, it is difficult to identify one social grouping that enthusiastically supports it.  

Netanyahu celebrates
I agree with Ali Abunimah when he says that Netanyahu's victory is the best outcome.  It means that the West has to confront its support for the war criminals in Tel Aviv.  The election of Livni and Herzog would have clouded that, raised hopes but have done nothing for those who need it most - the Palestinians.  Consider:

Livni is also the war criminal behind the attack on Gaza in 2008/9.  Some 1400 civilians were killed.  In the peace talks (see the Palestinian Papers, Clayton Swisher) she repeatedly proposes swapping Arab towns and areas of Israel for the settlements.  She is as much a devotee of a Jewish state as Netanyahu.

What of Herzog?  Is he just a traditional social democrat?   Hardly.  He campaigned on social issues but kept well clear of the settlements which he has vowed to maintain.  His party voted to support the banning of Haneen Zoabi.   He criticised Netanyahu in a video for going  soft on Hamas and not hitting Gaza hard enough or early enough.  2,200 dead in Operation Protective Edge was not good enough for him.  http://mondoweiss.net/2015/02/leader-attacks-netanyahu

I know Antony does not like the comparisons but when you see Israeli mobs chanting 'death to the Arabs' or a demonstration of hundreds of Israelis outside a wedding reception of an Arab male and a Jewess you are reminded of Europe in the 1930's and Germany in particular.  Zionism is playing itself out in Lieberman's remarks about taking an axe and beheading Israeli Arabs.  Ayelet Shaked speaks for many when talking of exterminating Palestinian women so that they won't give birth to 'little Palestinian snakes'.    All this accompanised by frightening military power.

We should be grateful that Netanyahu's victory has at least provided clarity.

Southampton University Conference on Israel and International Law: The Zionist's Try to Ban it

The Zionist Lobby is a Threat to Freedom of Speech

Remember all the hypocritical cant about freedom of speech in the wake of the murder of journalists at Charlie Hebdo?  About how terrorism would not be allowed to silence the power of the pen?  Forget it.  Under the guise of 'anti-terrorism' the Zionist lobby is up to its old tricks, with support from the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles.
Eric Pickles - Tory Minister who has added his (considerable) weight to the campaign to ban the Conference
A group of academics, primarily based at Southampton University, have organised a Conference “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism,” scheduled for 17-19 April.  You might wonder what could be more innocuous but of course international law isn't something that Israel is particularly keen on.
Prof. Oren ben-Dor, Southampton University Law Lecturer and organiser of conference

Electronic Intifada reports on how academics are pushing back against an effort by Israel lobby groups and UK government officials to cancel or alter a law school conference related to Palestine.
Southampton University
Almost 300 professors at universities in the UK and other countries have signed a statement expressing “principled and full support for the University of Southampton’s commitment to freedom of speech and scholarly debate.”

The University of Southampton has come under intense pressure in respect of the conference.  The conference will “engage controversial questions concerning the manner of Israel’s foundation and its nature, including ongoing forced displacements of Palestinians and associated injustices,” the organizers wrote in a statement to The Electronic Intifada.
Olive grove that the settlers love to burn
The organizers are University of Southampton law professor Oren Ben-Dor; George Bisharat, professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law; Juman Asmail, a law graduate from Southampton and Southampton engineering professor Suleiman Sharkh.

The conference “will examine how international law could be deployed, expanded, even re-imagined, in order to achieve regional peace and reconciliation based on justice,” the organizers add.

The provisional program includes presentations from a range of well-known academics and experts including University of California at Los Angeles historian Gabi Piterberg; Nur Musalha, a historian who has written extensively about Zionist plans to expel Palestinians; University of Exeter historian Ilan Pappe and Princeton University emeritus professor and former UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, among others.

Smear campaign

Pro-Israel media and lobby groups have been mounting an ever more shrill campaign using Islamophobic themes and casting aspersions of anti-Semitism to smear organizers and speakers.
Some have called for the conference to be banned outright, while others are urging the university to require pro-Israel speakers, on the grounds that the conference is “one sided.”

This is an interesting ground of objection.  Presumably conferences on the Holocaust or Apartheid in South Africa should have defenders of the Holocaust and Apartheid given equal weight!

The Jerusalem Post reports that late last year, “leaders of the Jewish community, including representatives of the Jewish Leadership Council, Board of Deputies and the Union of Jewish 
Students” sent a letter to the university to cancel the conference.'

The Post says it has “exclusively” seen “extracts” of the letter.

