Dangerous Escalation in Attacks on Freedom of Expression in Palestine

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By Amnesty International
August 23, 2017


“By rounding up journalists and shutting down opposition websites the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip appear to be using police state tactics to silence critical media and arbitrarily block people’s access to information.”


The Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and their rivals, the de-facto Hamas administration in Gaza, have both tightened the noose on freedom of expression in recent months, launching a repressive clampdown on dissent that has seen journalists from opposition media outlets interrogated and detained in a bid to exert pressure on their political opponents, said Amnesty International.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian authorities have arrested six journalists in August so far, shut down 29 websites and introduced a controversial Electronic Crimes Law imposing tight controls on media freedom and banning online expression and dissent. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas security forces have arrested at least two journalists since June and hampered others from freely carrying out their work. At least 12 Palestinians, including activists, were also detained by Hamas for critical comments posted on Facebook.

“The last few months have seen a sharp escalation in attacks by the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, on journalists and the media in a bid to silence dissent. This is a chilling setback for freedom of expression in Palestine,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

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Frankfurt Bans BDS

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(photo: AFP)

Frankfurt becomes the first German city to ban BDS movement.

By Ma’an News Agency
August 25, 2017


“[The BDS movement] strongly attacks the fundamental basis of the legitimation of the Jewish State [and used anti-zionism as a detour] to spread anti semitism. That’s why we decided to ban any municipal funding or the renting of rooms for any activities of groups or individuals, who support the anti-semitic BDS movement. We also instructed our city-owned companies and called upon private landlords to act in the same way.”
— Uwe Becker, deputy mayor and city treasurer of Frankfurt


The city of Frankfurt, Germany, passed a bill on Friday outlawing municipal funding for and the use of public spaces for activities that aim to boycott Israel, according to the Jerusalem Post.

The Jerusalem Post reported that the anti-Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement bill was initiated and pushed by Uwe Becker, the deputy mayor and city treasurer of Frankfurt, who has argued that the BDS movement is anti-semitic and “strongly resembles the ‘Don’t buy from Jews’ argumentation of former times of the National Socialists.”

The BDS movement was founded in July 2005 by a swath of Palestinian civil society as a peaceful movement to restore Palestinian rights in accordance with international law through strategies of boycotting Israeli products and cultural institutions, divesting from companies complicit in violations against Palestinians, and implementing state sanctions against the Israeli government.

The movement falls within the traditions of the nonviolent boycott movement against the apartheid regime in South Africa.

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Jared Kushner’s Mission Impossible

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Jared Kushner and Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo: ABC News)

Jared Kushner’s quest for peace looks increasingly doomed.

By Adam Taylor / The Washington Post
August 25, 2017


Kushner’s trip has only highlighted the sizable obstacles he faces. Here are five of the biggest:

  1. The Israelis
  2. The Palestinians
  3. The rest of the Middle East
  4. President Trump
  5. Kushner himself

White House adviser Jared Kushner headed back to Israel and the West Bank this week in a renewed push to broker Middle East peace, just one of several responsibilities the administration has handed to President Trump’s 36-year-old son-in-law.

Despite Kushner’s unusually varied workload — he’s also tasked with reforming veterans’ care, solving the opioid crisis, something to do with “American innovation,” and more — this is his second trip to the region in the space of just three months. That may be a sign of how keenly the new administration is chasing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which Trump has described as the “ultimate deal.”

A few months ago, there was actually some cautious optimism among Middle East watchers that Trump might be able to make some progress. Sure, he and Kushner don’t have any diplomatic or political experience, but so what? Trump was a self-described dealmaker who didn’t have much of the political baggage of his predecessors. The experts hadn’t done so well finding a solution, so why not give them a try?

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Former Israeli Officials: Anti-BDS Bill Hurts Israel

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Israeli settlement in the West Bank. (photo: iStock)

Former Israeli officials argue that the Anti-Israel Boycott bill hurts Israel by legitimizing illegal settlements and expanding the definition of Israeli territory.

By Ami Ayalon, Gilead Sher and Orni Petruschka / Forward
August 10, 2017

[Ami Ayalon is a former director Shin Bet, Gilead Sher is the former Chief of Staff for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Orni Petruschka is a high-tech entrepreneur in Israel.]

As Israelis committed to the future of our country as the secure, democratic home of the Jewish people, we wish to underscore, expand and add perspective to a critical point J.J. Goldberg makes in his August 4th column about the anti-BDS bill now before the U.S. Congress.

