Media Roundup: BDS, the Gaza Market, and Double-Standards

Jerusalem's Haram al-Sharif. © palestinephotobank.com.

“Sheldon Adelson To Host Secret Anti-BDS Summit for Jewish Donors,” by Nathan Guttman, Forward – 1 June. 

Last week we reported on a new website with unnamed donors and staff that targets student activists involved in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to pressure Israel into ending its occupation and respecting international law. This week brings news of another venture keen to remain behind the curtain.

As reported in the Forward,

Leading Jewish mega-donors have summoned pro-Israel activists for a closed-door meeting in Las Vegas to establish, and fund, successful strategies for countering the wave of anti-Israel activity on college campuses.

The meeting, taking place this weekend, will be hosted by casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson . . . 

Organizers have sought to keep the gathering secret and have declined to respond to inquiries from the Forward that would confirm the upcoming meeting with two separate informed sources.

The purpose, an official with one of the groups invited said, was to “find the best strategies” for countering campus anti-Israel campaigns and to “make sure there is funding” for those programs. . . . 

Another official explained that the request for secrecy was “reasonable” because “it makes sense not to have the public in the room when you sit with funders to set priorities.”

Campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, the leading Palestinian solidarity student organization, hardly have a budget large enough for biscuits and lemonade at their public events, but they have nonetheless attracted the attention of pro-Israel billionaires.

Mr. Adelson and his allies may believe that a lack of funds is the chief reason behind the failure of pro-Israel activists to sabotage the BDS movement, but pro-Israel student organizations are already as ubiquitous (if not more so) as their pro-Palestinian antagonists and more generously funded as well. Furthermore, pro-Israel organizations have long been devoting time, effort, and funds to anti-BDS campaigns with little to show for it. The Forward concludes,

Campus activity has been among the fastest-growing fields in Jewish organizations. Most major groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the ADL and the American Jewish Committee, have set up operations geared at students, alongside groups whose main focus has always been campus activity, such as Hillel . . . . Yet despite the growth in pro-Israel activism, pro-Palestinian-driven protests and resolutions have been on the rise. The past year has seen a record number of 15 universities adopt resolutions demanding divestiture of college funds from Israel.

BDS draws its strength from Israel’s occupation and mistreatment of the Palestinians. An occupation Mr. Adelson supports. His hard-line views are the fuel to the fire that he’s attempting to drench.

Welcome to the Gaza Market! May I Interest You In An IDF T-Shirt? 

Dan Cohen, an independent journalist based in Israel and the occupied territories, visited a Gaza market where Israeli clothes are sold secondhand to Palestinians. Mr. Cohen posted a few photos to his Twitter account. dan 1

Since 2007, Israel and Egypt have enforced a blockade against Gaza in opposition to the ruling Hamas government, which does not officially recognize Israel and is the Palestinian off-shoot of Egypt’s outlawed domestic opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood. What is allowed into Gaza is effectively determined by Israeli officials as Egypt defers to the Israeli government.

With emblazoned military regalia, the clothes imported via Israel into Gaza “highlights how occupation and siege permeate all aspects of life” for the local population, as Mr. Cohen added in another Tweet.

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Newton’s Third Law: For Every Action There Is An Equal and Opposite Reaction

Headline: “Obama: Netanyahu stance on Palestine endangers Israel’s credibility,” Reuters, 2 June.

In an interview with Israel’s Channel Two television, Obama said Netanyahu’s position “has so many caveats, so many conditions that it is not realistic to think that those conditions would be met at any time in the near future”.

“So the danger is that Israel as a whole loses credibility.”

Headline: “Israel asking US for 50% increase in next defense package,” The Times of Israel, 26 May.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants that to increase [U.S. military aid] to $42-45 billion over the 2018-2028 period, Defense News reported, adding that President Barack Obama during his March 2013 visit to Israel “endorsed in principle” that range.

All The News That’s Fit to Print

On Twitter, Israeli activist Ronnie Barkan shared a screenshot of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth‘s website, which recently announced its efforts to combat BDS “in the form of a series of exposes, articles and reports in the coming weeks and months,” in the words of one of its columnists.

yediotMr. Barkan also shared the front-page of the print version.

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According to Mr. Barkan, the headline reads “Fighting the Boycott.”

That’s What They All Say

“Orange insists: Pulling out of Israel is business, not politics,” by Reuters and Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz – 4 June.

Earlier this week, French telecom operator Orange stated its intention to end a brand licensing agreement with Israeli company Partner Communications, which serves as the actual mobile provider for the Israeli market while licensing Orange’s well-known brand name. Partner also services the occupied West Bank and sponsors Israeli occupation forces by offering soldiers a discounted rate. Such actions linked Orange with Israel’s occupation and made the company the target of BDS activists; particularly among activists in Egypt where an Orange subsidiary has 33 million subscribers, one of the company’s largest overseas asset.

