31 March 2016


Israel’s biggest anti-BDS conference hits Jerusalem

My story in Mondoweiss (my photos here): 30 MARCH 2016

One of Israel’s biggest newspapers staged the country’s first national conference against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement this week in Jerusalem. Yedioth Ahronoth and its website Ynet organized a day-long event that featured the majority of leading Israeli politicians and many cultural figures. Fear, paranoia, anger and determination was ubiquitous amongst the panelists and audience. BDS could never have imagined a more high-profile advertisement for its agenda.

Co-sponsored by Sodastream, World Jewish Congress, Bank Hapoalim and StandWithUs, who are organizing their own anti-BDS event in Los Angeles in April, the aim of the day was to counter the worldwide growth of BDS. The organizers stated that, “without knives or missiles but with an explosive payload consisting of outrageous lies – genocide, apartheid and crimes against humanity – the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is conquering a growing number of strongholds in Europe, the United States and elsewhere. From the campuses of California to the supermarkets of Paris, the academic, economic and cultural boycott is becoming a palpable threat to the international status of the State of Israel.”

Held in the Jerusalem Convention Center, hundreds of young and old participants from across the globe were treated to a collection of images in the foyer mocking the intentions of BDS supporters. One picture featured two black Africans standing on dry land while pro-Palestinian flotillas headed out to sea in the opposite direction. “Let’s wave these, maybe we’ll get some support, too”, one of the impoverished looking Africans said to the other while holding Palestinian flags. Another image showed an Israeli soldier saying to what was presumably a Palestinian woman, “Ho, cute baby.” A man sitting in a director’s chair labelled BDS shouts, “Cut! We need more hatred! The world won’t buy that!”

The professionally organized conference was slick. Throughout the day, short videos with ominous music were shown to the crowd. The clips were of BDS supporters, BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti (a name repeatedly mentioned during the day, including threats to remove his permanent resident status), global protests against Israel and musicians who refuse to play in the Jewish state.

Speaker after speaker either confirmed the BDS threat or said it shouldn’t be exaggerated. There was confusion how to tackle a problem that couldn’t be destroyed by conventional military means. Yedioth Ahronoth Editor-in-Chief Ron Yaron said that BDS should not be underestimated. There was a “feeling that you have been marked…We don’t want to wake up in 10 years to find ourselves in a position like apartheid South Africa.” He quickly dismissed any comparison between the two nations.

An “information kit for Israelis studying abroad” was available listing the “lies” and “truth” about Israel. It’s a curious document. While acknowledging that, “not every closing of every store in Hebron is fair and not every delay at every checkpoint is justifiable”, occupation (though this word isn’t used) is still sugar-coated. “In spite of the obvious improvements in the lives of Palestinians from 1967 until today, Israeli rule has also created serious issues for Palestinians.” The 1948 Nakba is explained away as “there were some instances of expulsions [but] these were not the rule.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, hailed as a moderate in some of the American media despite recently meeting with members of Lev HaOlam (a group dedicated to supporting businesses in the occupied West Bank), condemned BDS. “The BDS movement is a movement founded on the non-acceptance of Israel’s existence”, he said. “We must differentiate between criticism and de-legitimization. We must show the world the claims of the BDS movement are based on hatred and enmity of the State of Israel.” Rivlin praised Israel’s democratic nature and “one of the most ethical armies in the world”. He closed his remarks by saying that, “the Israeli flag should be held high and we should be proud”. The crowd cheered.

Ron Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress, told the gathering that, “our enemies have failed to destroy Israel militarily and economically. Having failed, they are trying to destroy Israel politically.” He accused “well-financed anti-Israel groups” of poisoning the minds of Jews on US campuses. “Most Jewish students are ill-equipped to defend themselves”, he argued. The irony was lost on the crowd that the US Zionist community has already spent tens of millions of dollars trying to polish Israel’s image with little discernable effect. There’s no evidence that BDS groups have received any comparable financial backing.

Lauder pledged to push the US Congress and other nations “to make economic boycotts illegal.” There are signs that the US Congress is taking note and pushing to criminalize constitutionally protected speech and non-violent resistance. France is leading the way with other countries likely to follow. Such legislation guarantees BDS activists will break the law and challenge its moral and legal basis.

Successive politicians slammed BDS and never mentioned the occupation (a word that only appeared during the day when questioning BDS allegations against Israel). Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan linked BDS to jihadism and Islamist terrorism, a connection repeatedly made across every panel. “Supporters of BDS justify their actions because of the ‘occupation,’ but if we really look at them, they also wave Hamas flags and call for the destruction of the State of Israel. This fight is not over any particular thing in our lives – but over our right to live here.” Erdan was pleased that every US Presidential candidate spoke out against BDS at the recent AIPAC conference in Washington DC. “Not Bernie Sanders”, he said, “but I’m sure he’ll be against it, too…With the help of God and you all, we will succeed.” Erdan recently claimed that BDS was a threat “to the international community” as well as Israel.

