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“A level of racist violence I have never seen”:UCLA professor Robin D G Kelley on Palestine and the BDS movement

Alex Kane interviews UCLA Prof Robin D G Kelley

16 February 2012

If there’s one thing the Palestine solidarity movement and Israel lobbyists can agree on, it’s this: American college campuses remain a potent battleground when it comes to the politics of Israel/Palestine.

One group, the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), certainly recognizes this. And one way to advocate for Palestine on campus is to get professors on board the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Five professors recently back in the U.S. after a USACBI delegation  to Palestine have taken that leap, releasing a statement (published on the Electronic Intifada in full) that describes what they saw in Palestine and that calls on their academic colleagues to join the BDS movement. Mondoweiss caught up with one of the professors on the delegation, UCLA’s Dr. Robin D.G. Kelley, and discussed BDS, the delegation, Kelley’s new project, black Zionism and much more. Kelley is the author of eight books including Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression, Race Rebels: Culture Politics and the Black Working Class, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination and 2009′s Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original .

Alex Kane: To begin with, talk about yourself, what you do and what your research focuses on.

Robin Kelley: I am a professor of American history at UCLA, and for the last 25 years really, my work has focused on social movements, the African diaspora, radical change, and–it’s sort of a side issue–but I’ve also written about music. My last book was about [the jazz musician] Thelonious Monk. But my academic work, you know, links up to the political work largely because I got into this business as a historian/scholar, through activism and through recognizing, or experiencing or watching social injustice both locally and globally. I’m a product of the 1980s, and the main critical issues were both domestic, in terms of police brutality, Reagan policies on poverty, rising racism in the United States and global issues–the anti-apartheid movement was formative in my own political awakening, the struggles in Central America, the struggles in post-colonial Africa and the Congo, and Palestine, which brings us full circle. The point I’m trying to make is, the issue of Palestinian self-determination is not a new one. It always sort of rebirths (laughs), but it’s not a new one. And so for people of my generation, the Israel-South Africa nexus, dispossession of Palestinians–even back in the days when people talked seriously about the two-state solution, whatever that is–these were the key questions for anyone politically active in the 1980s.

It’s not an accident that Jesse Jackson, for example, whose presidential campaign in the 80s was really formative as well, that his right-hand man, Jack O’Dell, had led a delegation in the 1970s to meet with PLO members and to go to the West Bank and to meet with Palestinians there when the PLO was in exile. And so, there’s been a long tradition after 1967 of various black liberation movements trying to build a connection to Palestine.

AK: And so that brings us to the second question: talk about the trip you recently took to Palestine, why you went and what you saw.

RK: In 2009, I was invited to join the board of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. And as a board member in USACBI, I did my part in terms of trying to get the word out about supporting and enacting the cultural boycott. The opportunity to travel to the occupied territories came up over the summer through USACBI and through scholars at various universities and Muwatin, which is an independent think tank that focuses on the study and implementation of democracy in Palestine. And so they invited a number of scholars to come, and I jumped at the chance because I always wanted to go and missed other opportunities. So five of us agreed to go in January, and I stayed longer than the rest of the group because I’m actually doing research for another project.

So we go there hosted by Muwatin, and they arranged an incredible visit. I won’t tell you everything we did, because it would take too long. We went to Ramallah, met the president of Birzeit University, we met with other faculty, the founders of PACBI.  We went to East Jerusalem to visit Sheikh Jarrah and some of the families that have been dispossessed from their own homes. We went to Hebron, and visited and talked to Palestinian merchants, and witnessed a level of racist violence that I hadn’t even seen growing up as a black person here in the States (laughs), I have to say, and I’ve been beat by the cops. The level of racist violence from the settlers is kind of astounding. We visited Aida refugee camp just north of Bethlehem, and we went to Bethlehem as well. On my own, I went to Nablus and visited the Balata refugee camp. We also went to Haifa, and we met with a group of Palestinian-Israeli scholars and intellectuals to talk about the boycott.

So to me what was important wasn’t just passing through checkpoints, it wasn’t just witnessing the day to day oppression, acts of dispossession, the expansion of these settler communities in the hills overlooking and intimidating Palestinian villages. It wasn’t just that. That was a very, very important part of the trip because what it did in some ways made tangible the kind of oppression, the nature of dispossession, that we read about and knew about. We were prepared. What was important equally was our conversations with active members of Palestinian civil society, our conversations with activists who are organizing against the wall, our conversations with scholars at Haifa, at Birzeit and independent intellectuals. Because what it produced for us wasn’t just a fact-finding mission, you know, as these things often are. It wasn’t just, you know, “occu-tourism,” visiting and seeing for yourself. That wasn’t, to me, the key thing. The key thing was the kind of engagement that helped us better understand why the boycott is central, the complications in pushing for boycott, and how can we sharpen our political critique. Because what we came away with is recognizing that this is a kind of joint, collective venture–that we are not advocating on behalf of Palestinians, but partners with Palestinians for the right to self-determination. And the leadership comes from the Palestinian people. So we’re supporting that movement, and recognizing that what’s happening there is not exceptional, but rather part of a larger global process of late colonialism and neoliberalism, and that what happens in Palestine is going to have an impact on the rest of the world.

