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Professor Naomi Chazan is the President of the New Israel Fund (NIF) and a former member of the Israeli Knesset (on behalf of the center-left Meretz party). She is a remarkable and courageous woman and has openly criticised the Israeli government concerning Palestinian rights. The day after Operation Cast Lead was initiated by the I.D.F., Professor Chazan signed a petition demanding the immediate end to the attack on Gaza. She has been the victim of vicious smear campaigns by the extreme right wing in  Israel. She has recently spoken in Australia about the BDS campaign and has disappointed many activists with here rejection of the BDS movement.

Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian woman and a spokesperson for Australians for Palestine. Her response to the criticisms of BDS made by Professor Chazan appeared on the Mondoweiss website on July 12th 2011.

A Palestinian woman’s response to Israel’s Naomi Chazan on BDS

by Samah Sabawi

Naomi Chazan, the President of the New Israel Fund (NIF) gave a talk in Marrickville, New South Wales, during her recent Australian tour offering a critique of the Palestinian Civil Society call for Boycotts Divestments and Sanctions  (BDS) against Israel.

Although she presented herself as a veteran Israeli peace activist, Chazan’s mission here in Australia was ostensibly to promote NIF.  This is important because everything she said about BDS must be understood within the context of her mission – to gather funds and support and to convince Jews in Australia of the need to continue to invest in Israel through NIF.  This clear conflict of interest makes Chazan’s criticism of BDS far less credible.

Chazan named six reasons why she believed BDS was harmful.

BDS is not effective because Israel has a very strong economy: South Africa’s economy was also booming when the boycott movement against that regime began in the late 1950s.  Decades later the movement succeeded in bringing down the South African apartheid regime.

Many Israeli leaders, including Ehud Barak, Ben-Eliezer, Shimon Peres and others, have already stated that BDS is a “strategic threat;” what they mean of course is that it is a serious threat to Israel’s system of occupation, legalized racial discrimination (conforming to the UN definition of apartheid) and denial of refugee rights. We only need to look at the millions of dollars the Israeli lobby groups in Western nations including Australia are spending in efforts to “sabotage” the movement to know that it is indeed effective.  The fact that Chazan focused so much on BDS in her Marrickville talk confirms this.

There is other evidence of BDS’s effectiveness.

The Deutsche Bahn withdrawal from the Israeli rail project connecting Tel Aviv with Jerusalem has been a watershed for the movement.  It was the first time that a German government-owned company withdrew from an Israeli project over concerns of violation of international law. The French company Veolia’s loss of billions of dollars worth of contracts because of its involvement in the illegal Jerusalem Light Rail project also points to the impressive success of BDS campaigning, especially in Europe.

The fast growing list of superstars and prominent music bands heeding the boycott of Israel makes Tel Aviv look very similar to the South African resort of Sun City under apartheid. That city was a key target for the cultural boycott then.

The University of Johannesburg’s severance of ties with Ben Gurion University over the latter’s complicity in violating Palestinian rights is the most concrete victory to date for the academic boycott campaign. And, there has been sweeping trade union support for BDS in the UK, Brazil, Ireland, South Africa, Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Norway, Belgium, India, Turkey, and elsewhere.

BDS undermines the existence of the state of Israel: The demands are clear – full equality in Israel for the Palestinian citizens of the state, an end to occupation and a fulfilment of Israel’s obligation towards the refugees. If these demands threaten to bring an end to Israel’s “existence, we have to ask what does this really say about Israel?

A state that is truly democratic and built on the foundations of justice and equality would not be threatened by demands of equality and an end to occupation.  Boycotts did not bring an end to South Africa’s existence, they did not destroy it, and they certainly did not “delegitimize” whites:  they only destroyed South Africa’s system of injustice, inequality and racial discrimination.

BDS is actually “a code word for one state solution” which defies the right of Israelis and Jews to self-determination: BDS does not aim for either a one or two state solution, but for Palestinian rights.  One of those rights is for Palestinians to be free in their own land without the yoke of Israeli occupation and system of racial discrimination.  Whether that is in one  state for both peoples or two sovereign, democratic states side by side has yet to be decided. The movement is consistently neutral on this, regardless of the diverse personal political views held by its various spokespeople.