In announcing its planned pullback from the Israeli market, Orange CEO Stephane Richard avoided any mention of the BDS campaign and presented the decision as a simple business matter “in line with [Orange’s] brand policy” whereby the multinational firm is ending its “brand presence in countries where it is not an operator.”

While Orange claimed its decision is apolitical, Israeli officials were quickly to seize on comments made by Mr. Richard at a recent press conference in, of all places, Cairo: “I would cancel the [Israeli] contract tomorrow if I could,” Mr. Richard stated, but added that it would take time due to contractual obligations.

In a letter to Mr. Richard, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely asked the CEO to refrain from “being party to the industry of lies which unfairly targets Israel.”

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu all but demanded the French government, an Orange shareholder, “publicly repudiate the miserable statement and miserable action by a company that is under its partial ownership.”

Orange’s business-as-usual claim is reminiscent of a similar announcement by another French firm: Veolia. The bête noire of BDS activists for its role in the occupied West Bank and construction of the Jerusalem Light Rail (JRL) (which connects illegal settlements and occupied East Jerusalem with Israeli West Jerusalem), Veolia was shunned by city councils and national governments after a worldwide BDS campaign. In 2010, a Veolia official told the AFP wire service that their involvement in the JLR “has earned us boycott threats and lost us important contracts.”

Four years later, Veolia announced its decision to withdraw from the Israeli market in a July 2014 press release titled “Veolia sells its activities in Israel.” The company published a brief paragraph that cited a “debt reduction” strategy and an effort to “refocus the Group geographically.” Subsequently, the company announced its decision to sell its JLR holdings.

If Veolia’s Israeli investments were loss-making operations it would be interesting to see the evidence. As for a geographic refocus, 5 months prior to the decision to sell its Israeli services, the company published a press released headlined “Veolia opens new Dubai Headquarters, UAE” and boasted about “its commitment to supporting the creation of jobs and knowledge transfer in the United Arab Emirates.” So far in 2015, the firm has completed new projects in Kuwait, Oman, and Iraq. Veolia has exhibited no similar withdrawal from the rest of the Middle East.

While Veolia and Orange do not cite BDS as the reason for their divestments, Israeli officials have concluded otherwise and are increasingly fretting about the growing movement.

Let Us Count the Ways

“Holland warns its citizens: Settlers throw stones at foreigners and Palestinians,” by Itamar Eichner, Ynet – 2 June.

Ynet reports,

The official website of the Prime Minister of Holland has recommend that Dutch citizens exercise caution in the vicinity of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, saying that settlers “throw rocks at Palestinian and international vehicles.” 

Israel has reacted furiously to what it calls “slander”, and has says it will take the matter further.

In other news. . .

“Israeli settler runs over Palestinian in West Bank” – 4 June.

A young Palestinian man was hit by a vehicle driven by an Israeli settler near the central West Bank city of Salfit on Wednesday night. . . 

Separately, Israeli settlers pelted Palestinian vehicles travelling near the illegal Maale Efrayim settlement south of Nablus. . . . 

Between January and May of this year, a total of 152 assaults were carried out by settlers on Palestinian civilians, the group says, and included hit-and-run attacks, use of gunfire, kidnapping attempts, attacks against places of worship, and destruction of Palestinian property.

“Settlers Set Palestinian Home on Fire” – 1 June.

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Photo Credit: International Solidarity Movement.

As he went out of his house to see what was going on, Imad discovered that part of his house had been set on fire by Settlers. He saw the six young Israeli settlers escaping from his roof, as he went back into his house to get his wife and kids out of the burning building.

“Palestinian truck driver escapes attack by Israeli settlers” – 6 May.

A Palestinian truck driver escaped an abduction attempt by a group of Israeli settlers on Tuesday night.

“Israel Police Allow Jewish Settlers To Attack West Bank Palestinians With Impunity, Human Rights Group Claims” – 18 May.

Official investigations into attacks against Palestinians by Jewish settlers do not result in criminal charges, and Israeli police are indifferent about such assaults, the human rights group Yesh Din said Monday. The group, which tracks conflict between Jewish settlers and Palestinians, said roughly 94 percent of Israel’s investigations into such assaults end “without any indictments.”

“Settlers Attack Hebron Residents in Presence of Soldiers”  – 1 June.

Israeli settlers from Beit Hadassa, Beboya and Ramat Yishai, Saturday, attacked citizens from Tel Rumeideh, central Hebron, using sharp tools.

“Israeli settlers take over 10 dunums of land in Nablus” – 27 May.

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Photo Credit: Ma’an News Agency. 

Dozens of Israeli settlers from the Yitzhar settlement took over land in the Huwwara village in southern Nablus, official says. . . . 

