Caterpillar freeze and ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’ honor suggest advance of boycott movement

Oct 30, 2010

Philip Weiss 

This is important and I’ve been sitting on it, sorry. Four points:

–Caterpillar has temporarily stopped delivering bulldozers to Israel. JPost:

Caterpillar, the company which supplies the IDF with bulldozers, has announced that it is delaying the supply of D9 bulldozers during the time that the trial of Rachel Corrie proceeds, Channel 2 reported on Monday.

–Sydney Levy of Jewish Voice for Peace interprets the news in this manner:

These are weaponized bulldozers that are used to illegally destroy homes and orchards of Palestinian families. And they are the very same bulldozers as the one that killed a 23-year-old American peace activist named Rachel Corrie seven years ago when she tried to protect the home of the Nasrallah family in Gaza.

…The news reports say that the deliveries have been suspended now because Rachel’s parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, are bringing a civil suit against the government of Israel … We take this as an indirect admission by the company that these bulldozers are being used to violate human rights and to violate the law. The Corrie story is sadly just one of thousands of stories of loss and pain. 

A suspension of the sale of bulldozers is what we have been asking Caterpillar for over seven years now. This is a great win, but this is no time to let off the pressure.

–Speaking of JVP, the group has the honor of being on the Forward’s list of the 50 leaders in the Jewish community in the last year, right there with Abe (No Soup For You) Foxman. The Forward states, neutrally:

Long active on the fringes of the Jewish world, the grass-roots, left-wing activist group Jewish Voice for Peace took significant steps toward the mainstream of the Jewish discourse this year — or perhaps the Jewish discourse took significant steps toward Jewish Voice for Peace. Led by Rebecca Vilkomerson, 38, the organization played a leading role in a handful of high-profile campaigns to oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.


This is yet another sign that boycott and divestment are working themselves inevitably into the mainstream liberal discourse, thanks chiefly to the courage of folks like Vilkomerson. Note that J Street didn’t make the Forward’s roster. Congrats to Vilkomerson; she’s an inspiring activist and deserves the honor. Props too to Daniel Sieradski for making the list. Now what about Jerry Haber and Richard Silverstein?


–Oh and speaking of the throwdown between JVP and J Street over  boycott…

On November 11, there’s going to be a second performance, this time in Brooklyn, of a panel first held in June on the Upper West Side: “Jewish Perspectives on the boycott/divestment/sanctions movement.” 

On one side will be Rebecca Vilkomerson and Hannah Mermelstein, on the other Kathleen Peratis and Gil Kulick. Peratis is a board member of J Street. Kulick is affiliated with J Street, helped found Brit Tzedek, and served on the New Israel Fund, as well. The moderator is our own Adam Horowitz. 

The last time this question was aired, the church basement was jammed. I expect the Brooklyn event will be overflow.

7:30 PM 1012 Eighth Avenue (between 10th St. & 11th St.), Park Slope, Church of Gethsemane.

The Gaza tunnels aren’t just for imports

Oct 30, 2010

Hani Almadhoun 

Every time I or one of my relatives visit our Egyptian cousins in Egypt, they ask us to bring specific goods. Two items they almost ask for hair gel, and denim. It seems a good hair gel is hard to find in Egypt. I have never been a gel kinda of guy, but this is all now make sense to me as I am reading kinda of a odd story coming from Gaza.Remember the tunnels in Gaza, the ones Palestinians smugglers used to bring in goods that Israel has deemed “contraband”. Many of those tunnels are now seeing slow traffic as there are a lot more goods allowed in Gaza. We have the courageous people who boarded the Turkish flotilla to alleviate the Israeli siege on Gaza. The more goods Israel allow into Gaza, the more out of luck those smugglers have as they cannot compete with above ground goods.
Get this, the tunnels are now bringing goods out of Gaza into Egypt, not the other way around. You read that right, Palestinians tunnel operators are now exporting goods to the Egyptian side.

It’s unclear to me who is ordering those goods, it could be the large number of Palestinians living on the Egyptian side who might be feeling nostalgic for Gaza foods. I know that the prices of apples in Egypt are at least 4 times the prices in Gaza and the same goes for a pair of jeans as the textile industry is heavily protected in Egypt. On the other hand fish from the Egyptian shores is cheaper and more abundant than available in Gaza. This makes me thinks this is simply an underground trade between two regions.  While there is little benefit from this trade to the Palestinians consumer in Gaza, the tunnel operators have built a lifestyle that requires such innovation.  

