Tag Archives: Israel

American Islamophobia, Inextricably Linked with Support for Israel

One of the themes that has arisen from my blogging lately on Israel/Palestine and anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States is the close connection American Zionism has with the existence of Islamophobia and anti-Arab attitudes here.

You can see it in the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s opposition to the Park51 Islamic community center in lower Manhattan; in how intertwined the opposition to the Park51 project is with big-wig Zionists’ funding; and in the alliance between far-right groups, who see the Israel/Palestine conflict as a key battle in the fight to end “Islamism,”and right-wing Zionists like Pamela Geller.

Continuing with that theme, Alia Malek, the author of A Country Called Amreeka: U.S. History Retold Through Arab-American Lives, has a new piece in the Nation magazine titled “Invisible Arab-Americans” that sums what I have been writing about up nicely:

The Arabs and Muslims who do exist in the American perception are overseas and foreign. We glimpse them as subjects of geopolitics and of American engagement in the Arab and Muslim worlds, which has often been adversarial and based on a reductionism that conflates many diverse countries, peoples and situations. This is not a dynamic that began with the “war on terror”; it has been in place since 1948, when the United States began to identify with the new state of Israel, which necessitated delegitimizing Palestinian national aspirations and any dissent from American-backed Israeli policies.

Washington Post Not Interested in Palestinian Account of Silwan Shooting

The "City of David" tourist center in Silwan, East Jerusalem. PHOTO: Ellen Davidson

Example number 156,783 of the U.S. corporate media doing a terrible job explaining the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the Washington Post’s Joel Greenberg on the deadly events yesterday in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.  Like most establishment media accounts of any event in Israel/Palestine, what Israelis say is taken as the truth, while Palestinian narratives of what happened are ignored or distorted.

In the wee hours of the morning yesterday, a private Israeli security guard who protects the illegal Jewish settlement that has been inserted into the heart of Silwan shot and killed two Palestinians.  The exact circumstances are, of course, disputed, but Greenberg only reports on the Israeli version of the killings:

A police spokesman said the guard told investigators he fired into the air after his vehicle was blocked with large garbage bins and stoned from surrounding rooftops…

The trouble began before dawn in the neighborhood of Silwan – under the walls of the Old City – where about 400 Jewish settlers live among 30,000 Palestinians.

Residents and police said a confrontation developed between local youths and the security guard, who was patrolling in a jeep. Such incidents are common in the neighborhood, where tensions have risen in recent months since the announcement of plans by city hall to demolish dozens of Palestinian homes to make way for a park.

Hanan Odeh, who lives nearby, said that before the incident there was stone-throwing and a loud argument between Israelis and local youths. Later, she said, she heard a burst of automatic gunfire and saw a fleeing man, limping on one leg, who collapsed on the stairs under her house. He was identified as Samer Sarhan, 32, a father of five…

Ariel Rosenberg, a spokesman for the Housing Ministry, said the guards operate under police guidelines and have no policing functions other than protecting the settlers. He said they often display restraint in the face of rock-throwing provocations by local youths. The guard who opened fire, he said, faced “a lynching, was under a clear mortal threat and fired in self-defense.”

So, according to the Post‘s account of the shooting, the private security guard–who, by the way, is protecting an illegal settlement, though the Post never mentions that–was under imminent threat and only fired in self-defense.

Let’s take a look at other accounts of what happened.

Joseph Dana, a writer who lives in Jerusalem, reports in the Electronic Intifada:

“At 3:30 or 4am I heard some noise outside of my window,” Silwan resident Abdallah Rajmi told me as we stood on a narrow street in the middle of a battle between young Palestinian stone throwers and Israeli occupation forces from the Border Police. “I thought it was a simple drunken fight but then I heard a lot of noise coming from the people involved and my neighbors began waking up…”

Rajmi recalled the events as tear gas and rocks were being thrown from both sides onto the alley where we were standing. “At this point I went to my roof to see what was happening and I saw three settler guards with ‘small weapons’ approach a group of young Palestinian men,” referring sarcastically to the guards’ large Uzi assault riles. “The guards began shooting the men and everyone in Silwan woke up…”

“I could not believe my eyes. I saw a man lying in his own blood and dying. The settler guards had just shot him in cold blood and watched him dying. He was there, on the ground, for one hour until an Israeli ambulance arrived on the scene, of course they would not allow any of us to get near him. The Israelis did, however, bring over forty settler guards and Border Police to the scene before the he was moved.”

