Tag Archives: amnesty international

What does David Hearst mean by “the folk”?

On Friday night I went to Amnesty’s London HQ to hear Ben White publicise his updated book Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide. The event was chaired by journalist David Hearst, former chief foreign leader writer of The Guardian.

Hearst refused to allow me the opportunity to put a question to White during the Q&A instead preferring to announce in front of everyone there:

“I know exactly what you’re up to. And who you are. And who you write for.”

I sent Hearst the blog I wrote about all this. CifWatch crossposted it over at their site. Here is Hearst’s response together with my reply:

What does Hearst mean by “the folk”?

There was an apparent attempt by the Israeli Embassy in London to have the Amnesty event called off. White has his own version of that supposed attempt. We don’t know the Israeli Embassy’s side yet.

I had nothing to do with any alleged attempt. Neither did CifWatch. I don’t work for the Israeli Embassy. Hearst knows this.

Hearst may have meant generally “the Israel lobby”. Peter Oborne describes “the Israel lobby” as supporters of a foreign power who influence British policy. It’s a nice idea that I can influence British policy, but my solitary vote at the ballot box apart I just can’t.

Hearst hasn’t replied to my request for clarification of what he meant by “the folk”. One wouldn’t wish to come to a conclusion without his explanation.

Debate and full disclosure are to be encouraged unlike what, sadly, passes for “debate” at Amnesty.

Unless I hear from Hearst his use of “the folk” will remain a complete mystery.

(For more on this see CifWatch)

Boycotted at Ben White Amnesty event as David Hearst announces “I know who you write for”.

White and Hearst in discussion at Amnesty last night.

White and Hearst in discussion at Amnesty last night.

Last night (shabbat) I was at Amnesty International’s London HQ for the launch of Ben White’s updated Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide. The event was chaired by David Hearst, former chief foreign leader writer of The Guardian.

After White’s talk he had a Q&A with Hearst after which members of the audience were allowed to ask White questions. Well, most of them anyway.

I had my arm raised for half hour while Hearst took questions from those sitting around me, before taking questions from the other side of the room. While my arm was still raised Hearst called an end to questions.

Feeling rather frustrated I asked whether I could put a question to White. Hearst declined my request and replied:

“I know exactly what you’re up to. And who you are. And who you write for.”

Sinister or what! Here’s the exchange:

So, what was I up to? Who am I? Who do I write for? Well, since starting this blog in 2009 I have mainly written for myself. I have occasionally written for the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish News, the Jewish Chronicle and CifWatch, but I never realised writing could get me boycotted.

But here’s the point; I have never had any dealings with Hearst. So, how did he know who I was?

He was obviously primed but why? I have never been disallowed from asking a question at Amnesty before, although I was once threatened at an Amnesty event by Amnesty Campaign Manager Krystian Benedict, who has since been moved to work on Syria and who was present last night.

My question to White was going to be simply this: Seeing that White relies heavily on statements by Israeli politicians to paint Israel as racist (see slides below) I wanted to know whether the same could also be said of White particularly after he once stated that (British Jewish author) Howard Jacobson’s face was “another reason to support a boycott of Habima”, the Israeli theatre company.

I’m sure White would have batted that away quite easily, wouldn’t he? He reads my blog (he mentions it), so he should feel free to leave an answer below.

White started his talk addressing the Israeli Embassy’s apparent attempt to stop last night’s event taking place and went on to dedicate the evening to “all those people, including the Palestinians, who have sacrificed so much for liberation”.

Here’s the clip:

He then proceeded to talk about Israel’s continued “Judaisation”, particularly in the Negev and Galilee, and Israel’s “brutality”, “racism” and “apartheid” (including towards Israel’s own Ethiopian and Mizrahi Jews).

White loves nothing more than portraying Israel and Israelis as child killers. Apparently, Israeli soldiers hide near schools so they can kill Palestinian children (see slides below).

White finished off by telling his love struck audience that “Israel is afraid”.

Meanwhile, if last night is anything to go by I’m sure that Middle East Eye, David Hearst’s new website, will be a beacon of democracy and one of many and varied views…..

