ANALYSIS: By John Minto
Tēna koutou, tēna koutou, tēna tātau katoa
The topic of this talk is about the lies told about Palestine by the pro-Israeli lobby. That might sound a bit downbeat and negative but I can assure you it is not.
I hope tonight you will go away feeling positive, clear headed and uplifted because we are on the right side of history and we are winning.
It was 72 years ago when at its very formation Israel delegitimised itself with brutal, blatantly racist, colonial policies towards Palestinians. But because Israel was and is important for Western imperialist powers as a beachhead in the oil-rich Middle East – the liberation of Palestinians has been held up.
- READ MORE: Al Jazeera coverage updates on the Palestinian struggle for human rights and true liberation
And part of that hold-up has been a string of lies told about Palestine and Palestinians by the pro-Israeli lobby. We are going to unravel some of those lies.
Before we talk about the lies, let us celebrate the fact that the tide is turning in the Western world in support of Palestinian human rights. We are winning the debate – around the world and here in Aotearoa-New Zealand.
Internationally the pro-Palestinian campaigns are stronger. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is having important wins locally and internationally. (BDS is a Palestinian-led movement which was launched in 2005 to uphold the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity).
More Jewish voices, both young and old, are speaking out here and around the world and nasty smears of anti-semitism directed against Palestinian solidarity activists are being called out for what they are. Even members of the US congress who show strong support for Palestinian rights are winning their seats again when once the pro-Israeli lobby in the US would have been able to oust them.
Nothing illustrates the changes in thinking better than the key findings from a recent survey of Jewish Americans by the right-wing thinktank, The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, which was released in July. There were three main findings:
- One quarter of American Jews express intensely critical ideas about Israel and Zionism, including that Israel is racist, colonial and apartheid.
- More than that, 31 percent, would vote for Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar regardless of Israel lobby smears of the two congresswomen as antisemitic.
- Despite the efforts of Israel lobby organisations to blame the left for antisemitism, American Jews don’t buy it. 51 percent see the right wing as the source of most antisemitism, while only 1 percent see the left wing as primarily responsible for anti-semitism. (12 percent blame left and right equally).
Things are changing. Israel’s narrative as the only peace-loving, democratic state in the Middle East surrounded by hostile Arab neighbours has been falling apart for years. It’s a narrative on life-support because the Israeli narrative contradicts what people see as the reality of Israeli actions and policies on the ground in the Middle East.
It is failing so badly that the Israeli lobby has resorted to trying to make it illegal to campaign in favour of Palestinian human rights. They have tried, partially successfully, to have BDS declared illegal in some European countries and in various US states.
Their main defence strategy for Israeli policies are bogus claims of anti-semitism which they throw around like confetti against supporters of Palestinian human rights. The latest effort has been to introduce a new definition of anti-semitism which tries to link criticism of Israel with anti-semitism.
All this effort to weaken criticism of Israel underlines the absolute important of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement – because BDS is Israel’s Achilles heel – their weak point and because of that, it’s the single most important strategy we have to build solidarity with Palestine and put pressure on Israel.
Most important game is BDS
Let’s be clear: for the international solidarity movement the most important game in town is BDS.
This was neatly summed up by Nobel Peace prize winner and South African Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, when talking about Israeli government policies – “we should name it apartheid and boycott”.
Tutu also pointed the way when he talked about the importance of international solidarity to bring change for Palestinians:
“We could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through… non-violent means, such as boycotts and disinvestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime.”
Israel is terrified of BDS. The more successful we become in campaigning for BDS, the more desperate the pro-Israeli lobby will become to label us as anti-semitic. Let me put it another way: If we are NOT being attacked with false claims of anti-semitism by the increasingly desperate pro-Israeli lobby then we are not doing our job.
It’s important to say here that we must not downplay anti-semitism in the world – there is plenty of it and it is hideous. We all know it when we see it. I and many others at this talk tonight have joined public protests against anti-semitism for example when Jewish graves in the Symonds Street cemetery have been daubed with swastikas.
We abhor racism in all its forms whether it is anti-semitism, Islamophobia, white supremacy, anti-Palestinian or anti-Arab racism, anti-Māori or anti-Pasifika racism. We don’t tolerate it on our social media pages and we condemn it wherever it occurs.
That’s been a long introduction – so let’s look at the most important lies told about Palestine by the pro-Israeli lobby.
Most important lies
This map shows some of the 600 red dots which each represent a Palestinian village which was “depopulated” (aka ethnic cleansing) in 1948.