The bill proposes to criminalize explicit boycotts of Israel. But Goldberg points out that while the debate about the bill has focused on whether or not the bill violates freedom of speech, a much more controversial issue embedded in it is its tacit recognition of settlements, contravening official US policy. And settlements have posed one of the most serious obstacles to efforts by successive U.S. administrations to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

As Goldberg notes, “The bill commits the United States for the first time to extending protection, including legal protection, to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.” The bill does that, Goldberg explains, by blurring the distinction between Israel and “territories under its control,” i.e. the occupied territories.


The significance of eroding this distinction cannot be overstated. It endangers the future of Israel as a Jewish-democratic state. It delegitimizes the entire Zionist enterprise. And it actually plays into the hands of BDS advocates.

Here’s how: If Israel includes the territories, it cannot be a democracy, because the approximate 2.5 million Palestinians residing in the West Bank have no civic rights, unlike their settler neighbors, who are Israeli citizens.

This concept cannot be stated enough times. No country that does not mandate full civic equality to millions of people can legitimately claim to be a democracy and have that claim accepted by the world’s democratic states.


That is exactly what BDS advocates point to when they assert that Israel is an apartheid state. And if Israel is defined as including the territories, as it is in this bill, they are correct.

Thus, the legitimacy of Israel hinges on the distinction between Israel proper, where Jews have a right for self-determination, and the territories, in which a Palestinian state should be established in order to fulfill the aspirations of the Palestinian people for freedom and dignity.

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Interfaith Leaders Denied Entry into Israel for Supporting BDS

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Five leaders on an interfaith delegation to Israel/Palestine were refused permission to board their plane in the United States, in what appears to be an implementation of Israel’s travel ban on supporters of Palestinian rights and Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS).

By Naomi Dann / Jewish Voice for Peace
July 24, 2017

Five members of an interfaith delegation were prevented from boarding their flight to Israel because of their public criticism of the Israeli government’s policies towards Palestinians. The group of Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders were apparently singled out for their public support of the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) on the state of Israel. Upon arrival at the Lufthansa check-in counter at Dulles International Airport, an airline employee informed the group that the Israeli government had told the airline not to let them board.

The five people prohibited from flying are Rabbi Alissa Wise, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) deputy director, Philadelphia, PA; Alana Krivo-Kaufman, Brooklyn, NY and Noah Habeeb, Virginia, both also of JVP; Rick Ufford Chase, of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Rockland County, NY; and Shakeel Syed, a national board member with American Muslims for Palestine, Los Angeles, CA.


“Israel denied me the ability to travel there because of my work for justice for Palestinians, even though I’m Jewish and a rabbi,” said Rabbi Alissa Wise. “I’m heartbroken and outraged. This is yet another demonstration that democracy and tolerance in Israel only extends to those who fall in line with its increasingly repressive policies against Palestinians.”


The Israeli Knesset (parliament) passed a bill in March banning entry to those who support boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel until Palestinians have full equal rights. Israel’s BDS ban includes those who have endorsed boycotts of products from Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law and longstanding official U.S. policy. It is believed that this is the first time that the policy has been enforced before people even board their flight. It is also the first time that Israel has denied entry to Jews, including a rabbi, for their political positions. This new political litmus test for entry into the country is an extension of the longstanding practices of racial, religious and ethnic profiling of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim visitors to Israel.

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A New Boycott Battle: The Anti-BDS Bill

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Civil rights groups argue the “anti-Israel boycott” bill would violate First Amendment rights, while supporters say the bill is narrowly tailored and represents a minor amendment to current law.

By Elizabeth Redden / Inside Higher Ed
August 11, 2017


“[The bill’s authors] effectively use the U.S. government to silence its citizens and others for refusing to do business with Israel. Importantly, this legislation would dole out punishment for refusing to do business with companies operating in the occupied Palestinian territories — companies that are thereby acting illegally under international law. Astonishingly, an individual or business could be convicted for obeying international human rights rulings.”
— David Palumbo-Liu, the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor of comparative literature at Stanford University


A bill in Congress that would prohibit U.S. persons or companies from participating in or supporting boycotts of Israel organized by international governmental organizations like the United Nations or the European Union has been roundly criticized by civil liberties groups as an infringement on First Amendment rights to free expression.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which enjoys wide bipartisan support and has 48 cosponsors in the Senate, isn’t directly focused on higher education, but opponents of the bill say it would have implications for scholars and academic organizations to the extent they’re involved in boycott-related activism — as many individual academics and some academic groups are. Although the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against the country of Israel, supported by many academics and others, is organized by nongovernmental organizations and seemingly would not fall under the purview of the bill, opponents of the legislation say BDS supporters could be ensnared by it if they, as part of their activism, participated in or otherwise supported a boycott organized by an international governmental body like the United Nations.