Slides used by Ben White last night:

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(Ben) White Wash at Amnesty.

Ben White showing off his well-trolled quotes at Amnesty last night.

Ben White showing off his well-trolled quotes at Amnesty last night.

Ben White was last night handed the opportunity by Amnesty’s UK branch to call for the destruction of Israel. Not necessarily in the way Hamas would wish to achieve it, but White wants Israel changed from a Jewish state into another Muslim Arab state. This is what White thinks is “justice”.

Lest we forget, White once wrote “I do not consider myself an anti-Semite, yet I can also understand why some are.”

For that and other statements of his there was a small protest outside Amnesty last night. Once sign read “Amnesty is great, except on Israel”, which is probably about right. Amnesty will stand up against other human rights’ abuses except when they are against Israel. They raised their voice in anger when Gaddafi was cruelly tortured before being executed, but when Israeli soldiers are kidnapped or Israeli children are bombarded by Hamas rockets from Gaza Amnesty falls silent.

Amnesty’s opposition to Israel’s existence is now, sadly, almost policy. Virtually no month passes without there being an anti-Israel event and never will there be a pro-Israel voice on the platform. One of Amnesty’s roles is to try to bury Israel.

White was promoting his new book Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy and it will be instructive to jump straight to the end of last night’s talk.

After calling for “A future based on a genuine co-existence of equals, rather than ethno-religious supremacy and segregation”, with its obvious anti-Semitic connotation of Jewish supremacy, White said (see clip):

“Instead of asking ‘can we return?’ or ‘when will we return?’ Palestinian refugees can ask ‘what kind of return do we want to create for ourselves?’ I think that’s a kind of beautiful phrasing actually that speaks to the liberation of the imagination that has to take place as we move towards securing a peace with justice”:

I can’t see Israelis ever voting for their state being changed into a Muslim Arab state, so what White is basically promoting is more war and bloodshed.

White’s talk, probably like his book, was a long list of out-of-context and out-of-date quotes.

He started with an apparent quote by Balfour in 1919 – “in Palestine we do not propose to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country” – and ended with one by Moshe Dayan’s father, MK Shmuel Dayan, from 1950 – “Maybe (not allowing the refugees back) is not right and not moral, but if we become just and moral, I do not know where we will end up”.

White must spend many nights trolling through the internet and old books looking for quotes that support his pursuit of Israel, but it is obviously a money-making exercise judging by the queue of people waiting for him to sign their copy of his 90-page book.

In between quotes he criticised Israel for what he calls the “Judaisation” of the Galilee and the Negev and for Israel not allowing “Palestinian citizens of Israel”, as he calls them, to live in Israel with their spouses who come from the West Bank and Gaza. The serious security implications for Israel if it allowed the latter are obvious, but Israel’s security isn’t high up on the list of White’s priorities.

During the Q&A he praised the protests during the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert at the Royal Albert Hall saying that the protests:

“Were targetting a body, the IPO, that receives funding from the Israeli state and also does concerts and stuff for Israeli soldiers.”

He raised the accusation of anti-Semitism aimed at him and said:

“The irony of the accusation of anti-Semitism against me in this context is that it is precisely opposition to all racism that informs my personal opposition to Israeli apartheid”.

And when someone asked him about Hamas and its policies White simply said that the evening wasn’t about Hamas but he hoped that the questioner would “support efforts to end the discriminatory practices against the Palestinians”.

It seems that Hamas is not much of an issue for White or Amnesty, whereas the Jewish state’s existence is.

More clips and photos from last night:

Ben White on “Jewish and Democratic?”

Ben White on “Judaisation” -

I bought this last night as no one else was buying.

I bought this last night as no one else was buying.

War on Want at Russell Tribunal: “More direct action coming.”

Rafeef Ziadeh, Asa Winstanley, John Hilary, Joseph Dana, Frank Barat at Amnesty.

Rafeef Ziadeh, Asa Winstanley, John Hilary, Joseph Dana, Frank Barat at Amnesty.

War on Want’s John Hilary spoke of more direct action against firms complicit in Israel’s “breaches of international law”. He was on a panel at Amnesty International on thursday night for the launch of a book about last year’s London session of the Russell Tribunal.

