The day after the Pittsburgh massacre, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, was asked whether President Trump’s rhetoric motivated such attacks. Dermer instead proceeded to conflate the attack with the BDS movements on college campuses.
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA — (Analysis) In the aftermath of the horrific attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, politicians have managed to use the tragedy to attack their opponents. Instead of addressing the underlying issue of such hate attacks, they change the focus to unrelated matters.
For example, President Trump suggested perhaps the attack would not have been so bad with an armed security guard, even though four armed police officers went in knowing of the attack and were still injured. In addition, the Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs (and Education) suggested that a White Christian shooter killing 11 Jews in a synagogue is the same as prisoners of the concentration camp in Gaza firing “enhanced fireworks” in defiance.
One prominent target of this misdirection is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction Movement (BDS) against Israel. According to the BDS Movement website:
Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.”
The key to BDS is that it is non-violent. It applies economic and isolationist methods to press for Palestinian rights. Given Israel’s history of violence against Palestinians, the movement most likely scares Israel’s leaders more than anything else. These leaders know that when the violence stops and Israel can no longer (falsely) claim it is only defending itself, Israel cannot win on the merits of oppressing the people who have lived there for centuries.
After examining BDS, we will revisit another type of response to a terrorist attack. In 2014, three Israeli teens were abducted and killed in the occupied West Bank. Israel then opportunistically chose to implement a massive assault against Hamas in the West Bank and then the entire population of Gaza, even though Israel knew Hamas was not responsible.
This will demonstrate the need for the nonviolent movement of BDS, not its condemnation.
The Israeli ambassador begins the attack on BDS just one day after the shooting
The day after the Pittsburgh massacre, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, was asked whether President Trump’s rhetoric motivated such attacks. Dermer proceeded to conflate the attack with the BDS movements on college campuses. Dermer said on MSNBC,
To simply say that this is because of one person [referring to President Trump], it only comes on one side, is to not understand the history of anti-Semitism or the reality of anti-Semitism. One of the big forces in college campuses today is anti-Semitism. And those anti-Semites are usually not neo-Nazis on college campuses. They’re coming from the radical left.”
Given the opportunity, Dermer did not limit himself to attacking BDS. Dermer also slandered Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite, a slur previously debunked here at MintPress. In addition, Dermer lied about the percentage of hate crimes in America that were directed against Jews, stating: “In 2014 and 2015, according to FBI statistics, attacks against Jews accounted for over 50 percent of hate crimes in America.”
The actual statistic for 2014 is that 53.3 percent (664) of all religiously motivated hate crimes in America were directed against Jews. (Source: Jerusalem Post) The total number of all hate crimes was 5,848 of which the 664 that were directed against Jews represented only 11.4 percent.
Dermer appears to have kicked off the opportunistic use of the Tree of Life tragedy. Indeed, Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace noted,
[That there is an] effort to now use this massacre to move [anti-BDS] legislation on the Hill that literally has nothing to do with the kind of anti-Semitism that was at play in this massacre, but is about trying to shut down criticism of Israel and activism related to Israel, seems opportunistic and cynical.”
A likely presidential candidate jumps on the bandwagon
More surprising than Dermer’s comments, a supposedly progressive Democrat with Presidential aspirations also seems to have opportunistically joined the assault on BDS.
According to Wikipedia:
[Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-NJ)] political ideology closely aligns with the New Democrat movement and he has been described as a political moderate. Considered a social liberal, Booker supports women’s rights, affirmative action, same-sex marriage and single-payer healthcare. His youth, public presence, and political ideology have marked him as a potential member of multiple U.S. presidential tickets.”
Booker is also a lawyer, having graduated from Yale Law School.
On Friday, Nov. 2, six days after the attack, Booker announced he would sign on as a co-sponsor of The Israel Anti-Boycott Act. During an interview with Jewish Insider, Booker stated:
We’ve seen the alarming rise in anti-Semitism in the United States and across the world in recent years manifest itself in many deeply concerning ways, including in the actions of foreign governments targeting Israel and the Israeli people.
I have long and staunchly opposed the BDS movement, and support this bill which will prevent international entities from imposing their will on U.S. businesses with regards to their decisions, consistent with U.S. law, to conduct commerce with our close ally Israel and its citizens.
Initial concerns that this bill unintentionally infringed on individuals’ First Amendment rights have now been addressed by changes agreed upon earlier this year, and I feel confident that those modifications safeguard Americans’ constitutional right to free speech. I’ll be adding myself as a cosponsor, and will be urging my colleagues to support this important legislation in its modified form.”
