Tag Archives: +972

Defending Free Gaza’s antisemitism at +972 and Open Zion

A few days ago, I noticed on my Twitter timeline some commotion about a tweet that had been posted by a group calling itself “Free Gaza Movement” – and it should go without saying that the group’s goal is NOT to free Gaza from the oppressive and abusive rule of Hamas… Instead, Free Gaza devotes itself single-mindedly to delegitimizing Israeli measures to prevent the smuggling of explosives, rockets and weapons into Gaza, and over the past few years, the group has been organizing “flotillas” to “break the siege of Gaza.”

As with many so-called “pro-Palestinian” groups, this also means that Free Gaza spreads a lot of horror stories about Israel, Zionism and Jews. But the recent Free Gaza tweet that attracted so much attention was particularly blatant, asserting that “Zionists operated the concentration camps and helped murder millions of innocent Jews.” Anyone skeptical about this claim could click on a link to a video clip featuring a well-known antisemitic conspiracy theorist.

The details of this story and how it developed over the past few days have been documented by Avi Mayer; and by now, there have also been reports in the media about it. Most notably, the influential Walter Russell Mead devoted a long post to this incident, calling on Archbishop Desmond Tutu – who has endorsed Free Gaza – to withdraw his support of the group and to denounce Free Gaza’s propagation of “ugly filth of the lowest kind, gutter anti-Semitism mixed with genocidal rage.”

As I noted in a related post, Free Gaza reacted by offering various evasions and non-apologies. The group’s co-founder Greta Berlin, who was responsible for several of the antisemitic links provided by Free Gaza, claimed in a disingenuous “apology” posted on the Free Gaza website that this material “was shared to a group of people who were discussing the evils of propaganda and racism.”

Despite the fact that Free Gaza has a long record of posting antisemitic material, some people were all too eager to believe this transparently dishonest explanation. Writing on his +972 blog, Larry Derfner complained about “The slandering of Gaza flotilla activist Greta Berlin,” and on Peter Beinart’s Open Zion blog, Emily Hauser declared herself satisfied with Greta Berlin’s assurances that she was not a Holocaust denier and that, even though she hadn’t watched the video she propagated, she posted it as an example of “EXACTLY what I and others are horrified over.”

There is an ancient proverb I remember from school, which we were taught to illustrate the point that claiming innocent intentions doesn’t necessarily absolve a person of the serious consequences of an action: “though the boys throw stones at frogs in sport, yet the frogs do not die in sport but in earnest.”

Quite plainly, what Derfner and Hauser were doing, for whatever reasons, was defending Free Gaza’s antisemitism – and they could have easily realized that this was what they were doing had they bothered to just quickly scroll through the tweets of Free Gaza from the last few weeks.

Just going back to September 1, we find the following: Israel is “committing slow motion genocide” in Gaza; Gaza is a “‘forgotten’ Extermination Camp” much worse than Auschwitz, the Warsaw Ghetto and Treblinka; the Mossad was behind the man who made a film denigrating Islam; alternatively, it was some conspiracy involving “An Israeli film-maker, 100 Jewish donors and their Salafi allies;” and on September 1, Free Gaza linked – not for the first time – to the writings of Gilad Atzmon, a well-known peddler of antisemitic rants.

Here are just a few screenshots of some of the tweets:

By ignoring the blatantly antisemitic material persistently propagated by Free Gaza and rushing to the group’s defense, Derfner and Hauser illustrated a major principle of Israel’s far-left critics: When it comes to so-called pro-Palestinian activists, the iron rule is “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” – and of course, when it comes to Israel, the rule is “see only evil, hear only evil, and speak only evil.”

No surprise then that, in addition to his defense of Free Gaza’s antisemitism, Larry Derfner’s most recent writings include ruminations about his misgivings that “commemorating the Holocaust” and “Israeli bad taste…unfortunately tend to go together.” Right, let’s rush to dismiss blatant antisemitism propagated by “pro-Palestinian” activists and let’s instead focus on ridiculing efforts to cope with the difficulties of dealing with the trauma of a genocide that, still within living memory, wiped out one third of the world’s Jewish population.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

UPDATE:

Please note that the examples of Free Gaza’s propagation of antisemitic material  provided here are in addition to the ones already documented by Avi Mayer.

