Media Roundup: BDS, Jerusalem, Palestine Passport, and Merry Christmas from Bethlehem

View of Palestine in winter.

Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions

The last two weeks have seen a lot of news around the BDS movement, particularly on U.S. college campuses.

First, two American academic associations joined the academic boycott:

Big Night for Boycott Movement, by Elizabeth Redden, Inside Higher Ed – 23 November

Members of the American Anthropological Association voted in favor of a resolution calling on the group to boycott Israeli academic institutions by a 1,040 to 136 margin at the association’s annual business meeting on Friday evening.

Another Association Backs Israel Boycott, by Elizabeth Redden, Inside Higher Ed – 1 December

The National Women’s Studies Association is the newest scholarly group to back the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

In a vote that involved 35 percent of the association’s total membership, 88.4 percent, or 653 individuals, voted in favor of a boycott measure. Members of the NWSA’s executive committee then took their own vote on Friday to approve the membership’s recommendation that the association support BDS.

The NWSA measure does not limit itself to a boycott just of Israeli academic institutions, but rather affirms the association’s endorsement of “the 2005 call by Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of economic, military and cultural entities and projects sponsored by the state of Israel.”

The conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed contribution opining that these association boycotts are illegal:

Those Israel Boycotts Are Illegal, by Eugene Kontorovich and Steven Davidoff Solomon, Wall Street Journal – 1 December 

Under corporate law, an organization, including a nonprofit, can do only what is permitted under the purposes specified in its charter.

Boycott resolutions that are beyond the powers of an organization are void, and individual members can sue to have a court declare them invalid. The individuals serving on the boards of these organizations may be liable for damages.

Consider the American Historical Association. Its constitution—a corporate charter—states that its purpose “shall be the promotion of historical studies” and the “broadening of historical knowledge among the general public.” There’s nothing in this charter that would authorize a boycott. And an anti-Israel boycott will do nothing to promote “historical studies” or broaden “historical knowledge.”

One can go through similar exercises with the charters of other academic associations. A boycott by definition restricts study and research: The explanatory material attached to the AAA resolution, for example, says it would restrict the organization from sharing scholarly journals with Israeli universities.

Saying that organizations cannot act beyond the purposes specified in their charters is no mere legal nitpicking. The charter is an explicit contract with members, declaring that their money will be dedicated to agreed-upon goals and that their group will not turn into a motorcycle club or a political party. […] 

The American Studies Association voted to boycott Israel in December 2013, and the ASA now touts itself on its website as “one of the leading scholarly communities supporting social change.” But the association’s charter says nothing about social change. The ASA is dedicated to “broadening knowledge” about “American culture,” not boycotting a foreign nation.

Recognition of this problem may grow. In March 2014, the Royal Institute of British Architects voted to boycott its Israeli counterpart. Lawyers advised the group about the legal dangers of exceeding its mandate. Later that year the institute rescinded its boycott resolution. […] 

And if the members of an academic organization are unhappy with the limitations on politicking in its charter, they’re free to establish a new organization with a new charter. But the law does not allow them to commandeer organizations that already exist.

U.S. labor joins BDS

Israel-funded group slams US labor federation for backing Palestinian rights, by Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada – 25 November

In October, the Connecticut branch of the AFL-CIO passed a resolution calling on the national labor federation to back key elements of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on Israel.

AFL-CIO is the largest US labor federation, counting dozens of unions with a combined membership of almost 13 million workers as its affiliates – 200,000 of them in Connecticut.

Now they’re in the sights of the Israeli-government funded, anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic organization StandWithUs.

“StandWithUs is deeply disappointed that this resolution passed,” the group’s northeast regional director Shahar Azani told the right-wing blog The Daily Caller. Azani claimed the decision was based on “a distorted, one-sided misrepresentation of the reality of the situation.”

But the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is pushing back.

It is urging supporters to sign a petition thanking the Connecticut AFL-CIO for its “principled stance in calling for national AFL-CIO to apply economic and diplomatic tools including BDS to support freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people.”

House with palms in Jaffa, a southern oldest part of Tel Aviv - Jaffa
House with palms in Jaffa

Pro-Israel standards at Jewish college organization

How the Israel Lobby Captured Hillel, by Batya Ungar-Sargon, Foreign Policy – 23 November  

How did Hillel go from being a center for Jewish life on campus to an organization threatening colleges with lawsuits for using its name?

According to numerous sources, Hillel has changed — both since its founding in 1923 and, especially, in the last 15 years or so — from a religious and cultural organization in which a variety of opinions were tolerated, to a wing of a hard-line pro-Israel lobby that tolerates limited dissent.