Therefore, Booker, who has “long and staunchly opposed the BDS movement,” suddenly decides, six days after the shooting, to co-sponsor the bill. Shouldn’t his “staunch” support have led him to co-sponsor the bill much sooner? Indeed attorney Booker noted that the “individuals’ First Amendment rights,” which were supposedly a matter of concern, “have now been addressed by changes agreed upon earlier this year;” so why the change now?
Indeed the Forward reported:
Booker’s office did not respond to a question about whether Jewish leaders had asked the senator to support the anti-boycott law in the wake of the Pittsburgh massacre.”
Given Booker’s timing and refusal to address obvious questions, the only answer is that Booker, in a politically opportunistic move, has conflated the anti-Semitic murders of the shooter with the BDS Movement’s non-violent protest of Israel.
Also worth noting here is that the ACLU has objected to both the original version of the bill and the amended version. Attorney Booker should understand the problem with the bill: In either version, it is flatly unconstitutional under the 1982 Supreme Court decision NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., holding that peaceful political boycotts are protected under the First Amendment.
Like many other lawyers who have become politicians and should know better, Booker is supporting a bill that is directly contradicting a Supreme Court decision. Therefore, on its face, it is unconstitutional. Given his oath of oath of office is to uphold the Constitution and not protect Israel from protest and the economic consequences thereof, one may ask where does Booker’s allegiance lie? American democracy or a foreign country?
PM Trudeau’s attack on BDS: Forgive the transgressions of the past while forsaking the persecuted of the present
Eleven days after the attack on the synagogue, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered a long speech in the House of Commons providing the history of Canada’s denial of refuge to 900 German Jewish refugees on board the ship St. Louis. The passengers ultimately returned to Europe and faced the same horrifying fate as so many other Jews. Trudeau then appropriately asked for forgiveness for Canada’s past actions.
Ultimately, Trudeau used his speech to list other forms of anti-Semitism today. Notably though, right in the middle, Trudeau attacked BDS. This is how he raised the standard pro-Israel talking point:
Jewish students still feel unwelcome and uncomfortable on some of our college and university campuses because of BDS-related intimidation.”
Without further describing this “intimidation,” it is unclear exactly what Trudeau means. If Jews on campus do not support Israel, do they feel “uncomfortable” or intimidated by BDS? Certainly, Jews participating in BDS movements are not uncomfortable. If Jewish students are indifferent on the issues involving Israel and Palestine, would they even care about BDS?
Consider that BDS is a non-violent, political protest targeting Israel and its actions towards Palestinians. If a Jew feels “uncomfortable” for a political expression of a challenge to the support of a foreign country, then their discomfort is not for their being Jewish, but rather for their political viewpoint. Challenging a political view is essential to functioning of a democracy. Trudeau should know better than to conflate the democratic expression of political views with the hate of anti-Semitism.
Therefore, let’s return to Trudeau’s description of the events Jews faced in 1939. In part, he stated:
The passengers had been stripped of their possessions, chased out of their homes, forced out of their schools and banned from their professions by their own government.”
Editing this statement for 1948, when over 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed, we see that Palestinians have suffered similar acts of oppression:
The refugees could only take what they could carry, chased out of their homes, forced out of their schools and banned from their farms, villages and cities by the Zionist forces.”
Many of these refugees ended up in Gaza and the West Bank, where they are now under Israeli control. Gaza, a small town that became a refugee camp in 1948, was turned into a concentration camp in 2007 according to the plan of Israeli demographer Arnon Soffer. As Soffer calculated in his plan, Gazans have rebelled against the brutal conditions of their captivity and the Israelis have resorted to brute force to quell the uprising. The results have been devastating.
In addition to the three major Israeli assaults on Gaza in 2008-9, 2012 and 2014, the last of which is discussed in detail below, mass bloodshed continues today. Echoing the long-made Israeli call “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?” in April of this year tens of thousands of unarmed Gazans began their weekly protests, marching to the fences of their concentration camp. Israel has responded with lethal and crippling force. As the Guardian noted in an article about how Israel has been maiming its victims:
In the six months since the protest began, 220 Palestinians have been shot dead, according to the Hamas health authority in Gaza, whose figures are accepted as broadly accurate by independent medical sources, including the International Red Cross (ICRC), but today it is the horrifying number of catastrophic wounds that is breaking Gaza.
Since the start, there have been more than 24,500 casualties, says the Gaza authority, with at least 5,300 protesters shot – by high velocity gunfire, more than a quarter of whom need major and repeated surgery if the leg has any chance of being saved. Hundreds have been amputated and many more of those undergoing surgery will yet lose limbs.”