Two other things were striking about the trip for me, and I’m only speaking for myself, not for the whole delegation. One is, it’s one thing to see day to day oppression, it’s another to see the efforts Israel puts into and invests in normalizing the situation there. I was in East Jerusalem, after the delegation, on my own, and staying at a Palestinian-owned hotel called the Jerusalem Hotel. And basically, in the Arab quarter near Salah ad-Din street and in this [area with] Palestinian markets. And I took a stroll up the hill, and found Jaffa road, and I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was like I was on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, or the Grove in L.A. It was just the strangest thing to see the juxtaposition, of the largely Jewish and tourist center of commerce with all the chains here, Coffee Bean, Yogurt Land, jewellery, clothing, ATMs at every little corner, granite paved roads, and then of course running through the middle of Jaffa street is the illegal Jerusalem Light Rail system. So to recognize that this space is normalized, a Western so-called bureaucratic capitalist space, a space of high consumerism is an eight-minute walk from what is essentially a ghetto in an occupied territory. That, that to me is even more shocking then seeing 20-something year-old Israelis looking through people’s passports and IDs and deciding whether or not you’re a threat. To me, that emphasis on normalization is one of the more dangerous things, because if they succeed in convincing the world that this is not a state of war or occupation but rather this is really the heart of the kind of Western democracy that’s like the rest of the world, the Western world at least–then in some ways that’s how they try and win. And part of what the boycott does is it delegitimizes the claim that this is a normal situation. It’s not a normal situation, it’s a settler-colonial situation, a situation of oppression.

The second thing that blew my mind, and I just wrote about this, is going to the refugee camp, particularly Aida, and seeing the cultural and artistic revolution among young people. Occupation is something that is a political act as well as an ideological and psychological imposition. And there are whole generations of young people, and older people, that will not accept the occupation. They will not accept normalization of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank or the ethnic cleansing taking place. They’re not only creating and documenting a kind of collective memory of Palestinian history, Palestinian struggle, what the impact of the Nakba was on that community, but also I think prefiguring what could be a new society, what could be a post-Zionist society. And to me that’s probably the most dangerous thing. It’s one thing for Israel to use walls, barbed wire and a blacked-out media to keep, to try to normalize Israel by making invisible the dispossession and oppression of Palestinians. It’s another thing to hide what could be a new vision for a different kind of society, a new generation of people who are not accepting a second-class state or second-class citizenship, [saying] we want the nation, we want our nation back, and if you want to be part of it, well we’re happy with that. To me, that’s what’s so exciting about what I see in the refugee camps, what I see in terms of the cultural work being done. This is the third intifada, right before our eyes.

AK: You mentioned this earlier, but I wanted to draw it out more. What sorts of connections do you see between the sort of work you focus on and the current situation in Palestine?

RK: Well, I’m sort of in two minds. One perspective is that if I did nothing but wrote about, you know, Mozart, my investment in the struggle of Palestinians for the right to return, the right to self-determination, the right to full citizenship–these are things that as a human being, I really have no choice, I can’t look away. I can’t pretend that, you know, I want to live in a just, safe, beautiful world and not be concerned about this issue because to me, what Israel constitutes is the most blatant example of existing settler-colonialism in the world right now. And so even if my work had no connection whatsoever, this is something that I think I, and anyone who supports social justice and self-determination, needs to be aware of and involved in.

So, having said that, my own scholarly work has always been shaped by the political investments and political experiences that I’ve had over the years. I’m actually writing a book about a woman named Grace Halsell, who was a white woman born in Texas. She spent much of her late life as a journalist trying to figure out how white supremacy, racism and other forms of domination actually work; how it feels to actually endure that. So in 1969 she wrote a book called Soul Sister, where she passed as a black woman. She darkened her skin and lived as a black woman for about six months and wrote about it. And it wasn’t so much to claim that “I know what it’s like to be a black person,” but really to try to understand the outward and subtle manifestations of racism and sexism. Then she wrote another book called Bessie Yellowhair where she did something similar, where she became a Navajo woman and worked as a domestic for a white family in L.A. and wrote about it. Then she passed as a Mexican immigrant, and crossed the Rio Grande and interviewed other immigrants in the late 1970s, when anti-immigration sentiment was rising, to sort of understand state power and immigration and how it is experienced by every day people.