In response to a question from Eva Jaciewicz, a member of the Polish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and who last year daubed “Free Gaza and Palestine” at the Warsaw Ghetto, about the possibility of occupying the workplaces of companies doing business with Israel Hilary endorsed the targeting of security company G4S, especially in light of its security role in next year’s London Olympics.

Here’s a short audio of the discussion. Frank Barat speaks first followed by Rafeef Ziadeh and Hilary:

Audio: Barat, Ziadeh, Hilary at Amnesty on G4S.

Hilary also spoke about anti-Israel activists going into shoe shops and trying on Caterpillar boots and then staging anti-Israel protests. Staff were unable to ask them to leave while they were wearing the boots.

Here’s the relevant clip which includes a short discussion on whether Hamas was invited to the Russell Tribunal:

Frank Barat, who coordinated the London RTOP, had initially started off the evening telling us how clearly international law is on the side of the Palestinians and how little Israel can do about this.

He said the word “Apartheid” scared Israel and its supporters, especially when people like Desmond Tutu are saying what is happening on the West Bank is far worse than what happened in apartheid South Africa.

This, Barat thought, was a good way to attack RTOP’s detractors and he reiterated RTOP’s call for:

1. Israel to dismantle its system of Apartheid.
2. All states to consider putting pressure on Israel to do this including severing diplomatic relations.
3. The prosecutor of the ICC to accept jurisdiction over Palestine.
4. Global civil society to replicate the spirit of solidarity that contributed to the end of apartheid South Africa and to support BDS.

There were only 43 people in the audience at Amnesty; not a good sign of global solidarity.

Asa Winstanley, who edited the book briefly ran us through its content and Rafeef Ziadeh, a Canadian Palestinian “refugee” now living in the UK, called the “Nakba” an “ongoing process” and reiterated the BDS movement’s call for Israel to:

1. End the occupation of all Arab lands.
2. Create equality for Palestinians everywhere, including in Israel.
3. Allow Palestinian “refugees” to return to their homes in Israel.

She said she couldn’t believe that Israel could consider someone like her to be such a threat.

Joseph Dana, an American Jewish blogger with +972 Magazine and living in Ramallah, referred to the Palestinians in Bil’in, where he covers the weekly protests, as offering “Ghandian-like unarmed resistance” and he encouraged the use of Twitter and Facebook to combat the Jerusalem Post, Associated Press and Thomas Friedman, who is calling for the Palestinians to adopt non-violent resistance while, according to Dana, he is ignoring just that.

Dana predicted that there will be a “new unarmed Intifada” and he holds every Israeli responsible for Israel’s “transgressions” and spoke of the non-violent protests in Bil’in as being what “drives Israelis insane”. He said:

“Artists don’t come to Israel anymore. Israeli society wants to be considered a normal western country…The boycott pinpoints that issue of normality and says ‘no, you are not a normal society. You have to be held accountable for the transgressions that you are committing on a regular basis. Even if you are not directly committing them you are part of the society that’s doing that.'”

If that’s true then Dana, who lives in Ramallah, is indirectly accountable for the massacre of five members of the Fogel family by a Palestinian, including three month old Hadas who was decapitated while she slept.

Here’s the relevant clip:

Amnesty and Middle East Monitor’s Israel hatefest love-in.

It is getting boring writing about Amnesty International and its hatred towards Israel but Michael Weiss wrote a recent blog asking “Why is Amnesty hosting a Hamas-friendly publisher of racists?

On May 23rd its London office is hosting Middle East Monitor’s (MEMO) “Complicity in Oppression: Does the Media Aid Israel?” event.

Weiss is Communications Director of the Henry Jackson Society and a spokesperson for Just Journalism.

As he points out in his piece MEMO is run by Dr Daud Abdullah who signed the Hamas-supporting Istanbul Declaration which calls on the ‘Islamic Nation’ to fight any ‘foreign warship’ attempting to block arms smuggling to Hamas. Presumably, such a ‘foreign warship’ could include one from the Royal Navy.