But as of now it seems the most popular item the Gazan export to Gaza scrap metal, aluminum and cooper. Thanks to the Israeli offensive of last year, there are hundreds of demolished in Gaza with that comes a great deal of scrap metal. They smuggle those metals to Egyptian Rafah and then those metals get sent to Egyptian factories in Hilwan and Aswan recycle those metals and bring them back to life.  
This not a really exporting in the sense as the Palestinians do not produce these things they are sending to Egypt but rather arbitrage and taking advantage of the higher tariff on imported apple in Egypt.  Another popular item is hide, animal hide is popular in Egypt and there are plenty of uses for it. Since Palestinians have little use for it, they do not mind send it to Egypt. The same goes for live ducks, a very popular commodity in the Egyptian diet where people of Gaza prefer chicken. the one bizarre item Egyptian demand is Israeli made yogurt. I am not sure why would Egyptian demand such good. Yes, Israeli made yogurt is really good, but it could be not poplar with Egyptians and rather demanded by the thousands of Palestinians living in Egypt. I mean in the US the homeland of the Coca Cola, they still import Mexican bottled coke for nostalgia value. 
Needless to say Palestinians tunnel smugglers still smuggle cement, tiles and tobacco. But as one tunnel operator said it, we are now not as busy as we were, we are doing a third of the business we used to do. But most popular smuggle items that people of Gaza bring in from Egypt are olive oil, gravel stones, goats and sheep just in time for the Eid.

Hani Almadhoun is originally from Beit Lahia in the Northern Gaza Strip, where he completed his secondary and part of his university studies. Hani moved to the United States in 2000 and continued his studies. Hani holds an MPA from Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business and currently lives in Washington D.C. where he works for a non-profit that helps promote Palestinian culture and the development of even greater Human rights within Palestine. When Hani is not working nor worrying about his loved ones back in Gaza, he blogs and when given a free opportunity, does standup comedy in D.C. area clubs.

When brown shirts attacked my father

Oct 30, 2010

Lillian Rosengarten 

Lillian Rosengarten, writing at the Palestine Chronicle:

Uri Avneri’s always powerful observations raise the most profound question. How can it happen, the lure of Fascism that oozes into the fabric of societies with the promise of a better life? There are always those who are not vulnerable to the language of temptation, the racist rhetoric that tears a society apart. These heroes become freedom fighters. An example is Hans Lebrecht, my father’s first cousin, who was an active resistance fighter in World War 11, a noted Communist activist, and a supporter and writer for Gush Shalom. He was my mentor and beloved friend. Now in his 90’s’, he resides at Kibbutz Beit-Oren. I cannot visit him for I am not allowed to return to Israel because I have dissented against their injustice to Palestinians. Here is a still timely quote from “JewishFriends of Palestine Gateway, by Hans.

“I am sorry and upset that now, as an active member of the CP and the progressive peace camp in Israel, I still have to fight fascism. I am currently a member of the leading bureau of the International Federation of Resistance Fighters. The fight against neofascism in Europe and throughout the capitalist world continues. This includes against the fascist hoodlums in Israel who attempt to torpedo the peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.”

I too was an eye witness, one might say:

Try to imagine a beautiful evening in the fall of 1934. My parents decide to take an after dinner stroll in the elegant neighborhood where they lived on Feuerbach Strasse in Frankfurt. Linden trees grew tall and the air was filled with blossoms. They walked along the quiet street when suddenly from nowhere, out sprang a group of young men. “Brown Shirts” they were called, a precursor to the SS, the feared Nazi police. That was how it began, the debauchery of Germany.

The men marched up to my parents and simultaneously clicked their heels. They were no more than 18 years old, clean shaven angel faces hardly out of childhood indoctrinated with hate. Were they children once? Five brown shirts, high boots laced over brown pants, Nazi flags pinned on brown caps, swastika armbands in red white and black. In high spirits they were on a path to lunacy where linden trees would bloom no more.

One Brown Shirt stepped up close to my father, a finger on his nose. He laughed then circled about. “Come see the Jew nose,” he bellowed. The others cursed and mocked. My father, elegant in a tailored suit, silk tie and expensive overcoat wore fine black leather gloves. A small Florentine gold pin engraved with a diamond “L was visible on his tie. I would see it often as a child just as I had heard this story from my father so often. My mother pregnant with me wore a sable fur hat to match the collar and cuffs of her stylish coat. As I lay inside my mother, I became an unseen witness. Perhaps that can explain my lifelong vulnerability and sensitivity to racism and fascism.

