Palestine Solidarity and “The Business of Backlash”

The International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) has published a new report – The Business of Backlash: The Attack on the Palestinian Movement and Other Movements for Social Justice – that documents the funding behind pro-Israel lobbying groups, often working in concert with the Israeli government, against pro-Palestinian solidarity activism in the United States.

The 124-page report (which may be read here) relates how most of the funding comes from a small group of donors who often employ intermediaries or “anonymizers” to channel funds via third party organizations. These donors also support a host of neo-liberal and right-wing causes, including Islamophobia. In addition, they support think tanks and media outlets along with cultural institutions, as when the Oakland Museum of Children’s Art was successfully pressured into canceling an exhibition of artwork by Palestinian children in Gaza.

fundersThese individuals and foundations fund the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Stand With Us, The Israel project; and several others, all of which are involved in efforts to stifle pro-Palestinian activism, particularly on college campuses. To note one example, the ADL “convinced the Florida Atlantic University to force pro-Palestine activists to undergo ‘civility education’ program overseen by the ADL. They also keep a list of the top ten ‘anti-Israel’ groups in the country which they identify as synonymous with antisemitism, and which includes Students for Justice in Palestine.”

Reflecting the nature of opaque funding, Stand With Us claims to be a grassroots organization, “but the vast majority (over 80 percent) of their money comes from Les Wexner who is the founder of Victoria’s Secret. He has set up three different foundations who have each made 50+ donations of 30,000 to Stand with Us – to feign the appearance of a broader funding base.”

[Victoria’s Secret is the target of BDS activism as the company’s fabrics are imported from “Delta Galil Industries, a company with a warehouse in the Barkan Industrial Zone, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. It also runs stores in Ma’aleh Adumim and Pisgat Ze’ev — both in occupied territories,” as reported by .Mic.]

IJAN identified the “backlash tactics” employed by the organizations:

Re-branding criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic: and therefore prohibited on college campuses under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which mandates federal funded institutions may not discriminate.

Censoring criticism of Israeli policies on college campuses through state legislation: such as “the defeated State Assembly resolution HR 35 in California [that[ was an attempt to shut down Palestinian and Palestine solidarity organizing off and on campus through censoring criticisms of Israel’s ethnic cleansing or genocide of Palestinians, the Jewish-only nature of the State of Israel, the Israeli colonization of Palestine as racist, and many other criticisms.”

Lawsuits against Palestinian solidarity and BDS activists: Even if unsuccessful, these efforts add a burden of time and resources to activists and may have the affect of intimidation.

Accusations of “material support” for terrorism: “There is a great lack of clarity on what the government construes as “material support” . . .  And for that reason, this type of lawfare has swiftly become one of the most virulent and dangerous tactics. . . . One of the most egregious examples is the Holy Land Foundation whose five board members have already served five years of long-term sentences, up to and including life, for donating to the same charity committees in the Gaza Strip to which USAID, the government-funded aid program, had given funds.”

False charges of anti-Semitism: “A long-standing strategy of the Zionist movement is to equate Israel and Zionism with Jews and Judaism, and then denounce criticisms of Israel or Zionism as attacks on Jewish people or Judaism.”

Spying and Surveillance: In one case, “a pro-Israel student spied on organizers and delegation members during a trip to Palestine … [and] went on to report back to the Amcha Initiative,” another pro-Israel group funded by the listed donors. The student filed a report identifying the students, “includ[ing] names and private conversations between students, tour organizers, and Palestinian organizations, all were recorded and catalogued by Amcha, and possibly shared with other anti-Palestinian groups,” as part of an effort to build a case against the Olive Tree Initiative, the organization that sponsored the trip.

Propaganda: Funding pro-Israel advocacy, such as “Israel Peace Week” in opposition to “Israel Apartheid Week.” The Hasbara Fellowships, for instance, which is funded by donors and the Israeli government, has financed and mentored over 3,000 students on 250 campuses to promote a pro-Israel narrative.

Divide-and-conquer: Lobby groups seek to isolate Palestinian solidarity from minority and indigenous activism in the U.S. The recent Palestine-Ferguson campaign is a salient example of how pro-Palestinian solidarity activists link the struggle for Palestinian rights under Israeli occupation to the struggles for equality in America. Pro-Israel groups have countered this narrative by presenting token Black, Hispanic, and Native American support for Israel and even funding organizations, such as the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel, “[an organization that] specializes in distorting the history of Black and Zionist collaboration in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s to silence criticism of Zionism and the State of Israel.”

One tactic requires more elucidation for it may be the most dishonest attempt to sell gross injustice as a benign state of affairs and a progressive cause: 

Liberal Zionism: Seeking to derail attention from the occupation, pro-Israel groups have started to promote Israel as a, say, tolerant place for gays and lesbians and environmentally friendly. Such efforts are often characterized by detractors as “pinkwashing” and “greenwashing” occupation and apartheid. And in some respects, domestic Israeli policy may appear progressive, but pro-Israel campaigns omit the uneven distribution of such allegedly enlightened policies:

Gay Palestinians are not protected by their sexuality from the occupation in the West Bank, the siege in Gaza, and legal and social discrimination as less-than-equal citizens in Israel. The entry ticket for the full enjoyment of gay rights in Israel is to already be a privileged Jewish citizen. Israel does not uphold gay rights as such, but, rather, accords Jewish better rights protection for which, provided one is Jewish, sexual orientation is included. Additionally, “Palestinian queer organizations say unequivocally that their first priority is ending the occupation of Palestine,” without which they have no rights. Lastly, it should be obvious that such an understanding of LGBT individuals – where their right to love the same sex or, say, participate in a gay pride parade is separated from their political, economic and social rights – is a form of homophobia in its reductive framing of queer life.

