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ISRAEL is becoming increasingly isolated as worldwide criticism mounts over its illegal occupation, its siege of Gaza and its apartheid crimes. The rising support for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) and widespread condemnation of Donald Trump’s endorsement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has seen the Israeli state also step up its external lobbying and media campaigning.
This is evident in the propaganda offensive against the Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi, who was labelled a “terrorist” for slapping a soldier. Ahed and her mother — imprisoned for filming the incident — have had their trial, before a closed military court, continuously delayed.
Those criticising Ahed have to explain the awkward fact that an Israeli soldier had just shot her 15-year-old cousin, Muhammad Tamimi, removing part of his skull. While awaiting surgery, Muhammad was again arrested in a night raid and forced to “confess” he had sustained his injury from falling off a bike. Even after his doctors had shown medical proof of the shooting, the lobby has continued to malign the Tamimi family.
This is all part of a relentless hasbara seeking to intimidate anyone inclined to criticise Israel. US comedian Sarah Silverman has been denounced for urging fellow Jews to stand up for Ahed. Over here, the lobby has turned on Gary Lineker for daring to question Israel’s brutal treatment of children.
Netanyahu has approved a new $75 million “public relations commando unit” to counter BDS, with Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan leading a ”black-ops” campaign against BDS.
Among those targeted for supporting BDS are Roger Waters, with pressure on sponsors to close down his shows, and New Zealand singer Lorde, who has refused to play in Israel. Two young New Zealand women — one Jewish, one Palestinian — who sent a letter asking Lorde to support BDS are being sued by pro-Israel legal group Shurat HaDin.
Online Palestine activists are being censored as part of the corporate clampdown on “fake news.” Glenn Greenwald notes how Facebook executives approved Israel’s requests to delete huge numbers of pro-Palestine accounts.
Escalating fears over BDS and Israel’s deteriorating image has also placed the US lobby on heightened political alert. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, now before the US Congress, will make any support for a boycott of Israel a criminal offence in the United States.
The same US lobby has also launched a vociferous attack on Al Jazeera’s forthcoming exposé of US lobby activity.
Here, a previous undercover Al Jazeera investigation revealed connections between lobbyists and the Israeli embassy.
With disgraced former international development secretary Priti Patel’s recent “family holiday” in Israel and co-lobbyist Lord Stuart Polak now exposed, Conservative Friends of Israel are working overtime with Michael Gove’s shrill warning of Palestine activists’ “dark and furious energy.”
The enduringly Blairite Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) remains on-message too, with Emily Thornberry delivering a speech to LFI that could have been written by a pro-Israel lobbyist.
The lobby’s relentless smearing of Jeremy Corbyn for “harbouring anti-semitism” goes on, no matter how much he denounces such tendencies. Encouragingly, newly founded Jewish Voice for Labour now provides a strong counter while Jews for a Just Peace has declared its support for BDS.
However, all this pressure on Israel has spurred other zealous lobbying.
One group pursuing that kind of mission here in Scotland is the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland (Cofis). Ignoring multiple UN resolutions and international law, Cofis defends Israel’s illegal acts.
It approves of Israel’s apartheid wall, blames Israel’s mass killing in Gaza on Hamas and fails to condemn Israel’s shooting and incarceration of children. It applauds Trump and his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It denounces BDS and artists such as Waters and insists that Ahed be punished as a “terrorist.”
Besides evangelising for Israel and whitewashing its crimes, Cofis consistently attacks Palestine solidarity groups in Scotland, as does Glasgow Friends of Israel (GFI).
Much of the literature Cofis hands out to the public comes from the same visceral right-wing group in the US, Stand With Us.
Film director Ken Loach, writer Paul Laverty and actor Tam Dean Burn were among the signatories of the Artists’ Pledge for Palestine, organised by Artists for Palestine UK, which in 2017 opposed Cofis’s “misnamed Shalom Festival, which promotes, not peace, but the apartheid state of Israel and its occupation.”
Their letter stated that the festival, organised by Cofis founder Nigel Goodrich and GFI’s Sammy Stein, and endorsed by Stand With Us, was “part of the state of Israel’s attempts to counter BDS. It claims to support ‘peaceful coexistence’ in Israel/Palestine, while whitewashing Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.”
Cofis claims to be anti-racist, while denying the inhuman effects of the occupation, the calamity of Gaza and Israel’s colonial settlements. This mirrors the very same deception Israel has peddled for generations with its contrived “peace process,” using every opportunity to extend the settlements, imprison Gaza, and deepen its racist treatment of Palestinians.
Cofis has no support from Palestinian civil society. While it speaks of “shared interests” and “open dialogue,” drawing in unwary progressives, serious observers see this supposedly “pro-peace” line for what it is: a cynical charade serving to normalise Israel’s land thefts and prioritise its “security concerns.”
People of conscience, whatever their background or religious beliefs, should reject any organisation which seeks to defend Israel’s apartheid state. And they should be particularly alert to any group which seeks to conceal their real purpose through stealth insertion into parliamentary life, mainstream parties or civil movements.
There should be no place for Israel-protecting bodies like Cofis at any authentic anti-racism event or demonstration.
The left must defend its position with principled argument rather than capitulate for fear of being falsely labelled.
Campaigns which help hide Israel’s mass crimes have to be resisted with moral resolve and tactical intent. You cannot stand up to racism while lying down to Israeli apartheid.
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