Number two kicked, taunted, cursed, then punched my father in the face until he bled. The others kicked him onto the ground. The Brown Shirt angel faces in high spirits kicked some more and marched away. This episode was a deciding factor in my father’s decision to leave Germany. It took him two years to get us out.

I see the face of Fascism here in the US as right wing pundits seize on the political climate of high unemployment, fear of the future,  loss of power, loss of homes and hope. Americans who feel abandoned and exploited hear right wing rhetoric, words that terrorize and manipulate and then vote against their interests. It seems the climate is right for fascism with the breakdown of a social democracy which is known to raise the standards of living for its most vulnerable population and everyone.
Scapegoating and blaming the other becomes the norm and quickly there emerges the “them” and “us” rhetoric, the good and the evil, the split that separates and creates walls.

High unemployment, despair and fear also permeated German society when Hitler’s strong rhetoric mesmerized a population that heard and embraced big daddy tell them he would lead them into prosperity.

From my view, racism is a precursor to fascism. In addition, a nationalistic identity of moral superiority, closes off the potential to reflect and consider one’s actions in as much as they have create a moral morass and a dangerous direction for Israel.

I beg you Israel, speak with your enemies, let dissenters raise their voices. Allow for debate and discussion. Become an open society, embrace your enemies, do not treat them with disrespect and disgust.  Tear down the wall of hate. Do not be afraid to change your direction.

‘NYT’ catches a clue

Oct 30, 2010

Philip Weiss 

Maybe The New York Times learned something by going to Ariel on the settlers’ red carpet? Its editorial today strikes a new, important tone: it blames Netanyahu for the deadlock in the Middle East and says that the Palestinians and the international community are justly running out of patience. No mention of the Israel lobby; but a description of the backbends it produces in American leaders:

President Obama made a very generous — too generous, we believe — offer to Israel, to get Mr. Netanyahu to extend the moratorium. It included additional security guarantees and more fighter planes, missile defense, satellites. Mr. Netanyahu still refused, insisting that the hard-line members of his coalition would never go along. He then added to the controversy by proposing that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

It’s taken forever, and is likely too late for the two-state-solution, but this is an important marker. With the Times for cover, will the PEP opinion makers (like Chris Matthews and E.J. Dionne, etc.) and those who have been silent ONLY on this issue (Frank Rich) dare to take the cue?

The ZOA’s effort to criminalize campus activism through federal civil rights legislation

Oct 30, 2010

Eyal Mazor 

This post originally appeared on the Jewish Voice for Peace blog MuzzleWatch:

Under the leadership of Mort Klein, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is celebrating its success in its efforts to expand federal anti-bullying guidelines stipulated under the US Civil Rights Act of 1964.  So why in the world would Mort Klein and his pro-occupation and pro-settlement ZOA be interested in federal civil rights and anti-bullying policy in the first place? Perhaps a new-found interest in protecting religious practice and reigning in on all instances of discrimination? Of course not. Read on and prepare yourself to be outraged.

In a policy statement released this week, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has adopted new guidelines that include protections against religious groups with “shared ethnic characteristics.”   Appearing alongside indisputably positive policy changes that increase protections for LGBT and disabled students facing bullying and discrimination, it may seem totally inappropriate to cast doubt on this particular aspect of the policy, no matter who has brought it to the table. After all, expanding categories of protection is a good thing. However, once we understand the ZOA’s motives, it becomes clear that this development should be cause for alarm for anybody wanting to preserve students’ rights to organize on American campuses for peace and justice in Palestine and Israel!

Indeed, the ZOA took up this effort specifically as a way to clamp down on student activism that has pushed universities to hold Israel accountable to international law. How? Title VI of the Civil Rights Act says that colleges and universities that don’t address issues of discrimination can lose their federal funding. This is part of a strategy to scare public universities into putting a stop to entirely legal and non-discriminatory activism that the ZOA and others just don’t like.

Klein is shamelessly trafficking in the language of bigotry and anti-discrimination in an effort to criminalize campus human rights activism in favor of justice and peace in Palestine and Israel. It’s hard to imagine a more reprehensible manipulation of the legacy of civil rights struggle.