Weiss also quotes from a MEMO essay by Khalid Amayreh titled Netanyahu’s Lebensraum in which Amayreh denies that “these pathological liars from Eastern Europe…had any truly historical rights in the land of Palestine”.

Weiss signs off his piece asking us to ring Amnesty (02070331500) to ask why it is hosting this conference.

But according to Weiss Amnesty’s response is:

“Providing space for an event does not mean that we necessarily agree with all of the views of participants. The key point is that free debate takes place.”

Presumably, then, when Amnesty puts on its own conference it does “necessarily agree with all of the views of the participants”, like the one on April 13th where a photo was shown of a Palestinian teenager with a perfect Star of David, allegedly, tattooed on his forearm by an Israeli soldier using nothing more than broken glass.

Will Amnesty investigate this photo? Where is this Palestinian now? Surely, there would still be a scar on his forearm eventhough this incident happened some 8 years ago. I asked Ala Abu Dheer, who showed the photo, to email me details of the case so I could take it up with the Israeli Embassy, but I’m still waiting for the email.

But in response to Weiss’s piece MEMO has just posted an incredible rant by Khalid Amayreh titled Honest People can’t be indifferent to Israeli fascism.

Amayreh’s response is a slur on the 6,000,000 Jews executed by the Nazis. It has to be read to be believed and to see what Amnesty has become by hosting such a vile organisation like MEMO.

Here are some quotes from Amayreh’s piece:

“I have no problem comparing Israel with the worst criminals in history, including Hitler’s Nazis. It is true that Israel has not introduced gas chambers into Palestinian towns and villages (although relatively innocuous tear gas is often used in confined spaces, against the manufacturers’ recommendations, with often lethal results). However, gas chambers were never the only extermination method used by the Nazis. Israel has been killing and tormenting Palestinians in a variety of ways that, for sheer brutality and evil, don’t differ in substance from Nazi Germany’s murderous behaviour. Moreover, it is important to remember that the Nazi Holocaust didn’t begin with Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen…”

To compare the fate of the Palestinians to that of the 6,000,000 Jews slaughtered by the Nazis is vile and mendacious.

And he writes “The minute a Zionist Jew sets foot on Palestinian soil in order to live on land stolen from its rightful owners; or live in a house seized at gunpoint from its native Palestinian occupants, this Zionist Jew loses his sense of morality.” If someone wrote something similar about an immigrant African to the UK could they not be accused of inciting racial hatred?

Amayreh also talks of “hundreds of thousands of Christians and Muslims” having lived in “Palestine” when the Zionists arrived. He has wiped the many indigenous Jews already living there off the map.

He signs off by saying that “Zionists are the last people who are fit to lecture the Palestinians on the evils of terrorism…Israel represents ultimate terror…For arrogant Zionists to call us terrorists is, to quote Professor Norman Finkelstein, ‘beyond chutzpah’.”

But I do agree with his last words that “Palestine will be free”. Yes, free from the women oppressors and anti-Semitic Jew killers of Hamas who also execute their own, Palestinian, people by thowing them off the tops of tall buildings while their hands are tied behind their backs if they don’t follow Hamas’s strict religious and political doctrines.

This is the Hamas that is supported by MEMO and the MEMO which is being hosted by Amnesty.

Amnesty Event: “Israeli soldier used broken glass to cut Magen David into Palestinian boy’s forearm”.

Would an IDF soldier really do this?

Would an IDF soldier really do this?

Last night I went to Amnesty International for an event called Deliberate Discrimination Deliberate Deprivation: The Denial of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories chaired by Kristyan Benedict, Amnesty’s Campaign Manager.

There were five speakers who each gave a ten minute cameo talk on how Israel had stolen Palestinian land, had destroyed and stolen Palestinian water resources, had destroyed Palestinian health care, had destroyed the Palestinian education system and had destroyed Palestinian cultural and political life.

Each speaker used slides of photos (mainly old ones), statistics and maps to illustrate their points. We were told about the deaths of Palestinian children, one from an asthma attack at a checkpoint. Dr Asad Khan spoke of how Palestinians are arrested in their hospital beds and taken away by Israeli soldiers who are “accompanied by Israeli doctors”.

