Academic boycott – failure of BDS – loss of Palestinian jobs

The student newspaper of Edinburgh University (The Student, Tuesday 3 November 2015)  recently carried a report on the public pledge signed by UK academics to boycott Israeli universities. The piece offered reasonably balanced student and academic opinion about the matter, and included comment from both the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and the Union of Jewish Students (UJS).

The pledge of the UK academics doubtless brought enthusiastic applause across Edinburgh campuses, not least among local supporters of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC). However, let us get this all into perspective. Based on the number of academics and universities reported on, a mere 6-7 academics in each of the 72 universities appear to have actually signed the public pledge, according to the report. Since there are something like 109 university institutions across the UK, with 90-odd in England alone, and since the returns of the Higher Education Statistics Agency tell us that there were 194,245 UK academic staff in 2013-2014, the level of response must surely be read as a dismal failure of the much-lauded ‘latest salvo in the broader Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign’.

It is always possible that the intentions of those 400 out of 190,000 or so academics are positive ones and completely devoid of bigotry, and simply the expression of a desire to ‘help’ Palestinians against particular Israeli policy, perceived policy, or set of Israeli behaviours. However, when there are no comparable boycott campaigns to exclude any other states based on this or that – when Israel is regarded almost as ‘the’ singular evil – then alarm bells ought to start ringing.

Why the focus on Israel? Why no criticism of Egypt for its demolition of houses in Gaza to make way for a barrier? Why is there not even a whimper, not a petition, not a protest, when Palestinians suffer in their thousands in Syria? Why no boycott of China (a country that ‘disappears’ dissenting Tibetans) or Russia for human rights abuses? Or of Myanmar for its treatment of the Rohingya community? Why no focus on the many states where freedom of the press and freedom of speech are lacking? Or of those where there is no functioning legal system? Why no focus on those countries where trade unions and political parties are illegal? Why no focus on countries where there is no democracy? Why no pressure on Palestinian leaderships to dump ‘rejectionism’ and become the actors in a conflict it is within their power to resolve?

Exclusive focus on Jewish Israel for boycott, will normalise Jews across the world as suitable targets for exclusion and punishment. If we can anthropomorphise things a bit, and look at Israel as a student playing in a playground of countries; if we then witnessed a teaching assistant look out the window to watch bullying students terrorising their classmates, and then yank inside for detention the Jewish kid trying to defend him or herself, then we’d want to start asking questions. We’d smell a vague whiff of bigotry.

The piece in The Student noted that the move by academics was ‘hailed by Palestinian rights groups’ and that their pledge ‘was lauded by Palestinian advocacy organisations’. Qatari-born Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and founding member of the BDS movement, and who has attended Tel Aviv University (can anyone else see the irony of that one) will doubtless have hailed and lauded the academics. But, what about the Palestinian Government? Has it hailed and lauded the UK academic boycott? Isn’t it the case that the Palestinian Government is disparaging of the BDS movement, and doesn’t believe that it serves the interests of the Palestinian people?

Though skilled at offering one view to Arab audiences and another to non-Arabic-speaking audiences, even Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the boycotting of Israel. Indeed, Palestinian infrastructural decision-making also tells a story far from supportive of BDS. For example, the first buyer of natural gas from Israel’s largest gas field in the Mediterranean will be the Palestine Power Generation Company (PPGC) which supplies power to Palestinian areas in the West Bank. PPGC will buy around $1.2-billion worth of gas over 20-years. The Israeli Leviathan Group will sell the PPGC as much as 4.75-billion cubic metres of gas when the Leviathan product begins to flow in 2016 or 2017. The Palestinian company aims to build a $300-million power plant in the West bank city of Jenin to produce electricity from the gas.

It would seem that local Palestinian economic policy is at odds with the shrill calls from distant Europe. Indeed, Professor Jonathan Rosenhead of the London School of Economics has made himself heard through the clamour. He tells The Student that if Israel continues with its policies ‘there are consequences’ and ‘Israel in the end will feel some of the disadvantages which Palestinians already have’. Really?