As for the environment, much of the forest space in Israel was laid down by the quasi-state Jewish National Fund on the ruins of over 400 razed Palestinian villages after the 1947-1949 war when the villages where depopulated by Zionist paramilitary groups. The green beautification obscures the devastation on which it stands.

Furthermore, since Israel is the only government between the River Jordan and Mediterranean Sea that may enact and enforce environmental regulation, a proper judgement must consider the whole of Israeli environmental policies, inside Israel proper and the occupied West Bank:

“Approximately 160 Israeli-owned industrial concerns are located in the West Bank. Environmental regulations on soil, air, and water quality, and restrictions on industrial development generally, have been far less comprehensive and far less assiduously enforced compared with Israel. A tile factory located in the [Kiryat Arba] settlement industrial area at one time flushed its waste-water through the sewage system, which resulted in numerous problems. The city of Hebron successfully petitioned the court to stop this practice. Now the wastewater is trucked off in tanks and clumped on a Palestinian field.

“Geshurei Industries, a manufacturer of pesticides and fertilizers, was originally located in the Israeli town of Kefar Saba. Concern about the environmental effects of the factory-on land, public health, and agriculture-resulted in an Israeli court order in 1982 closing the plant. Since 1987, the factory has been operating in the West Bank town of Tulkarm, where there are effectively no controls on waste disposal or air pollution. Other Israeli industrial polluters, including those working in asbestos, fiberglass, pesticides, and flammable gases, also relocated to the Tulkarm area. According to a recent report by a Palestinian nongovernmental organization, the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW), factory pollution ’causes substantial damage to the public health.’

“Hundreds of sites for the disposal of trash are located in the occupied territory. A site in Jiyous, near the northern West Bank town of Qalqilya, is sited 200 meters from the river bed that serves as a source of drinking water for the village of Azoun. Residents of Azoun complain of an epidemic of flies in summer and of smoke wafting into the village when trash is burned. They claim that 200 olive trees have been damaged by smoke. Israel’s plan for trash disposal in the West Bank is being devised with no official or informal Palestinian participation.”

[This is an abridged version of a report published by the Journal of Palestine Studies, read the full report here.]

While Israel reduces pollution within its nominal border and therefore appears “green,” that pollution has been transferred to the backyard of an occupied and vulnerable population, which, unlike Israeli environmental activists, has little, if any, legal standing to pressure Israeli businesses or petition the state. Not only does this reflect the uneven distribution of environmental policies and asymmetrically power relations between Israelis and Palestinians, but makes a further mockery of “greenwashing” propaganda: because of Israel’s leniency policy in the West Bank, the amount and potency of pollution in the whole of the territory controlled by Israel is arguably higher than if Israel simply applied the same environmental rules toward Israeli and Palestinian communities. Rather than being “green,” Israeli policies have facilitated a worse off environment in the Holy Land.

Far from offering “proof” of a liberal Israel, both “pinkwashing” and “greenwashing” highlight the inequities of Israeli rule.

IJAN concludes the report by detailing how much has been done in support of Palestinian solidarity activism with far less resources than opponents.

Counter-actions: Pro-Israel groups increasingly face well-organized pro-Palestinian groups, such as the Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, which strongly counters pro-Israel lobbying efforts to cancel pro-Palestinian campus events by reminding college administrators there’s no “Palestine Exception” to free speech. Combined with public campaigns, such legal efforts offer stronger grounds for pro-Palestinian activism

BDS Victories: Roughly 300 student-led BDS campaigns on U.S. colleges and universities, along with support from academics, have passed numerous resolutions divesting from the Israeli occupation. Support from organized labor as well: “UAW 2865, the University of California Student-Worker Union became the first major U.S. labor union to endorse BDS, and ILWU Local 10 honored a community picket of the Israeli Zim Ship, refusing to unload for four days.” And broad coalitions: “A multi-racial, multi-movement coalition forced the city of Oakland to stop hosting Urban Shield, a weapons and police training exposition where Israel has promoted its technology and training.”

Legal and Political Victories: Courts have rejected Title VI complaints against universities citing pro-Palestinian advocacy as constitutionally-protected speech. Popular and legal mobilization has blocked other efforts to stifle activism and has rallied diverse coalitions to support pro-Palestinian voices on campus.

IJAN, which emphasizes that anti-Palestinian forces are also aligned against minority rights, labor, environmental causes, etc…, concludes by advising solidarity activists to rally together:  “the basis for joining together in struggle is not just parallel struggles against racism and repression or the political principle of solidarity and interdependence. It is also that movements for survival, freedom and justice share enemies in common whose interests literally erode and threaten everything these movements hold dear. Their power and resources are immense. Thus solidarity and joint struggle are not only principled but also strategic.”

Learn more about The Arab-Israeli Conflict’s Effect on Academia in a Special Focus collection of articles by the Institute for Palestine Studies.