UPDATE 2:

Since I wrote this post, Larry Derfner has responded by doing what presumably passes for real reporting at +972: he conducted a telephone interview with Greta Berlin, and proceeded to publish her lies:

“Regarding an FGM tweet about the infamous film “The Innocence of Muslims” that mentions ‘An Israeli film maker, 100 Jewish donors,’ she said those details were taken from the early reports in the New York Times and other mainstream news agencies, but that since then, of course, the story had changed. ‘The New York Times was fooled, too,’ she said.”

As my screenshot of the tweet documents, the source linked to in the tweet is not quite the New York Times, but a website called Redress; here’s the link provided in the tweet: “An Israeli film-maker, 100 Jewish donors and their Salafi allies.”  On this same site, you can also enjoy a follow-up post on “Israel’s Salafi foot soldiers in the wake of anti-Islam film,” where Nureddin Sabir, the site’s “editor”, argues:

“Israel must bear responsibility for creating the climate that gave rise to the anti-Islam film ‘Innocence of Muslims’. But it is Israel’s Salafi and Wahhabi foot soldiers behind the violent protests across the Arab and Muslim worlds who may eventually bring Arabs and Muslims down to their knees.”

Can you get any more nutty?

The other tweet on the Mossad being behind “Sam Bacile” links to a website called Cannonfire and a post entitled “Why I believe that Mossad was behind ‘Sam Bacile.’”

Most likely, none of this will impress Derfner, who writes:

“Even if I find some of her terminology about Gaza (‘slow-motion genocide’ and ‘extermination camps’) to be awfully exaggerated and dangerous, I see no evidence that she’s the monster she’s been made out to be. She’s a self-described anti-Zionist, but I see nothing she’s done or said that I, at least, would consider beyond the pale.”

And, concluding by sharing his impression of Berlin, Derfner writes:

“She doesn’t strike me as a person who scares easily, or who would disown something she believes in to stay in anyone’s good graces. If she genuinely believed in crackpot, anti-Semitic ideas, I think she’d say so and stick by it.”

Once I can think of a way to describe this conclusion politely, I’ll post an update.

UPDATE 3:

Just a short while ago, Avi Mayer published installment no.2 about the ongoing Free Gaza & Greta Berlin saga. He deals extensively with Larry Derfner’s embarrassing attempts to defend Berlin, so I won’t go here into any further detail, except mentioning one point: Derfner updated the post where he so faithfully parroted everything Berlin told him with a statement signed by some people who claim to be members of the “secret” Facebook group with whom Berlin was supposedly discussing the “evils of propaganda and racism.”

First it needs to be noted that the group is soooo secret that they are apparently unable to even provide a link to their site on Facebook; and secondly, I think they are (perhaps inadvertently) rather honest when they all but admit that the opinions they were (or would be) expressing on the subjects they were supposedly discussing would really not be publishable:

“Many of us know each other personally; our mutual trust allows discussions to involve subjects that are not appropriate for public consumption, sometimes simply because our opinions are not fully ripe; we experiment with them and bounce them off each other in an attempt to understand the issues at hand, developing a better and more coherent argument.” [my emphasis]

Right, I can see why people wouldn’t want to publish their “unripe” “experimental” opinions about Nazi propaganda…

 

Defending Günter Grass at +972

The hope that “Grass’s poem could be the gift that keeps on giving” – expressed by Mondoweiss contributor Annie Robbins – has so far been fulfilled in the sense that the controversy that erupted immediately after the publication of the “poem” is still raging on. And while there has been much  withering criticism, Mondoweissers were right to hope that the aging Nobel laureate would find defenders for his unpoetic promulgation of old antisemitic tropes.

As Yaacov Lozowick wrote in a recent post on Mondoweiss:

“they fit comfortably into ancient traditions of Jew-hatred, and thus their potential significance shouldn’t be shrugged off. It’s important to keep in mind that the free and pluralistic society of the West also harbors such ugly forms of thought.”

But while the enthusiasm of the Mondoweiss crowd for Grass’s pathetic “poem” was entirely expected, it is arguably revealing that the supposedly more high-brow +972 magazine has turned out to be no less enthusiastic.

First +972 contributor Yossi Gurvitz set out to “pick apart” the charges of the Israeli Embassy in Berlin that Grass’s “poem” echoed European traditions of antisemitism. Gurvitz proceeds to list Grass’s claims about Israel and asserts that they are entirely accurate – to get a taste of his ignorance and his utterly pathetic modus operandi, consider this point [emphasis original]:

Is Netanyahu considering wiping out the Iranian people? Considering some of his statements, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.”

Gurvitz concludes triumphantly:

“The truth is never anti-Semitic. There was no blood libel here, no anti-Semitism, no claim of children’s blood used for ritual purposes.”