So this leads us to one of her great masquerades. She decided to go to Israel/Palestine in 1979, and she basically wrote a book called Journey to Jerusalem, where she tries to understand the lives of essentially four people, four groups of people: Palestinian Muslims, Palestinian Christians, Sephardic Jews and the settlers, a settler family. At first she thinks, “this is not political, I’m just trying to tell the story of these three faiths, basically.” And it ends up being a very political book because she’s very critical of Israel. And this was 1980-81, and she was sympathetic to Palestinians. She’s on the Birzeit campus at a time when Israeli forces were shutting down the campus, beating students–she’s witnessing all this. And she is learning Palestinian history, and trying to write a little bit about it before a lot of Israeli historians are kind of discovering al-Nakba. She writes this book, and as a result of that book, her career as a kind of high-level journalist kind-of ends. She’s still liked, but she can’t get contracts the same way.

In the next book, she masquerades as a right-wing Christian fundamentalist and travels with Jerry Falwell’s group, and writes a book about Christian Zionism and the nexus between Israeli nuclear policy–and she’s saying that, you know, the Christian Zionists, the right-wing fundamentalists, are pushing Israel to use its bombs because they believe Armageddon is inevitable and eventually Israel will destroy itself and Christians will take over the holy land. So she writes this book in 1986. And so I’m writing a biography of her, and I’m convinced that everything she experienced–as a white woman being black, being Native American, Mexican–in some ways prepared her for a kind of empathy and identification with the Palestinians when she got there. When she got there, and wrote about what she saw, it changed her life profoundly in ways that being black, Native American or Mexican did not. And she devoted the rest of her life to writing about the Middle East. And she ended up doing a lot of work for Americans for Middle East Understanding, and supporting their work.

There’s a whole set of other writing I want to do. I’m incredibly disturbed by the way AIPAC and Israel is recruiting black students from historically black colleges.

AK: You read my mind–that was my next question.

RK: This is the thing that I’m actually trying to write: this is pretty astounding and yet, there’s a logic to it. I’m actually planning on writing an open letter to the so-called Vanguard Leadership Group, which is the group that has collectively made strong statements against Students for Justice in Palestine, and is basically in the pocket of AIPAC and Israel. In some respects, it’s a very dangerous position, because what AIPAC is doing is using black students as a moral shield to make the case for Israeli impunity, and that AIPAC is finding, and really developing, cultivating, a whole group of black allies as a way to shield Israel so that they can’t be seen as racist.

Now, the disturbing thing about this, you know, is that when you really start to scratch the surface, there’s a very long history of African American support for Zionism, going back to before there was an Israel as a state. The [Marcus] Garvey movement basically adopted Zionism, a certain form of black Zionism as its sort of mantra, and had actually gotten money from Zionists in the early 1920s. When Israel was founded in 1948 as a result of dispossession, you look at the black press, and you see all these folks across the board, black leaders, who were celebrating and supporting, encouraging Israel, because for them, they saw European Jews as themselves a dispossessed people, an oppressed people, who finally found the capacity to build a nation. So for them, it’s a kind-of heroic story that would encourage African Americans–it’s not exactly the same, but really to mobilize in defense of themselves. And that’s how they saw it.

So people like [civil rights leader] A. Philip Randolph sent a congratulatory note to Israel with almost no mention of Palestinian dispossession, of al-Nakba, of refugees. There were some exceptions to the rule, and every once in a while you see letters to the editor, people who would write these small pieces that would say, “well wait a second. What about the Arabs?” And it was Malcolm X, like a lot of the Muslims, who was ahead of the game. Malcolm was like, “wait a second, this is illegal.” I think Malcolm said, “imagine if the Muslims went to Spain and said we want our land back, start kicking people out and say we were here first.”

So there’s that history, and we have to come to terms with that history because in 1967, I believe there was really a sea change where because of the 67 war, because of the connection between that and other struggles for self-determination and national liberation in Africa and elsewhere, a number of black activists in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee said, “wait a second, we support the Palestinians.” And that was a shift in positions, and as a result of that, a lot of the support that SNCC and other organizations got from Jewish groups disappeared. There’s other reasons for that, but that was one of the reasons.

I think that by coming to terms with that history, but also coming to terms with the history in Palestine, that we have to have another sea change. African Americans who claim to be for social justice have no choice but to support the rule of law, to support the Geneva Conventions, to support the right of return, to end what is essentially an apartheid, ethnic state. It’s not sustainable. So, part of what I would like to do politically is to begin to build a conversation in African American circles, with people who were involved in anti-apartheid work in the past, people who are concerned about other places, to really pay attention once again to Palestine. I think that’s a critical point of struggle for our time.

AK: And so obviously you’re a proponent of the academic boycott of Israel. It’s one of the more controversial aspects of the BDS movement and has led to debate within the Palestine solidarity movement. How would you explain your support for the academic boycott?