A Southampton spokesperson emailed The Electronic Intifada that the university “received a number of representations concerning this conference, both those expressing concerns and those in support,” but would not provide details of the organizations that had approached it.

The Electronic Intifada has filed a Freedom of Information request with the university in an effort to bring more light on the Israel lobby’s campaign against academic freedom.

Zionist Federation petition

The UK’s Zionist Federation launched a petition calling on the university to ban the conference, a demand to which several members of parliament have added their voices.

The mass circulation tabloid The Daily Express published an op-ed associating the conference with support for the notorious Islamic State militant “Jihadi John” and demanding that the government cut funding to Southampton.

The Jewish Chronicle trumpeted criticism by a former Conservative government minister and quoted Southampton mathematics professor Tim Sluckin claiming that the purpose of the conference is to “delegitimize Israel.”

Sluckin, who is also secretary of the Southampton Hebrew Congregation, said the conference “makes me feel uncomfortable as a Jew.”

Government collusion

Perhaps the most worrying aspect for supporters of free speech is the apparent collusion of UK government officials in the attempt to smear and suppress the conference.

Last week, Conservative cabinet minister Eric Pickles warned the University of Southampton against “allowing a one-sided diatribe.” According to Jewish News, this made Pickles, who is Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, “the most senior politician yet to intervene” over the conference.

Last December, Pickles’ department issued a report promising “government action on addressing anti-Semitism.” But as The Electronic Intifada reported, the government document “conflates anti-Semitism with criticism of the State of Israel” and misrepresents the Palestinian call for the academic boycott of Israeli institutions.

Pickles has consistently conflated “anti-Semitism” with solidarity for Palestinians. He has for instance condemned the London Borough of Tower Hamlets for “flying a Palestinian flag.” London municipalities have a long tradition of international solidarity, especially during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

The Jerusalem Post also revealed that in February, UK ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould met with UK university heads to discuss the limits of “freedom of speech” relating to Israel.

According to the Post, the University of Southampton’s refusal to cave in over the conference was a topic of discussion in the meeting.

Ben White writes for Middle East Monitor that the university’s “stubborn commitment to freedom of speech has clearly angered Britain’s Israel lobby, but the bigger question here is why a UK ambassador was involved in the first place.”

The UK Foreign Office confirmed to White that the meeting had taken place but as White notes, the government spokesperson “did not elaborate on whether lobbying British universities” on behalf of Israel “was part of the ambassador’s remit.”

“Legal obligations”

The organizers have rejected accusations that the conference is “one sided.”

“Diligent efforts, including face-to-face meetings with leading intellectuals in Israel, were made to ensure the widest range of opinions possible,” the organizers wrote in their statement.

“Those who chose to abstain, however, cannot derail the legitimate, if challenging, academic discussion the conference will inspire.”

The organizers also say that are “deeply grateful for the University of Southampton’s commitment to freedom of speech and expression, which should set an example for universities worldwide.”

But the university has been more circumspect. Its spokesperson assured The Electronic Intifada that it “is legally obliged under the Education (No. 2) Act 1986, to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the university, as well as for visiting speakers.”

“We must ensure that academic staff have the freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions.”

University appeasing critics?

But in what looks like an attempt to appease critics, the spokesperson adds that “For the avoidance of doubt, the University of Southampton is not expressing an opinion or taking any particular standpoint in relation to the conference, ‘International Law and the State of Israel,’ but is fulfilling its legal obligations.”

Universities often endorse conferences and take strong stances in favor of various kinds of research on human rights, economic, medical or environmental issues.

For instance, University of Southampton Vice-Chancellor Don Nutbeam enthuses about a new research collaboration between his institution and the insurance company Lloyds Register.

But Southampton’s statement about the Israel conference follows an emerging pattern among universities that have come under attack for research or advocacy in relation to Palestinian rights: administrators assert their minimum obligations on free speech grounds while distancing themselves from the content, as if believing that Israel should be held accountable under international law were something odious and offensive.

Pressure is being exerted on the University of Southampton to cancel or ‘reconstruct’ a conference on Israel and international law scheduled for 17-19 April. Groups such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews and UK Zionist Federation have urged the university to cancel the event, and there has also been an intervention from Communities minister and Conservative MP Eric Pickles.

To add your name to the below statement please email freespeechsouthampton@gmail.com

The statement and signatory list will appear here (and will be updated with names accordingly):

Statement in support of the University of Southampton

We, the undersigned academics, express principled and full support for the University of Southampton’s commitment to freedom of speech and scholarly debate.

