Jennifer Loewenstein – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Fri, 18 Feb 2022 06:52:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How Glib charges of “Anti-Semitism” at every Human Rights Report on Israel undermines Jewish Civil Rights Fri, 18 Feb 2022 05:08:08 +0000 Madison, Wi. (Special to Informed Comment) – The unqualified branding of people, organizations, reports, and movements as “anti-Semitic” for their criticism of Israel is having a boomerang effect. Labeling every condemnation of Israel as “anti-Semitism” silences those whose voices are most needed. The repeated charge of anti-Semitism debases its actual meaning—and provides cover for those genuinely guilty of the offense. Screaming “anti-Semitism” for base nationalist ends has caused indignation and anger that will rebound on the accusers. Real anti-Semitism —the hatred of Jews because they are Jews— has been lost in the fog of politics.

Amnesty Internationa’s February 1st report on the systematic oppression and discrimination of Palestinians living in Israel and the Occupied Territories is the latest example of how painstaking research is cast aside by a label. The report’s conclusions are neither new nor unusual. Its findings and recommendations are not immune from scrutiny or rational discussion but, as with other such studies, they cannot be ignored. The pernicious dismissal of the report altogether—even the New York Times didn’t bother to cover it—suggests more about the political climate in Washington and among influential lobbying and advocacy organizations.

A systematic refutation of Amnesty’s findings will never take place. There will simply be the standard defamatory response to such documents whose aim is to highlight the iniquities of an occupation regime. It is easier to shout at, label, condemn, and discredit the bearers of the message than to rebut the facts. A glance at the sources and substance of the report illuminates these ignominious efforts. If Amnesty International “singled Israel out” — it was not as a nation guiltier than others of human rights abuses but as one it has to treat with kid gloves, checking and rechecking facts and their sources ten times over to try to make the report unassailable. The effort, however, is pointless. Israel’s defenders slap on charges of anti-Semitism and bias as soon as the object of the study is known.

A close reading of the report’s findings nevertheless renders these reactions laughable. In Amnesty International’s case, a 280 page report, one that took four years to complete and whose research involves sources going back decades into the history of Israeli-Palestinian strife, the documentation is especially revealing. Nearly 600 of the 1559 footnotes are based on Israeli (and/or Jewish) reports. International legal documents form the basis for another 600+ notes. The remainder are primarily from human rights organizations such as al-Haq, Addameer, Al-Mezan, and Adalah — though these are immediately discredited for being Palestinian, something that speaks for itself.

Is Israel’s 2018 Basic Law anti-Semitic? Is its Law of Return? Is the State of Israel’s Nationality Law of 1952 anti-Semitic? Are former Prime Ministers David Ben Gurion, Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres, and current Prime Minister Naftali Bennet all anti-Semites? Are Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, former Jerusalem mayor, Teddy Kolleck, and diplomat Danny Ayalon? Are the State of Israel’s Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Education, and Public Security biased against Jews? What about the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS), Knesset news and press releases, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Israeli military orders, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Israeli Democracy Center, the Israeli High Court of Justice, the Jewish Life Advocacy Center, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories unit (COGAT), the Jerusalem District Court? The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF)?

What about the Israeli news media? Those cited in the report include the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish News, Israel National News, YNET, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Haaretz. Left or Right, do these outlets disseminate rabid anti-Jewish sentiment? Are Israeli organizations B’tselem, Zochorot, Ir Amim, Peace Now, Gisha, HaMoked, ACRI (association for civil rights in Israel), Akevot, Bimkom, Kerem Navot, the OR Movement, and Ta’ayush trying to deny Israel’s legitimacy or its “right to exist”? What about the Jewish National Fund — shall we brand this organization anti-Semitic? Shall we dismiss all of the above sources when critics of Israel use them?

Then there are the legal sources. Shall we write off the Rome Statute, the 1985 Convention Against Torture, the 1973 Apartheid Convention? Is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilians in Times of War anti-Semitic? What about The Hague Convention of 1907? The 1965 Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) that Israel ratified in 1979? What about The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia from 1993-2017 (ICTY) also cited in this report. Is that full of anti-Semitic rhetoric too?

Are UNICEF, the World Food Program (WFP), Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, and the World Health Organization (WHO) anti-Jewish? What about the Institute of Labor Economics? The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)? The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the World Bank?