Isn’t it the case that BDS actions also have consequences, and add to Palestinian disadvantage? Didn’t the movement recently wreck Palestinian job opportunities? Didn’t the successful Israeli Sodastream business leave the West Bank for a new and larger plant at Rahat in the Negev Desert as a result of BDS activity? This action had the consequence of offering more jobs for Israelis and losing 500 Palestinians their employment in the West Bank. Sodastream had been paying them at Israeli wage levels, and had provided private health insurance. The producer of the Bagel-Bagel snack and a global producer of locks – Abloy – also left the West Bank for Israel proper once BDS got stuck in. More jobs for Israelis. Nice one BDS! Always doing something to help Palestine!

While BDS loses Palestinians their jobs, Jordanians are flocking to neighbouring Israel for employment (again, can anyone see the irony of that). This year, just like last year, some 1,500 Jordanian workers are being recruited in three groups of 500 to work in the busy Eilat hotel industry. Israeli Eilat lies adjacent to Jordanian Aqaba in the southern Negev at the top of the Gulf of Eilat, the same stretch of water that laps the beaches of Sharm El-Sheikh. Imagine what a peace treaty like the one between Israel and Jordan could do for Palestinians? Over to you Mr. Abbas.

As the BDS movement continues to show gross failure and incompetence, it is the 189,600 or so UK academics not signing the public pledge to boycott Israeli universities who will be seen to have stood on the right side of history.


New Middle East balance: Israel with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan

The Saudi Arabian king joins a growing number of prominent Arab politicians and diplomats who have lined up to condemn the Hamas – the fascist terror group that governs Gaza-Palestine. Last Friday, read out on state television, a statement by the sickly 90-year old King Abdullah said that in their war against Israel the Hamas had ‘distorted the image of Islam with its purity and humanity and smeared it with all sorts of bad qualities by their actions, injustice and crimes’.

In the decades long conflict between Arabs and ha-yishuv (the Jews of pre-state Israel) and later on the State of Israel itself, no country has been more consistently opposed to the a sovereign Jewish presence in the region than the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which had been founded only in 1923 by King Abdullah’s grandfather Ibn Saud. This recent condemnation of the Hamas therefore – a group sworn to destroy that sovereign Jewish state – ought to be regarded as a shift in Middle East politics of seismic proportion. Even more remarkable was the fact that, while condemning the consequences of the war which had been ‘devastating’ to Palestinians, he issued no demands on Israel.

As guardian of Islam’s holy places and the assumed leader of the entire Moslem world (though ISIS/ISIL would probably question that), King Abdullah did not call upon Israel to meet any Hamas demands. He made no calls for opening up the border between Gaza-Palestine and Israel/Egypt which is thought by many to be the primary strategic objective of this new war started by the Hamas.

King Abdullah’s statement is widely regarded across the Middle East and Arab states as a complete repudiation of the Hamas; an open disavowal of any common cause with the terror group. A day after the Saudi statement, Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, said that a unique link had been forged with the states of the region which would be ‘a very important asset for the State of Israel. With the cessation of the fighting and the conclusion of the campaign, this will open new possibilities for us’.

Manipulated by the Hamas propaganda machinery, and slavering over the body count in Gaza-Palestine however, the Western media has largely overlooked the King’s condemnation and seems to be still committed to telling the decades-old narrative about Israel being the enemy of a united Arab world.

The BBC and others like to tell us how hugely Israel benefits from US arms sales. But then, these sales pale into insignificance when compared to US sales to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. Together, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt will create a significant challenge to Iranian-inspired instability in the region.

Israel – rainbow nation. Arab neighbours practice apartheid.