The dead man was named as Samir Sarhan, aged about 30 according to news reports, and the father of five children.

Phil Weiss, in his blog Mondoweiss, relays what the director of the Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan told him:

I walked down the hill past the City of David settlement, a messianic Jewish colony on occupied land, with a big gold sign in English. I found my way to the Wadi Hilwah Information Center. A man with a limp– shot by a settler guard in both legs, I was later told–walked me back to Jawad Siyan, the director of the office. A thin, intense man of about 35, he vented his despair over Palestinian powerlessness as he fielded telephone calls and a teenager brought me coffee.

The 55,000 people of the village were “sad and shocked” tonight, Siyan said grimly. Villagers had continually complained to Israeli police that the settlers had taken the law into their own hands; but the complaints were ignored. Armed guards in the settlement– which has been spearheaded by a religious group called Elad– roamed the town freely, with the support of the Israeli border police. They threatened Palestinians with impunity.

The incident today began–Siyan said witnesses had told him– when Palestinians and settlers shouted abuse at one another, as they often do, and the guards had fired guns in the air. The Palestinians had run away. The guards had chased them, and shot at them. Two men were seriously injured. Israeli security forces had arrived within minutes, but Samar Sarchan, 35 years old, lay on the ground for an hour before an ambulance arrived. He later died of his injuries.

Those accounts by Dana and Weiss throw the Post‘s reporting into serious question.

Israeli Beauty Products Company Ahava Complicit in the Sins of Occupation

This article originally appeared in Alternet:

Walk into any Ricky’s store, a beauty shop chain in New York, and you will find a shelf filled with Ahava products. For $28, you can buy mineral toning cleanser; for $22, Dead Sea liquid salt; and for $9, purifying mud soap. The products made by Ahava (which means “love” in Hebrew) seem innocent enough, perfectly enticing for anyone fond of beauty products.

But looks can be deceiving. As activists from the peace group CodePink’s Stolen Beauty campaign are fond of chanting at protests, Ahava can’t hide its “dirty side.”

For nearly two years, an international campaign spearheaded by Palestine solidarity activists has targeted Ahava and the various stores that carry its products, including Ricky’s, calling for a boycott. The boycott campaign has heated up recently, eliciting push-back from Jewish organizations around the country and a response from the CEO of Ahava.

While Ahava labels its products “made in Israel,” they are actually manufactured in a settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in Palestine. According to the Stolen Beauty campaign, the company exploits Palestinian resources from the Dead Sea.

Under the Geneva Conventions, and various United Nations resolutions, all of Israel’s settlements–which house about 500,000 settlersare illegal, as is excavating natural resources in an occupied area. Israel has occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip since the 1967 Six-Day War. The settlements are widely seen as an obstacle to the creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state.

“[The boycott] is about a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians,” said Nancy Kricorian, CodePink’s coordinator for the Stolen Beauty campaign. “The situation on the ground there is dehumanizing and demoralizing and terrible.”

Ahava, which rakes in profits of nearly $150 million a year, according to a Dec. 2009 CNN report, is owned by entities deeply involved in Israel’s settlement project in the occupied West Bank. According to Who Profits? 37 percent of the company is owned by Mitzpe Shalem, an illegal settlement located in the eastern West Bank; another 37 percent by the private investment fund Hamashibr Holdings, which also is a major shareholder in two companies that export produce made in settlements; 18.5 perent by the U.S.-based Shamrock Holding, owned by the Roy E. Disney family of Walt Disney fame, and which is a shareholder in a company that manufactures electronic detection systems that are used on the West Bank separation barrier; and 7.5 percent by the West Bank settlement of Kalia.

In an interview, Kricorian acknowledged that Ahava is a huge target, and likened the Stolen Beauty campaign to a “game of whack-a-mole,” as new places where Ahava products are sold pop up frequently. But Kricorian says it isn’t just about hurting the company’s sales.

“A boycott campaign is strategic, and it’s a long-term thing,” she said. “It’s not just about hurting the company’s sales. It’s also about educating the public about, in this particular case, the company’s illegal practices and sullying the company’s name and reputation.”