Do these sources, taken together, suggest that Amnesty International is a “radical organization echoing propaganda” that “quotes lies spread by terrorist organizations” an organization that is “false, biased, and antisemitic” (Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid; Times of Israel, 1/31/22)? Is the report “absurd” as US Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, claims? According to AIPAC, Amnesty’s intention is to show that “Israel’s original sin is that it exists at all. This libelous report weaves a malicious web of lies and distortions with the contemptible objective to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish State” (AIPAC; from the Times of Israel, Feb. 1st, 2022)? Virtually all of the major mainstream Jewish organizations in the US condemned the report as did the US Congress and the Biden administration. What do these comments really tell us?

Open disregard for the materials gathered together in Amnesty’s report is both irresponsible and dangerous— as is the rejection of scholarly studies on the same or related subjects. They are therefore more easily dismissed as “absurd,” as using “double standards,” of being “corrupted by racism and xenophobia” and, of course, of being “false, biased, and antisemitic” (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs Press Release, Jan. 31st, 2022).

To be labeled an anti-Semite for championing human rights, speaking out against oppression, demanding an end to dispossession, land expropriation, resource theft, home demolitions, torture and worse makes ‘anti-Semitism’ respectable. When ‘pro-Israel’ groups reflexively label well-intentioned people—scholars, intellectuals, researchers, activists, students—anti-Semitic it generates understandable anger and indignation especially among those whose efforts to expose these crimes are serious and sincere. Being systematically discredited for championing the ideals set forth in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights is going to backfire. ‘Anti-Semitism’ will become honorable. Blowback from the reckless and indiscriminate labeling of anything critical of Israel as ‘anti-Semitic’ is already underway.

Forging Greater Israel: The Annexation of Palestine isn’t one Event, it is Ongoing Tue, 14 Jul 2020 04:03:30 +0000 Tucson, AZ (Special to Informed Comment) –

July 1st came and went and Netanyahu made no formal statement regarding annexation. That left many journalists, politicians, activists, and others feeling abandoned to speculation. Declarations of support or opposition went forward accompanied by an air of uncertainty and the frustration of trying to second guess the objectives of those whose actions would determine the coming months.

Palestinians living in the occupied territories slated for absorption would have scoffed cynically at those seeking to imagine how this might affect their daily routines as well as the dynamics of regional politics. Israel’s purported intention is to annex 30% of the West Bank where Jewish population density and “security” considerations make this a “natural” consequence of the decades’ long illegal settlement strategy and a “necessity” for the “survival” of the geographically “besieged” Jewish State.

Muhammad, a young man from Hebron who gives virtual tours of Palestine, showed his viewers a debris-strewn street where hostilities had broken out a day earlier over the proposed annexation. His explanation for the urgency of these protests adds a layer of irony to the grim reality of occupied life. Israel retains ultimate control over the land and lives of the Palestinians living here after all. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is its willing subcontractor. It serves primarily as a buffer between the commands of its overlord and the will of its people. “We have to make it clear that annexation is illegal,” Muhammad says in earnest, though he understands – and his work underscores this – the critical value of US public opinion.

The Master’s voice will become louder and clearer with official annexation. Most Palestinians recognize this instinctively. Those who will be living peacefully within the latest official state boundaries will awaken to find the question of their residency looming ever nearer, a matter of whim; a gamble the state might act upon with relatively little risk based on the world’s record of indifference.

With or without a declaration of intent, annexation creeps over the lives of these people hour by hour. Across 43 villages, approximately 107,000 people – who will, in all likelihood, still be nominal subjects of the PA—will conceivably face another Nakba, this one orchestrated in silence and with discretion, aimed at fulfilling the Zionist myth of a “land without a people.”

A rise in the rate of Israeli abuses has already signaled the changes to come. In the Jordan Valley, for example, more land has been expropriated, more homes have been destroyed, more property damaged, and more olive trees uprooted, than has happened for some time. On June 8, a report noted that Israel has started implementing annexation plans by “sending electricity bills directly to municipal councils…and removing signs” that designated certain areas as Palestinian. A violent military campaign launched on June 1st “targeted water networks, confiscated equipment and destroyed and confiscated 15 vegetable stalls in Bardala in the northern Jordan Valley. It also destroyed 800 meters of water lines that supply water to citizens.”

…[P]olice notified several Bardala and Ain al-Baida inhabitants in the Jordan Valley on June 2nd to settle their legal situation as they would soon be under Israeli laws. Israeli authorities also removed banners they had set up at the entrances of some villages… or at the military Tayasir checkpoint that warned settlers not to enter because they were Palestinian areas. In a first of its kind incident, the Israeli Civil Administration delivered to some village councils in the Jordan Valley direct financial requests to increase the electric current feeding the village. [; Ahmad Melhem; June 8, 2020]

Israeli journalist Gideon Levy documented the expulsion of a Bedouin family from its home behind the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Gerasimos in the Jordan Valley. Abu Dahuq’s is not the first or only Bedouin family to suffer this fate. Residents of the now infamous Khan al-Ahmar community “have been living with the pervasive fear of demolition and expulsion for several years.” Its fate won enough media attention to become an issue in recent Israeli elections.