RK: Well, there’s a couple of things. One of the key arguments against an academic and cultural boycott is that it suppresses academic freedom, and I vehemently disagree with that position. In fact, it’s a struggle for academic freedom, and what I mean by that is that Palestinians, both scholars, intellectuals and school children, do not enjoy academic freedom whatsoever. You have faculty in Gaza who cannot even be in the same room as scholars with West Bank universities like Birzeit and Nablus University. You have scholars who cannot attend international conferences without a permit, and if they do get a permit, part of what Israel does is use those international trips as excuses to block them returning. You have scholars who have been hired by universities in the occupied territories who can’t take the job because they’re denied entry. You have the criminalization of boycott itself, which is to me the most astounding thing, that to talk about, to produce literature about, can hold you liable in a civil court, maybe not the criminal court, meaning you have to pay damages for whatever and boycott is part of freedom of expression. Okay, there’s that.

The boycott itself was never, as Omar Barghouti put very clearly, was never directed at individual Israeli scholars or artists because what we don’t want to do is start to vilify individuals and do a kind of McCarthy test to see whether or not someone is sufficiently progressive or not. But that’s not the point; the point is that it is directed at institutions. The kind of individual collaborations can continue and in fact, we as a part of the boycott, encourage a certain level of collaboration and conversation as a way to build support, and we’re hoping that those Israeli scholars who really believe in academic freedom would support the boycott as well. In many cases, part of what this institutional boycott does is that it identifies and makes visible the role that universities have played in the violation of Palestinian human rights. We’re talking about universities on land that has been expropriated from Palestinians. We’re talking about lands that expand and create illegal colonies in places like Nablus. We’re talking about universities that host not only scholars that play a key role in designing the apartheid system in Israel and have theorized and implemented policies around questions of the so-called demographic threat, but, you know, we’re also talking about universities that have vilified and punished graduate students and faculty for taking anti-Zionist positions that are backed up with scholarship. Ilan Pappe is not there for that very reason, and he’s just one example.

So we’re saying, we want academic freedom, and that’s the whole point of the boycott, to struggle for the right of academic freedom. And finally, you’ve got this problem even outside the universities where, and again I don’t have to go into detail about this because anyone who picks up a book like Saree Makdisi’s Palestine Inside and Out, will see that you have schoolchildren who can’t attend school because of checkpoints and distances created by the apartheid wall. You’ve got the kind of unequal investment in education, let alone the conditions of life where people could be, kids could be detained at age 13. How is this a world of academic freedom, of intellectual freedom? So that’s one reason.

The other thing I think is, there is an effort on the part of those involved with the boycott to open up the discussion about what Israel and Israel’s security state has done to create instability in the region. Israel has kind-of controlled the discourse for so long, about how it’s the only democracy in the Middle East, how it’s a force for stability, when in fact on the contrary, because of dispossession, because of the oppression of Palestinians, it has been a source of instability. It has been a source of instability because it tries to resolve its problems with military build-up. And the largest factor in all of this is the United States of America. We live in a country where millions of dollars a day from the U.S. goes to supporting and propping up Israel. That’s an astounding fact, because without U.S. support, we wouldn’t be dealing with all of this. And to me, as an American citizen, as a U.S. taxpayer, it’s imperative that I take a critical stance against a U.S. foreign policy that puts the whole world in jeopardy, you know, and creates danger for many people. Not only that, but it supports an illegal regime.

It’s like, if I were driving the getaway car for a bank robbery, and I know it’s a bank robbery, and I’m still driving the car, then I’m complicit in breaking the law. And what Israel represents in some ways is the breaking of many, many international laws and the Geneva Conventions. The illegality of that regime and its practices and the fact that the U.S. props it up means we really don’t have a choice but to support an academic and cultural boycott to try to end the illegal regime.

When you look at the demands of the boycott, they’re very simple. They’re not complicated: Ending the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the wall, which of course the International Court of Justice said in 2004 was illegal. Second, recognize the fundamental civil and political rights of Arab citizens of Israel, that they should have full
equality. It’s a myth that they do have full equality; they clearly don’t. And three, respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. That’s UN resolution 194. That of course opens up a whole can of worms about, return where? To their property, to their land? Should reparations be paid? Of course. But to return is to remake the nation, and that’s part of the invocation of all of this. The three points are all about respecting the rule of law, and that’s it.

AK: My last question for you is a little more personal. Have you received, or do you anticipate any backlash, from advocates of Israel on your campus or otherwise?

RK: Absolutely. I’m used to backlash. I’m a UCLA PhD, and I’m back at UCLA. When I was at UCLA in 1984, we organized a conference on imperialism, and we invited a PLO representative to come. And the Jewish Defense League showed up and they tried to intimidate us and shut it down, the administration got involved.