BDS is a nonviolent movement that seeks to address this bloodshed. So while Trudeau apologizes for the actions of a past Canadian administration, by demonizing BDS he is in effect condoning more atrocities while he is in power and has the ability to do something about it.
Trudeau’s speech started as a general request for forgiveness, but his last request was directed towards Canadian Jews: “And finally, we apologize to the members of Canada’s Jewish community whose voices were ignored, whose calls went unanswered.”
Perhaps Trudeau should listen today to Suzanne Berliner Weiss, a Jewish Holocaust survivor and a member of Independent Jewish Voices of Canada (IJV), “a grassroots organization grounded in Jewish tradition that opposes all forms of racism and advocates for justice and peace for all in Israel-Palestine.” Berliner wrote directly to Trudeau stating that his “apology rings hollow when, in the name of Canadians and the whole Jewish people, [he] denounce[s] the non-violent [BDS] campaign.”
Berliner concludes her letter by noting:
As someone who is a Holocaust survivor, I am alive today because I was hidden in France within Nazi territory by farming people inspired by love for all of humanity. We must all demonstrate the spirit of human solidarity that Canada failed to show in 1939 to counter the persecution and suffering of all afflicted peoples, including the Palestinians.”
Trudeau mentioned the Jewish principle of “tikkun olam – our responsibility to heal the world.” Yet Wikipedia, citing “Tikkun olam: social responsibility in Jewish thought and law,” describes tikkun olam as follows:
In the modern era, among the post Haskalah Ashkenazi movements, tikkun olam is the idea that Jews bear responsibility not only for their own moral, spiritual, and material welfare, but also for the welfare of society at large.”
Therefore, we ask, as Prime Minister Trudeau apologizes for the racist failings of Canada’s past, how can he cite tikkun olam and “never again” while turning such a blind eye to the current murderous oppression of yet another group of people? Especially while he at the same time condemns a non-violent movement to combat this injustice. Was Canada’s failing that it did not protect a minority fleeing oppression or that it did not protect Jews? It is to be hoped that Trudeau will learn that “never again” means stopping all brutal oppression and that Canada should do its best to help the suffering everywhere.
The call for BDS: What is it and why shut it down?
The BDS Movement website states:
Israel is occupying and colonising Palestinian land, discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel and denying Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS call urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law.
In 2005, Palestinian civil society organisations called for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as a form of non-violent pressure on Israel.
The BDS movement was launched by 170 Palestinian unions, political parties, refugee networks, women’s organizations, professional associations, popular resistance committees and other Palestinian civil society bodies.
Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the Palestinian BDS call urges nonviolent pressure on Israel until it complies with international law by meeting three demands:
- Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
- Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
- Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.”
So why does BDS, a peaceful movement to assert Palestinians’ human rights frighten Israel and its supporters so much? Because the non-violent demand for human rights blows a gaping hole in Israel’s “we’re only defending ourselves” argument.
From its inception, Israel has used violence to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian territory that is now internationally recognized as Israel (during the so-called War of Independence of 1947-48); capture and further ethnically cleanse the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights (during the War of 1967); and maintain a system of oppression over all non-Jews residing within Israel’s sovereignty (for over 70 years). Further, Israel has used force to prevent war refugees from returning home, as is their right under international law (UN Resolution 194) and as Israel agreed to permit as a condition of its membership in the UN (UN Resolution 273).
Under international law, an occupied population has the right to resist their occupation with force. The occupier does not enjoy the right to use force unilaterally against those it controls. Yet Israel has successfully created the PR image that it is the victim and therefore must resort to the use of force to defend itself. All too often this force is used for imposing its will and against civilians, neither of which Israel has the right to do. Furthermore, as we will see in the following section on the events of 2014, Israel uses extreme and excessive force as a matter of choice.
So the most terrifying thing about BDS is that it does not provide Israel the use-of-force option. Israel cannot justify shooting members of a non-violent movement (although Israel has done that beyond comprehension during the Great March of Return in Gaza). To a brutal occupier that does not do peace well, a non-violent movement is terrifying.
A closer look at the response to a terrorist attack in the Occupied West Bank shows why BDS is necessary
In June of 2014, the world was riveted by the abduction of three Israeli teenagers while they were in the occupied West Bank. The Netanyahu administration blamed Hamas and the Western mainstream media rarely veered from the Israeli narrative – that Israel was searching for the abducted boys and then responded to rocket fire from Gaza, leading to a massive number of casualties and destruction of infrastructure.