The story actually begins in October 2004 when the first complaint to US Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in 2004 on the behalf of Jewish students at the University of California at Irvine. These claims, which form the centerpiece of the ZOA’s whole case to OCR, seem at best to be an extreme misrepresentation of actual goings-on, and at worst totally lack substance–and that’s coming from their subjects: UC Irvine students themselves. In response to the initial complaint the ZOA filed with OCR on behalf of Jewish students at the University of California at Irvine in October 2004, the most prominent leaders of the campus Jewish community actually came out and publicly refuted the ZOA’s claims that UCI is a hostile environment for Jewish students.

In March 2008, prominent Jewish student leaders of UCI (including the presidents of the campus Hillel, the self-described pro-Israel group Anteaters for Israel, and the Jewish Fraternity and Sorority) issued a public statement clearly and directly contradicting the ZOA’s claims about their campus, stating instead that  “Jewish student life thrives on campus, despite misinformation from outside organizations.”

In a story published in May 2008 issue of New Voices (since expunged from their website, but available below), student leaders from UCI’s Jewish community testify to being ignored, silenced, and even publicly discredited by ZOA and associated activists for speaking the truth of their experience on campus.  One student, then President of Anteaters for Israel,  even lost his position with the Israel advocacy training group StandWithUs over a statement he made that the threat of anti-Semitism on his campus has been exaggerated by community activists and organizations.

Who Speaks for Jewish Students?

In another case cited in a recent op-ed, Klein also cites a battery case filed by a female pro-Israel activist at the University of California at Berkeley against a Palestinian student activist. In fact, all charges have been dropped against the Palestinian student, Husam Zakharia, who said from the very beginning that he lost control of a shopping cart overflowing with donated toys bound for Gaza when it accidentally hit the female student.

Klein’s campaign seemed to really take off earlier this year when 13 Jewish organizations endorsed a March 16 letter to the Education Minister urging the Office of Civil Rights to investigate incidents of anti-Semitism. Among the endorsing groups are Abe Foxman’s ADL, American Jewish Congress (AJC), and Hillel– all of which have a track record of manipulating charges of anti-Semitism to silence critics of Israeli policy.

More recently, Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Senator Arlen Specter (D-CA) have been championing in Congress Mort Klein and the ZOA’s proposal to amend the Civil Rights Act. In September, Sherman and Specter introduced legislation that would inscribe into federal law what the Department of Education has just changed in federal policy. Shortly after the new guidelines were announced, Congressman Sherman released a statement naming only Jewish students who face “severe and persistent anti-Semitic hostility on their campuses” among groups who will enjoy new protections under the policy.

Making no mention of any other communities facing religion-based discrimination, such as Muslims, Sikhs and other groups most impacted by the up-swell of Islamophobic discrimination, the political motives of the ZOA’s appeal is perfectly transparent. The ZOA is not and has never claimed to be an organization that fights bigotry or discrimination, nor do they purport to hold a message of universal tolerance. It is an organization set up to promote a pro-settlement, pro-occupation, right-wing Zionist agenda.

In addition to using federal anti-discrimination legislation to pursue a highly politicized agenda, one of the most troubling aspects of this campaign is that it has considerable de-amplifying effects for when authentic instances of anti-Semitism do arise. This type of action will not make Jews, or anyone else, any safer.

Good news for New Yorkers: ‘Budrus’ held over

Oct 30, 2010

James North

You can still see 1500 Palestinian Gandhis in action, along with their Gandhi-ist supporters from the rest of the world and Israel.  The terrific documentary film Budrus, about the courageous nonviolent resistence in the West Bank village of the same name, is showing for one more week at the Quad Cinema in Manhattan, through November 4.  Then the film will continue to circulate worldwide.

Israel gets off scot-free, again

Oct 30, 2010

Maggie Sager 

Yesterday the Jerusalem Post reported that the Israeli foreign ministry has successfully thwarted an attempted meeting between the signatories of the Geneva Convention which would have convened in Switzerland.