So in that sense it’s not new, it’s old, to me at least. I’ve gotten some backlash already, I’ve gotten backlash for just being on the board even when I wasn’t as active as I am now. That backlash is nothing compared to having to walk two or three hours to get to your school which is fifteen minutes away in a place where when you look at the future, it doesn’t look like you even have a nation. My backlash is nothing compared to that. And I’m a tenured faculty, I’m a senior person. There are people who have suffered much greater. There’s a whole list of people who have had lost their jobs and been forced out. That’s just part of the territory. And I think it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.

But I know one thing: there’s always strength in numbers, and what we want to do with the academic boycott is to force our colleagues to recognize, if you remain silent, you are complicit. So what are you going to do? You want to be complicit, and have all the perks of your job and have a lot of time to do your work, or do you want to take a stand for justice, and be not just a human, but someone who believes in humanity. It’s a simple question.

I should add one thing, though. I’m very, very fortunate being at UCLA again, because even though UCLA is notorious for attacks on people who are critical of Zionism, I’m also in a department with some wonderful scholars, many of whom are Jewish scholars, some who are actually pro-Zionist, others who are extremely anti-Zionist, but we can have our debates and have our struggles within our department and no one goes crazy over that. I feel protected at UCLA, ironically, in a way because I have colleagues like Gabriel Piterberg, who wrote The Returns of Zionism, which is a powerful book–that book is just astounding. I’ve got people like David Myers, who is the chair of the department, who has written a book called Between Jew and Arab, and even though he is less sympathetic to boycott efforts than others, but he’s someone who really lets our flowers bloom. So, I can’t complain. Some people have it much worse than I do, but in the end I’m very proud to be part of this movement, and very proud to have made the connections I’ve made with a group of Palestinian scholars and intellectuals who I think are just some of the greatest minds on the globe right now. These are people who I think the world of, and I would do anything to support the struggle.

Original Link:

The world wide BDS campaign designed to put economic pressure on the Zionist state of Israel continues to gain momentum. The following article was published on the JTA website, The Global News Service of the Jewish People, at, on October 6th 2011.

JTA) — More than 200 professors and students from Sweden have signed on to a call for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions.

The boycott petition was initiated by the Action Group for the Boycott of Israel at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

According to the petition, “Israeli academic institutions are deeply complicit in Israel’s occupation of Palestine. They cooperate closely with the security-military establishment. They offer advice to military intelligence and assist in developing weapon technologies for the Occupation forces. So far, none of the Israeli academic institutions have dissociated themselves from the occupation regime, or condemned the entrenched system of discrimination of Palestinians.”

The petition adds that the boycott is not aimed at individuals but against institutions. It calls on the Swedish academics to refuse to participate in collaborations with Israel universities; to refrain from attending academic activities at Israeli universities; to suspend all funding to Israeli universities; to promote divestment from Israel by academic institutions; and to foster initiatives that support Palestinian educational institutions.

The Royal Institute of Technology has an ongoing relationship with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, home to Israel’s latest Nobel Prize winner.

European Jewish Congress President Dr. Moshe Kantor slammed the boycott call.

“It is incongruous that in the week that an Israeli scientist was awarded the Nobel Prize by The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, a group of Swedish academics are calling for a boycott of Israeli educational institutions,” Kantor said.

“This merely demonstrates that those who are involved with calling for boycotts against Israel are uninterested in the free transmission of values, education and progress.”

The Endless Parroting of the Zionist Narrative

When Russian defectors left the former Soviet Union and told stories to western media of oppression and injustice going on  under the Communist regime in the Soviet Union, our media outlets joyfully lapped up every word. Regardless of whether what they were being told was accurate or not,our media parroted every single allegation that was made as if it were undeniable fact. So  is  the case when any dissenter from the countries we are allowed to vilify comes out. That’s what happens when our media is given information that it wants to hear. In the case of Israeli dissidents like Illan Pappe, Miko Peled, Uri Avnery, Amira Hass and Tanya Reinhardt their voices are utterly ignored. Only the official Zionist narrative has any real chance of getting reasonable amounts of space in our media. The voices of Greg Sheridan, Andrew Bolt and Christopher Pyne will always be available to sprout the official Israeli line as indisputable fact. It is indisputable because our media will not allow it to be disputed.

For every ten stories that unquestioningly detail the Zionist line, perhaps one contrary letter to the editor will be published. And so the coverage of the BDS here in Australia by our media is following the script to the letter. In The Advertiser, 6/7/11 Andrew bolt stuns us with his insightful analysis of the a particular BDS protest as “people picketing shops because their owners were Jews”. Bolt plays the race card in defense of a regime which both Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela regards as apartheid. No doubt Bolt, just like the Israeli regime at the time, had no problem being buddies with the South African apartheid regime. The likes of Sheridan and Bolt want us to swallow the line that criticism of Israel is just anti-Semitism in disguise. They don’t seem to realize that such a lame and tired excuse will not hold for ever. I’m sure Bolt would not tolerate such an excuse for the indigenous inhabitants of Australia. Allowing Aboriginals to play the race card and portray themselves as eternal victims is inexcusable, but to make such demands on Israel is pure anti-Semitism. His double standards are clearly on display for anyone who uses their brain.