As we review a more complete set of events, we find that Israel used the abduction by a clan that was not responsive to Hamas’ orders to pin the blame on the latter and carry out a massively violent and oppressive campaign in both the West Bank and Gaza.
First, we will take a step back in time before the abduction on June 12 of that year. Al Nakba Day, the day commemorating the catastrophe of the Israeli forces ethnically cleansing over 750,000 Palestinians from their historic homeland, occurs on May 15 each year. The same day as the Israeli Declaration of Independence. On that day in 2014, two Palestinian teenagers were killed by IDF snipers. Closed-circuit video shows the teenagers were nowhere near any Israeli troops and were not throwing stones at the time of their assassinations. Palestinians did not start a war after these assassinations of children though.
Let’s take a further look back before the teens’ abductions to the period starting at beginning of the year. From January 1 through June 11, 2014, there were a total of 24 Palestinian civilians killed and zero Israeli. In March of 2014, during a ceasefire period, three Palestinian fighters were killed. In April of 2014, one Israeli soldier was killed, the only Israeli to die in 2014 before the three Israeli teens were abducted and killed. Still, even with this 27:1 ratio of Palestinians to Israelis killed, there was no war or Palestinian uprising before the abduction of the Israeli teens.
Then, after the abduction of the three teens, the Israelis immediately conducted Operation Brother’s Keeper in the West Bank. During this operation, 1,300 buildings were raided throughout the West Bank, not just in the immediate vicinity of the abductions. According to Noura Erakat, writing in The Nation, “Israel arrested approximately 800 Palestinians without charge or trial [and] killed nine civilians.” During the raids, at least $2.9 million was stolen by Israeli soldiers. The sheer scale of these operations, executed immediately after the abduction, indicates that most likely they were previously planned.
According to the Israeli narrative, the supposed premise of these operations was the search for the three abducted Israeli teens. Israel launched a global campaign in English, not in Hebrew, to “Bring Back Our Boys.” This was a cynical play on the call to “Bring Back the  Girls” previously kidnapped by Al Shabaab in April of that year. Yet the Israelis knew the three teenagers were already dead within 24 hours after the abduction. The Israeli government lied about this fact and placed a gag order on the media, the military and even the families of the teens, in case they figured out what had happened. As the Forward reports:
The initial evidence was the recording of victim Gilad Shaer’s desperate cellphone call to Moked 100, Israel’s 911. When the tape reached the security services the next morning — neglected for hours by Moked 100 staff — the teen was heard whispering ‘They’ve kidnapped me’ (‘hatfu oti’) followed by shouts of ‘Heads down,’ then gunfire, two groans, more shots, then singing in Arabic. That evening searchers found the kidnappers’ abandoned, torched Hyundai, with eight bullet holes and the boys’ DNA. There was no doubt.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately placed a gag order on the deaths. Journalists who heard rumors were told the Shin Bet wanted the gag order to aid the search. For public consumption, the official word was that Israel was ‘acting on the assumption that they’re alive.’ It was, simply put, a lie.”
Perhaps most damning, the Israelis also knew who the clan was behind the killing and that they were not responsive to Hamas leadership. Hamas did not order the abduction and yet Operation Brother’s Keeper was directed at Hamas across the West Bank.
As Max Blumenthal notes in the Electronic Intifada, the teenagers’ bodies were found by volunteers 18 days later on the grounds of one of the suspects. Not by the security forces who were too busy raiding Hamas all over the West Bank. Israel, as it invariably does, then exercised collective punishment by blowing up the homes of the two suspects. Netanyahu followed up with tweets that included “Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created.”
This refers to Chaim Bialik’s poem about “the 1903 pogrom incited by the Russian Tsar that left scores of Jews dead in the town of Kishinev.” Thereafter the angry mobs of Israeli vigilantes went looking for victims. One was 16-year-old Abu Khudair, found dead after being forced to drink gasoline and then burned alive. Netanyahu had his vengeance and Satan would have approved of burning an innocent from the inside out.
Israel attacks Gaza first, repeatedly, before Hamas finally responds
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) has submitted a report to the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor debunking Israeli claims that last summer’s attack on Gaza was an act of ‘self-defense.’
Analyzing the timeline of events (as reported by Israeli think-tank Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center) in early July 2014 that precipitated Israel’s launch of ‘Operation Protective Edge,’ the National Lawyers’ Guild report shows that Israel’s air and ground attacks on occupied Palestinian territories preceded any rocket fire from Hamas.”