“This bill would impose civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs about Israel and its policies,” the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a July 17 letter opposing the bill. Those penalties, the ACLU wrote, could include civil fines of up to $250,000 or criminal penalties of up to $1 million and a 20-year prison sentence.

“There are millions of businesses and individuals who do no business with Israel, or with companies doing business there, for a number of reasons,” the ACLU wrote. “Some, like those who would face serious financial penalties and jail time under the bill, actively avoid purchasing goods or services from companies that do business in Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories because of a political viewpoint opposed to Israeli policy. Others may refrain from Israeli-related business based on political beliefs, but choose not to publicly announce their reasoning. Still others do no business with companies in Israel for purely pragmatic reasons. Under the bill, however, only a person whose lack of business ties to Israel is politically motivated would be subject to fines and imprisonment — even though there are many others who engage in the very same behavior. In short, the bill would punish businesses and individuals based solely on their point of view. Such a penalty is in direct violation of the First Amendment.”

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A New Peace Plan: Israel and Palestine Should Join the EU

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a new conference at EU headquarters in Brussels, March 27, 2017. (photo: Virginia Mayo / AP)

What if there were a peace plan that actually offered the people on both sides something that they would truly want?

By Bradley Burston / Haaretz
August 8, 2017

A new peace plan for Israel and Palestine landed literally on my doorstep this morning.

It came in the form of a cautionary feature story in The New York Times, warning of the risks which Brexit poses to the arduously won peace process in Ireland. But it was how the piece began, that got me to thinking that the wisdom in it might benefit the peoples of the Holy Land as well:


Crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic used to involve delays, checkpoints, bureaucratic harassment and the lurking threat of violence. That it’s now virtually seamless — that you can drive across without even knowing it — feels close to miraculous.


For both Israelis and Palestinians, sick to death of bloodletting and disillusionment, one of the few points of common ground is the sense that it would take a miracle to forge a viable peace. At this point, when people on both sides ask, and with good reason, “What’s in it for me?” — bitter experience is scant incentive. It is not for nothing that the Holy Land is where peace initiatives come to die.

But what if there were a peace plan that actually offered the people on both sides something that they truly would want?

An EU passport, for example.

Here’s the hint: When the United Kingdom held its June, 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union, Northern Ireland voted against Brexit by a clear majority. Here’s the plan: Israel and the Palestinian Authority apply for membership in the European Union.

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U.N. Bias: Pro- or Anti-Israel?

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U.S. envoy Nikki Haley has accused the U.N. of “bullying” Israel. (photo: EPA)

The U.N.’s repeated buckling to U.S. and Israeli pressure stands contrary to claims of an anti-Israel bias.

By Ben White / Al Jazeera
August 12, 2017


When Haley, Netanyahu and others make the accusation that everyone is singling out Israel, “in fact, the exception is made in the reverse direction — Palestine is singled out from similar treatment to other colonies or other peoples living under foreign domination and subjugation. Palestine, like other sites of settler-colonialism, remains an exception to the world order.”
— Noura Erakat, human rights lawyer


Nikki Haley, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, made headlines in June when she denounced what she claimed was a pattern of “anti-Israel” behavior at the U.N.

“I have never taken kindly to bullies, and the U.N. has bullied Israel for a very long time,” she said. “We are not going to let that happen any more. It is a new day for Israel in the United Nations.”

While Haley’s words were music to Israeli leaders’ ears and echoed long-standing talking points of pro-Israel advocacy groups, analysts say there is little substance to her allegations that, in the words of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Israel has been “the U.N.’s punching bag.”

According to human rights lawyer Noura Erakat, the attention given to Israel/Palestine at the U.N. harkens back to a particular historical moment in the 1960’s and 1970’s, when “national liberation movements and newly decolonized countries used the U.N. as a site of protest” against “imperialistic” Western politics.

While issues concerning Namibia, South Africa, Cape Verde, Vietnam, Laos and others have in one way or another been resolved, Erakat told Al Jazeera, “the only one that hasn’t is Palestine.”

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Zionism is Nationalism, Not Judaism

Gwen Macsai, Andy White and Rabbi Brant Rosen at Bookends and Beginnings, Evanston, IL, August 10. (photo: Liz Rose)

How Rabbi Rosen, and the author, shifted from insider to outsider.