Supporters of the organization contend that as a private institution subsidized by private funding, Hillel is fully within its rights to place strictures on the kinds of conversations it tolerates. “We can be strongly supportive of the rights of anyone to engage in free speech on campus,” Richard Joel, a previous Hillel International president, told me. “I don’t think it means that has to happen at Hillel.” But does this policing of discourse come at the expense of the students whom Hillel was created to serve, students at American colleges where they have come to engage in critical thinking and debate? As Hillel has changed its priorities and become less tolerant of diverse viewpoints regarding Israel, it is coming into direct conflict with a growing and particularly contentious issue on college campuses: BDS.

Campaign 2016

(Photo Credit: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)
(Photo Credit: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)

Donald Trump’s Speech to Jewish Group Is Criticized in Israel, by Alan Rappeport, New York Times‘ First Draft – 4 December 

Presidential candidates flocked to Washington to express their solidarity with Israel at the Republican Jewish Coalition presidential forum on Thursday, and their remarks did not go unnoticed on the other side of the world. […] 

The Times of Israel led with Donald J. Trump’s referring to Jewish people as “good negotiators” and with his declining to commit to supporting Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the country. “Trump courts Republican Jews with offensive stereotypes,” the headline blared atop a story that described his remarks as “anti-Semitic.” […] 

Mr. Trump, whose daughter converted to Judaism, also got significant coverage in Haaretz, which featured his prediction that Jews might not vote for him because he would not accept their donations. Mr. Trump is mostly funding his campaign himself and says he cannot be bought.

“You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money,” Mr. Trump said. “Isn’t it crazy?”

The newspaper also highlighted remarks made by Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who has struggled to grasp foreign policy. He seemed to confuse an enemy of Israel with one of the country’s favorite dishes.

“Ben Carson repeatedly pronounced Hamas, the militant Palestinian political movement that rules the Gaza Strip, as hummus, the Middle Eastern food dip made from chickpeas,” Haaretz reported.

Boos Overtake Laughs as Donald Trump Stumbles on Jerusalem Before G.O.P. Jews, by Jason Horowitz, New York Times‘ First Draft – 3 December 

Earlier in the day, he had questioned Israel’s commitment to peace in an interview with The Associated Press. Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, raised the subject with Mr. Trump and questioned his commitment to Jerusalem as the undivided Israeli capital.

Mr. Trump avoided answering the question, saying instead that he would be visiting Israel in the coming weeks and would meet there with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “You know what I want to do? I want to wait till I meet with Bibi,” he said, but a chorus of boos erupted from the audience.

“Just relax, O.K.?” he said. “You’ll like me very much, believe me.”

He called the issue of Middle East peace “maybe the hardest deal ever in history to make,” but said it would take him no longer than six months to bring Israel and the Palestinians together, “and maybe sooner.”

Banning the Flag 

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There’s a lot of talk these days about political correctness stifling free speech on college campuses with hyper-sensitive students demanding that their entitlement toward not seeing or hearing anything they deem offensive be strictly enforced by the college administration. Political correctness is often tagged in reference to, say, race and gender issues. But pro-Israel political correctness might be one of the most strenuously enforced on some American campuses.

George Washington U Bans Palestinian Flag on Campus, Palestine Legal – 
7 December 

Today, Palestine Legal wrote to George Washington University (GW), demanding that the university withdraw a ‘Warning Letter’ and threat to sanction a Palestinian-American student for hanging a Palestinian flag outside his bedroom window.

On October 26, a campus police officer came to the dorm room of Ramie Abounaja, a pre-med student at GW, and ordered him to remove a Palestinian flag hanging from his window. The officer explained that the department had received numerous complaints about the flag, and declared that he would leave only after the flag was removed.

The following week, after receiving the police report, GW issued Ramie a ‘Warning Letter’ for the incident.

Confused as to what rule or regulation, if any, he violated, Ramie wrote GW on November 4. In his letter, Ramie wrote:

[“]I felt like I was being singled-out, because of my heritage and the viewpoint of my speech, for something I’ve seen dozens of students, fraternities and other student groups do in my three years at GW . . . The events of the last week have left me feeling humiliated, upset and like I can’t even feel safe in my own dorm room. I’ve had finals this week and have found it very hard to study or to think about anything else.[“]

Since then, Ramie has still received no communication from GW specifying what rule GW believes Ramie has broken. GW has provided Ramie with no hearing, nor any opportunity to respond to the allegations against him.