Quoting directly from the NLG report:
Hamas rocket fire was neither actually occurring nor imminent when Israeli forces launched a non-judicial execution in Gaza, killing a Hamas member and severely wounding three civilians on June, 11, 2014. Nor when Israeli forces launched their massive assault on the West Bank and the additional attack on Gaza two days later on June 13, 2014. . .
As shown in the ITIC weekly reports cited herein, Israeli forces were able to continue and to escalate the assaults for several weeks beyond its June 11 attack on the West Bank and Gaza while Hamas maintained its side of the cease fire that it had been observing for more than 19 continuous months. Only after Israeli forces further escalated, launching a massive attack on 50 targets in Gaza on the night of July 6 and in the early morning hours of July 7, 2014, including the attack that killed the six Hamas members in a tunnel, did Hamas participate in and claim responsibility for rocket fire, ending its side of the cease‐fire late on the night of July 7.”
The totality of the onslaught on a defenseless population was incomparable. Gaza is one of the most, if not the most, densely populated areas in the world, with 2 million people living in a 140-square-mile area. By one estimate, the amount of bombs dropped exceeded the tonnage of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The Israelis used so much ordinance that it had to be resupplied by American bases in Israel. This was on a population with no air force, no navy, no tanks, no artillery and no anti-aircraft batteries to defend itself.
The results of the massive bombardment were devastating, as Al-Jazeera reported. In addition to the 2,251 Palestinians killed:
Nearly 10,000 Palestinians were wounded during the 51-day assault on Gaza. Israel forces bombed 142 schools, including six U.N. schools where civilians took refuge, the coordinates of which were repeatedly communicated to Israeli officials. Israeli soldiers shot and killed fleeing civilians and those working to recover the bodies of the dead. Israeli warplanes repeatedly bombed Gaza’s only power plant, destroyed one-third of Gaza’s hospitals, 29 ambulances and 14 primary health care clinics, demolished 41 mosques and damaged an additional 120.”
Further demonstrating the complete inhumanity of Israel’s cold-blooded bombing campaign was the choice of targets during the last days of the assault while truce negotiations were wrapping up. At that time, Israel destroyed three of the largest apartment buildings in Gaza — all of them civilian targets. Perhaps most ironically, Israel targeted a mall in Gaza. Paraphrasing Max Blumenthal who revealed the tragedy of the Israeli bombing: “Who targets shopping malls? Terrorists do.”
The totality of Israel’s attack on Gaza shows it was almost certainly carrying out its “Dahiya Doctrine.” This is Israel’s stated policy of collective punishment of civilian populations for any enemy fire. In other words, Israel’s stated policy is a war crime. As The Nation reports,
The Dahiya Doctrine is central to these operations and refers to Israel’s indiscriminate attacks on Lebanon in 2006. Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot said that this would be applied elsewhere:
‘What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. […] We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.’”
Consider that Gen. Gadi Eizenkot is now the Chief of the General Staff of the IDF. He is the man responsible for directing snipers to fire on unarmed protestors today in Gaza.
Further, it is now apparent that Israel will resort to its war-crime policy of collective punishment even if it fires first. So when Israel acts with such crushing force, even in the face of Hamas restraint, is there any other choice but a non-violent resistance including BDS?
The conflation of anti-Semitism with condemnation of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians
In closing, let us address this conflation of anti-Semitism with condemnation of Israel. For argument’s sake, let us assume that the two are undeniably linked. Such a construct permits only two possibilities then. Either:
- A person is not anti-Semitic and therefore supports all that Israel has done and continues to do to the Palestinians; or
- A person is anti-Semitic while standing up for the rights of Palestinians to live freely on their own land; to have the right to live as equal citizens under a representative democracy; to have the right to return to their homes from which they were driven; to have the right not to live in a concentration camp; and to have the right not to fear the weapons of those claiming supremacy by the virtue of their Star of David.
What choice does that leave people and how many more will then fit this definition of “anti-Semitic?”
As a Jew, if this Israeli, Western government and Western mainstream media narrative of “anti-Semitism” persists, I fear the answer.
Top Photo | People walk past a projection on the Old City wall in Jerusalem, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018 in a commemoration of the victims of a deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Dusan Vranic | AP
Ian Berman is an entrepreneur and former corporate banker at leading global banks in New York City. He now focuses on financial advisory services and writing about representative government, equitable public policies and ending American militarism and Israel’s continuing colonization of Palestine. He is the Co-Founder of Palestine 365, the Ongoing Oppression and its predecessor, Palestine 365, on Facebook.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect MintPress News editorial policy.