Front Range Jewish Voice for Peace Fights Anti-Semitism

Long time, no writing, I know. But I have since moved to Denver, started graduate school at the Josef Korbel School for International Studies for a masters in International Human Rights. On the side, I helped re-instate the local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace amongst the Gaza siege last summer. Recently, a certain activist some of you may know, Gilad Atzmon, has been frequenting Denver. As a Jew, I am personally appalled by his claims that Jewish culture and “Jewishness” are inherently racist and the main problem behind Israel and the Diaspora. So he himself argues what Zionists do in the sense that Jews and Zionists are one in the same. So we made a statement condemning his anti-Semitism and that it distracts from the pro-Palestine movement in general. We got a huge amount of backlash on our Facebook page from Gilad himself and his following, mostly exposing themselves to be full of hate. I think our Jewish voices are very important in this movement to make sure people know that actions of the Israeli government are not representative of all Jews. Gilad wants to destroy this. Here is the statement for those interested:

“As Front Range Jewish Voice for Peace, we are aware of the presence of right-wing rhetoric and casual anti-Semitism amongst many groups who oppose Zionism and many policies of the state of Israel. Many of us in Denver have noticed the influence of intellectually lazy anti-Zionism, which points the finger at Jews for our role in perpetrating the Israeli occupation, as opposed to the wider problem of Zionism and settler colonialism. In Denver, many are captivated by rhetoric like that of Gilad Atzmon, whose alliance with prominent neo-Nazis such as David Duke, Trevor LaBonte, and Ken O’Keefe is often hidden behind the smokescreen of his opposition to the state of Israel. His targeting of our own allies in the Palestine solidarity community such as Ali Abunimah and Noam Chomsky are volatile and counter-productive to finding peace in Israel/Palestine.

This rhetoric and politics are not to be tolerated. When anti-Semitism infiltrates Palestine solidarity circles, it negatively impacts us as Jews. It is a clear form of racism that should be challenged at all times.

Atzmon and anti-Semitism in the Palestine solidarity community are a distraction from the issue at hand, namely the occupation of Palestine by Israel. We want to shift the conversation away from solely anti-Semitism. The more pressing conversation we want to have is one that recognizes that the anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia that sustains the occupation of Palestine comes from the same mindset as traditional anti-Semitism.

It is important for us to recognize as Jews that we are all affected by Israel’s actions. Israel falsely claims to represent us as Jews. The Israeli Law of Return gives us the right to move to Israel and live anywhere we want. Some of the same apartments that Diaspora Jews could be buying or renting in Palestine are built on top of the same land that is confiscated from the indigenous people of Palestine: in the Jerusalem area and the West Bank. Resentment of Diaspora Jews for the benefits we receive is warranted, and comes from a legitimate place of rage, because these benefits come at the expense of the Palestinian people.

Our leaders, and much of our community, have failed us by not speaking out against the injustices being done in our name. They often have a stronghold on Jewish public opinion. Whatever anti-Semitism we encounter within our movements obscures our role as ordinary Jews who oppose Zionism and the failures of these institutions. Given that Palestinians are always presumed to be anti-Semitic by US and Israeli propaganda, we do not need white Americans who claim to be members of our ranks reinforcing these false claims.
Ultimately, anti-Semitic rhetoric makes our movement hypocritical. It prevents us from standing up for those victimized by anti-black racism in the wake of the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and far too many more. It prevents us from fighting for justice for poor people and people of color in Denver being pushed out by increasing gentrification. It prevents us from seeking justice for Ryan Ronquillo and Jessica Hernandez, who were killed by the police here in Denver. It prevents us from challenging the racism under which our world has been held captive for the last 500 years of human history. Therefore, we officially condemn statements of Gilad Atzmon and others that seek to portray Jews as an inherently flawed group of people.”

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The Unspeakable Bravely Spoken

I have just been to a talk by Israeli journalist David Sheen on the racism and hate crimes that African refugees experience in Israel and during this presentation, he courageously and unabashedly made some poignant comparisons between the Israeli government’s discriminatory laws and those infamous laws of Nazi Germany. I myself have been wanting to point out these similarities publicly (as it relates to Arab discrimination), but have never found the bravery to do so.  David has inspired me to speak the full extent of my mind and not be afraid of the backlash from my own community. When I thanked him afterward, he actually thanked ME for encouraging him. This is just proof that we don’t need to silence ourselves just because we are Jews. I am sure that I will receive backlash for this post, but I encourage you to continue reading and watch the video first. And try to swallow the hard truth before taking it out on others.