BDS is counter-productive because it entrenches the victim mentality of those in Israel who believe the whole world is against them which inevitably strengthens the right wing in Israel while weakening the left: Right now, the fanatical right is taking over the entire Israeli society, but once boycotts begin hurting Israel’s carefully nurtured public image, dissenting voices will become much more vocal, as happened in South Africa. Then, the current consensus in support of apartheid and colonial rule will crack.

BDS is against academic freedom and singles out Israeli academics: Chazan is purposely misleading in this regard. As any relatively well-informed observer must know after seven years of the Palestinian academic boycott campaign and hundreds of articles written on it, the academic boycott is institutional in nature and has therefore never targeted individual Israeli academics.  BDS has consistently been directed at academic institutions because of their persistent and grave complicity in planning, implementing and justifying Israel’s violations of international law.

Chazan’s claims that Israeli academics are progressive and opposed to the occupation have absolutely no foundation.   In 2008, a petition drafted by four Jewish-Israeli academics calling on the Israeli army to allow access at checkpoints to Palestinian academics and students to reach their educational institutions was distributed to all 9,000 Israeli academics in the hope that most would sign this minimal expression of respect for academic freedom: only 407 out of 9,000 academic actually did so.

BDS singles Israel out:  This criticism is so often tendered that one has to ask whether Chazan and others posing it want more action on other causes or silence on the Palestinian cause.  In any case, people are rising up against tyrannical regimes and seeking change in just about every Arab state in “Israel’s neighbourhood.” Some of these governments are now being subject to international sanctions, so why not Israel which has for decades defied the UN and violated international law?

An equally important question to ask here is why not advocate for Palestinian rights? Indeed, why are Palestinians being singled out as the only people who cannot be championed? We can speak out for all other issues, so it is tendentious to suggest that speaking up for Palestinian rights singles Israel out unfairly.

The principled Israeli left camp which respects equal rights for all, the UN-sanctioned rights of Palestinian refugees, and an end to colonial oppression should – and indeed does — invest its time challenging its government’s apartheid policies and oppression of the Palestinians rather than criticising the Palestinian non-violent resistance model that encompasses BDS.

Chazan’s efforts to undermine BDS need to be seen in context.  At the end of the day, Chazan will go home to Israel where she is a privileged Jewish citizen with all her rights intact.  She is part of and an enabler of the establishment that denies Palestinians their basic rights and freedoms, and as such, she is not in a position to be dictating to the Palestinians their methods of struggle or acting as gatekeeper for the international solidarity movements, preaching to them what is allowed and what is not in standing with the Palestinians.  As in every human struggle for freedom, justice and equality, that right is the prerogative of those who live behind the walls, hindered by checkpoints and held captive to siege and military oppression.
Samah Sabawi is the Public Advocate of the Australian advocacy group

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The Samaritans

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most well known parables of Jesus in the New Testament scriptures. The parable has for many years been used as a means to challenge the self righteous to understand the nature of the command, “love thy neighbour”. The searing challenge to our easy definitions of loving ones fellow human beings that comes from this parable is derived from the answer that Jesus gives to the question, “who is my neighbour?”.

The explanation of this parable takes place between the fervent “expert in the law” and Jesus, when he first asks Jesus how he may obtain eternal life. Jesus responds by asking the “expert” what the Law has to say about such matters. After answering correctly, Jesus further responds to the “expert” by telling him that if he does these things he will live. The scriptures reveal that the man, wanting to justify himself, then asked Jesus the question that we all would rather Jesus did not answer in the way he did. Rather than telling the man who his neighbour is, enabling the man to then seek out such people, bestowing a selfless gift of devotion to them so as to obtain eternal life, Jesus challenged the man to understand rather what it was to be somebody else’s neighbour, in a manner that ran counter to the prevailing prejudices of those days.