No, Yossi Gurvitz, Grass made “no claim of children’s blood used for ritual purposes” – but the people who made this claim in the Middle Ages felt that “it’s not out of the realm of possibility.”

Gurvitz concludes expressing the hope:

“The good thing which may come out of this affair is that people may learn to discount screeches of anti-Semitism from Israel with a sigh of ‘there they go again.’”

So just for the record: at +972, it would be a “good thing” if the world shrugged off Israeli complaints about antisemitism when Iran’s leaders refer to Israel as a “cancer” that must be removed, or when Islamists spread the most vicious lies about Jews.

The next praise for Grass at +972 came from Larry Derfner in a post entitled “More power to Gunter Grass for ‘What must be said’.” Derfner was at least sober enough to note a few reservations, but ultimately he also concluded:

“Gunter Grass told the truth, he was brave in telling it, he was brave in admitting that he’d been drafted into the Waffen SS as a teenager, and by speaking out against an Israeli attack on Iran, he’s doing this country a great service at some personal cost while most Israelis and American Jews are safely following the herd behind Bibi over the cliff.”

In yet another post, Derfner offered “A further defense of Gunter Grass,” arguing that given Grass’s record (with which Derfner doesn’t seem too familiar), one has to conclude that

“Grass is not an anti-Semite or hater of Israel – he’s a liberal friend of the Jews and of Israel who wants this country to turn away from all the things liberals naturally dread – extreme nationalism, militarism, ethnocentrism, paranoia – the very things, unfortunately, that Israel has come to stand for.”

 There are two particularly striking aspects to the defense of Grass at +972:

First, it is remarkably unsophisticated – informed first and foremost by the approach: have ideology, will comment. Both Derfner and Gurvitz look at the “poem” in isolation, oblivious of the very relevant context of complex German debates about “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” [i.e. coming to terms with the past].

Secondly, just like Grass, the +972 writers – even though they are Israelis – don’t seem to think it’s worthwhile to consider Iran’s conduct and the threat that Iran already poses for Israel through proxies like Hezbollah and Hamas, and they are equally uninterested in the Iranian regime’s vicious rhetoric about Israel. But as historian Daniel Jonah Goldhagen emphasized in his analysis of the Grass poem:

“In demonizing Israel, there is a widespread practice in Germany, also perfected here by Grass, of ignoring the context in which Israel exists and acts. That context is that Israel has been existentially threatened for its entire existence and continues to be so today, both by states that wish merely to defeat it or to have it relinquish the West Bank (Gaza it already gave back), and by states, often supported by their publics, that wish to destroy it and eliminate or exterminate its Jews. Why does Grass fail to mention that Iranian leaders, and not just Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have routinely threatened to destroy Israel and kill Jews, and occasionally even hinted that it could be done with nuclear weapons? As the “moderate” former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani explained already in 2001, “the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything.” Why does Grass fail to mention that the Iranian leaders speak of Israel using Nazi-like language and metaphors, of cancer and pestilence which must be utterly eradicated? Do I have to say that such speech has been shown to be the rhetorical prelude to genocide?”

All this is of no concern to the +972 contributors whose blog is generously supported by the New Israel Fund. But if this kind of ignorant writing that reflects only disdain for the concerns of mainstream Israelis represents a “New Israel,” I for one appreciate the old Israel all the more.

UPDATE:

A reader has drawn my attention to a Cif Watch post that documents a Twitter exchange with Yossi Gurvitz, but also links to a piece on “The Jewish problem” published by Gurvitz on +972 in September 2010. Some of the gems to be found there:

“Israel is itself becoming the problem of the Jews. It is, almost singularly, responsible for creation of a new anti-Semitic myth, that of “dual loyalty”. […] Zionism is a parasite, feeding upon anti-Semitism; it cannot exist without its mirror image (anti-Semitism, of course, can do quite nicely without Zionism). One only has to watch the eagerness with which anti-Semitism, or semi-anti-Semitism, is covered in the Israeli media: maybe now all of those Jews, living the good life abroad, will come to their senses and say we were right all along.”

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Since there is now also a heated debate about Israel’s decision to declare Grass persona non grata, I should mention that +972 didn’t fail to opine on this issue thusly:

“Now Interior Minister Eli Yishai has declared Grass to be persona non grata while Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has accused the German author of being ”willing to sacrifice the Jewish people on the altar of crazy anti-Semites for a second time, just to sell a few more books or gain recognition.”