This morning, Palestine Legal wrote to GW:

[“]It is clear, as reflected by comments from the police officer, that Mr. Abounaja was questioned, censored and sanctioned because some people do not like Palestinians or because they disagree with the viewpoint expressed. The letter explains how Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin by institutions that receive federal funding.[“]

“It’s troubling that at a time when Islamophobic and anti-Arab sentiment is on the rise, GW is choosing to ignore its obligations to its students and under the law,” said Radhika Sainath, an attorney with Palestine Legal, which recently issued a report documenting the widespread suppression of speech in favor of Palestinian rights. “GW must allow Ramie to express his identity just as it does for any other student on campus.”

Water, water, everywhere? 

West Bank water crisis puts Palestinians in firing zone – in pictures, Photographs: Arturas Morozovas/artmor.lt, The Guardian – 27 November 
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Farhan Ali Awdeh (right) lives in al-Rashayda settlement, south-east of Bethlehem, with his extended family, including his wife, who is pregnant, two sons, his parents and his brother’s family – 30 people in all. They live in area C, where Israel retains control of security and land management. Each month, his family uses about 120 cubic metres of water, which includes what they use for their sheep, goats and camels. They pay up to 40 shekels (£6.70) a cubic metre – a sizeable portion of their income.

3000 (1)

Awdeh’s mother, daughter and nephew load jerry cans on a donkey. Every day, family members deliver water to their relatives, who live scattered across the area. In a study published in August, the WRI said water was ‘a significant dimension’ of the long-standing conflict between Palestine and Israel.

3000 (2)

Each night, when the temperatures drop, herds of camels return to the village to bed down. An adult camel can drink up to 200 litres of water at a time. Israel says it is not responsible for the unequal distribution of water in the West Bank, and accuses Palestinians of letting untreated sewage flow into the water table, and of lowering the level of the table with unauthorised wells.

Occupation “Justice” 

(Photo Credit: EPA)
(Photo Credit: EPA)

Israel May Soon Start Jailing Kids As Young As 12, by Avi Asher-Schapiro, Vice News – 25 November

The Israeli Knesset has advanced a controversial bill that would allow children as young as 12 to be given prison sentences for “nationalistic-motivated” offenses. The proposed law, which passed a preliminary vote in Israel’s parliament on Wednesday, is drawing criticism from children’s rights advocates,  who say it violates those rights. 

“This law contradicts international standards when it comes to juvenile justice,” Brad Parker, with Defense for Children International, said. “International law makes it clear that for children under 18 the emphasis should be on reintegration, not on criminalization.”

The bill was introduced by Knesset member Anat Berko from the ruling right-wing Likud party, who said it was meant to beef up Israel’s response to violence perpetrated by Palestinian youth. “Palestinians recruit minors while knowing that Israeli law does not have a real response,” she said. 

Over the past few months, several Palestinian children have been accused of stabbing Israelis, in a wave of violence that’s included the torching of Palestinian homes in the West Bank, and an uptick in attacks within Israel itself.

On Children’s Day, Israel Kidnaps 400 Palestinian Children, IMEMC – 21 November 

On Universal Children’s Day, Israel reportedly abducted 400 Palestinian children between the age of 11 and 17; some of them are to be tried and others are not, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS) announced Friday.

Only democracy in the Middle East?

Israeli journalists slam Netanyahu over closure of Arabic media outlets, by Haggai Matar, +972mag – 26 November

The Union of Journalists in Israel sent a letter to Prime Minister and Communications Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday, protesting the shutting down of two Arabic-language media outlet last week.

As reported on the media watchdog site The Seventh Eye, police and Shin Bet agents raided and shut down the newsroom of veteran newspaper, Sawt al-Haq wa Al-Hurriya, as well as the news website PLS48, while confiscating computers and other equipment. The raids were conducted due to the fact their publishers belong to a corporation owned by the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, which was made illegal last week. Approximately 30 journalists lost their job in one fell swoop.

The letter, which was signed by union chairman Yair Tarchitsky and was approved by the secretariat (of which I am a member), stated that “The shutting down of media outlets by security forces is a drastic step that is nearly unheard of in democratic regimes, specifically in Israel. We see this move as a direct threat to both freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Israel — two cornerstones of democracy — which must only be carried out in the most extreme cases.”

The letter further quotes the head of the Government Press Office (GPO), Nitzan Chen, who spoke last Monday at a Knesset hearing about his discomfort with the decision to close down the outlets.

According to Chen, the GPO — which is under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office and works directly with the Shin Bet intelligence services — actively tracks Sawat al-Haq and PLS48, adding that years ago the two outlets were found to have included inciting messages in their articles (after which journalists from both organizations were denied government-issued press cards). However, the organizations have since changed their ways, paving the way for employees to, once again, obtain press cards.