I took photos of many of the hundred or so slides. Some of them are below, but one photo really disturbed me.

It was taken in 2003 and shows a Palestinian boy with a Magen David cut into his forearm (see above). The caption reads:

“The soldier, checking student’s ability to bear pain, took a piece of glass and broke it and taking Qasem’s arm, cut into it a Star of David (April 30th 2003)”

After the event I wanted to discuss the provenance of this photo with Ala Abu Dheer. He shook my hand and invited me to visit Palestinian towns with him to show me how the Palestinians were living and promised to email me details of the case of the Palestinian boy.

He asked me what I would do about it and I told him I would try to get Israel to investigate. However, I said that if an Israeli had done this surely we would have seen the photo by now. I asked him what he would do about Hamas’ crimes.

Then events took a surreal turn. An Amnesty official went to get Kristyan Benedict who proceeded to tell Mr Abu Dheer that there was no point in talking to me as I was a war crimes denier. On the way out Kristyan proceeded to tell me, inter alia, that he would “smack me in my little bald head”. As you can hear he also suggested that I put it on my blog, so here it is:

Kristyan Benedict – Amnesty Campaign Manager.

I usually get on well with Kristyan, so I really don’t know what came over him. During the Q&A earlier in the evening, after I had asked a question, he told the audience that he and I go back a long way and that we usually have a man-to-man discussion after an event. I didn’t realise it would be this man-to-man though!

At least I wasn’t bitten by anyone, but these events are proving more and more intimidating to attend if you want to put Israel’s side of the equation.

Anyway, here are some of the other slides, and a photo of Cara Flowers holding up bottles of water to illustrate how little water Palestinians, allegedly, drink/use compared to Israelis. She said the ratio is four to one in favour of Israelis:

Cara Flowers holding up two bottles of water.

Cara Flowers holding up two bottles of water.

(Notice the calf sitting there)

(Notice the calf sitting there)

(L-R) Cara Flowers, Dr Asad Khan, Dr Victoria Mason, Kristyan Benedict, Stephen Royle, Ala Abu Dheer

(L-R) Cara Flowers, Dr Asad Khan, Dr Victoria Mason, Kristyan Benedict, Stephen Royle, Ala Abu Dheer

Russell Tribunal on Palestine presents Ken Loach at Amnesty

Ewa Jasiewicz, Dr Ghada Karmi, Frank Barat, Paul Troop, Ken Loach

Ewa Jasiewicz, Dr Ghada Karmi, Frank Barat, Paul Troop, Ken Loach

Last night at Amnesty International in London, against a backdrop of a quote by Bertrand Russell (“May this tribunal prevent the crime of silence”), sat four anti-Israel activists and Paul Troop, a solicitor, presenting the raison d’etre of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.

The first Russell Tribunal was convened in 1967 in Sweden and Denmark to harness public opinion against the Vietnam War, but it was largely ignored as being merely a show trial.

And so to the second Russell Tribunal, this time on Palestine. It is due to convene over three days at the Law Society in London on the 20,21 and 22 November.

Over that weekend some 20 or so companies are due to be put on trial for complicity with “Israeli war crimes”.

Israel is not on trial, the companies are.

It will already be presumed that Israel is in breach of international law and has committed crimes against humanity.

When I asked Paul Troop where such breaches of international law are judicially laid down the best he could do was direct me to the “opinion” of the International Court of Justice on the wall dividing Israel from the Palestinians.

None of the companies on trial will be represented. Letters have been sent but none have yet responded to say they will be present.

Dr. Ghada Karmi spoke of the Palestinian issue being the moral issue of our time. This polemic is freely bandied around by anti-Israel activists and makes people whince since we know that 3,000 children die every day in Africa from AIDS, malnutrition, malaria and other diseases when they shouldn’t be in this age.

Dr. Karmi cited Cast Lead and the siege of Gaza and was outraged that Israel had not even apologised over something as clearcut as the deaths on the Mavi Marmara.

She said that Israel was now too woven into the fabric of the international system and because of this was never being called to account. There is no major organisation or state that backs the Palestinians.