The title of the parable reveals the prejudice that lies behind the reality of this famous story told by Jesus in response to the questions of “an expert in the law”. The parable would be better described as, The Parable of the Samaritan. The inclusion of the term “good” reflects the innate prejudice that has been carried down the ages towards the people that have dwelled in the region of Samaria.

It has long been understood that the sting in the tail of Jesus’ parable is that the man described in the story that behaved as a neighbour to the man who had been robbed and beaten, was a Samaritan. Samaritans were despised by “pure blood” Jews and the feelings were mutual. Jesus deliberately chose a man in the story, to stand as an example of a real neighbour, from those people whom the Jewish audience would never have naturally considered to be “good”. The Samaritans lived in the northern, mountainous regions of what is known today as the West Bank. That region had previously been over-run by the Assyrians as they conquered the rebellious Northern Kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians had intermarried with the Israelites and the resulting “pollution of the descendants of Abraham” meant that the Samarians were looked down upon by self righteous Jews. The tale has further bite due to the fact that we are told that both a priest and a Levite (highly respected figures in the Jewish culture of the day) happened upon the man who had been robbed and left for dead but cared nothing for his plight. The Samaritan, however, takes pity on the man and deals with him as a true neighbour.

The deep offence that this parable would have had for the “expert in the law” could hardly be understated. The term “expert in the law” is used to signify all those who consider themselves to be justified in their hatred for certain types of people and hence justified in their non-neighbourly actions towards them. To portray one of those for whom the self righteous keep their most fervent prejudice, as being the real neighbour to the man, and pleasing to the Lord in the process, is the ultimate counter culture parable. God brings low the self righteous by lifting up those very ones for whom the self righteous justifiably point the finger of scorn. The prejudices of the self righteous (however well founded the “experts in the law” may think they are in having them) become a millstone around their necks. Jesus exposes their prejudices and treats them with incomparable disdain.

The intensity of the irony to this story has not waned over the centuries. Never more intense is that paradox in the very region of Samaria today. Samaria is inhabited today by what could only be called the most demonised people in the world. The daily violation of their rights to self determination in their place of birth, a right considered obligatory for everyone else in the world, goes on without a blink of an eye by the self righteous purveyors of power in the free world. So intense is the prejudice against them that any who openly deny them the right to determine their own future in the land they have inhabited for centuries, can do so with complete confidence that they are behaving in the Godliest fashion possible. To even contemplate doing otherwise would be proof positive to the peers of the righteous that the devil had deluded them into rebellion against God’s plan of salvation. Any hint of sympathy, let alone solidarity, for the Palestinian’s plight is deemed Satanic. Like a litmus test of ones devotion to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; if concern for Palestinian rights is detected, warning signals go up and a legion of pointed fingers and hysterical voices are raised as one to immediately denounce the evil doer amongst us!

Godly wisdom tells us that all Palestinians and their supporters are either terrorists or complicit with terrorism, just as all those who opposed Apartheid in South Africa were communists, long haired anti-establishment hippies and general undesirables. Solidarity with such evil doers is equivalent to being a terrorist sympathiser. To hint at even just a freeze on illegal settlement projects in the West Bank is ultimate proof that your heart is sided with the devil. Nothing could be more reasonable and plain. All suffering of the Palestinian people is brought on by themselves. They are the consummate case of a people who are their own worst enemies. They foolishly elect leaders who are the cheer leaders for genocide and hatred of God’s people, just as the Devil has always done throughout history. Palestinians are the enemies of God by their own choice despite Israel’s continued attempts at trying to make peace with them; the Jewish people bending over backwards, making concession after concession to them while the Jihadists spit in the face of reason and justice in their lust for Jewish blood! Such a people can never be given their rights til they prove themselves worthy by submitting to the will of God via His chosen people, the Zionists. Palestinians must relinquish their demonically inspired desire to have rights to self determination in the land that God has given to the Zionists as an unconditional possession in an eternal covenant. Injustice to Palestinians with regards to land rights in Eretz Yisrael is as contradictory a notion as one plus one equals three. All resistance to Zionism is illegitimate and equivalent to rebellion against God Himself. The United Nations vindication of Palestinian grievances is in opposition to God and has only been thwarted by the Christian nation of the U.S. There is no oppression of Palestinians by the State of Israel; only a democratic nation acting in fairness, compassion and justice towards a savage and uncivilised people that have hatred of Jews inbred in them.