The campaign to boycott Ahava, in both the United States and around the world, has racked up some important victories. In August 2009, activists successfully pressured Oxfam International to drop Sex and the City star Kristin Davis as a spokeswoman because she was also working with Ahava. In November 2009, the Dutch Foreign Ministry agreed to investigate Ahava’s manufacturing and labeling practices. Costco, a large U.S. retailer, was pressured into halting the sale of Ahava products at its stores in January 2010. The Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, has included Ahava products in its boycott of settlement products campaign, confiscating and destroying products made in West Bank settlements. Recently, four activists in London were acquitted on charges of trespassing after direct actions in 2009 in which they locked themselves onto oil-filled drums inside an Ahava shop.

AHAVA did not respond to inquiries for comment.

The Stolen Beauty campaign, which began in the aftermath of the brutal Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2008-’09, is part of the larger boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that grew out of a 2005 call by a vast swathe of Palestinian civil society groups for BDS against Israel. Modeled on the anti-apartheid movement that targeted South Africa, the Palestinian-led BDS movement demands that Israel withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories, implement equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel and recognize the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants who fled or were expelled from Palestine during the 1947-’49 Arab-Israeli war.

“The BDS campaign has become the most effective, morally consistent, nonviolent form of solidarity with the colonized Palestinians against Israel’s apartheid and colonial rule,” Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, wrote in an e-mail. “The Stolen Beauty Campaign against Ahava, led by our partner CodePink, is a truly inspiring BDS campaign, as it is creative, focused, well-researched and very effective in conveying the message across to and, more crucially, in mobilizing BDS action in a wider, more mainstream audience.”

The Israeli government has taken notice of the growing BDS movement. The Israeli Knesset recently passed a preliminary reading of anti-boycott legislation that would impose fines on Israeli activists promoting boycotts of Israel. A February 2010 report by the Reut Institute, an Israeli think-tank with close ties to Israel’s government, identified the BDS movement as an threat to the state.

In the United States, the BDS movement, and the campaign against Ahava, has also generated controversy. After a Washington, D.C.-based group protested in July 2010 against Ahava products being sold in Ulta, a beauty store, the Jewish Community Relations Committee of Greater Washington urged supporters to buy Ahava products.

Brooklyn’s Ricky’s shop has also become the epicenter of a dispute over the Boycott Ahava movement. After a July 9 protest outside the store led by CodePink’s Stolen Beauty and Brooklyn for Peace, which signed onto the campaign in May, a group of rabbis in Brooklyn drafted a letter in response, urging people to buy Ahava products and denouncing the campaign. The rabbis’ letter claimed that “CodePink ignores the history and legal status of Mizpeh Shalom” because it is located in “‘Area C’, a huge section of the West Bank over which Israel, again by joint agreement, was granted full control, except over Palestinian civilians.” (The Area C designation comes out of the 1993-era Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Area C incorporates all West Bank settlements.)

“Local Jewish leaders find the idea of a boycott of Israel to be a misguided and one-sided approach to a complex and deeply troubling conflict,” said Rabbi Andy Bachman, a signatory to the letter and a member of the liberal group J Street’s Rabbinic Cabinet. “The problem with a boycott is there’s one side that’s all right and another side that’s all wrong. If that’s what the boycotters think, then there really is nothing to discuss. But if not, then why not boycott Palestinian business for years of rejecting peace accords?”

So far, Ricky’s has not budged, and continues to sell Ahava products. Dominick Costello, the president of the store, refused to comment.

The relentless targeting of Ahava hasn’t gone unnoticed by the company. A letter that has recently been circulated by Ahava to its business partners states that “our company and products have been the subject of unfortunate, ugly and clearly politically motivated smear attacks” that are being pushed by a “couple of small radical fringe organizations, which are part of a larger and more insidious campaign aimed against the State of Israel.”

The surge in attention to the boycott campaign is a sign that “we’ve gotten attention to issue of settlements like we never got before,” said Naomi Allen, an activist who sits on Brooklyn for Peace’s board and is involved in the group’s Israel/Palestine committee. Beginning this month, Brooklyn for Peace plans to hold protests outside the Ricky’s shop in Brooklyn on the last Tuesday of every month.