She felt that the Palestinian case is based on hard international law and looked to the RTOP to, hopefully, get the campuses active and harness the intellectuals.

There is “corporate complicity” with Israel but imagine, she said, if all these companies withdrew their investments from Israel.

Ewa Jasiewicz spoke next. According to the Community Security Trust Jasiewicz recently helped desecrate the walls of the Warsaw ghetto, which is now a cemetery to the 100,000 Jews who died there during the Holocaust from disease, starvation and random executions by the Nazis. Activists daubed “Free Gaza and Palestine” on a ghetto wall (below).

Warsaw Ghetto desecration

Warsaw Ghetto desecration

Jasiewicz hoped that the RTOP will “denormalise Israel’s false legitimacy” and said that “Israel is trying to delegitimise the delegitimiers. We are the delegitimiers”.

She was part of the recent flotilla to Gaza but admitted that the flotilla was not about humanitarian aid for the Palestinians but about breaking the siege of Gaza.

She told us that the occupation is everywhere, not just in Palestine, but is reproduced internationally on a daily basis and she urged activists to continue shutting down places like Ahava and Carmel Agrexco and then turning to international law to support them.

The occupation exists, she said, not because of Jews but because of capitalism. These companies are not committed to Israel but to making money.

She hoped that people will use the tools from the RTOP and apply them in their work places, homes and down the pub and that governments will eventually apply sanctions, as they did to apartheid South Africa.

Film director Ken Loach spoke of this being an incredible story about the breach of international law. “We just want the rule of law. No community can live without law but that is what we are permitting,” he said.

He called for independent politicians and criticised Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for being patrons of the Jewish National Fund which, Loach said, is about collecting money for land being bought on the basis of racial purity.

He spoke of “one image” he had of the settlers being on high ground and the Palestinians being downhill and who cannot use their land or vineyards because settler effluent flows downhill and destroys that land. “It is just a simple detail, the devil is in the detail, but how revealing,” he said.

He referred to maps since 1947 which shows, he said, how the Palestinians have been continuously pushed out. This was evidence of lack of good faith that the Palestinians will ever be allowed to live side by side with Israel.

He challenged the idea of a state based on race: “We have had enough experience to prove that race as a founding principle is intolerable”.

He then quoted David Ben Gurion’s speech on the need for a Jewish homeland when the threats to the Jews in Nazi Germany were becoming intolerable:

“He said this, and I think it is chilling, he said, ‘If it was possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England and only half of them by transporting them to Israel then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the lives of these children but also the history of the people of Israel.’ If that is the mentality of people who are driving Israeli policy then that is chilling because that is not about peaceful negotiation, that is about conquest. Take that in conjunction with the maps and you can see what we are up against. We can remember who supported the Nazis; the industrialists. If the industrialists will support this attack on international law then we have a big task.”

(A non-political analysis of Ben Gurion’s speech can be viewed here).

In the Q&A I asked Loach why he singled out Israel for criticism for its racial and religious make-up when most other countries around the world are the same. He repeated his comment about past experience of states basing themselves on race but he agreed that other countries are based on religion and to show his objection he had boycotted the Iranian film festival.

Someone asked whether Loach would make a film about the suffering of the Palestinians but he replied that that would have to be done by an Arab.

When asked what would Britain do if it was under attack from rockets Loach simply replied that it was not right to balance the violence of the oppressor with the violence of the oppressed.

The RTOP is an expensive charade (the jury is being flown in from all over the world), yet again not benefitting the Palestinians in the slightest.

More shameful was the presence of Ewa Jasiewicz and then acclaimed film director Ken Loach justifying Palestinian violence and unabashedly renewing old anti-Jewish tropes about Jews poisoning their neighbours and killing children.

Last night at Amnesty felt less about the delegitimisation of Israel and more about the delegitimisation of living Jews and the desecration of the memory of dead ones.

Gideon Levy packs them in at Amnesty

Snow/Levy

Snow/Levy

I went to hear Gideon Levy talk at Amnesty in London last night. He’s in the UK to promote his book The Punishment of Gaza and last night he was in conversation with John Snow (Snow presents Channel 4’s Seven O’clock news and seems fond of chairing anti-Israel events).