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that over 7500 dunums (7.5 square kilometers) were mostly inaccessible to Palestinians due to violence from residents of the Jewish-only settlement, as of 2012.

“Palestinian woman and her children attacked by settlers” – 9 May.

Lastly, Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem keeps track of settler violence.

Double-Standard 

“Netanyahu Lashes Out at Criticism of Israel,” by Jodi Rudoren, New York Times – 31 May.

“We have done nothing wrong, and we have not erred. We are not a perfect country, and we do not pretend to be such, but they are setting standards for us that are higher than those for any other country, any other democracy [sic].”

– Israeli Prime Minister Benjamine Netanyahu

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© palestinephotobank.com.

Netanyahu’s on to something: Honestly, there are so many other occupations going on around the world. And Israel’s just happens to be the longest-running military occupation in modern history. Do other nations not transfer their populations to an occupied territory and expropriate the lands and demolish the homes of the native population? Do other nations not enforce a discriminatory system of unequal rights and privileges based solely on ethnic-religious identity? So why is everyone bullying Israel?

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© palestinephotobank.com.
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© palestinephotobank.com.

It’s not like this isn’t a normal occurrence elsewhere in the world, especially among self-proclaimed democracies. Israel’s occupation is no different from the imperfections that blight other nations. The photos above could be from anywhere. Really, just ask around. No other nation occupying and subjugating millions of people is held to such a high standard to, like, you know, not do those things. So stop with the absurdly high double standard that criticizes Israel – alone among occupying powers! – and demands an end to its occupation and colonization.

Chutzpah 

“The absurd sight of [the] human-rights observing democracy of Israel protect[ing] itself from missiles and then suffers automatic condemnations and boycott attempts will not be forgiven. I call on our friends to loudly declare that they oppose any type of boycott on the state of the Jews without putting any conditions on this objection.” (emphasis mine)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Orange’s aforementioned decision. 

Let’s parse Netanyahu’s logic: Under no circumstance, no matter how egregious to the well-being of Palestinians, should punitive measures be brought against Israel. Israel’s governing coalition is opposed to a Palestinian state and in favor of the occupation now and forever no matter the capitulations Palestinians may make and demands permanent impunity for its systemic rights violations. One last point, Israel’s pro-occupation political leaders who condemn millions of people to a life of subjugation and indignity are enlightened democrats.

Speaking in a similar manner, the leader of the Israeli left-of-center opposition, the faction claiming to be opposed to the occupation, has attacked BDS, an entirely non-violent movement made up of students, unions, churches, et cetera…, as “a new form of terrorism.” Apparently in the eyes of the Israeli left and right, their government may oppress another people at its discretion; perhaps ending it one day at a time of its choosing, but anything short of a Palestinian white flag is terrorism.

As for a vivid example of righteous and preachy oppression:

“For one Palestinian village: A judge, settler and demolisher,” by Dror Etkes, +972mag – 18 May. 

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Photo Credit: Israeli Judicial Authority.

Meet Israeli High Court judge Noam Sohlberg. Mr. Sohlberg recently ruled that the Palestinian village of Khirbet Susya in the West Bank should be demolished per the request of the Israel Defense Forces. Why? “The petitioners [Palestinians appealing to the court against the demolition orders] have taken the law into their own hands,” Mr. Sohlberg wrote.

Khirbet Susya dates thousands of years back and its current standing as a tent village is several miles removed from its original location. The original stonework village was demolished to make way for the Jewish Israeli settlement of Alon Shvut.

Expelled from their homes with their agricultural lands confiscated, Khirbet Susya’s residents settled elsewhere and did so without official authorization from Israel, which is the sole authorizing body and one inaccessible to Palestinians.

Today, they continue to live in tents while Alon Shvut is one of the most affluent settlements in the West Bank. For many years, Israeli officials ignored the new Khirbet Susya, but now they have designs on the land, including the possible expansion of Alon Shvut.

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Palestinians in Khirbet Susya.

It just so happens that Mr. Sohlberg is a resident of Alon Shvut. All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and, by definition, those who establish and reside in settlements have “taken the law into their own hands.” Mr. Solhberg lives in privilege on the ruins of a village and presumes to stand in judgement of its erstwhile residents living in squalor for failing to seek permission from the hostile and arbitrary occupying power that expelled them (and, in any case, whose institutions are inaccessible to them) while he continues to live in violation of international law and his community may be a beneficiary of the recent demolition ruling (a conflict of interest apparently didn’t occur to him). Khirbet Susya’s residents have been forced to live “illegally” so that Mr. Solhberg may live on their former lands, but it is the former who must be expelled a second time and whose expulsion is sanctimoniously judged and blessed by the latter. If there’s a better definition of Chutzpah this week, we haven’t seen it.

Media Roundup is a weekly feature published every Friday on Palestine Square.