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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.

MPAC, the General Election and British Jews

With the gun for the general election having been fired British Jews are expecting open season on them and on Israel.

Even before the announcement of the May 6th election, which is expected to be close and could result in a hung Parliament with the highly anti-Israel Liberal Democrats holding the balance of power between Labour and the Conservatives, the attacks have been vicious. Recent accusations of Jewish political financing and Israel pulling the strings behind the electoral scenes have been hitting the headlines.

Martin Linton, a Labour MP, recently gave a talk in Parliament to the Friends of Al Aqsa and spoke of Israel’s “long tentacles” that fund British election campaigns and which try to buy a Conservative victory. Linton said that he failed to appreciate the Nazi symbolism of the Jewish octopus controlling the world with its tentacles and he apologised but he stands by his thesis of Israelis and pro-Israelis trying to buy a Conservative win.

At the same meeting Gerald Kaufman, a Jewish Labour MP, spoke of Lord Ashcroft owning part of the Conservative Party and right-wing Jewish millionaires owning the other part.

These are, of course, unfounded and defamatory accusations that paint many British Jews as being Fifth Columnists dedicated to another country only, Israel.

Then there is the election literature that has been doing the rounds. The Liberal Democrats are expert at manipulating the religious and ethnic sympathies of the voting public. They have already called for a ban on the sale of arms to Israel. Woe betide Israel if a hung Parliament results in Nick Clegg as Foreign Secretary as a quid pro quo for the Liberal Democrats supporting either Gordon Brown or David Cameron if neither wins a majority on May 6th.

In London there are two neighbouring constituencies where the policy of Liberal Democrats towards Israel depends wholly on the ethnic and religious make-up of the voters. In Holborn and St. Pancras, with its disproportionately high Bangladeshi community, the leaflets of the Liberal Democrat candidate scream “Stop Arming Israel”.

But in Hampstead and Kilburn, where the voters are disproportionately Jewish, the leaflets are pro-Israel with pictures of the Liberal Democrat candidate’s recent visit to Israel and there is even Hebrew writing included. Mezuzahs are very useful in determining whether to push said leaflet through a door or not.

MPAC: “Get out the Muslim vote II”

There is also the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, which is sure to have a big say in some constituencies on who gets elected or not. A page on the MPAC website asks “is your MP a Zionist?” and then goes on to list those MPs and candidates that it deems to be so. You don’t have to be Jewish. The only qualification seems to be that you are affiliated to a Friends of Israel group of one of the three main political parties.

The current list contains 36 names. In 2005 Lorna Fitzsimons, now head of British Israel Communications and Research Centre, lost her seat as a Labour MP partly because of MPAC. The 2006 Report of the All Parliamentary Committee into anti-Semitism found that MPAC, in order to help unseat Fitzsimons, distributed leaflets stating “she had done nothing to help the Palestinians because she was a Jewish member of the Labour Friends of Israel”. Lorna Fitzsimons is not Jewish.

The media will play its role. The Independent has committed anti-Israel writers like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Johan Hari and Robert Fisk and the Guardian’s Comment is Free section is replete with anti-Israel polemic. A recent Guardian editorial on the Dubai passports affair and Israel’s building in east Jerusalem spoke of Israel as “an arrogant nation that has overeached itself”. This seems to be an implicit attack not on Israel specifically but on Jews generally.

But with four weeks to go until election day we can expect Jewish and Muslim sensitivities to be manipulated to the full in order to propel a political candidate into Parliament, or to reduce their chances.

So who will you be voting for and why?