Erasing Palestinian Jerusalem 

View of the Arab part of Jerusalem, Palestine, Israel
View of the Arab part of Jerusalem

Israel’s ambition to thoroughly stamp an Israeli-Jewish identity on the holy city of Jerusalem and downplay, if not obviate, the Arab (Christian and Islamic) heritage of Jerusalem edges closer to its fulfillment every year. Israel’s colonization of West Jerusalem is a fait accompli (its Palestinian residents long ago having been expelled or forced to flee) and the predominately Arab eastern half of the city is encircled by Jewish-only settlements (separating it from the Palestinian cities and villages in the West Bank), strict zoning laws that limit Arab housing construction, new settlements inside of Arab neighborhoods, the placing of 100,000 – or roughly a third of the city’s Arab population – on the West Bank side of the separation barrier (and thus subject to probable revocation of their Jerusalem residency permits), and continuous home demolitions and residency revocations for thousands of Palestinians. Jerusalem’s isolation from the West Bank has also forced much of Palestinian civil society to relocate from East Jerusalem to Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority’s provincial capital. This has greatly undermined Arab civic life in the city and has made the Palestinian hold on Jerusalem ever more tenuous. Moreover, Israel has contributed its efforts by shutting down many cultural institutions:

Israeli authorities set to close last Palestinian theatre, by Catherine Anderson, Middle East Eye – 28 November 

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(Photo Credit: Catherine Anderson/MEE)

The Israeli authorities are poised to close down Jerusalem’s only remaining Palestinian theatre if they fail to pay off $150,000 of debt.

Al Hakawati theatre, also known as the Palestinian National Theatre, was established in 1984 as a non-profit organisation.

The theatre’s director, Amer Khalil, received a phone call Thursday, warning him that the theatre would be closed after 48 hours if he failed to pay the money owed to the Israeli authorities. The deadline was subsequently postponed until Monday morning, Khalil told Middle East Eye.

Khalil explained that Al Hakawati has been in a financial crisis for the past five years due to funding constraints. East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents pay taxes to the city’s municipality, but they do not receive adequate services or funding in return.

A case in point

From the Institute for Middle East UnderstandingOn December 14, Israel is set to expel the Sub Laban family from their home in East Jerusalem. This has been their family home since 1953. #StopNorasEviction

Your tax dollars at work

(Photo Credit: Netalie Ron-Raz)
(Photo Credit: Netalie Ron-Raz)

Haaretz Investigation: U.S. Donors Gave Settlements More Than $220 Million in Tax-exempt Funds Over Five Year, by Uri Blau, Ha’aretz – 7 December 

Private U.S. donors are massively funding Israeli settlements by using a network of tax-exempt nonprofits, which funnelled more than $220 million (about 850 million shekels) to Jewish communities in the West Bank in 2009-2013 alone, a Haaretz investigation has found.

The funding is being used for anything from buying air conditioners to supporting the families of convicted Jewish terrorists, and comes from tax-deductible donations made to around 50 U.S.-based groups.

Thanks to their status as nonprofits, these organizations are not taxed on their income and donations made to them are tax deductible – meaning the U.S. government is incentivizing and indirectly supporting the Israeli settlement movement, even though it has been consistently opposed by every U.S. administration for the past 48 years.

What home demolition looks like

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(Credit: Visualizing Palestine)

Did the U.S. State Department just recognize Palestine?

Israel has long tried to lure the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in an effort to secure American imprimatur for Israel’s conquest of West Jerusalem in 1948 and annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967. Israel has even offered to lease a plot of land for $1 a year for a Jerusalem embassy. Perhaps not incidental, this plot of land is expropriated Palestinian refugee property (see IPS publication: Special Report: The Ownership of the U.S. Embassy Site in Jerusalem by Walid Khalidi). Israeli offers have been rebuffed by successive American governments who – albeit still strongly pro-Israel – refuse to countenance Israel’s wartime seizure of Jerusalem in violation of the 1947 UN Partition Plan. It is for this reason that the U.S. State Department issues passports to American citizens born in Jerusalem with the city’s name without listing any country. The U.S. Congress recently passed a bill mandating that State issue passports labeled “Jerusalem, Israel,” but the Obama administration successfully challenged the law at the U.S. Supreme Court; which unanimously agreed with the White House that passports were a matter of executive privilege and their terms of reference to be decided solely by the president. If State will not list Israel alongside Jerusalem on the technical grounds that the U.S. has never officially recognized Israel’s conquest of Jerusalem, it follows that State should not be issuing passports recognizing Palestine as the U.S. has obviously not recognized an entity called Palestine. But, one man claims, State did just that:

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Merry Christmas from Bethlehem 

Media Roundup is a regular feature of Palestine Square.