According to the article, foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman was motivated to block the meeting because it “could have resulted in a public statement that Israel has violated the charter during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip during 2009.” The article also credits Lieberman with “preventing the establishment of the victim’s compensation fund of those injured in Cast Lead, which was decided by the UN Human Rights Council.” (What a fantastic human being)

Such a development should come as no surprise, as it speaks to culture of impunity the international community affords Israel with respect to its military operations (among other things). It is almost as if the more egregious Israel is in its violations of international law, the more the country’s leaders are able to shield it from criticism. With each new operation, this list of violations grows longer. According to the Goldstone Report, apart from the Geneva Conventions, Israel has acted in direct contravention of numerous articles of the following international agreements (in no particular order): 

  • The Hague Regulations; (394)

  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; (395)

  • The Convention Against Torture; (395)

  • The Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials; (398)

  • The Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials; (398)

  • The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders; (421)

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights; (407)

  • The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; (421)

  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; (434)

  • And the 1995 Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information among others(493)

Even more frightening, apart from simply breaching these agreements, Israel has so gravely violated international standards as to be accused by Goldstone, the United Nations, and countless reputable human rights organizations of the following war crimes with respect to three recent notable military operations:

War Crimes Committed During Operation Defensive Shield (Palestinian Territories; 2002)

According to a United Nations report:

  • Willful killing

  • Inhuman treatment

  • Unlawful confinement of protected persons

  • Extensive destruction and appropriation of property not justified by military necessity and carried out wantonly and destructively

  • State and settler terrorism

According to an Amnesty International report:

  • Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population and infrastructure

  • Violating the principle of proportionality

  • Using methods of indiscriminate attack 

War Crimes Committed During the July War (Lebanon; 2006)

According to a United Nations report:

  • Willful killing of protected persons

  • Violating the principle of proportionality

  • Violating the principle of distinction

  • Violating the prohibition against indiscriminate attacks

War Crimes Committed During Operation Cast Lead (Gaza; 2008-2009)

According to the Goldstone report:

  • Unlawful, wanton destruction which is not justified by military necessity (259)

  • The use of human shields (299)

  • Acts amounting to perfidy resulting in death or serious personal injury (300)

  • The rounding-up of large civilians [which is] a collective penalty on those persons, [amounting] to measures of intimidation and terrorism (323)

  • Outrages on personal dignity, humiliating and degrading treatment…and inhumane treatment (323)

  • Forcing women to endure especially distressing circumstances during their unlawful detention (323)

  • Illegal treatment of unlawful detainees including shackling, severe beatings during detention and interrogation, being held in foul conditions and solitary confinement -actions which violate prohibitions against physical or moral coercion of protected persons (324)

  • Torture (324)

Goldstone also found evidence for crimes against humanity as a result of a “series of acts that deprive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip from their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water, freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country,” (371) as well as the “systematic discrimination, both in law and in practice, against Palestinians, in legislation…and in practice during detention, trial and sentence compared with Israeli citizens.” (422)

A well-documented pattern of eviscerating civilian infrastructure, killing a disproportionately large number of protected persons including women and children, barring medical aid, human rights monitors and journalists from entry to military zones, and utilizing extremely destructive weapons such as cluster bombs and white phosphorus in densely populated areas is also evident in all three operations. (None of these remarks should be construed to obfuscate the reality of acts committed by Hezbollah, various resistance movements or Hamas respectively in each operation. However it must be noted that in scope, such abuses pale in comparison, nor do they make Israel any less guilty).             

In light of the magnitude and breadth of these violations, the foreign ministry’s ability to disrupt even a possible condemnation is a slap in the face to international standards of justice. Yet once again, through political maneuvering, Israel has managed to shield itself from criticism.

In the face of such repugnant arrogance, is it any wonder that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement “singles out” Israel? No other country with such a despicable human rights record has managed to maintain such flourishing relationships with world super-powers.

Imagine, with all the attention Israel’s continued settlement expansion has received in the past few months (in direct and flagrant contravention of the united international consensus on the program’s inadmissibility) and yet still, Lieberman has the ability to disband a potential meeting of the signatories for the very agreement that makes Israel’s actions illegal!? It is absolutely ludicrous.

More about trickster/debater/Canadian Gabriel Latner, 19

Oct 30, 2010

Philip Weiss 

Gabriel Latner is the Cambridge University law student who was assigned by the Cambridge Union debating society to argue the affirmative side of the proposition, “Israel is a rogue state” on October 21, then used the opportunity to take on others on his side and argue in favor of Israel. His conduct earned him a lifetime banning from the Cambridge Union.