It was nice to be actually let in unlike my last attempt. This event was co-presented by Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Jews for Justice for Palestinians, the latter organisation being more open to dialogue than some might give credit.

I hope being barred from a public debate on Israel/Palestine because people don’t like what I write won’t become de rigeur, but you never know.

Back to Levy. From what I had read about this tour I was expecting the devil incarnate to walk into the packed auditorium breathing fire from its nostrils. It didn’t happen.

Maybe in my old age I am becoming desensitised to the ubiquitous unsubstantiated accusations of racism and apartheid that are made, like they were last night, against Israel that they don’t anger me anymore.

Maybe I was softened up by Levy’s claim that he is an Israeli patriot: “All I do is care about Israel. I’ve used my journalistic career for a better Israel, not against Israel. I love Gaza but have not been alowed to go there since December 2006. I asked Ehud Barak why Israeli journalists are not allowed in Gaza and he said he didn’t know they weren’t allowed in.”

Levy saw Operation Cast Lead (OCL) not as a war but as a brutal operation against a civilian population.

He thinks OCL was the turning point of world public opinion which is now “less tolerant of Israeli violence and aggression. Look at the flotilla. We now do what we want wherever we want, for example in international waters, with force as the first option. The Israeli general in charge of the flotilla operation has said that next time we will use snipers.”

(Levy obviously hadn’t seen the BBC’s Death in the Med in which Jane Corbin concluded that that the Mavi Marmara’s bid to break the naval blockade wasn’t really about bringing aid to Gaza but it was a political move designed by the Islamist organisation IHH and others to put pressure on Israel and the international community. Corbin had just reported that two thirds of the medicines being transported to the people of Gaza by the flotilla were out of date and useless.)

He paid tribute to the fact that Israel was always the first on the scene to help in international crises like in Mexico, Turkey and Haiti.

“There have been worse occupations in history but not where the occupier felt so good about itself. We are the first occupiers in the world to say that we are the victim and Israelis believe the IDF is the most moral army in the world, ” he said.

He asked: “How can an occupation by a democratic society last for 42 years? How do Israelis live with it?”

He answered: “We were trained to think we are very moral but that Palestinians were not human beings like us. Dehumanisation is the only tool which enables us to maintain the occupation and feel good about ourselves. It is wall-to-wall now. Even the peaceniks don’t feel the Palestinians are human beings”.

He told us how two Israeli dogs being killed during OCL garnered more media coverage than the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians. The dogs’ funerals and interviews with the owners were all over the front pages while Palestinian deaths were only mentioned on pages 15 and 16: “In Israel two Israeli dogs are worth more than hundreds of Palestinians,” he concluded.

(Had Levy picked up a British newspaper recently or logged on to the internet he would see that while people are dying in Pakistan from the terrible floods we are obsessed by a woman who dumped a cat in a bin.)

Levy said that a crowd of the size at Amnesty to hear him would never turn out in Tel Aviv and that Haaretz, the newspaper he writes for, is an island with a small readership.

He spoke of the ever growing file labelled “Subscription cancellations due to Gideon Levy”: “I get full freedom to write for Haaretz but Haaretz is losing influence,” he said.

He recalled the 400,000 Israelis who protested after the 1982 Sabra and Shatilla massacres which, he said, were not even carried out by the Israelis but thought that that size protest would not occur now. He has been described as a “self-hating Jew” and “an enemy of Israel”.

(When Shlomo Sand came to the UK to promote his anti-Zionist polemic, The Invention of the Jewish People, he said it was top of the best-seller list in Israel.

As for Haaretz itself it is read nationally and internationally. It is published in English and Hebrew and is distributed along with the International Herald Tribune and has a daily circulation of 72,000 (100,000 at weekends). The Jerusalem Post’s circulation is 15,000 (40,000 at weekends).)

On the question of boycotting Israel Levy said that although he cannot call for a boycott himself, because he is Israeli, it is a legitimate weapon especially as Israeli uses it against Gaza, Hamas and Iran.