Yishai and Lieberman are the two most outspoken racists in the Israeli government, so if one of the ways to know a person is by his enemies, I’d say Grass is looking pretty good.”

But if one of the ways to know a person is by his admirers, we would have to note that according to press reports, Grass was warmly praised by Iran’s state-owned English-language television, which declared: “Never before in Germany’s postwar history has a prominent intellectual attacked Israel in such a courageous way… Metaphorically speaking, the poet has launched a deadly lyrical strike against Israel.”

Similarly, Iran’s Deputy Culture Minister Javad Shamaqdari stated in a letter to Grass: “I read your literary work of human and historical responsibility, and it warns beautifully.”

No doubt the Iranian Deputy Culture Minister would also like the +972 posts in defense of Grass – in fact, come to think of it, he might like quite a bit of their output…

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By now, there have been many excellent articles criticizing Grass; I would like to quote here just a very recent one by Bernard-Henri Lévy, who opens his piece by highlighting some issues that are too often neglected by those who like to obsess about Israel:

“There is North Korea and its autistic tyrant, equipped with a by and large operational nuclear arsenal.

There is Pakistan, armed with warheads — no one knows how many, nor precisely where they are located, nor what guarantees we have that they will not, one day, fall into the hands of groups linked to Al Qaeda.

There is Putin’s Russia, which, in the space of two wars, has accomplished the exploit of exterminating a quarter of the population of Chechnya.

There is the butcher of Damascus, whose body count so far is at 10,000 and whose criminal stubbornness threatens the region’s peace.

There is Iran, of course, whose leaders have made it known that their nuclear arms, when they will have acquired them, will serve to strike one of their neighbors.

In short, we are living on a planet where candidates for the most officially pyromaniac State, openly aiming at its own citizens and the surrounding populations, threatening the world with conflagrations or disasters unprecedented in decades, are by no means lacking.

Yet here is a European writer, one of the greatest and most eminent, for he is Nobel prize laureate Günter Grass, who has nothing better to do than to publish a poem in which he explains that there is only one serious threat hanging over our heads, and that this threat comes from a tiny country, one of the smallest in the world, one of the most vulnerable as well and, by the by, a democracy: the State of Israel.”

Norman Finkelstein’s metamorphosis

It’s nothing short of Kafkaesque: when Norman Finkelstein, a veteran hero of Israel-haters left and right, criticized the BDS campaign in a recent interview, his erstwhile admirers turned on him with a ferocity that is positively delightful.

The +972 blog – which the New Israel Fund supports in order to help it become “sustainable” – posted this scathing verdict (which is real fun because it starts off with what can only be described as a Freudian typo):

Normal [sic!] Finkelstein has made a career out of being the son of holocaust survivors who doesn’t shy away from picking a fight with Israel’s backers, and who unabashedly defends the rights of Palestinians. […] Everything about the interview is classic Finkelstein: his demeanor, his tendency to raise his voice, his adversarial, passionate approach, everything, that is, except for the things he’s saying. In a bizarre turn of events, he comes off as a Zionist bully, or for that matter, any other angry right wing pundit.

[…] Finkelstein even resorts to the desperate tactic of denial. When the interviewer puts forth his contention that the BDS movement is growing in popularity, Finkelstein rejects the idea out of hand, comparing the movement to some Maoist group he apparently was affiliated with at some point in his more idealistic youth.

Here you have it: Norman Finkelstein transformed into a “Zionist bully”…

It really shows you how little it takes in the world of +972 – or, for that matter, of Mondoweiss, which approvingly linked to the +972 post – to earn the label of “Zionist bully”.  Norman Finkelstein most definitely doesn’t deserve it…

Just one additional note: for the author of this +972 post, it is apparently a sign of “idealism” to have been affiliated with a Maoist group — but it’s the sort of ideological “idealism” that isn’t much bothered by the fact that one expert on China’s modern history has argued that Mao “qualifies as the greatest mass murderer in world history.”

 

Showcasing Israeli wrongs: +972 and the BDS campaign

Last Thursday, a terrible accident involving a Palestinian school bus and an Israeli truck killed eight children and left an additional 36 children injured; some of the victims suffered serious burns caused by a fire that broke out after the crash. As the Jerusalem Post reported, Israeli rescue services were immediately mobilized, and some of the seriously injured children were evacuated to Israeli hospitals to receive the most advanced care.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was abroad, offered the Palestinian Authority (PA) ”any aid requested,” and President Shimon Peres telephoned Palestinian President Abbas to convey his condolences.