After my first post on the incident, Latner, who is Canadian, sent me a friendly email and said that I was wrong to identify him as a neoconservative just because he had interned at the neoconservative shop, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “I am not a neocon. I have absolutely no patience for any ideology that promotes the use of military force in any situation where the preservation of human life does not demand it.”

I don’t know what that means. Here’s his recent attack on Mahmoud Abbas as a radical. Also, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies dispenses pure neocon ideology. Latner’s defense is like someone who volunteered for Heidi Fleiss saying that they believe in abstinence.

“I’m 19. It was an opportunity to live and work in the most exciting city in the world….”

Wait, Washington? OK; I said some weird things when I was 19 and Canadian. Latner:

“As to how I came to be in the debate, I applied. The Union debating committee sent an email out to all its members asking for applications to speak in the debates. I applied to argue on either side of several motions. The fact that I got placed on the proposition for this particular motion was a fluke. I didn’t ‘use’ the Union. As for my argument, I’ve copied it below, so you can see for yourself. [Latner’s argument follows my sparring with him.] I wasn’t arguing in defence of Israel. I was arguing that Israel meets the dictionary definition of a rogue state. I’m a competitive sophist. I was trying to win.”

I asked Latner some questions. What level of attachment to Zionism or Israel led you to volunteer at an IDF base? Etc. I’m running his answers together:

I had already been to Israel twice before: once when I was three, and again at thirteen. I have cousins and a grand-uncle living in Netanya, and more distant relatives living in Jerusalem. I had just finished school, and had several months to kill. I’d never really travelled alone, and wanted to give it a try. A very close friend had moved to Tel-Aviv two years before, and I wanted to see her. My cousin was going to be having his Bar-Mitzvah, and my grandmother, who I had not seen in several years, was going to be in town (she lives in Cape Town). So I have several attachments to Israel. While planning my trip, I learned about Sar-El, a program designed for foreigners who want to volunteer with the IDF. I was staying with my friend in Tel-Aviv, but she was going to be in school, so it made sense for me to do something during the week. It also gave me a chance to see the desert and meet other young people (from around the world, not just Israel).

As for my attachment to Zionism, that’s harder to answer. I’m not sure how ‘attached’ a person can be to an ideology (I’m not being sophistic here, I’m just not very good at philosophy). I did go to a non-sectarian Jewish school for three years. I was dubbed an ‘apikoros’ by the staff. [free-thinker] I was raised by fairly secular Jewish parents in Reconstructionist Judaism. I’d consider myself ‘Jewish’ as a matter of culture and heritage…

My personal beliefs on ‘Zionism’ are fairly simple: I believe Israel has a right to exist, and to secure itself. I believe the Palestinians, Tibetans, Taiwanese, Kurds, and every other stateless population has the right to a homeland. I think that the last 150 years of conflict in the Middle East (let alone the last four or five millennia) is far too complicated for anyone but a scholar to understand. I think there is enough blame to go around. Israel is wrong when it permits settlements to be built. I think it made a mistake when it kept the Gaza Strip after ’67. I was happy when Israel pulled out of the occupied territories. Then again, I am constantly afraid for my friends in family living there. Israel does face a serious threat. But I think every time Israel overreacts, new extremists are born. So yes, I could be considered a ‘Zionist’, but I think that term has been hijacked to a degree. Im pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, and pro-Peace. In my opinion, the biggest threat to peace is politicians – in both camps, not to mention Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and the West.

When and how long did you volunteer?

I was in Israel for around six weeks in September and October of 2008. I was on the IDF base for around 15 days. Maybe even less. The food was horrible.

Below is Latner’s argument before the Cambridge Union. It is (c) [copyright] Gabriel Latner; and he asked me not to “cherrypick” his argument but publish it in full. I do so because it is newsworthy and Latner is a smart kid who is likely to be around for a while. (The lack of paragraphs is because I lose paragraphs when I transfer copy from one program to another and don’t have the time to stick them in.) Latner:

Please forgive any spelling or grammar errors, this was an oral presentation. Square brackets denote impromptu comments that were added into the text after the fact. I may have strayed from the text at a few points, but this was the gist of it. 

This is a war of ideals, and the other speakers here tonight are rightfully, idealists. I’m not. I’m a realist. I’m here to win. I have a single goal this evening – to have at least a plurality of you walk out of the ‘Aye’ door. I face a singular challenge – most, if not all, of you have already made up your minds.