The claim that Israel is an apartheid state has always been a malicious falsehood. The origins of the falsehood lie in the 1970s and the deliberate manufacture by authoritarian Russia (in its guise then as the Soviet Union), the Arab states (none of which was democratic), and the non-aligned Countries (with ‘non-aligned’ more of a joke than fact).  The objective of the malicious lie was to make Israel a pariah state, a condition that was supposed to lead to the country’s elimination.  What couldn’t be achieved on the battlefield was to be achieved through subversive machination.

By 2014, all that the libellous falsehood had achieved was, simply put, to create a hindrance to peace talks and a barrier to the advancement of peace talks which might have ended the Arab conflict with, and aggression against, the Jewish state.

What the lie also managed to do, however, was create a smokescreen which blinded us to the reality in the countries of the Arab world surrounding Israel and in those states that created the falsehood. It is in the Arab world that apartheid exists, not in Israel.

If Israel were an apartheid state the following could not have happened:

  • an Israeli Arab judge sitting in the High Court
  • an Arab judge presiding over the trial at which a former president of Israel was convicted
  • a Druze, Majali Wahabi, serving as acting president of Israel
  • an Arab captain of the Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer team
  • an Arab member of the Israeli National Football Team
  • an Arab women, Yityish Aynaur, becoming Miss Israel
  • a Druze historian and poet serving as Israel’s ambassador to Ecuador
  • an Arab director of the Emergency Medicine Hadassah Medical Centre in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem
  • a popular Bedouin pop singer reaching the top of the Israeli charts
  • a half-Arab and half-Russian Christian becoming Miss Israel Universe
  • a Druze becoming a major-general in the Israel Defence Force (IDF)
  • a trio, composed of an Arab Israeli woman, a male German convert to Judaism, and a Jewish Orthodox woman, competing in 2014 to be Israel’s Master Chef.

It is not simply that little cross-section of daily achievement that expresses the lie that Israel is an apartheid state. Simon Deng has also exposed the lie.

But who is Simon Deng?  Simon Deng is a Sudanese human rights activist and victim of child slavery. In September 2011 he managed to defy the anti-Israel lobby at the UN and spoke up at the 3rd United Nations Durban Conference (Durban III) held in New York and praised Israel as a state of people forming a rainbow nation.  By contrast, he held that Africans are the ‘victims of Arab/Islamic apartheid’. The Arab response to events in Darfur was genocide he said, and ‘nobody at the U.N. tells the truth about Darfur’.

So then… Is it the Arab countries rather than Israel that should be considered apartheid states ?  Probably.

Almost to the last one, they are certainly guilty of flouting the provisions of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (adopted in 1998 and coming into force in 2002).  Among other things, their policies and practices include depriving or limiting people of civil, religious, and political rights; practicing discrimination; infringing on freedom and dignity of people; subjecting them to arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment; and preventing groups from participating in the political, social, economic, and cultural life of their countries.

It is easy enough to illustrate the general picture in Arab countries showing racial, ethnic, religious, and gender discrimination against black Africans, the Kurds, Christians and Jews, and women, but there is also the more specific denial of rights to ‘Palestinians’ living in Arab countries. This can even come down to denying medical treatment for Palestinians in hospitals. Compare this with the very real hospitality of Israeli hospitals that have treated thousands of Palestinians every year, even wounded would-be suicide bombers, from the West Bank and Gaza.

The policy of Arab apartheid was made clear by Resolution 1457 of the Arab League in 1959.  Although there is supposed to be an ‘Arab nation’ and the concept of ‘ummat al-Islamiyah’ (the Islamic nation), the Arab countries through Resolution 1457 would not grant citizenship to applicants of Palestinian origin deliberately in order to prevent their assimilation into their host countries.  The Resolution placed Palestinians into a permanent state of limbo. This was confirmed and complained about by the current Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) , in a statement published in the official PLO journal in March 1976. He said that the Arab armies that invaded Israel ‘forced [the Palestinians] to leave their homeland, imposed on them a political and ideological blockade and threw them into prisons similar to the ghettos in which the Jews used to live in Eastern Europe’.