Abu Dahuq’s family lived relatively undisturbed for 17 years, Levy tells us. Then, at the beginning of June, Israeli troops demolished and confiscated all of Abu Dahuq’s possessions. “They took the water containers, his six coolers, the solar panels and the canvas that had covered the shacks. The rest was bulldozed. The heaps of ruins tell the whole story: Tin walls with insulation material in them, a crushed children’s bike, a torn painting, pipes rolling about, and so on.” Abu Dahuq was told to move to (Palestinian controlled) Area A from (Israeli controlled) Area C, but he claims there is no space there for him to live. His saga of arbitrary expulsion from territory Israel intends formally to annex would almost certainly have gone unnoticed without Levy’s article. (Gideon Levy;

Why provoke a media and political relations’ storm by making public the controversial West Bank annexation plan when that process can be carried forward in a gradual, step by step manner, ‘in the dark’, far from the damning eye of international condemnation? Netanyahu could still, for whatever reasons, decide it is in his interest to create another political firestorm. It might, however, be more politically expedient to keep his audience guessing as facts on the ground roll forward like tank treads. Greater Israel has come a long way over the decades using this very technique. Like the proverbial frog in its pot on the stove, by the time the water is boiling it’ll be too late to hop out.

When God forges the destiny of a devout people, it is carried forth with zeal. Whether that god is a secular or religious deity, fervent believers will remove the obstacles impeding their progress even if they are people. They will be conveniently demoted from “human” to something like “merciless Indian savages” (US Declaration of Independence) those relics of the unsaved world who threatened to block the advance of civilization across the North American continent.

Palestinians may yet prove fortunate that their history is unfolding on such a public stage and under the often unblinking eyes of media and video surveillance. Native Americans had no such luck, a fact that cost them approximately one hundred million lives over a period of 400 years. The United States bloomed out of the bloody ground of genocide. Greater Israel has had to find more creative ways to eliminate a people without their collective physical death.

In 1845, calling for the annexation of Texas, a little known American columnist –John O’Sullivan—coined the phrase, “manifest destiny” giving voice to the subconscious shared belief that the white pioneers of America had a divine mission to colonize, civilize, and create a new world, “…to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.”

Israel’s manifest destiny derives both from a biblical and modern belief that the land of Zion belongs to the Jews. In its current incarnation, such a destiny contains within itself the insidious notion of organic and exclusive nationhood; the idea that only those bound by blood and a historic, quasi-religious bond to the land of their alleged origin can ever be a part of this whole. Contemporary Zionism absorbed the toxic nationalist beliefs of 19th and 20th century Europe and has applied them mercilessly in its quest for political and territorial supremacy.

This has not stopped people such as outgoing Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, from resorting to the Bible alone to justify Israel’s actions. According to him, “You cannot annex something that belongs to you” referring to the West Bank – or Judea and Samaria – bequeathed in the Bible by God to the Jewish People.

When Israel passed the Nation State Law of July 2018 it reinforced the defining principles of modern Zionism. These were not novel ideas; they were the codification of the national chauvinist beliefs at the core of its existence. Jews alone have the right to self-determination within the deliberately unspecified boundaries of the state, one of whose primary objectives is Jewish settlement of the land. Hebrew alone must be the official language. ‘Natural’, ‘religious’, and ‘historic’ qualifications promote Jewish status only and make expansion a national value.

The slated annexation of 30% of the West Bank will take place whether or not it is formally announced. It is taking place as I write. Equally so, it is neither the final nor the most serious step in the process of expansion that has defined Israel’s behavior since its creation.

On a sultry midsummer evening in August 1968 then Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan told a group of kibbutzniks gathered around him that it was Israel’s fate “to live in a permanent state of fighting against the Arabs.” His words reflected the times he was living in, the post-1967 euphoria and confidence of the young Jewish State that had, in six days, crushed the combined forces of Arab nationalism as they attacked from Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. The 3-year-old Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) had barely begun its struggle to liberate Palestine; the nascent Palestinian National Movement scarcely underway.