And they knew. In 1897 the rabbis of Vienna sent a fact-finding mission to Palestine, they famously reported back that the bride “was beautiful but married to another man”. But the implication of this wry remark — that the pro-Israeli lobby should look elsewhere was ignored.
As I said earlier, spurious claims of anti-semitism have become common in defending Israeli policies. They are a critically important part of the pro-Israeli strategy to distract from its racist policies towards Palestinians.
Former Israeli Minister of Education Shulamit Aloni spelt this tactic out very clearly when she appeared on a Democracy Now interview in 2002. She was asked why critics of Israel were often labelled anti-semitic. She said:
“Well, it’s a trick, we always
That’s a remarkably frank description of Israeli strategy and we see it played out around the world and here in Aotearoa.
The Israeli lobby in New Zealand
So how do we see the Israeli lobby working in New Zealand?
The pro-Israeli lobby does its most despicable work behind closed doors with news editors, journalists, cartoonists, members of parliament, senior public servants, government ministers etc. These people are intensely pressured whenever they speak out against Israel’s brutal military occupation and apartheid policies towards Palestinians.
Our own cartoonist Malcolm Evans dared to illustrate Israel as an apartheid state and lost his job at the Herald as a result. [The Wakim address audience gave Malcolm Evans a standing ovation].
The pro-Israeli lobby does not want the Palestinian struggle in our newspapers and general media. The lobby applies pressure so these groups and individuals will “silence themselves” – in other words to self-censor – knowing if they report things unfavourable to Israel or take sides with the Palestinians they risk being called out publicly as being anti-semitic.
The pro-Israeli lobby acts like a mafia protection racket for racism and brutality, using bullying and political thuggery to constrain criticism of Israel and to stifle Palestinian voices.
Despite all this, Israel is losing. It has a serious image problem. They are spending many millions on propaganda campaigns and as I said earlier have resorted to trying to make campaigning for BDS a criminal offence in European countries and several states in the US.
Millions has been spent developing propaganda strategies – using the same public relations companies used by the likes of the tobacco industry, the private healthcare industry and pharmaceutical companies in the US.
Here are some of their propaganda manuals produced over the years:
And propaganda they are. Also, Israel is deeply frustrated at spending 20 times more on propaganda but support for Palestinians keeps climbing.
Peddling lies about Palestine is a challenge for the Palestine Solidarity movement. One of our roles is to counter these lies by:
Telling the plain unvarnished truth of Israel’s refusal to abide by international law and United Nations resolutions;
- Explaining the three aims of the BDS movement (all based on international law and UN resolutions);
- Ending the occupation of Palestinian territories (Security Council resolution 242);
- Ending Israel’s 65 apartheid laws against Palestinian Israelis (www.adalah.org);
- Allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their land and homes in Israel (UN resolution 194);
- Showing films such as the brilliant film Gaza Fights for Freedom;
- Touring Palestinian speakers to advance their solutions for justice and enduring peace in the Middle East. This needs to include Palestinians in Israel, in the West Bank, Gaza strip and in the diaspora;
- Organising public demonstrations of support – eg our national day of action against annexation when 10 centres around Aotearoa took part;
- Challenging MPs and community leaders to stand up for Palestinian human rights against spurious claims of anti-semitism from the pro-Israeli lobby; and
- Building local support for the Palestinian struggle within Maori and other indigenous organisations (such as West Papua), churches, mosques, synagogues, union groups and community organisations
Power imbalance overwhelming
What are we calling for? We are NOT calling for negotiations – if we have the US and Israel on one side of the table and Palestinian representatives on the other.
The power imbalance is overwhelming. It cannot possibly lead to a just settlement.
We are calling for BDS, as we did against South African apartheid, to require Israel to follow international law and United Nations resolutions.
BDS campaigns aiming at specific international targets such as:
- PUMA (supports Israeli soccer teams in the occupied Palestinian land – and is the main sponsor of the Silver Ferns);
- Hewlett Packard (involved in providing technology which is used for surveillance and to oppress Palestinians living under military occupation;
- Divestment from the Superfund and Kiwisaver providers from the 112 companies identified by the UN Human Rights Council as being complicit in supporting illegal settlement building on Palestinian land.
I am more of an activist than a speaker so I want to finish with what we can do together to develop and build the Palestinian struggle here in Aotearoa. You are an important part of this movement and each and every one of you can take action.
We are on the right side of history and we are winning.
Ka whawhai tonu matou! Ake Ake Ake
This article is a shorter version extracted from Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa president John Minto’s fourth David Wakim Memorial Lecture at the Columba Centre, Ponsonby, on 8 October 2020. This commentary is republished with permission. More information.