We commend the University of Southampton administration, including Vice-Chancellor Don Nutbeam, for its resolute defence of academic freedom.

It is standing principle and recognised practice that academic conference organisers have the right to choose those speakers and topics they feel would best address the purposes of the conference, without these being dictated to them by outside parties.To the best of our knowledge, the conference invitations in this case are based on qualification to speak on the topic rather than on political positions held.

We affirm, as academics from various disciplines and institutions of higher education, that the themes of the conference, such as the relationship of international law to the historic and ongoing political violence in Palestine/Israel, and critical reflections on nationality and self-determination, are entirely legitimate subjects for debate and inquiry.

We are very concerned that partisan attempts are being made to silence dissenting analyses of the topic in question. For external pressure and interference, especially from political lobby groups and a government minister, to censor lawful academic discussion would set a worrying precedent.

We tru
st that the programme of ‘International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism’ will go ahead as planned, to the credit of the University of Southampton and all those involved.

16 March 2015

The Right & Far Right Will Almost Certainly Win the Israeli Elections

The Last Fling of Left Zionism

Herzog and Netanyahu - Spot the Difference

Moshe Kalon of Kulanu -  A Likud offshoot

The late Shulamit Aloni who founded Meretz and drifted away from Zionism
The last time that the Israeli Labour Party (flying under the Zionist Union flag today in alliance with Tsipi Livni's Hatnuah) won an Israeli General Election it was in 1992 under Yitzhak Rabin.  The only comparison with today is that Israel, under a far-right Zionist administration (then led by Yitzhak Shamir who had proposed a pact with Nazi Germany as one of the leaders of Lehi) had come into conflict with the US Administration.  George Bush Snr. had then frozen $11 billion in export credit guarantees.
Haneen Zoabi of Balad/Joint List attacked
Israeli woman and Aida Touma-Suliman joint list
Today Netanyahu's administration, which is further to the right than Shamir's, has aligned himself with a powerful section of the US political establishment against Obama.
The Ogre
Israel's fascist foreign minister - Avigdor Lieberman
The arithmetic however is completely different.  Rabin gained 44 seats and Meretz, the left-Zionist civil rights party (which included Shulamit Aloni, who was barely a Zionist) gained 12 seats.  Today the Zionist Union will gain about 24 seats and Meretz 5 seats at most.  In 1992 Labour and Meretz nearly had an overall majority and with the Arab parties and Hadash couldn't be overthrown.  Today they will be at the mercy of all sorts of 'centrist' Zionist parties if they try to form an administration.
Yair Lapid - of the opportunistic 'centre' Yesh Atid
Below is the unexpurgated version of an article I wrote for the Weekly Worker 1048 Polarisation continues to grow
Israeli General Election 17th March 2015