He was asked whether boycotts are racist because they target Jewish Israelis, even those opposed to the settlements. He failed to address this question properly but he did say that boycotters should read the label first and boycott only if a product is from the West Bank.

(Obviously, Levy fails to understand the racism inherent in the boycott Israel movement because first, boycotters don’t look at the label in such a discriminating manner. As long as the label says “Israel”, they will boycott (One member of the audience claimed that the only reason they boycott is because the Palestinians themselves are calling for it). And, second, the boycott includes Israeli academics.)

Levy’s main complaint is that he feels so alone in Israel. He feels the drama is all going on in Israel’s backyard and yet there is no one covering it. He said there is no censorship in Israel, only self-censorship by journalists.

(But even if this were the case there are plenty of foreign journalists in Gaza, including from the BBC. But I can fully understand why Israeli journalists would be so banned; they would be an easy target for kidnapping by Hamas.)

Despite all the above Levy is not actually an anti-Zionist.

He called for the return of Palestinians to a Palestinian state and a limited return of some 500,000 to Israel including an admission of liability from Israel for what happened in 1948 and compensation for the non-returning refugees.

“What happened in 1948 is an historic injustice but it happens in wars. Israel is a fait accomplit so let’s move to a new chapter. The Jews had a right to settle in Palestine but the Palestinian rejection of the partition plan should not have led to the expulsion of 650,000 from their villages,” he said.

Levy claims that no one in Israel cares about the Palestinians and he cites Tel Aviv as the best example of this. But then again he would hear the same complaints from the residents of Sderot who also think that the rest of Israel doesn’t care about the bombs that are regularly fired at them from Gaza.

I had a couple of nice chats afterwards and one with someone in charge of the Northern Section of the TUC who said that a full TUC boycott of Israel is coming.

I asked whether the TUC had ever considered a boycott of Britain or America due to NATO forces occupying Afghanistan.

He said it was impossible to boycott Britain but there is every possibility of a boycott of America being passed. I’d like to see them try!

Keep an eye on the TUC Conference, 13th-16th September.

A first time at an anti-Israel event

Guest post

With Israel, as ever, disproportionately in the news one activist goes to their first anti-Israel event and describes the experience:

“I attended the talk at Amnesty on Thursday evening for the book launch of Against the Wall: The art of resistance in Palestine. The book is a collection of photos of the artwork on Israel’s security fence.

Of many controversial points the book’s author, William Parry, showed a photo of a queue of Palestinians at a checkpoint near Bethlehem.

‘People are dying at checkpoints’, he then claimed.

The impression was of Palestinians dropping like flies at checkpoints from the trauma of waiting in line.

We then listened to two other speakers, one an artist and another, Jamal Juma speaking live on web cam from the West Bank. Juma is from “Stop the Wall” Campaign.

The talks were totally devoid of any smidgen of context as to what is really going on and why the security fence was built in the first place.

At the Q&A I had no intention of speaking out at all. I was there only to observe.

But then I thought back to my visit to Poland and how I had made a vow on the last day spent in Auschwitz never to walk in fear or shame around those who wish for our demise.

I also thought of all the wonderful Israeli friends and family I have here who have done nothing to deserve the blind hatred in this room. Am I going to sit here in silence, I asked myself?

When I was finally handed the microphone I repeated back to the author his statement about people dying at checkpoints and I asked if he had the statistics to back up his statement?

The panel looked blankly at each other and mumbled about statistics on some UN page.

I then asked whether we are talking one a day, one a week, one a month.

They looked baffled and asked Jamal on the live web cam.

Jamal didn’t seem to know either.

I then asked about the cause of deaths.

Up until this point they thought I was asking out of concern for this imaginary pile of corpses at checkpoints.

Suddenly the artist pointed his finger at me and asked whether I was daring to suggest it’s not terrible what’s going on there: ‘I think we all agree in this room it’s terrible.’

There was a rapture of applause from the audience who all looked at me in disgust whilst furiously shaking their heads in disbelief.

I shouted: ‘Yes, it’s terrible but he (William Parry) said they’re dying, so I’m asking about the deaths.’

How stupid of me to demand evidence. Facts? Evidence? How boring.”