There has been a recent escalation by the ‘Israel Lobby’ to muzzle the growing Palestinian solidarity movement.
Ali Abunimah, 07 Dec 2010
The Electronic Intifada, the online publication about Palestine that I co-founded in 2001, finds itself at the centre of a storm as a pro-Israel group applies pressure to have a grant from a Dutch foundation withdrawn.
This assault on our freedom of conscience is about much more than our website. It is part of a well-coordinated, escalating Israeli government-endorsed effort to vilify individuals and cripple organisations that criticise Israel’s human rights record and call for it to respect Palestinian rights and international law.
The latest salvo came in a scurrilous article in The Jerusalem Post based on allegations from a group called NGO Monitor, accusing The Electronic Intifada of “anti-Semitism” – without citing a single example from the almost 12,000 articles we have published. The Electronic Intifada has responded to NGO Monitor’s accusations. Of course the charge of “anti-Semitism” has long been a weapon in the hands of Israel’s apologists when they cannot find a factual basis to challenge the site’s reporting and analysis.
NGO Monitor zeroed in on a grant The Electronic Intifada has received from the Dutch foundation ICCO, which is itself subsidised by the Dutch government. Since 2006, this grant has made up about a third of The Electronic Intifada’s budget (our total expenses were around $180,000 in 2009 as our public filings show and the majority of our funding comes from donations by our readers).
In published comments, Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said he would investigate the matter personally. MP Geert Wilders, Europe’s most prominent Islamophobic politician, who has said he is proud to be compared to Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, also took aim at The Electronic Intifada in an interview with Israel’s Haaretz.
It is clear that by attempting to starve us – and other organisations of funds – NGO Monitor is trying to silence us. That The Electronic Intifada, a publication run by a handful of people, finds itself under sustained assault, only demonstrates the impact that independent online media have had by consistently reporting stories and providing analysis that mainstream media have sidelined.
While NGO Monitor poses as an independent watchdog, it is in fact an Israeli organisation with close ties to Israel’s radical West Bank settler movement, the government and military, and is supported by notorious purveyors of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim propaganda in the United States such as Daniel Pipes and Rita Emerson (who along with her husband Steven Emerson has been at the forefront of Islamophobic campaigns).
Before attacking The Electronic Intifada, NGO Monitor made its name going after Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and distinguished Palestinian human rights organisations among dozens of others. Notably it has launched a McCarthyite war from within against Israeli human rights groups and foundations such as B’Tselem, HaMoked and the New Israel Fund. Indeed, by its own indiscriminate definition, NGO Monitor could well be considered “anti-Semitic” as it spends so much effort attacking Israelis and Jews around the world, especially Zionist ones, who argue that Israel would be more viable if it had a higher regard for human rights. NGO Monitor, while calling for transparency from others, remains opaque about its own funding sources.
While NGO Monitor has been in business for years, its latest tactics fit into the strategy outlined by the Reut Institute, an influential Israeli think-tank that earlier this year called for Israel and its advocates to wage war against so-called “delegitimizers.” Reut defined virtually the entire global Palestine solidarity movement, especially the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions modelled on the South African anti-apartheid struggle, and those who call for a one-state solution, as an “existential threat” which has the potential to rob Israel of its remaining legitimacy and bring about its collapse.
On its website, the Reut Institute called for Israel’s intelligence agencies to use possibly criminal “sabotage,” and for pro-Israel groups to “attack” activists all over the world in “hubs” such as London, Madrid, Toronto and the San Francisco Bay Area. After The Electronic Intifada raised the alarm, the Reut Institute sanitised its website, although a copy of its original document remains on The Electronic Intifada, along with our report.
Reut’s call to “delegitimize the delegitimizers” and “name and shame” human rights activists has now become Israeli government policy. As part of its failed efforts to bribe Israel into renewing a largely fictitious moratorium on West Bank settlement construction, the Obama administration even promised, as Haaretz reported, to lend Israel support in the battle against “delegitimization.”
Focusing on “delegitimization” rather than trying to change Israel’s atrocious behaviour, has also become the central strategy of Israel lobby groups in the United States. In October the Jewish Federations of North America – an umbrella for 157 major pro-Israel organisations – and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs launched a $6 million initiative called the “Israel Action Network” to fight “delegitimization,” especially boycott, divestment and sanctions.
I got a foretaste of what the Israel Action Network’s tactics will likely be when Sam Sokolove, the head of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico, launched a failed effort to get academic departments at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque to withdraw their support for a lecture I gave in November. Sokolove’s campaign involved publicly vilifying me in the media, likening me to a member of the Ku Klux Klan. It is probably because of the publicity the Jewish Federation gave me that hundreds of people attended my talk.
These sorts of personal attacks and attempts to sabotage the work of people committed to justice and international law are only going to escalate. But will they work?
The campaign against “delegitimizers” is based on a fundamental misunderstanding among Israel and its advocates that Israel suffers from an “image problem” which can be fixed on the one hand with better public relations, and on the other with the sorts of dirty tricks used against The Electronic Intifada and others. But Israel does not have an image problem, it has a reality problem.
Its well-documented war crimes and brutal siege in Gaza, its expanding settlements in the West Bank, its slow ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem, its escalating racism against Palestinian citizens of Israel, its use of extra-judicial executions and torture and its killing of unarmed activists on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla cannot be concealed.
A fatal flaw in Israel’s plan to fight back against “delegitimization” is that it offers only justifications for these deplorable realities and no positive vision of a decent, peaceful, sustainable and just life in the future for Israelis and Palestinians. For years, the so-called two-state solution filled this void – at least rhetorically – but it has lost all credibility in no small part because Israel lobby groups were so successful at protecting Israel from any action, especially American pressure, that would bring an end to the colonisation that has destroyed any possibility of a Palestinian state.
Now, these same lobby groups find themselves fighting against growing support for the alternative their own actions have rendered inevitable: a struggle for equal rights for all the people who inhabit the land. Their war against “delegitimization” offers nothing more than anger, hatred and demonization, often in alliance with the most racist and openly Islamophobic elements in Israel and North America. That is not a vision but a dead-end. And while it will be another challenge on top of so many faced by Palestinians, it won’t stop those who have a vision for justice, equality and universal rights and who are working to make it a reality.
Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country, A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli Palestinian Impasse.