This issue is too polarizing for the vast majority of you not to already have a set opinion. I’d be willing to bet that half of you strongly support the motion, and half of you strongly oppose it. I want to win, and we’re destined for a tie. I’m tempted to do what my fellow speakers are going to do – simply rehash every bad thing the Israeli government has ever done in an attempt to satisfy those of you who agree with them. And perhaps they’ll even guilt one of you rare undecided into voting for the proposition, or more accurately, against Israel. It would be so easy to twist the meaning and significance of international ‘laws’ to make Israel look like a criminal state. But that’s been done to death. It would be easier still to play to your sympathy, with personalised stories of Palestinian suffering. And they can give very eloquent speeches on those issues. But the truth is, that treating people badly, whether they’re your citizens or an occupied nation, does not make a state’ rogue’. If it did, Canada, the US, and Australia would all be rogue states based on how they treat their indigenous populations. Britain’s treatment of the Irish would easily qualify them to wear this sobriquet. These arguments, while emotionally satisfying, lack intellectual rigour.

More importantly, I just don’t think we can win with those arguments. It won’t change the numbers. Half of you will agree with them, half of you won’t. So I’m going to try something different, something a little unorthodox. I’m going to try and convince the die-hard zionists and Israel supporters here tonight, to vote for the proposition. By the end of my speech – I will have presented 5 pro-Israel arguments that show Israel is, if not a ‘rogue state’ than at least ‘rogueish’. Let me be clear. I will not be arguing that Israel is ‘bad’. I will not be arguing that it doesn’t deserve to exist. I won’t be arguing that it behaves worse than every other country. I will only be arguing that Israel is ‘rogue’. The word ‘rogue’ has come to have exceptionally damning connotations. But the word itself is value-neutral. The OED defines rogue as ‘Aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time ‘, while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition ‘behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way ‘. These definitions, and others, centre on the idea of anomaly – the unexpected or uncommon. Using this definition, a rogue state is one that acts in an unexpected, uncommon or aberrant manner. A state that behaves exactly like Israel. The first argument is statistical. The fact that Israel is a Jewish state alone makes it anomalous enough to be dubbed a rogue state: There are 195 countries in the world. Some are Christian, some Muslim, some are secular. Israel is the only country in the world that is Jewish. Or, to speak mathmo for a moment, the chance of any randomly chosen state being Jewish is 0.0051% . In comparison the chance of a UK lotto ticket winning at least £10 is 0.017% – more than twice as likely. Israel’s jewishness is a statistical abberation. The second argument concerns Israel’s humanitarianism, in particular,Israel’s response to a refugee crisis. Not the Palestinian refugee crisis – for I am sure that the other speakers will cover that – but the issue of Darfurian refugees. Everyone knows that what happened – and is still happening in Darfur is genocide , whether or not the UN and the Arab League will call it such. [ I actually hoped that Mr Massih would be able speak about this – he’s actually somewhat of an expert on the Crisis in Darfur, in fact it’s his expertise that has called him away to represent the former Dictator of Sudan while he is being investigated by the ICC. ] There has been a mass exodus from Darfur as the oppressed seek safety. They have not had much luck. Many have gone north to Egypt – where they are treated despicably. The brave make a run through the desert in a bid to make it to Israel. Not only do they face the natural threats of the Sinai, they are also used for target practice by the Egyptian soldiers patrolling the border. Why would they take the risk? Because in Israel they are treated with compassion – they are treated as the refugees that they are – and perhaps Israel’s cultural memory of genocide is to blame. The Israeli government has even gone so far as to grant several hundred Darfurian refugees Citizenship. This alone sets Israel apart from the rest of the world. But the real point of distinction is this: The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel.. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets. Compare that to the US’s reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst – and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behavior anomalous is an understatement. My Third argument is that the Israeli government engages in an activity which the rest of the world shuns — it negotiates with terrorists. Forget the late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, a man who died with blood all over his hands – they’re in the process of negotiating with terrorists as we speak. Yasser Abed Rabbo is one of the lead PLO negotiators that has been sent to the peace talks with Israel. Abed Rabbo also used to be a leader of the PFLP- an organisation of ‘freedom fighters’ that, under Abed Rabbo’s leadership, engaged in such freedom promoting activities as killing 22 Israeli highschool students. And the Israeli government is sending delegates to sit at a table with this man, and talk about peace. And the world