The Zionist narrative of a heroic people, the survivors of the Holocaust, bravely creating a home for themselves in the land of their fore-fathers against the pitiless anti-Semitism of the Arab world is accepted as Gospel truth. The Palestinian story of their ethnic cleansing and dispossession, at the hands of the Zionists, from the land the Palestinians and their ancestors have lived in for many hundreds of years, despite the fact that Arabs played no part in the crimes of the Nazis, is silenced completely and any attempt to revive it is looked upon with suspicion of anti-Semitic motives. The easily verifiable truth that anti-Semitism was never a part of elite or popular Arab culture, as it was in Europe, has been kept hidden from the gaze of the general public. The good relationship that Jews and Palestinian Arabs enjoyed before the Zionist invasion, as well as the overwhelming religious Jewish resistance to Zionism, is likewise kept well hidden. The destruction of 25,000 Palestinian homes in Gaza and the West Bank is fully deserved and morally respectable in the eyes of the leaders of the world’s democracies. Only Palestinians commit acts of terror against the democratic nation of Israel (in no way provoked by the actions of the Israelis but clear evidence of the Palestinians innate lack of worth as a people and displaying to the world that the withholding of Palestinian so-called rights is entirely justified). The Zionist State only wishes to live in peace and defend its borders. Surrounded by hostile Arabs who have no other wish but to push the Jews into the sea, Israel has no choice but defend itself from terrorism.

The unholy alliance of Islam and the secular left is submitted as even further proof (as if any more were necessary) of the demonic origins of Palestinian Solidarity movements, ignoring the alliance of the religious Christian Right with a secular Zionism which as been at war with Orthodox Judaism for one hundred years. Palestinian Christians must understand that God loves Palestinians despite being silent (if not applauding) as Israeli bulldozers demolish their houses. This is the Gospel of God’s love to Palestinians. It is a Gospel that assuages the guilt of European anti-Semitism by placing it at the feet of a people not involved in the horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

The profound challenge of this parable to treat one another with compassion finds its roots right at the very heart of the story of the Jewish people. The message of the Exodus was that Jews should be merciful to non-Jews in the land just as God had been merciful to the Jews while they where in slavery in Egypt. They were to resist the temptation to demonise those different from them even as the Egyptians had previously demonised the Hebrews during the time of their bondage in that land.

The interpretation of this parable by the great theologian, Karl Barth, gives even greater insight. Barth sees that the parable was meant to show the “expert in the law” that it was he that lay naked in the road; battered and helpless and that Jesus was the Samaritan that behaved as a brother to him. In effect the parable says that we can not be truly merciful unless we have first received mercy. How can the Zionists be merciful to their Palestinian brothers and sisters when in their eyes all the world hates the Jewish people with merciless hatred? The answer is that they must first abandon their view that the world is or has always been merciless to the Jewish people. Only then will they give up their “destructive entitlement” in the land promised by God, by mercy and grace, to the descendants of Abraham.

Who could be more demonised than these Palestinian Arabs? Perhaps only their current oppressors, some 65 years ago when the Jewish people were demonised by a nation from civilised, Christian Europe many hundreds of miles from Palestine. How would Jesus tell this parable (The Parable of the Good Palestinian Arab) to a Jewish audience in the Knesset today? Who would be more offended by it than the Zionists and their Christian sycophants? When Jesus came to the land of Palestine the first time, he ate with sinners, tax collectors and harlots. He spoke with gentile women, Samaritans and all those who incurred the wrath of the Godly. He nullified the prejudices against them with this great parable and validated their rights to fairness and justice; determined on the same basis as such things are determined for those who pour scorn on the very ones whom Jesus stood up for and scripture calls us to do, as Jesus did then, in our time in the land of Palestine.

Craig Nielsen

ACTION FOR PALESTINE

Israel-Palestine: A Christian Response to the Conflict

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