However, as the Jerusalem Post also reported, several Palestinian officials immediately blamed Israel for some of the deaths, claiming that rescue services were prevented from quickly coming to the scene of the accident and didn’t treat the injured adequately. Israeli officials rejected these accusations and pointed out that all of the injured had been evacuated to hospitals within 30 minutes after the accident.

In a post aptly entitled Where Also The Truth Goes Up In Flames, Aussie Dave at IsraellyCool concluded that the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to blame Israel” and pointed out that this was a “sickening accident and sickening attempts to exploit it as part of the demonization campaign against Israel.”

However, the far-left online magazine +972 chose to highlight a very different angle. Completely ignoring the attempts of Palestinian officials to exploit the tragedy for political purposes, a blog post by  Fady Khoury, an intern at Adalah, an organization promoting Arab minority rights in Israel, focused on a selection of disgusting reader comments at the Facebook page of Israel’s Walla News.

Khoury noted that “there were a lot of readers who condemned these and other racist comments,” but he justified highlighting the repulsive comments:

Israelis tend to accuse Palestinians of being immoral because once and again [sic] the Israeli media shows Palestinians gloating and celebrating over the death of innocent Israelis. The reaction of these ordinary Israelis to the death of Palestinian children shows that the “moral” party in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not so moral after all.

[…] My only intention is to show an example of the consequences of continuous occupation, which is affecting Israeli society as well as Palestinian society. […] there cannot be any doubt that these individuals feel comfortable openly expressing their hateful and racist opinions in a public domain mainly because discriminatory political discourse has legitimized this type of expression.

In my view, these comments should cause concern to Israelis more than Palestinians. Once hateful speech becomes legitimate, even if not explicitly, it tend [sic] to seep inwards, and in a divided and fragmented society – which is clearly the case in Israel – the risk is even greater.

It is worthwhile to read Khoury’s words carefully, because he provides an excellent example of the efforts to mainstream the demonization of Israel.

Presenting himself as fair-minded and objective by acknowledging that the repulsive comments were immediately criticized, he appeals to an audience that is not a priori ready to condemn Israel. However, Khoury then goes on to claim that the comments illustrated “the consequences of continuous occupation” and that “these individuals feel comfortable openly expressing their hateful and racist opinions in a public domain mainly because discriminatory political discourse has legitimized this type of expression.”

Khoury’s short post offers no evidence to back up his assertions; indeed, his own acknowledgment that “there were a lot of readers who condemned these and other racist comments” obviously contradicts his subsequent claims that a “discriminatory political discourse has legitimized this type of expression.”

The plain fact of the matter is that in every country, you will find individuals who are posting vicious comments about their objects of hate – and evidence for this can easily be found by looking at talkbacks for articles about Israel…

It is also important to note that +972’s professed goal is “to provide fresh, original, on-the-ground reporting and analysis of events in Israel and Palestine;” in addition, the name of the site – derived from the telephone area code that is shared by Israel and Palestine – is presumably meant to convey the message that events should not be seen in a compartmentalized way, but as interconnected.

This is therefore a site where you can expect to find a commentary on Israel’s social protest last summer complaining about the protesters’ lack of interest in discussing the occupation of the West Bank.

But when it comes to appalling comments, it’s apparently fine and dandy to simply highlight that they can be found on Hebrew websites and to tout this as proof that Israel is “not so moral after all.”

The obvious implication is that Israel has no reason to complain when Palestinians glorify terrorism – but the obvious problem is that there are countless well-documented examples showing that, very different from Israel, this is a mainstream phenomenon in Palestinian society that is openly endorsed and promoted by political, religious and social leaders, and that Palestinian criticism of this phenomenon is quite rare.

Any “fresh, original, on-the-ground reporting and analysis” of this by +972?

If there is anything “fresh” or “original” about yet another website that joins the already crowded field of sites that push the simplistic narrative of Israel as the perpetrator and Palestinians as the victim, it is perhaps the fact that +972 usually refrains from the shrill anti-Zionism and scrupulously tries to avoid the open antisemitism that is quite popular among the “blame Israel firsters.”

But like so many others, +972 pushes the popular notion that “without dramatic pressure from abroad […] Israelis will continue the occupation and the current political trends forever.” While this message ultimately reflects a deep despise for the majority of mainstream Israelis, there is definitely an audience that appreciates the endless repetition of this empty claim.