 

As David pointed out during his speech, Jews feel as if they are immune to being racist; as if something in our history dictates that no one can ever accuse of such crimes. But it’s real and it’s happening on a mass scale throughout Israel. David reported that it is not uncommon to hear racism. Solidarity activists for Africans are sadly the ostracized one’s in Israeli society. This is how the government justifies the laws they put in place. Public officials in the government have called Africans “a cancer,” and called for their deportation and enact laws calling for the “concentration” of Africans to the Negev desert to a detention center. The sign on the entrance of this detention center says “Office of Employment.” Sound familiar? Work makes you free? This detention center provides no medical treatment, malnutritious meals, and extremely cramped living quarters. And the worst part is that a police officer need only accuse an African of crime before arresting them. I’ll leave you with this:

African migrants protest in Israel

African migrants protest in Israel http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/25614614

I find it puzzling that an Israeli official called the immigrants “infiltrators.” Isn’t the majority of the population of Israel from different countries? Certainly the original population is.

These asylum seekers have legitimate reasons for fleeing their countries, whereas I could get up off my seat at Starbucks right now and move there with instant citizenship. I have a good job, I have rights (not equal, but certainly many more then in other countries), and yet somehow I would not be considered an “infiltrator” for living there.

A Giant Charade

Netanyahu announced yesterday that any deal reached with the Palestinians that involved territorial concessions would have to be put up to referendum. In other words, every citizen of Israel gets to vote on whether they give back any land. At first glance, this seems to make sense. It is their country and I would expect any country giving back land to discuss it with their citizens. Here’s the catch: the settlements and pieces of land confiscated since 1967 are considered illegal under international law. And any land concessions we’d be talking about are these very settlements. So are we supposed to trust that settlers will think “Oh sure, I only came here as a joke. I can leave at any time.” Of course not. Settlers are aggressive and land hungry and you can bet they won’t be voting to give up the land they have carved out of Palestinian villages. Where would the fun be in that? They can’t burn Palestinian olive trees or shoot their livestock or harass the civilians. That would just be messing up their whole lifestyle.

So, in conclusion, no referendum on land concessions is going to pass. What these negotiations are for Netanyahu then are a big, fun, humiliating game. We’ll just have to hope that by some miracle enough citizens living inside Israel proper will know about the truth of settlements in order to outnumber the settler votes on the referendum. Inshallah.

What are Egypt’s demands?

I am going to express some controversial thoughts, even more so than usual.  Meaning most people that usually agree with me will probably be slightly upset.  But I would like to state that I rather liked Morsi.  Sure, I don’t live in Egypt and for the most part have no experience to base my statement on.

But the way I see it, Morsi was trying to stabilize a nation that had just been through a power vacuum and military rule.  Being a dictator may have been necessary in some cases.  A benign dictator, let’s say.  As far as I know, the fact he was Islamist had nothing to do with his policies.  Christians weren’t treated less respectfully than before according to news.  Again, I could be 100 percent wrong.  I just never heard anything about it.

Furthermore, he started out strong.  He negotiated a significant ceasefire with Israel and Hamas along with Clinton in his early months.  If not for him, that flare up could have been another Operation Cast Lead.  Easily.  In the week it went on, over 140 Palestinians were killed– the majority of them civilians.  There was finally a man in office in Egypt who genuinely cared about the conflict.  Now that he’s gone, the Rafah crossing to Gaza is closed and trapped many Palestinians in Egypt and thousands in Gaza.  This may have been his single great achievement, but frankly, it’s profound.  More profound than the mistakes he made.

Shortly after, he gave himself sweeping power in what he said was to help stabilize the country.  I believe him.  Fast forward a year later and all of the sudden the military is threatening to oust him in forty eight hours.  And the anti-Morsi citizens are supporting them!  Why, when the military rule was atrocious only one year ago would they suddenly put their faith in them?  The military also killed protestors during the last days of Mubarak.  Their track record indicates the military is not very trust-worthy.  And yet now it’s okay to oust a new democratically elected president because he hasn’t met Egypt’s demands.  He may have given himself too much control, but given time I think he would have calmed down.  He wasn’t targeting any specific group or threatening to take over the world.

This brings me to the title.  What are Egypt’s demands?  They elected a president, didn’t see him fit so instead of impeachment they agree to a military coup.  Now over 50 Morsi supporters have been killed in the aftermath.  Is that what Egypt wants?  More violence?  I highly doubt it.  But if they’re not careful, Egypt will become another Syria.

More of the Same

Israel has already begun it’s punishment for the UN recognition of a Palestinian state. Today, 3000 permits were approved for homes in East Jerusalem, part of the new state of Palestine.

They claim that the UN bid has pushed back negotiations. However, negotiations have not been happening for a couple years due to the increased illegal settlement activity by Israel.

So Palestine rightly chose another path. And now the “punishment” is more of the same. I fail to see how Israel thinks this will deter the Palestinians. The only difference is now Israel is building houses on a sovereign state as opposed to an “entity.”  Which should only get them in more trouble I should think.