“This is not an argument that we’re going to lose, because [what’s] right and international law are on our side,” Allen said. “The issue of Ahava is a clear-cut issue. There’s no excusing the fact that this is occupied territory which is being stolen from the rightful owners and exploited for profit that isn’t being shared with the rightful owners.”

Jewish Groups Denounce ‘Museum of Tolerance’ Builder Simon Wiesenthal Center for Support of Islamophobia

On Friday, September 16, a coalition of groups protested outside the New York “Museum of Tolerance,” denouncing the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s support of Islamophobia.  This report originally appeared in the Indypendent:

PHOTO: Ellen Davidson

A coalition of four Jewish groups, backed by a wide array of peace and justice organizations, held a demonstration Sept. 16 outside the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in New York, denouncing the organization’s opposition to the Islamic community center in lower Manhattan.

Organized by Jews Say No!, American Jews for a Just Peace, Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, about 100 demonstrators walked in front of the museum on East 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan, chanting “Islamophobia isn’t pretty, it has no place in New York City” and “Islamophobia is a shame, New Yorkers say not in our name.”

“If you’re going to put tolerance in your name, you got to put it in your game, and the Museum of Tolerance has not done that,” Jon Moscow, an activist with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, told members of the press.  “Statements that its leaders have been making have been feeding this frenzy of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism.”

As the Cordoba House controversy, manufactured and fueled by far-right blogs and the right-wing press, heated up, Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, appeared on Fox News in early August and criticized the proposed Muslim community center.

“Having a 15-story mosque within 1600 feet of the site is at the very least insensitive,” Hier said.

The Park 51 Muslim community center, of which the Cordoba House interfaith center will be a part, has sparked an acrimonious national debate over Islam and religious freedom, setting the stage for an upsurge in anti-Muslim sentiment across the United States.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center describes itself as an “international Jewish human rights organization” that promotes “human rights and dignity.”

The Wiesenthal Center’s executive director, Rabbi Meyer May, told Crain’s New York that “religious freedom does not mean being insensitive … or an idiot.”

“The museum says its aim is ‘to challenge people of all backgrounds to confront their most closely held assumptions and assume responsibility for change.’ That’s a beautiful vision. But it’s one that is wholly inconsistent with the actions of the museum’s leadership,” said Hannah Schwarzschild of American Jews for a Just Peace.

Center for Constitutional Right's Richard Levy: Simon Wiesenthal Center has given us 'a new definition of chutzpah.' Photo: ELLEN DAVIDSON

Demonstrators also harshly criticized the center’s decision to build a Jerusalem branch of the Museum of Tolerance on top of a centuries-old Muslim cemetery, known as the Mamilla cemetery.  They said that the center’s project, which has resulted in the “disinterment of hundreds of graves,” according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, is another example of the center disregarding the rights of Muslims.

“I’m just going to take a minute to tell you a new definition of a Yiddish word called ‘chutzpah.’ … It refers to brazen nerve,” said Richard Levy, a lawyer working with the Center for Constitutional Rights on a petition filed with several international bodies to halt the construction of the museum in Jerusalem. “This cemetery, which stands in West Jerusalem for a thousand years, is now subject to the bulldozer of this organization. So that’s the meaning of the word chutzpah: to say you stand for tolerance, and perform that kind of an act, is the most despicable kind of hypocrisy.”

Also speaking at the demonstration was Debbie Almontaser, herself the victim of a anti-Muslim, anti-Arab smear campaign reminiscent of the controversy over the Park 51 project that ultimately forced her to resign as the founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a dual-language Arabic public school in Brooklyn.

“Why are the museum and Simon Wiesenthal leaders not taking a principled stand against the hatred of Islam and Muslims?” Almontaser asked.  “I say to them: Be just. Speak to your mission.”

Isabel Kershner’s notion of balance

This is how Isabel Kershner of the New York Times reported on Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi’s testimony to an Israeli panel investigating the deadly May 31 raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla:

Israel’s top military chief said Wednesday that activists on a Turkish ship were the first to open fire…

General Ashkenazi said that mistakes had been made…

What was lacking, according to the army chief, was preparation for the use of “precise fire,” by which he appeared to mean snipers…

The army chief staunchly defended the actions of his soldiers…

According to the general…

General Ashkenazi said it was “clear and established” that flotilla participants opened fire first…

And so on.  The only skeptical sentence is this: “Activists who were on board have given very different accounts, saying the soldiers opened fire as soon as they came on board, or even before.”

