As the global mobilization in solidarity with Palestinians grows, a new report traces cash from the ultra-wealthy donors who seek to torpedo the anti-apartheid, pro-peace movement.
NEW YORK — As the eleventh annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) continues worldwide, New York City activists say their local series of events protesting Israel’s policies, which ended last week, boosted ongoing efforts to support the human rights of Palestinians.
“IAW was very successful again this year,” local IAW coordinator Hani Ghazi told MintPress News. “None of the film screenings and discussion topics about Israel’s apartheid policies that were featured in our events were a repetition from last year’s IAW.”
Meanwhile, as IAW winds down, a new report seeks to illuminate the pro-Israel funders who allegedly attempted to impede the anti-apartheid movement’s phenomenal growth.
“We are not waiting”
Launched ten years ago by the Arab Students’ Collective, a campus organization at the University of Toronto, IAW has grown to encompass events in over 200 cities. They typically last a week in each location, but the dates may vary to accommodate local calendars.
In New York, where multiple universities schedule breaks and exams at different times, the week grew into a month this year, stretching from Feb. 26 through March 26.
Many activities reflected traditions IAW and campus-based Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) groups have established over the past decade. At Columbia and New York University, for example, SJP members built mock “apartheid walls,” imitations of Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank, which the International Court of Justice found illegal in 2004.
As expected, these barriers drew sharp reactions from campus supporters of Israel.
At NYU, a group of pro-Israel students declared their own “Israel Pride Week” and held a competing protest near the “apartheid wall” in Washington Square Park. Holding large signs of an obscene comment by pop star Lady Gaga, the demonstration drew support from pro-Israel leader Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whose son, Mendy, attends NYU.
At Columbia, the “apartheid wall” has historically faced opposition from student supporters of Israel, who set up a table directly across from it.
But this year, those supporters found themselves supplanted by the new Barnard-Columbia chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, which applied to use the same space first.
“This is a historic moment for American Judaism and we hope that Columbia’s Jewish community will join us on the right side of history,” campus JVP co-chairs Eva Kalikoff and Christopher Godshall wrote in an op-ed for the Columbia Spectator, the university’s newspaper. “We are not waiting.”
“Inspiring and encouraging”
A UC Berkley student protesting Israeli apartheid, Berkley, California. Sept, 2014.
Other local events ranged from street protests against the arrival of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the United States, a fundraising gala by the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, and British security contractor G4S, which provides services to Israeli prisons accused of torturing Palestinian detainees, to film screenings and panel discussions on Israel’s summer 2014 offensive against the Gaza Strip and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Significantly, the month began and ended with forums on the same topic — commonalities between the black American and Palestinian struggles — at the City University of New York School of Law and NYU.
“Our oppressors are literally learning from each other,” Equal Justice USA national organizer Cherrell Brown, who joined a solidarity delegation to Palestine by black organizations in January, said at NYU on March 26. “We know St. Louis police are being trained by Israeli soldiers. They are using the same weaponry, as some of the tear gas being used in Ferguson is from Israel. And so we must work together, and share our stories, and our collective resistance.”
In between, event organizers sought to explore the Palestinian movement, including aspects, like Palestinian refugees’ right of return, they felt had received insufficient attention in the past.
“BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti recently described the Palestinian right of return as ‘the most significant right in the BDS call,’” David Letwin of Jews for Palestinian Right of Return (JFPROR) told MintPress.
Along with local Palestinian groups, JFPROR held a panel on the topic at the New School March 11.
“It was inspiring and encouraging be a part of the first IAW event to focus on this crucial right,” Letwin said.
“An existential threat”
On March 26, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) released “The Business of Backlash: The Attack on the Palestinian Movement and Other Movements for Social Justice.” The report’s 124 pages outline the efforts of “11 extraordinarily wealthy individuals,” whose foundations hold over $10 billion in assets, to fuel anti-Palestinian, anti-Muslim, and other right-wing efforts.
This “backlash movement,” the report says, uses the Reut Institute’s 2010 report, “The Delegitimization Challenge: Creating a Political Firewall,” as “a definitive strategy document.”
Reut warned of IAW, claiming that the annual events on London campuses were “the clearest anti-Israel manifestation.” It further noted that international support for Palestinians could eventually “evolve into an existential threat” to Israel comparable with the risks of military conflict.
The IJAN report shows how pro-Israel funders have responded, targeting IAW, the BDS movement and other grassroots campaigns in solidarity with Palestine.
Recipients of their largesse have ranged from fringe groups like Christians United for Israel and Stand With Us, to community institutions such as Jewish Federations of North America and Hillel.
Simultaneously, their foundations’ cash has flowed into media and propaganda outlets that support Israel and its policies without reservation.
The resulting networks both monitor Palestine solidarity campaigns and respond to them, seeking to counter their information with often dubious claims.
In a case study, IJAN recounted the manufactured “backlash” to the distribution of mock “eviction notices” by NYU SJP members in April 2014. These documents, slipped under dormitory doors, aimed to dramatize Israel’s displacement of Palestinians and demolitions of their homes.
Pro-Israel students quickly responded, with Laura Adkins, a leader of TorchPAC, American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s NYU affiliate, claiming in a Times of Israel column that the action “target[ed] Jewish students.”
The NYU Local blog dismissed the statement as “a piece of shoddy, disingenuous journalism.”
Nevertheless, right-wing media like Fox News and the New York Post repeated it, as did the Anti-Defamation League and politicians such as New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a former member of the Jewish Defense League.
In response, the NYU administration made various threats toward SJP members and demanded two meetings with the group. Ultimately, in the face of growing public ridicule and increasingly bizarre statements by Adkins, who accused SJP of receiving funding from Hamas on Fox News, the university quietly dropped the matter.
The embarrassing anticlimax, IJAN says, “shows the extent to which university administrators, under pressure from both campus and external organizations, make threats to sanction Palestine solidarity that they are then unable to seriously follow through on.”
A Northeastern University student choosing not to give his name carries a Palestinian flag during a protest in support of Palestine after a Northeastern University student organization, Students for Justice in Palestine.
Yet other efforts have targeted IAW directly.
The Hasbara Fellowships, funded by both private donors and the State of Israel, organized simultaneous “Israeli Peace Weeks” on 45 U.S. campuses.
And in 2012, Jessica Felber and Brian Maissy, members of Tikvah Students for Israel at the University of California, Berkeley, complained to the U.S. Department of Education that the event was “a disturbing echo of incitement, intimidation, harassment and violence carried out under the Nazi regime.”
“Despite the vast resources – literally hundreds of millions of dollars – behind the backlash against the Palestinian and Palestine solidarity movements and BDS network, we have had many successes,” the IJAN report says. “We have relied on people power, with a tiny fraction of the resources that our opposition has, and against Israeli and U.S. state power.”