The traffic attracted by +972 has reportedly “grown exponentially since its inception” in the summer of 2010 – driven presumably also by the fact that some well-placed writers like the New York Times Lede editor Robert Mackey have repeatedly quoted the site – and, in addition to some smaller funds,  +972 has recently received a one-year, $60,000 grant from the Social Justice Fund intended to “help support the site becoming a sustainable operation” as well as a $10,000 grant from the Moriah Fund.

Given that the New Israel Fund wants to help +972 to become “a sustainable operation,” it should be legitimate to scrutinize the basic world view propagated by the site.

The initiative for +972’s establishment came reportedly from Noam Sheizaf, who serves as editor in chief and CEO. According to a recent admiring feature by Sarah Wildman in The Nation, Sheizaf is “magnetic, intellectual and articulate” – and Wildman assures her readers that  the “same is true” for all the other +972 contributors she has spoken to. However, Wildman admits that the “writers are fringe,” though she insists that “they are on the whole far smarter and more nuanced than most who attract that label.”

But all the smartness and nuance cannot conceal that ultimately, +972 has as little sympathy for the experience of the mainstream Israelis who, after supporting the Oslo process in the 1990s, learned from the bloody violence of the Al-Aqsa intifada and the continued rocket threat from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip that their hopes for “peace now” were not realistic.

While +972 writers may feel that they “are all part of a process of redrawing the Israeli political map,” there is reason to think that, unwittingly or not, they may actually be part of a very different process: it turns out that editor in chief and CEO Noam Sheizaf  thinks that the “Palestinian problem is a human rights problem disguised as a diplomatic problem; this was Israel’s greatest success, making it look like a geopolitical issue.”

This is of course exactly the position of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that campaigns frantically to delegitimize Israel as an “Apartheid state” – indeed, this issue was highlighted in the tempestuous debate that followed Norman Finkelstein’s recent criticism of BDS. Consider the following passage from a scathing rejection of Finkelstein’s criticism published by +972:

There is an increasing consensus among Israel’s critics to see the issue as one of civil rights, rather than a conflict between two nations. Indeed, some BDS activists harbor a desire to see the end of the Jewish state, and others believe this is the inevitable outcome of a civil rights movement, whether they desire it or not. But many others, I would argue most Palestinians among them, simply don’t care about this abstract One State v. Two State argument. They just don’t think civil rights – indeed human rights – can be trumped by someone’s nationalist claims.

Very different from Sheizaf’s spiteful notion that it “was Israel’s greatest success, making it look like a geopolitical issue,” it is actually the BDS movement’s greatest ambition to ignore the history of the conflict and repackage the rejectionist Palestinian view that Israel’s mere existence as a Jewish state constitutes some basic violation of Palestinian “rights” into slogans that will appeal to activists – many of whom care primarily about human rights violations that can be blamed on Israel.

The BDS movement is dependent on a steady stream of stories about Israel’s wrongdoings – whether real, invented or just liberally embellished – and by showcasing Israeli wrongs without much regard for context and reinforcing a simplistic perpetrator-victim narrative, +972 is doing its part, even if its writers may not openly support BDS.

Moreover, ignoring the long history of Arab and Palestinian rejectionism and pretending that the conflict is a “human rights problem disguised as a diplomatic problem” inevitably implies that efforts to negotiate a two-states-for-two-peoples solution will not solve the Palestinian “human rights problem.”

That is exactly the message BDS activists want to get out – and, couched in Islamist terms, this also happens to be the message of Hamas:

From time to time there are calls to hold an international conference in order to seek a solution for the [Palestinian] problem. Some accept this [proposal] and some reject it, for one reason or another […]  However, the Islamic Resistance Movement […] does not believe that these conferences can meet the demands or restore the rights [of the Palestinians], or bring equity to the oppressed.

I think anyone who agrees with the view that the “Palestinian problem is a human rights problem disguised as a diplomatic problem” and that this “disguise” is somehow due to Israel’s nefarious machinations should wonder what exactly distinguishes this position from the stance of Hamas.

Moreover, anyone who sincerely believes that the Palestinian problem is exclusively or primarily a human rights problem should insist that this problem is illuminated in all its aspects – including abuses by Hamas and other Palestinian groups, and including the longstanding severe discrimination suffered by the descendants of Palestinian refugees who are denied citizenship and related rights in the countries they were born.

Anyone who is interested in Palestinian human rights only when their violation can be blamed on Israel is not a human rights activist, but an anti-Israel activist – and there is absolutely nothing “fresh” or “original” about that.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Dead Syrians and settlement construction

Where would you have to go to read that the Russian and Chinese veto of a UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to the bloody violence in Syria was “the same” as a US veto of a condemnation of Israeli settlement construction cast in February 2011 ?