Racism in the media towards Arabs is far more acceptable. At Sydney’s festival of Dangerous Ideas, Peter Hartcher, a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald, spoke about the aberration that occurred in the Arab world with respect to its unique position of 40 years without democracy while democratic nations bobbed up everywhere else in the world:

“It seemed such an aberration that people started to come up with explanations for why it wasn’t an aberration  but was in fact the normal condition and came up with what is an outrageous theory that Arabs are somehow genetically or ethnically disposed to enjoy autocracy and loving those who oppress them.” June 2011

These “explanations” of Arab inferiority have been given air by Zionist Israel and our media for years.

The true motivation for the BDS campaign is entirely based in the same struggle for human rights that motivated the campaign against apartheid South Africa. Just as the campaign for justice in South Africa was neither trying to achieve, nor did it achieve, the destruction of South Africa neither is the BDS campaign against Israel seeking its destruction in any sense or manner. Nor was it based in racist attitudes towards people of Dutch origin. Israel can exist without its version of apartheid. It can exist as a truly democratic state with true equality for all its citizens, Jew and gentile. It does not have to be a “Jewish State”. Biblically speaking, Israel was never a land that somehow belonged to Jewish people. Non-Jews were to be treated and loved as though they were Jews. Such a model for a one state solution would get my vote.

When we hear our media outlets crying injustice and racism as part of their criticism of the BDS campaign against Israel, we need to remember that it really was these same voices that cried foul when a grass roots movement started the BDS campaign to end apartheid in South Africa. The end of apartheid in Israel will be the beginning of the true fight against anti-Semitism not only in the Middle East but the rest of the world.

Craig Nielsen


The Lord hears the cry of the Palestinian people.

As a Bible believing Christian I find the anti-BDS sentiment of so called journalists like Greg Sheridan and Andrew Bolt to be based in nothing but European supremacist, pro-colonialist bigotry. The media representation of what the BDS campaign is all about is reprehensible to anyone who knows anything at all about the movement.

The BDS program against the Zionist state was called for by 170 civil Palestinian organisations in 2005 as a non-violent means to pursue the cause for self determination and justice for the Palestinian people by putting economic pressure on the state of Israel to align itself with international law regarding its behaviour and policies towards the Palestinian people. The goal of the BDS movement is not necessarily aligned with either a one or two state solution. At all levels, the BDS movement recognises the right of the state of Israel to exist with secure and safe borders. A right acknowledged by Yasser Arafat in 1993 but never reciprocated by the Israeli government to this day.

The western media has no complaint with sanctions against those nations that don’t “play ball” with us, regardless of the fact that, in Iraq for example, thousands of children suffer and die as a result. But when it comes to countries that are aligned with us, even the slightest hint of sanctions against them is met with almost hysterical cries of racist and terrorist motivations, regardless of the fact that, as in the case of Israel, the nation is guilty of more violations of International law than all the Arab/Muslim nations put together. We can bomb Iraq to the ground (killing hundreds of thousands) on the faulty premise that it had weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda when in fact it did not and our leaders had access to (or could have easily gained access to) information to the contrary. We can do these things without the slightest pang of conscience or pain of remembrance because our media and our leaders do not allow them to be part of our remembrance. They are not worthy victims; they are not worthy of our grief or sorrow let alone remorse. they are not us, they are them.

To the opponents of the BDS movement, the only true course for the Palestinian people is to either self dispossess from their homeland or be complicit with the illegal military occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza. The refugees that live outside of Israel-Palestine should just “get over it”. Those who oppose the BDS movement deny the Palestinian people any means to fight for their rights to self determination at all. They must in effect become Zionists or suffer the consequences. The anti-BDS proponents demonise all Palestinian resistance. They condemn Palestinians as terrorists if they resist with violence or condemn them as anti-Semites if they resist non violently as is the case with the BDS campaign. They demand that the game be played in such a way that “heads Israel wins, tails the Palestinians lose”.

John Pilger puts a far more correct spin on the BDS campaign when he says in support of the BDS movement:

“Sometimes, looked at from the outside, Australia is a strange place. In other ‘western democracies’ the ‘debate’ about the enduring injustice dealt the Palestinians and Israel’s lawlessness has moved forward to the point where the cynical campaign of anti-Semitism smears is no longer effective — in the UK, much of Europe and even the United States.
If Israel’s bloody assault on Lebanon was not the turning point, the criminal attack on the imprisoned population of Gaza certainly was. The same is true of the BDS movement. This eminently reasonable, decent and necessary campaign enjoys a respectability across the world, not least in South Africa, where it’s backed by the likes of Desmond Tutu and especially those Jews who fought the apartheid regime. The University of Johannesburg, the country’s biggest, has just broken all ties with Israel. Justice for Palestine, said, Mandela, is ‘the greatest moral issue of our time’. That’s the company those Marrickville councillors who have stood up for this ‘greatest moral issue’, keep. And those who have wavered and walked away should think again – remembering other waverers who, long ago, walked away from speaking out against what was being done to Jews. The scale is very different; the principle is the same. Do not be intimidated by Murdoch vendettas or by anyone else. All power to you.”