Gaza baby ‘only knew how to smile’: An Editorial from the BBC

Jehad Mashhrawi with Omar

The death of civilians on either side in the Israel-Gaza conflict is tragic – especially when children are among the casualties. The BBC correspondent in Gaza, Jon Donnison, witnessed just such a tragedy at close quarters.

My friend and colleague Jehad Mashhrawi is usually the last to leave our Gaza bureau. Hard-working but softly spoken, he often stays late, beavering away on a laptop that is rarely out of arm’s reach.

He has a cool head – unflappable, when others like me are flapping around him. He is a video editor and just one of our local BBC Arabic Service staff who make the office tick.

But on the Wednesday before last – only an hour or so after Gaza’s latest war erupted with Israel’s killing of Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari – Jehad burst out of the editing suite screaming.

He sprinted down the stairs, his head in his hands, his face ripped with anguish.

He had just had a call from a friend to tell him the Israeli military had bombed his house and that his 11-month-old baby boy Omar was dead.

Most fathers will tell you their children are beautiful.

Omar

Omar was a picture-book baby.

Standing in what is left of his burnt-out home this week, Jehad showed me a photo on his mobile phone.

It was of a cheeky, chunky, round-faced little boy in denim dungarees, chuckling in a pushchair, dark-eyed with a fringe of fine brown hair pushed across his brow.

“He only knew how to smile,” Jehad told me, as we both struggled to hold back the tears.

“He could say just two words – Baba and Mama,” his father went on.

Also on Jehad’s phone is another photo. A hideous tiny corpse. Omar’s smiling face virtually burnt off, that fine hair appearing to be melted on to his scalp.

Jehad’s sister-in-law Heba was also killed.

“We still haven’t found her head,” Jehad said.

His brother, Ahmad, suffered massive burns and died of his injuries in hospital several days later.

Jehad has another son Ali, four years old, who was slightly injured. He keeps asking where his baby brother has gone.

Eleven members of the Mashhrawi family lived in the tiny breezeblock house in the Sabra district of Gaza City. Five people slept in one room.

The beds are now only good for charcoal. The cupboards are full of heaps of burnt children’s clothes.

On the kitchen shelves, there are rows of melted plastic jars full of Palestinian herbs and spices, their shapes distorted as if reflected from a fairground mirror.

And in the entrance hall, a two-foot-wide hole in the flimsy metal ceiling where the missile ripped through.

Despite the evidence pointing towards an Israeli air strike, some bloggers have suggested it might have been a misfired Hamas rocket.

But at that time, so soon after the launch of Israel’s operation, the Israeli military says mortars had been launched from Gaza but very few rockets.

Mortar fire would not cause the fireball that appears to have engulfed Jehad’s house.

Other bloggers have said that the damage to Jehad’s home was not consistent with powerful Israeli attacks but the BBC visited other bombsites this week with very similar fire damage, where Israel acknowledged carrying out what it called “surgical strikes”.

 

As at Jehad’s home, there was very little structural damage but the victims were brought out with massive and fatal burns. Most likely is that Omar died in the one of the more than 20 bombings across Gaza that the Israeli military says made up its initial wave of attacks.

Omar was not a terrorist.

Of course every civilian death on either side – not just Omar’s – is tragic. The United Nations says its preliminary investigation shows that 103 of the 158 people killed in Gaza were civilians.

Of those, 30 were children – 12 of whom were under the age of 10. More than 1,000 people were injured.

The Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said every non-combatant death or injury was tragic and an “operational failure”.

In Israel, too, there were fatalities: four civilians and two soldiers. There were also many injuries. But the fact the Israeli Ambulance Service was also reporting those suffering from anxiety and bruises is an indication of the asymmetric nature of the conflict.

Jehad’s baby Omar was probably the first child to die in this latest round of violence.

Among the last was a six-year-old boy, Abdul Rahman Naeem, who was killed by an Israeli attack just hours before the ceasefire was announced.

Abdul Rahman’s father, Dr Majdi, is one of the leading specialist doctors at Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital.

The first he knew of his son’s death was when he went to treat a patient, only to find it was his own boy.

Apparently, Dr Majdi had not seen Abdul Rahman for days. He had been too busy dealing with the wounded.

Inside Jehad's houseA bedroom in Jehad’s house after the attack

Before I left Jehad’s house, leaving him sitting round a camp fire with other mourners, I asked him – perhaps stupidly – if he was angry over Omar’s death.

“Very, very angry,” he said, his jaw tensing as he glanced at the photos on his phone.

This from a man who I cannot ever remember raising his voice in anger.

My thoughts, after a week where I have had little time to think, are with Jehad and his family.

Remarkably and unnecessarily, he told me his thoughts were with me and the rest of our BBC team.

“I’m just sorry, Jon, that I had to go and wasn’t there to help you with your work,” he said, before we hugged and said goodbye.