“America was simply providing diplomatic cover for a systematic violation of human and civil rights by its regional ally. So there is something hollow about condemning Russia and China for doing the same.”

Welcome to the world of +972, a left-wing Israel-Palestine blog that “wants to sound the alarm on a Jewish state it believes is destroying itself.” Israelis don’t take much notice of the English-language publication, but outside of Israel, there is of course a large market for everything that is “critical” of the Jewish state. To amplify this criticism a bit, the German Heinrich Böll Stiftung supports +972 in the context of the foundation’s “differentiated and pluralistic agenda” in Israel, and since one of +972 co-founders has been awarded a scholarship by the British Council, he is currently busy “criticizing” Israel in London.

Of course, “criticizing” Israel also often means “criticizing” US support for Israel, and that’s what Noam Sheizaf is presumably hoping to do when he equates the Russian and Chinese veto – widely expected to embolden Assad to intensify his brutal crackdown on the Syrian opposition – with the US veto that prevented the umpteenth condemnation of Israeli settlement construction.

The US veto that Sheizaf decries as “providing diplomatic cover for a systematic violation of human and civil rights” was cast almost exactly a year ago, and it’s worthwhile to re-read the AP report from back then, because it ends by noting:

“Several countries took themselves off the list of co-sponsors of the final draft [of the resolution condemning Israel] including Syria, which didn’t think the resolution was strong enough, and Libya which wants a single state for Israelis and Palestinians.”

No doubt the principled stand of Assad’s Syria and Gaddafi’s Libya was appreciated back then by many of Israel’s “critics”.

Sheizaf of course knows full well that the settlement construction that the international community enthusiastically wanted to condemn yet another time has long been restricted to the major settlement blocs which every peace proposal has envisaged as part of Israel, in exchange for land swaps. It is also well-known that the built-up areas of the settlements “gobble up” less than 2 percent of the pre-1967 West Bank territories, including East Jerusalem.

Yet, Sheizaf still thinks that a veto preventing a condemnation of Israeli settlement construction is somehow comparable to a veto that prevents serious pressure on a tyrant who has been busy for months killing, imprisoning and torturing his own people. At the same time, Sheizaf himself points out:

“Estimates put the total number of casualties since the protests [in Syria] began at around 7,000, possibly more. This is not a civil war – it’s mass murder.”

But apparently, in the world of +972, stopping this mass murder is not really more important than condemning the construction of a few additional buildings in an already built-up neighborhood – in both cases, Israel’s “critics” will see “a systematic violation of human and civil rights.”

While I don’t have any illusions about a post-Assad regime being in any way less hostile towards Israel, I still wish the Syrians that the UN and all the activists that are so eager to fight for human rights when Israel is accused of violating them — even if it is just by building — would be as energetic and engaged when it comes to murderous atrocities that can’t be blamed on the Jewish state.

UPDATE:

Over at +972, Noam Sheizaf doubles down with a post on “American veto history: Protecting occupation, apartheid.” He refers to my post here as a “strange blog post, which in the usual spirit of right-wing propaganda, accuses me of opposing the UNSC resolution on Syria myself.”

In response, I have submitted a comment that has not yet been approved, where I write:

As the author of “this strange blog post”, I would like to know on what basis you justify your claims that I accuse you “of opposing the UNSC resolution on Syria myself.”

I don’t-because I don’t think that you oppose the resolution. I simply point out the undeniable fact that your post suggests an entirely inappropriate equivalency between the US veto against the umpteenth attempt to condemn Israeli construction in settlement blocks and the Russian/Chinese veto that is widely seen as a “license to kill” for Assad.

One additional point re. my supposed “right-wing” inclinations: So far, I haven’t even once (in my 30+ year life as a voter) voted for a party to the right of Labor. I’m not sure what I will vote in the next election, but writings like you publish here simply tell me that this is not the left I used to support.

A left that ignores all relevant context in order to argue that the US is really not much better as Russia and China is not a left I want to be part of.

The progressive quest for comparative consolations

The folks who expected that the “Arab Spring” would lead to a Tweeples-government in Egypt are understandably disappointed by the landslide victory of the Muslim Brothers and the Salafists.

But progressives were quick to find a formula that offers comparative consolation: the basic recipe is to simply claim that Egypt’s Islamists are really no worse – and maybe even better!!! – than disagreeable political figures or forces in your own country.