John Pilger

The words of the Torah cry out to all Christians, Muslims and Jews.

“Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.”( Exodus 22:21-24)

The God of the Old Testament cries out in dozens of verses in the Torah for Jews to reach out beyond the bounds of hatred, racism and bigotry; to take hold of the hands of the oppressed and the alien just as God reached out to them when they were helpless in Egypt, suffering under the oppression of Pharaoh.

The BDS movement will be heard in heaven, of that we can be assured. God’s promise to hear the cry of the oppressed in Israel should send shudders up the spine of those who arrogantly deny the right of the Palestinian people to be heard. The words of Jesus ring in our ears as well:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Jesus care and concern for the marginalised and demonized in His time reflect the love of God for all humanity. His special concern for those at the “bottom” is a perfect reflection of God the Father’s heart towards Jew and non-Jew.

The gospel of Christian Zionism is not a gospel of Good News to Palestinians be they Christian, Muslim or secular. It is not really a gospel of Good News to anyone whose heart rejoices at the news of God’s reconciliation of all humanity to Himself.

The BDS movement affirms the right of Jewish people to live anywhere in the world (not just in Israel) in peace and equality with all peoples, free from racial and religious bigotry. The BDS movement wishes for exactly the same right for Palestinians. As such, the morality of the movement matches the morality of the God of both Testaments of the Bible. Anti-BDS supporters reject the concept of equality for Jew and non-Jew in Israel and the occupied territories. As such, they align themselves with the powers already defeated on the cross of Jesus some 2,000 years ago. Justice and equality for all in the Holy land is the ultimate goal of the Lord God and the BDS movement. That is why I endorse and am involved in it.

The New Testament affirms to Christians that both Jesus and Moses concur about justice and equality in all the world. Religious nationalism, self righteousness and hatred will be swept away, once and for all. this is the true hope that lies at the heart of all truly Biblically based doctrines of Eschatology.

Craig Nielsen

Only the crimes of Arabs and Muslims count in the Middle East.

When talking to Orthodox Jewish people who reject Zionism, I am always struck by the way they stress the importance of Jews taking responsibility for their own actions regardless of whether or not others are doing the same thing and “getting away with it”. Because of the particular God given mandate that they believe they have as a chosen people, they always look to their own behaviour first (and with extreme vigor I might add) with regards to the cause of any difficulty they might be facing with others in the world. For these Jews, their status as a chosen people of God only enhances their responsibility to humanity and God, rather than that status giving them privileges to do what ever they like since others in the world are “far worse than us”. Whatever privileges they have as God’s people, particularly with reference to the land of Canaan, come only when they are fully prepared to take on the “yoke” of the responsibilities that God has given them. Rabbi Moshe Sober, a former Zionist, talks of the attitude held (incorrectly) by many religious supporters of Israel:

“The notion that we can do whatever we please, to any kind of temptation, or engage in any form of foolish self-aggrandizement without fear of penalty because we have an inside track to the Almighty is the plain opposite of religious faith. It is in fact an affront to the Divine, whose authority to determine the course of history we are usurping. The traditional penalty for this sin is to be sent to face a hostile world with no lucky breaks, no Divine assistance whatsoever, until we learn that only those who are performing God’s will can count on His assistance. Such blind faith is not really a faith in God at all, but rather faith in ourselves. It makes a tool out of the Almighty. It turns Him into a kind of “secret weapon” whose purpose is to guarantee our success at whatever we fancy. It is an idolatrous concept that masks what is actually an irrational belief in our own invincibility” (Sober, 1990, p. 30, 31).

The attitude of the anti-Zionist Jews could not be in greater contrast to the mentality of most Zionists, be they Christian or otherwise, with regards to the behaviour of the Zionist State of Israel. At a recent BDS protest in Adelaide, South Australia, a banner stating, “STOP AUSTRALIA’S SUPPORT OF ISRAELI WAR CRIMES”, drew a near hysterical response from a Christian Zionist passing by. “What about the crimes of the Arab countries! Why don’t you protest against them!” Although I informed the man that we had all been involved in a number of protests in the past few weeks condemning the atrocities of the various dictatorships (virtually all of which have been backed by Israel’s greatest ally, the U.S.) in the Arab part of the world, his anger could not be cooled. It has been my consistent experience that even when we are able to show Christian Zionists that Israel has been involved in war crimes and human rights violations, they cast all these accusations aside by merely stating that all the Arab states are terrorist states that want to destroy Israel.