By Liz Rose / Mondoweiss
August 17, 2017


I remember sitting in [Rabbi Rosen’s] office at [Jewish Reconstructionist Synagogue], feeling nauseous, scared that what I was learning about — indeed, that Israel is in fact Palestine and was taken from Palestinians — would cause me to question everything else about my life. So much of my identity had been formed around my love for Israel. I couldn’t talk to my family about this. I worried that students from the school where I taught Hebrew, and their parents, were in the building and could somehow hear our conversation, even though the door to his office was closed.


This summer, I’ve been going through crates of old albums in my parent’s basement. Some of the records have triggered more memories than others. A few remind me of college, like Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell. I remember making out with a guy in my dorm room, in 1988, to the song, “You Took the Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night).” I also found Joan Armatrading’s Show Some Emotion, which I also remember playing after the Meat Loaf guy dumped me. Others, like Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, remind me of the summers I spent at Habonim Dror, the Zionist summer camp modeled after a kibbutz that I attended in the 1980’s. Often we’d listen to “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” or “America,” or “The Boxer,” while cleaning bathrooms or making breakfast or building a bonfire.

I had forgotten about an obscure record that I found next to my Simon and Garfunkel albums, The Parvarim sing Simon and Garfunkel in Hebrew. The Parvarim were an Israeli duo, Yossi Hurie and Nisim Menachem. They started their career in the 1950’s, primarily singing Ladino ballads and Shabbat songs, but were most famous for their Simon and Garfunkel covers from the 1970’s. The music sounds remarkably like Simon and Garfunkel, only in Hebrew. The album was helpful to me when I was studying Hebrew, and, later, when I taught Hebrew at a public high school. I played the album the other day, and was startled by the memories it stirred in me of when I was a Zionist — mostly feelings of loss — particularly when I played “Sounds of Silence,” and “America.”

Later that evening, August 10, I attended Rabbi Brant Rosen’s book launch for the second edition of his 2012 book, Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi’s Path to Palestinian Solidarity, released this year. Rosen used to be a Zionist, too, and we’ve often talked about the process we’ve both gone through to undo the Zionist upbringing we both had. Rosen, who was the Rabbi at the Jewish Reconstructionist Synagogue (JRC) in Evanston, Illinois, from 1998–2014, was one of the first Jews I approached when I began to question what I had learned and believed growing up about Zionism and Israel.

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Senate Bill 720 Makes It A Crime To Support Human Rights

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From left, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA). (photo: Bill Clark / Getty Images)

Senators must stop hiding behind hollow support of a “two-state solution” that this bill would make impossible.

By James Zogby / Huffington Post
August 12, 2017


In order to build support for their effort, advocates for Israel have tried to portray BDS in the harshest of terms. They have made Israel the victim and while portraying advocates of BDS as “virulently anti-Semitic” aggressors. All of this has been done to obfuscate the reality that BDS is nothing more than a “strategic Palestinian-led form of nonviolent resistance to the occupation and denial of human rights.”


It is fascinating to watch some U.S. senators tripping over themselves as they attempt to defend their support for or opposition to proposed legislation that would make it a federal crime to support the international campaign to Boycott, Divest, or Sanction (BDS) Israel for its continued occupation of Palestinian lands. What ties these officials up in knots are their efforts to square the circle of their “love of Israel,” their opposition to BDS, their support for a “two-state solution,” and their commitment to free speech.

The bill in question, S720, was introduced on March 23, 2017 by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD). S720 opposes calls by the United Nations to boycott or “blacklist” companies that support Israeli activities in the territories occupied in the 1967 war. The bill further prohibits any US person from supporting this UN call to boycott and establishes stiff fines and/or imprisonment for Americans who violate this prohibition.

There are a number of problems with the legislation. In the first place, supporters of S720 grossly mischaracterize the intent of the UN approach as “anti-Israel.” In fact, as S720, itself, acknowledges, the UN Human Rights Council specifically targets only businesses that engage in activities in “territories occupied [by Israel] since 1967.” The UN target is not Israel, but Israeli actions that serve to consolidate its hold over the occupied territories.

Then there is the concern that by making illegal either the act of boycotting Israel, or advocating for such a boycott, S720 is criminalizing free speech and stifling legitimate peaceful protest.

Finally, the legislation continues to build on earlier Congressional legislation using slight of hand language in an attempt to erase the distinction in U.S. law between Israel and illegal Israeli settlements in occupied territories. While earlier legislation accomplished this by referring to “Israel and areas under Israel’s control,” S720 notes that its boycott prohibition applies to “commercial relations…with citizens or residents of Israel, entities organized under the laws of Israel, or the Government of Israel.”

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