In the slaughter-house which is modern Syria, Palestinian refugees had been granted partial rights in 1954, though not political rights.  For many years they were not allowed to hold property, and they have never been allowed to become citizens.  The Assad regime – controlled by the Alawites, 14% of the population – is in charge of not only the government, but of a considerable part of business.  The Kurds too have traditionally been excluded from the political, economic, and cultural life of the country and have been subjected to denial of basic human rights, to persecution, to mass murder, and to arbitrary police behaviour.

In Lebanon, Palestinians do not have Lebanese citizenship and so do not have Lebanese identity cards. They are barred from owning property and until late-2010, employment required a government-issued work permit. In spite of these recent amendments, other legal restrictions bar them from employment in at least 25 professions, including law, medicine, and engineering.

Although Jordan has been the only Arab country to grant citizenship to Palestinians, from 1988 it began arbitrarily withdrawing nationality, without any notice, from thousands of them.  In 1983, Jordan also introduced different colour-coded travel cards for Palestinians travelling to and from the West Bank. This has created different levels of citizenship rights for access to all levels of education, and in fees for drivers’ licenses.  Above all, Palestinian non-nationals require a residency permit, thus suffering in the job market.  They are still not generally allowed to practice in some of the organised professions.

And so, once again, back to Israel and the falsehood of ‘apartheid’ levelled against it. Today, within Israel, Jews of multi-various origin form a majority in the country, but the Arab minority are full citizens with full voting rights and representation in the government.  As said above, a truly rainbow nation.

Hugh Reilly has a rant against Israel

Hugh Reilly has been permitted column space in ‘The Scotsman’ newspaper this week to vent off in an overly flip and cynical piece on the Israel-Palestine peace process ( 28 January 2014 ‘We must call a halt to Israeli filibustering in Gaza’, p.24).

Of course the world waits for a successful outcome to this process with unbated breath because there is a much more serious conflict underway in the region – that of the Syrian Civil War and the future of other local Arab states when the current Syrian state collapses. Some 100,000 people have died so far in the Syrian Civil War and that is probably around 20,000 more fatalities than Arabs/Palestinians killed in all conflicts with the Jews of the Yishuv and of Israel since the 1920s. Palestine and the Palestinians will of course grip our attention again when at last they take over Hashemite Jordan from King Abdullah and establish the State of Palestine that had always been intended there. The tipping point when that might happen is probably not too far off (given the enormous number of Syrian and stateless-‘Palestinian’ refugees streaming into Jordan from Syria). Hugh Reilly might want to focus his attention on that.

His preference is to blame Israel for the perceived impasse in the peace process – Israel, the country which has consistently ended as the victor in the wars and conflicts between the two sides over the last 60-odd years. It is Israel’s fault that the beaten Palestinians haven’t come to the negotiating table as the beaten… you know… as the beaten have always had to do throughout human history… in 1815, 1914, in 1945… it isn’t a new concept. Not the Palestinians though. No. The behaviour of their leaderships bring to mind the Black Knight in the Monty Python film, ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. After his encounter with the King, the Black Knight who has been reduced to a mere stump of a man – a head and a torso – says ‘All right, we’ll call it a draw … Running away eh? … You yellow bastards! Come back here and take what’s coming to ya! I’ll bite your legs off!’ The Palestinian defeat has been the longest defeat in history. Reilly however draws a parallel with the Hundred Years War!

Paraphrasing Reilly just a little, call this blog prickly but it is difficult to square the alleged desire for peace, as professed by the West Bank leader Mahmoud Abbas, with the continuing language of hate fostered in Palestinian schools across the West Bank and in the other Palestine, Gaza… in text-books there, and in playgrounds.