Polarisation but no change

Israel is due to go the polls on 17th March 2015.  The above table is based on the latest 3 opinion polls and they differ only slightly.  The Israeli Labour Party, running with Tsipi Livni’s Hatnuah, has high hopes of forming the next government.  It is likely to be disappointed.
The Joint List Press Conference
Naftali Bennett - leader of the racist far-right settler's party Jewish Home (Habayit HaYehuda)
The previous General Election was held in 2013.  Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset two years early as a result of the refusal of Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid and Tsipi Livni of Hatnuah to agree to proposals to entrench, as a basic (constitutional) law, the definition of Israel as a Jewish state.  Accompanying Arabic would have been removed as the second official language in Israel and there would have been a failure to even pay lip-service to the equality of all Israeli citizens, regardless of national/religious affiliation, in law.
Zahava Galon - leader of Meretz/Mapam
There have, of course, never been any disagreements within the Zionist parties about Israel being a Jewish state.  What the disagreement focused on is the wisdom of putting this into law and thus making it clear that Israeli Palestinians are the equivalent of gastarbeiters (guests), tolerated strangers at best, within this state.
Zionist Union leaders Herzog and Livni
The context for this has been a raft of legislation specifically targeting Israel’s Palestinian minority.  Teachers are banned from teaching about the Nakbah, the expulsion of Palestinians in 1947-8.  Discrimination against Palestinians in terms of the right to lease ‘national land’ has been reinstated after the decision of the High Court in Kadan in 2000.
Aryeh Deri of the religious sephardic Shas party
To emphasise their Zionist credentials, the Israeli Labour Party has stood as the Zionist Union for the purpose of the elections.  It wishes to make it clear that it is not ‘soft’ when it comes to the Arabs. 
The Zionist ‘left’ has always hidden behind the formulation of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state, whereas the Right has always been clear.  In the words of Moshe Feiglin, a right-wing libertarian Likud MK ‘Not one of the dreamers and pioneers… who returned to our holy Land after 2000 years of exile did so in order to establish another democratic state. … Those who came to Israel wanted a Jewish State.’  Or as the Jewish Nazi MK, Rabbi Meir Kahane put it, you can have a Jewish state or a democratic state but you cannot have both.  A democratic society could vote that the state was no longer Jewish, something no Zionist could accept.
Mohammed Barakeh and Dov Khenin of Hadash/Communist Party
As is normal in Israeli elections, parties suddenly spring up for no other reason than there is an election.  The two new parties are Kulanu, a ‘centrist’ party (in Israeli terms) and hard-line on security and Yachad, formed by the former leader of the Ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Shas Party, Eli Yishai, which is on the Zionist Right.  This rapid formation and disappearance of political parties, usually based around a single individual, is a by-product of Israeli settler-colonialism  and its distorted class politics.
The racist Tsipi Livni - co-leader of Zionist Union
If the Israeli Labour Party were even the equivalent of a European social-democratic party and Israel was a normal bourgeois-democracy, it would be romping home.  Whilst the cost of housing continues to soar (provoking the Tent protests 3 years ago) and poverty and low wages affect even the Jewish sector of the population, billions of shekels are spent on the settlements.  Coupled with this there are now revelations that Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, spent enormous amounts of public money on take-aways, cleaners and they even transferred garden furniture from the Prime Ministerial residence to their own private home in Caesaria.  Netanyahu is a good example of the marriage of racism and corruption yet Israeli Labour cannot land a blow.
Meretz's Issawi Frei - the sole Arab MK for a Zionist party
The other major feature of this election has been the effect of the decision to raise the threshold level which a party needs to gain representation.  Previously in Israeli elections, you needed to gain 2% of the vote but the fascist leader of Yisrael Beteinu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, raised it to 3.25% specifically to exclude the Arab/Palestinian parties.  However this has backfired as it forced them to form a joint list of the United Arab List and Tal, the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement, the nationalist Balad party and the Arab Movement for Change - Hadash, the Communist Party.  The number of seats for Arab parties is expected to increase from 11 to 13.
Ayman Odeh of Hadash/Joint List
It is, however hard to see the Israeli Labour Party forming the next government since it is a cardinal rule of Zionist politics that you do not form a coalition with Arab parties, or even rest on their support to form a government coalition.  Assuming the Zionist Union gain 23 seats and Yesh Atid, the rightward looking ‘centrist’ party of Yair Lapid gains 12 seats and Meretz and Kulanu gain 14 seats that is still a total of 49  seats.  It is normal for the ILP to include an Orthodox Jewish  Party in a government coalition and Shas would take such a coalition to 57 seats on current forecasts.  But if Shas joined the coalition then a peace settlement would be all but ruled out.
Benny Begin - Netanyahu's retread
Likud (22) plus Yisrael Beteinu (6) Jewish Home (12) and Yachad (4) total 44 seats but the Ultra-Orthodox parties have 14 seats between them making a total of 58 seats.  Kulanu, which might form a coalition with Israeli Labour has a hard-line security policy.  Another Likud coalition seems the likeliest outcome.
If Likud and the Zionist Right do lose a number of seats and the Zionist Centre gain a few, then the second most likely outcome is a repeat of the 2009 general election when Israeli Labour went into a coalition with Likud and virtually destroyed itself.  There is, after all, no difference of principle between Likud and Labour.  Isaac Hertzog, the new Labour leader, made that clear when Israeli Labour representatives on the Central Elections Committee voted along with Likud and the Zionist Right to ban Haneen Zoabi of Balad from standing in the election (Ms Zoabi successfully challenged this in the Supreme Court).  It probably didn’t occur to the ILP that existing racist members of the Knesset, such as Ayelet Shaked, who advocated the murder of all Palestinian  mothers, because they will only give birth to Palestinian ‘terrorists’ or ‘snakes’ in her description, might be a more suitable candidate to bar.  Racism and Israeli Labour have always gone hand in hand and that is why, whatever the mathematical outcome, Israel’s General Elections heralds no change.
Haneen Zoabi - the Arab MK the Zionists love to hate - a secular Palestinian woman is too much for the Zionists
The last time the Israeli Labour Party won a convincing majority was in 1992.  Yitzhak Rabin’s victory was primarily on account of the freezing by George Bush of export credits by the United States.  Despite recent differences, there is no sign that Obama is thinking of similar moves.

Tony Greenstein