Following this recipe, Lisa Goldman, writing for the Israeli left-wing blog +972, claims:

citizens of the democratic state of Israel […] freely elected, as the largest faction in its governing coalition after the Likud, the quasi-fascist Yisrael Beitenu party. […] In our Knesset, we also have Kahanists and a large contingent from Shas, which is quite similar to the [Salafist] Nour party.

Unsurprisingly, Goldman’s comment was promptly quoted by The Arabist, where Issandr El Amrani added that “Israelis might mind their own business about Egypt and other post-uprising countries” because “they won’t be doing much business with them at all for some time to come.” Since the post was entitled “Israel and the new Egypt”, I can’t resist the temptation to take Amrani’s comment as a validation of the point I made when I wrote some two months ago that it would be the “Same old story in the new Middle East” because “when it comes to anti-Western and ‘anti-Zionist’ sentiments, the new rulers of the Middle East will be at least as eager as their predecessors to put them to demagogic use.” And as Amrani’s comment illustrates, even supposed Arab liberals seem happy to hold on to the “anti-Zionism” that provided Arab dictators for decades with a useful tool to distract the masses.

But naturally, Goldman was very pleased to be quoted by The Arabist, and tweeted:

.arabist linked to my +972 piece, ‘Egypt’s election results are none of Israel’s business.’ I can die happy now. http://tinyurl.com/6u58lzs

Another example of the quest for comparative consolations was provided by “Informed Comment” blogger and Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, Juan Cole. Under the promising headline “South Carolina & Gingrich, Egypt & the Muslim Brotherhood,” Cole argued that the media unfairly emphasized the religious motivations of Egyptian voters, while downplaying similar sentiments when it came to American voters [emphasis Cole’s]:

The result of this difference in approach is that it is implicitly deemed illegitimate for Egyptians to be religious or vote for a religious party. But it is legitimate for South Carolinians to be religious, to vote on a religious basis, to seek to impose their religious laws on all Americans.

But what if Egyptians voted for the religious parties because they saw them as uncorrupt and despite their religious platforms, not because of them? [...]

It is therefore probable that religious motivations actually played a larger role in the primary in South Carolina than in the election in Egypt! Likewise, an MB leader like Essam El-Erian is the voice of reason compared to Gingrich and is no worse in his own way than Gingrich’s sugar daddy, Sheldon Adelson.

Since Cole claims to be an expert on the Middle East and the Muslim world, it seems fair to assume that he knows full well that there is plenty of reason to conclude that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is a totalitarian movement espousing vile Jew-hatred and that the MB is likely to pursue a theocratic domestic policy and a confrontational foreign policy.

But if Professor Cole thinks it makes for “Informed Comment” to equate the MB with Newt Gingrich, I can only conclude that I have a different idea of informed comment…

In their rather desperate quest for comparative consolations, progressives like Cole and Goldman also ignore the importance of democratic institutions and a well-developed civil society. To simply dismiss America’s historical record as a democracy and pretend that the consequences of a landslide victory for religious parties in Egypt are somehow comparable to a Gingrich victory in the Republican primaries in South Carolina is utterly bizarre. Perhaps Professor Cole should read Professor Mead’s truly informed comment on the left’s enduring obsession with the “Christianist” threat?

It is similarly ridiculous to dismiss Israel’s record as a democracy, because even if Israel’s democracy may not be perfect, it presents truly a record: Israel’s democracy was established when the country had to fight for its very survival, and Israel’s democracy was maintained in the most challenging circumstances, which included not only hostile neighbors threatening war, but also the need to absorb large numbers of destitute refugees.

The Canadian-born Lisa Goldman, who found life in Israel so “unbearable” that she returned to Canada after 14 years here, may feel that Yisrael Beitenu – which is strongly dominated by immigrants from the former Soviet Union – is best described as “quasi-fascist”, and that Shas – traditionally associated with religious Mizrahi and Sephardi voters – is “quite similar to the [Salafist] Nour party,” but democracy is a process, and in a country like Israel, where waves of immigration have brought together groups with very different outlooks, it is not necessarily a simple process. Perhaps Lisa Goldman would have found life in Israel less “unbearable” if the country was still dominated by left-wing Ashkenazi elites that follow the Schocken line – but then it would be a less vibrant democracy.

And while Goldman may be happy that her scathing view of Israel’s democracy was quoted by The Arabist, it has always been real easy to get scathing views of Israel published in the Arab press – and this is just one of the things that the Arab Spring hasn’t changed.