Then there is the issue of education in Scotland. Reilly believes that schoolchildren here receive no education regarding this ‘most important international conflict’. Is it really the most important international conflict though? More important than the long-festering Kashmir conflict between India, Pakistan and China? More important than the smouldering Sunni-Shi’ite stand off? More important than the smouldering stand off between China and Japan? How would Reilly handle the education of Scottish schoolchildren on the Israeli-Palestine issue anyway? Set it in the context of other conflicts in the post-1918 and post-1945 systems? Set in the context of other movements of populations in the 1940s and 1950s… when ethnic-Germans were forced from their homes in Poland and the then Czechoslovakia and from Hungary… when Moslems from India and non-Moslems from Pakistan were expelled en masse? Somehow I doubt that that would be Reilly’s intention.

Another major concern of Reilly in his piece is the matter of recognition by any emerging Palestine of the Jewish character of Israel.

Why is this such a major concern for him? In the last few days we have seen a new democratic constitution emerge in Tunisia – a constitution that states that Islam is the state religion. One might think that this may not sit too well with the fact that Tunisia, the flag of which features an Islamic crescent moon, has a small Christian and Jewish population too. Then there is Switzerland, and all of the Scandinavian states… each showing Christian crosses on their flags. In Switzerland however, 16% of the population is not Christian. In Turkey, Jews and Christians perhaps find it difficult to identify with the Islamic crescent.  The flag of Saudi Arabia is green, a traditional colour in Islamic flags, with the Shahada or Muslim creed in large white Arabic script above a white horizontal sabre. The foreign population of Saudi Arabia may exceed 12 million, and though comprehensive statistics for the religious denominations of foreigners are not available, they do include Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and others. Few of these people identify with the state symbols of Saudi Arabia and its flag. However it seems that for Reilly and others it is just a step too far for Israel to express its Jewish character. We can have an Italy, an Ireland, a Poland, all of which express a certain Christian character – and which we all recognise – but we can’t have an Israel that expresses a Jewish character.

Spot the irony: Palestine strikes a gas deal with Israel. Whaurs yer BDS noo ?

Activist groups like the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) behave in a manner far more ‘Palestinian’ than that of the ‘Palestinians’ themselves. While their futile boycott, disinvestment and sanctions strategies (BDS) continue to lose jobs for Palestinians in the West Bank and create new jobs for Israelis in Israel instead, the Palestinian leadership now actively encourages commercial links with Israel. What an unfortunate state of affairs for Mick Napier, his SPSC, and his bright-eyed, keffiyeh clad acolytes.

First we have, for example, Unilever moving its Bagel Factory from the West Bank to the ancient Jewish town of Safed in the Northern District of Israel, and the Swedish Mul-T-Lock firm (Assa Abloy) following suit and moving to Yavneh in the Israeli Central District – jobs, jobs, and jobs again for Israelis – and now we have a massive natural gas deal between the Palestine Authority’s electric company and the Israeli Leviathan group.

What has gone wrong with the BDS strategy? Whaurs yer BDS noo ?

Yes! the first buyer of natural gas from Israel’s largest gas field will be the Palestine Power Generation Company (PPGC), which will buy around $1.2-billion worth of gas over 20-years. The Israeli Leviathan Group (part owned by big the Delek Group in Israel) will sell the PPGC, which supplies power to Palestinian areas in the West Bank, as much as 4.75-billion cubic metres of gas when the Leviathan product begins to flow in 2016 or 2017.

The Palestinian company aims to build a $300-million power plant in the West bank city of Jenin to produce electricity from the gas. More jobs for Israelis given this new BDS busting commercial policy?

Furthermore… the Israeli Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom has recently travelled to Jordan to promote a gas deal there. (You will know Jordan of course. This was the first of the Arab Palestines to be created between 1922 and 1946). There are also plans to export to Europe and Turkey and Egypt.

Ouch SPSC!!! Ouch!!!… and again Ouch!!!

Israel and national service for all – Timely in face of the coming maelstrom

As the Arab and Iranian Moslem world marches inexorably to a religious war, probably on the scale of Europe’s Thirty Years War of the seventeenth century, Israel too faces danger. What better way – albeit a foolish and self-destructive way – to foster national resolve and national direction for the imploded Syria, or the imploding Egypt, or the soon-to-implode Jordan, to launch an attack on Israel.