An enormous amount of facts are left out in the Christian Zionist explanation of why the Arab nations take issue with Israel and what the real attitude of the Arab dictatorships are toward the Zionist state. I will list a few that need mentioning here.

1. The undisputed fact that Arabs and Jews have peacefully co-existed in the Holy land for centuries prior to the Zionist colonization of Palestine.
2. Prior to the Zionist period in Jewish history, Muslims did not read in their copies of the Koran that they must “kill Jews”.
3. Anti-Semitism was never are part of popular or elite culture in the Arab world as it has been in Europe (the “home” of both anti-Semitism and Zionism).
4. The Arab grievance against Israel can be summed up by the words of Khaled Meshaal, the chief of Hamas’s political bureau, who stated in an editorial in The Guardian in January 2006,
“Our message to the Israelis is this: We do not fight you because you belong to a certain faith or culture. Jews have lived in the Muslim world for 13 centuries in peace and harmony; they are in our religion “the people of the book” who have a covenant from God and his messenger, Muhammad (peace be upon him), to be respected and protected. Our conflict with you is not religious but political. We have no problem with Jews who have not attacked us — our problem is with those who came to our land, imposed themselves on us by force, destroyed our society and banished our people.”
Source: Retrieved December 29, 2009.
5. In 1993, Yasser Arafat wrote a letter to the Israeli Government stating that Israel has a right to exist with safe and secure borders. No reciprocal statement was made by the Israelis.
6. In 2002 the Arab Peace Initiative, first proposed by Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was proposed as a solution to Arab-Israeli conflict in general and the Israel-Palestine issue in particular. At the Beirut Summit on March 28th 2002, the initiative was published and was agreed upon again at the Riyadh Summit in 2007. The initiative gained the unanimous consent of all members of the Arab League including both the Hamas and Fatah factions of the Palestinian resistance. Unlike the other proposals in the peace process, the initiative spelled out final status borders based explicitly on the U.N. borders established before the 1967 Six Day War. It offered full normalization of relations with Israel, in exchange for the withdrawal of its forces from all the Occupied Territories, including the Golan Heights, to recognise an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as a just solution for the Palestinian refugees. The initiative called for no more than what the U.N. had mandated and predictably the Israelis rejected it outright.
7. Zionist thinkers had been stating, as far back as 1897. that Zionist intent was to rid the land of Palestine of Arabs.
8. In 1948, in order to create a Zionist state of Israel that had a majority of Jews, 800,000 Palestinian Arabs were either murdered or forcibly removed from their homes by Zionist terror gangs and militias. 300,000 Arabs were ethnically cleansed before even one non Palestinian Arab soldier entered Palestine.
9 Arab dictatorships in the Middle East are nearly all backed by the West and wish to have normalised relations with Israel because of the economic benefits that would bring to their countries. Israel has never wanted true democracy in the Middle East (neither has the U.S.) as any democratic state in the Arab world that truly represented the common person in the street would undoubtedly be far more anti-Israel than the U.S. controlled dictators that now exist. This is because most Arabs know what we choose to forget,i.e., that the west has exploited the Arab nations for decades.
10. Zionist settlers in the West Bank routinely call for the extermination of all Palestinian men, women and children.

The list could go on. The root cause of the Israel-Palestine conflict is not to be found in some imagined conflict between Islam and Judaism or some type of subliminal hatred of Jews by Arabs that has been fermenting for generations. The Palestinians have a genuine grievance against the Zionist State of Israel that has not only not been addressed, but has been exacerbated by Israel’s continued violation of International standards of Human rights. This continued violation has been aided and abetted by the U.S. If Israel finds itself surrounded by Arab enemies, it is largely due to the fact that it has created and continually provoked those enemies to a point where they have no trust of Zionist intentions in the Holy Land to say the least. Our complicity in the denial of the legitimacy of the historic grievance of the Palestinian people, done in the name of the War Against Terror or any other emotionally potent oversimplification, will only make peace and justice even harder to achieve.

If Israel chooses to hide behind the sins of Hamas, (claiming that all resistance to the state of Israel is just another manifestation of anti_Semitism), it will one day find itself alone and without justification before the international community. The crimes of Hamas or any other Arab or Islamic group do not acquit the Zionists of their crimes against a people of whom Albert Einstein referred to as “no greater friends of the Jews”. Zionism has created only more enemies for Jewish people by ignoring the ethical and religious traditions of the God who called them into existence. God have mercy upon them.

Sober, M. (1990). Beyond the Jewish State: Confessions of a Former
Zionist. Summerhill Press, Toronto.

Craig Nielsen

Israel-Palestine: A Christian Response to the Conflict

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March 2023