applauds. You would never see the Spanish government in peace talks with the leaders of the ETA – the British government would never negotiate with Thomas Murphy. And if President Obama were to sit down and talk about peace with Osama Bin Laden, the world would view this as insanity. But Israel can do the exact same thing – and earn international praise in the process. That is the dictionary definition of rogue – behaving in a way that is unexpected, or not normal. Another part of dictionary definition is behaviour or activity ‘occuring at an unexpected place or time’. When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle east- except for Israel. Of all the countries in the middle east, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality. In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America. Israel’s protection of its citizens civil liberties has earned international recognition. Freedom House is an NGO that releases an annual report on democracy and civil liberties in each of the 195 countries in the world. It ranks each country as ‘Free’ ‘Partly Free’ or ‘Not Free’. In the Middle East, Israel is the only country that has earned designation as a ‘free’ country. Not surprising given the level of freedom afforded to citizens in say, Lebanon- a country designated ‘partly free’, where there are laws against reporters criticizing not only the Lebanese government, but the Syrian regime as well. [ I’m hoping Ms Booth will speak about this, given her experience working as a ‘journalist’ for Iran,] Iran is a country given the rating of ‘not free’, putting it alongside China, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Myanmar. In Iran, [as Ms Booth I hoped would have said in her speech], there is a special ‘Press Court’ which prosecutes journalists for such heinous offences as criticizing the ayatollah, reporting on stories damaging the ‘foundations of the Islamic republic’ , using ‘suspicious (i.e. western) sources’, or insulting islam. Iran is the world leader in terms of jailed journalists, with 39 reporters (that we know of) in prison as of 2009. They also kicked out almost every western journalist during the 2009 election. [I don’t know if Ms Booth was affected by that] I guess we can’t really expect more from a theocracy. Which is what most countries in the middle east are. Theocracies and Autocracies. But Israel is the sole, the only, the rogue, democracy. Out of every country in the middle east, only in Israel do anti-government protests and reporting go unquashed and uncensored. I have one final argument – the last nail in the opposition’s coffin- and its sitting right across the aisle. Mr Ran Gidor’s presence here is the all evidence any of us should need to confidently call Israel a rogue state. For those of you who have never heard of him, Mr Gidor is a political counsellor attached to Israel’s embassy in London. He’s t
he guy the Israeli government sent to represent them to the UN. He knows what he’s doing. And he’s here tonight. And it’s incredible. Consider, for a moment, what his presence here means. The Israeli government has signed off,to allow one of their senior diplomatic representatives to participate in a debate on their very legitimacy. That’s remarkable. Do you think for a minute, that any other country would do the same? If the Yale University Debating Society were to have a debate where the motion was ‘This house believes Britain is a racist, totalitarian state that has done irrevocable harm to the peoples of the world’, that Britain would allow any of it’s officials to participate? No. Would China participate in a debate about the status of Taiwan? Never. And there is no chance in hell that an American government official would ever be permitted to argue in a debate concerning it’s treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. But Israel has sent Mr Ran Gidor to argue tonight against [a ‘journalist’ come reality tv star, and myself,] a 19 year old law student who is entirely unqualified to speak on the issue at hand. Every government in the world should be laughing at Israel right now- because it forgot rule number one. You never add credence to crackpots by engaging with them. It’s the same reason you won’t see Stephen Hawking or Richard Dawkins debate David Icke. But Israel is doing precisely that. Once again, behaving in a way that is unexpected, or not normal. Behaving like a rogue state. That’s five arguments that have been directed at the supporters of Israel. But I have a minute or two left. And here’s an argument for all of you – Israel willfully and forcefully disregards international law. In 1981 Israel destroyed OSIRAK – Sadam Hussein’s nuclear bomb lab. Every government in the world knew that Hussein was building a bomb. And they did nothing. Except for Israel. Yes, in doing so they broke international law and custom. But they also saved us all from a nuclear Iraq. That rogue action should earn Israel a place of respect in the eyes of all freedom loving peoples. But it hasn’t. But tonight, while you listen to us prattle on, I want you to remember something; while you’re here, Khomeini’s Iran is working towards the Bomb. And if you’re honest with yourself, you know that Israel is the only country that can, and will, do something about it. Israel will, out of necessity act in a way that is the not the norm, and you’d better hope that they do it in a destructive manner. Any sane person would rather a rogue Israel than a Nuclear Iran. [Except Ms Booth]

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