All the more timely therefore that the Israeli government has managed at long last to ease the discord that has existed for many years over exemptions from military duty granted to Jewish seminary students. Secular Israelis – the majority in the country – have long bridled over state privileges handed to the country’s conservative believers – the ‘haredim’ – who constitute 10% (and growing) of the 8-million population. Most Israeli men and women are called up for military service for up to 3-years when they turn 18-years old and they often see active service in the administered territories known as the West Bank and at other flash-points.

While Israeli ultra-Orthodox (the ‘haredim’) may be angry about the Israeli cabinet’s recent approval of a draft law to abolish wholesale exemptions, the unity this decision brings to the country at such a dangerous time is valuable.

Israel and Clackmannanshire

A bit of nonsense has emerged in the micro-Council of Clackmannanshire in central Scotland which, across its four wards of Central, North, South, East and West, and among its 18 Councillors, something of a bash-Israel-fest has emerged. With the political balance in the Council being pretty well equal (Labour versus SNP) with 8 SNP, 8 Labour, and one Councillor each for Conservative and Independent, it is not surprising that the Councillors feel they must outbid each other in extreme policies and viewpoints. However it might be interesting for local Clackmannanshire tax-payers to know that their Council Tax receipts are wasted on a Clackmannanshire foreign policy and debates and motions around such a policy!

It would be interesting for them to know too that the Clackmannanshire foreign policy – at least its anti-Israel policy – lacks integrity, honesty, and objectivity. One would hope that Clackmannanshire politics today will not serve as a model for those of an independent Scottish state.

Others have highlighted Clackmannanshire’s political shortcomings… and I repeat them here, following:

Clackmannanshire alleges that Israel’s presence in the West Bank including East Jerusalem amounts to ‘occupation’ and is illegal. To be deemed illegal however, something has to be breaking a law… so which law or laws is Israel breaking? Which law or laws passed by which jurisdiction has/have superseded the Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty of 1994?

Clackmannanshire alleges that East Jerusalem belongs to Palestine. However, it would be interesting to know which law or laws enacted, and by which jurisdiction, and on what date, this right or title was conferred?

Clackmannanshire alleges that Israel’s ‘blockade of Gaza’ is illegal, but, again, it would be good to know under which law or laws enacted by which jurisdiction and on what date? In any case, what sort of ‘blockade’ of Gaza sees 25,000-30,000 tonnes of food, medicines, building materials and other products cross from Israel into that entity every week? Indeed… more on this ‘blockade’ fantasy: thousands of Gazan citizens cross into Israel every day for work and medical treatment which their own fascist government is unable or unwilling to provide (although it is happy to spend millions of dollars of international aid on rockets and missiles).

In addition, Clackmannanshire alleges that Israel is an apartheid state. It would be good though to have some substantiation of this. For example: Is there racial/religious segregation in public transport, education, medical treatment, public eating places, shops, local and national government ? I think that is a ‘no’. Are people barred by their ethnicity from certain jobs and professions, and if so, which? Again… ‘no’ should do it. Are they barred by their ethnicity from holding high office in industry, commerce, the professions, public service, in local and national government ? Hmmm… ‘no’ again I think.

Maybe the good ‘burgher’s of Clackmannanshire will be ‘up’ for explaining their definition of ‘apartheid’ and for providing examples of where and how this is found in Israeli society?

aybe the good ‘burghers’ should ask themselves how their foreign policy debates and motions benefit those whom they have been elected to serve (I wonder what their policy on Tamil Eelam is?… or on Tibet perhaps?… bet they don’t have one!)

Maybe the good ‘burghers’ could let us all know how their Council intends to implement policies which will deprive Israel of political or economic support, and how these actions will benefit those whom they have been elected to serve.