The Times hasn’t covered, at all, the activists’ side of the story.  Activists on board the flotilla say Israel fired weapons at them first even before they boarded the flotilla.

The daily Nakba for Palestinians

Beneath the official rhetoric that defines the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–the “peace process,” “negotiations,” “conditions” and “settlement freezes”–lies the unspoken reality that every day for Palestinians is a catastrophe.  For Palestinians, the daily grind of occupation, settlement building, home demolitions and displacement mean that the Nakba of 1948 never really ceased.  There isn’t one week that goes by without the State of Israel taking steps that continue to destroy not only any Palestinian hope for an independent state but their basic human rights.

If you only read the Western corporate press on Israel/Palestine, you would never know that Israel breaks international law every single day in the occupied territories by entrenching an illegal settlement system, by razing Palestinian homes and by violently suppressing civil disobedience actions against the “separation barrier.”

The Palestinian Ma’an news agency reports today on two such examples that illustrate the reality on the ground for Palestinians that is often not talked about:

Official: 3 more homes destroyed in Negev

Israeli authorities demolished three houses in the western Negev on Monday, local officials said.

The houses in Abda village belonged to the At-Tantawi family, the Abda regional council said.

Ibrahim Al-Waqeely, head of the council, condemned the timing of the demolitions during a heatwave and a few days before the holy month of Ramadan, as families prepare to fast.

Villagers will remain on their land, Al-Waqeely said, despite “continuous provocations” by Israeli forces.

An Israeli police spokesman said he was not familiar with such an incident.

A Bedouin village which Israel considered unrecognized was destroyed in late July.

These most recent home demolitions in the Negev follow the July 28 destruction of another Bedouin village in the Negev, all in the name of “Judaizing” the Negev.

And then there’s another story from Ma’an:

Jordan Valley demolitions continue

TUBAS (Ma’an) — Israel’s Civil Administration began razing housing units Monday in the Ein Hilwa area of the northern Jordan Valley, campaign officials said.

Save the Jordan Valley campaign coordinator Fathi Ikhdeirat said Israeli authorities, accompanied by border guards, began tearing down structures and handing down stop-work orders to residents.

He described the move as an attempt “to clear the area of its indigenous people and include it into Israel and called on international human rights groups to intervene to bring the demolitions to a halt.

A spokesman for Israel’s Civil Administration did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The Jordan Valley has been a target for demolitions by Israel’s Civil Administration, with several structures in villages across the area being torn down.

On Sunday, dozens of Palestinians as well as foreign activists rebuilt areas in the nearby Al-Farisiya village that were recently bulldozed by Israel’s Civil Administration.

Over the past 10 days, several shacks, homes and agricultural structures were torn down in the village by the administration, which has complete planning and building control over Area C. Last Thursday, the Civil Administration returned to the valley to demolish 23 structures rebuilt by residents and farmers.

Meanwhile, in the nearby Bardala village, locals said the Civil Administration distributed several stop-work orders to residents in late July.

The orders, known locally as “demolition orders,” demand that homeowners appear before a magistrates court to defend allegations. Because legal action at the court rarely succeeds, the stop-work orders essentially constitute a demolition order.

According to a report in the Israeli daily Haaretz in July, the Civil Administration has received government orders to increase enforcement against Palestinian construction in Area C, according to a deposition by an administration official to the High Court.

The deposition, by the head of the administration’s infrastructure authority, Colonel Zvika Cohen, came in response to a petition by Regavim – a group seeking the destruction of illegal Palestinian construction at six West Bank sites, citing a security threat, the daily reported.

A recent UN report said 86 structures in the Jordan Valley were demolished two weeks ago, and 17 others were demolished in other areas of the West Bank the week after.

“The spate of demolitions raises concerns over whether Israeli authorities could further escalate demolitions throughout Area C,” a UN report said, noting more than 3,000 demolition orders handed down by Israeli officials to locals were still outstanding.

“Currently, it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits to maintain, repair or construct homes, animal shelters or necessary infrastructure in Area C,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in its latest report on Area C.