Israel’s advance across the region, territorially and politically, represents an extension of American manifest destiny and its complement within Zionism. Dayan outlined Israel’s path to his listeners in his famous speech, “We Are Fated”:

    “For the hundred years of the Return to Zion we are working for two things: the building of the land and the building of the people. That is a process of expansion, of more Jews and more settlement. That is a process that has not reached the end. …It is not your duty to reach the end. Your duty is to add your layer to expand the settlement to the best of your ability, during your lifetime… [and] not to say: this is the end, up to here, we have finished.” – (Uri Avnery;

The process of settling the land and creating a Jewish nation is one that must never cease. To determine the final borders of the state would be sacrilegious; a sin against Israel’s destiny; its will to expand. “Before [the Palestinians’] very eyes we are possessing the land and the villages where they and their ancestors have lived,” Dayan explained. “We are a generation of settlers, and without the settle helmet and the gun barrel, we shall not be able to plant a tree or build a house.” (Uri Avnery;

The military conquest, piecemeal annexation, killing with impunity, dispossession by decree and expulsion under Israeli law that has been underway for nearly a century, is continuing before our eyes today. There is no end in sight.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Reuters: “Living in the shadow of Israel’s annexation plans”

From Mississippi to Minneapolis: Not just Breathing but Breathing Free Wed, 03 Jun 2020 04:03:10 +0000 Tucson, Az. (Informed Comment) – In the early morning hours of August 28th, 1955, two white men burst into the Mississippi home of Moses Wright where 14-year-old Emmett Till slept. Till had come down from Chicago to visit his cousins and was accused of having flirted with a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, while at a local country store with some friends four days earlier.

Around 4:00 am, Carolyn’s husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, dragged Till from his bed and put him in their truck. In the hours that followed, Bryant and Milam beat, mutilated, and shot Emmett Till. To dispose of his body, they wound barbed wire around his neck, attached it to a metal cotton gin fan, and threw his corpse into the Tallahatchie River. When it was found days later, he was so unrecognizable, his cousin was able to identify him only from a ring he wore on one of his fingers.

Authorities wanted to bury him immediately, but Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie, insisted that his remains be sent back to Chicago. There, at his funeral, she left his casket open for all to see. Hideous photographs of the bloated and disfigured boy appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country highlighting the barbarousness of the lynching. No longer able to ignore what they couldn’t see, people across the country were forced to confront these brutal, racially-motivated murders.

Typical of those times, Till’s killers were acquitted by an all-white jury. The gruesome images of Emmett Till in his coffin nevertheless helped launch the civil rights movement. This would be one of the first times the photographic images of racial bigotry on display would galvanize people into action.

Eight years later, on April 16th, 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his now famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” in which he responded to fellow clergymen who had called his non-violent direct action activities “unwise and untimely”. “When you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; …when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’ – then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.”

How timely King’s words ring today. As protesters throng the streets of Minneapolis and other major cities across the United States, appalled by a police officer’s public lynching of George Floyd; by the vigilante murder of Ahmaud Arbery; by the shooting death of Breonna Taylor in her own bed; and by far too many other similar and deeply disturbing killings, it is not difficult to understand why in many cases these demonstrations descended into violence. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, for all its accomplishments, failed to rid our society of the plague of racism. Every year we are faced with more killings of unarmed black men and women and, more ominously, with the impunity of the perpetrators of those killings. While I believe violence will never purge our society of the evils of racism, bigotry, and injustice, I am nevertheless unsurprised that, in the past week, so many of the protesters have resorted to wanton destruction to express their anger.

“A riot is the language of the unheard,” King once memorably remarked. His words ring true today more than ever. As governors, city councilmen and women, news anchors, police officials, religious leaders, and others plea for calm and appeal to the civic honor and need for unity of the citizens of our cities, they are also mobilizing local police forces, fire departments, and the national guard to attempt to restore order. There is something inherently flawed in these national entreaties to stay home and respect the calls for peace. As King continued, “I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the… Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…”

Those weariest of the years of persistent discrimination and harassment are unlikely to be mollified by pleas for civility and respect for the rights and property of others. It is time for our local and national leaders to address their grievances. Rather than beseeching people to obey the law and refrain from using force, our leaders need to be acknowledging the social and economic injustice, oppression, and inequality so many Americans encounter day after vexing day. Protesters don’t want to return to the status quo. They don’t want to be told to quiet down. They want more than for the murderers of innocent people to be held accountable for their actions. George Floyd is not the cause of the unrest; he is the symbol of it. Whether it is the swollen, deformed face of Emmett Till or the image of a near dead and gasping George Floyd with the knee of Derek Chauvin crushing his neck, the issue transcends impropriety. People are not simply asking to breathe; they are asking to breathe free.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Vintage Throwback Classics: “The Story Of 14-Year-Old Emmett Till”