Haaretz journalist and commentator Gideon Levy has written for years that the majority of the Israeli media are mouthpieces for the government of the day. They may disagree with certain policies now and then but in the end they’ll side with Israel’s pro-occupation regime. The anti-BDS conference offered more evidence to prove Levy’s point. Yedioth Ahronoth columnist Ben Dror Yemini praised Israel’s democracy and relished “exposing” critics “who publish lies”. Another Yedioth reporter, Ronen Bergman, after recounting one of his Israeli intelligence sources “recently telling me that we can fight Hizbollah, Iran and its nukes but we haven’t yet defeated BDS; it’s a strategic challenge for the Israeli state”, asked whether “we defeat BDS like we did Hamas and Islamic Jihad 15 years ago [during a wave of suicide bombings]?”

One of the more predictably disappointing speakers was EU Ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, who was recently defamed in a video by Israeli settlers comparing him to Hannibal Lector. After refusing pro-Palestinian activists request to withdraw from appearing on stage with Dani Dayan, former head of the settler movement and just appointed Israeli consul-general in New York, his comments were timid. After stating that EU policy towards the settlements was that they were illegal, he continued: “Our policy is engagement with Israel. We are Israel’s largest trade partner, and we are Israel’s most important international partner in science, technology, and the list goes on.”

He was asked if an Israeli company had offices or factories in both Israel and the occupied territories was reason to label its product from the settlements (as is now happening in the EU with products from the West Bank). He said no. “Settlement products are welcome on the EU market”, he stated, undermining any effort to hold Israeli companies to account.

A flurry of Israeli politicians appeared, mouthed anti-BDS platitudes and left the building. Labor Opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog, who recently proposed a policy of forcibly separating from the Palestinians, praised the IDF as “working to the highest goals” and compared BDS to classic anti-Semitism. Yair Lapid hoped to “motivate the start-up nation”.

Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon said there was “no evidence that the Israeli economy was affected” by BDS though pledged to help any Israeli company that was. Israeli farmer Bar Heffetz recently wrote on Facebook that BDS was having an effect on sales to Europe. Kahlon said that Palestinians were the ones suffering the most from BDS “as the boycott harms the exports from the settlements, where most of the workers are Palestinians.” Former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said it was fashionable to “be vegan and hate on Israel” and wanted Israel to “change its policies [and] support the IDF as a moral and strong army.” Education Minister Naftali Bennett wanted Israel to “change the narrative and highlight our strong points. Trade with Europe is up and Israel is a steady light tower in an Arab storm.”

Challenging the official position that BDS wasn’t harming the Israeli economy, a panel with Israel’s leading industrialists argued otherwise. Former Intel Israeli President Shmuel Eden said that BDS was a “terrible threat” and “we are losing young, Jewish Americans”. Michael Jonas, CEO of Afek Oil and Gas, accused BDS of “terror” and expressed displeasure that many Arab states didn’t recognize its drilling in the occupied Golan Heights. Daniel Birnbaum, CEO of Sodastream, said Israel was in a “war” and denied that his company’s recent move to open a new plant in the Negev had any connection to BDS pressure (a contrary position to what he argued last year). “We needed a bigger plant and in the Negev, one hour from Ramallah, gives Palestinians work. This isn’t an apartheid state; we need co-existence.” Ofra Strauss, chairperson of the Strauss Group, urged more publicity about US and Israeli ties. “I grow in pride when people around the world drink Sodastream”, she said.

A sign of the anti-BDS campaign’s desperation was asking American actress and comedian Roseanne Barr to give the keynote address. She has a history of defaming Islam. Her talk rambled between accusing BDS of being “fascist” and “right-wing” and denying Israel was occupying any Palestinian territory at all (a position shared by virtually all of the day’s speakers). The crowd cheered throughout her talk. “It’s a huge turn-on being in service as a Jew”, she said to applause.

A panel dedicated to “beating the boycott movement on social media” consisted of mostly StandWithUs employees. “Strategic consultant” Chen Mazig, self-described “good friend” of Roseanne Barr, called prominent Palestinian writer and tweeter Ali Abunimah “a raving fanatic, a lunatic. He hates Jews”. Honest Reporting CEO Joe Hyams wanted the audience to “focus on the 85%-90% of people [online] who are undecided about Israel”. His organization routinely publishes propaganda for the IDF.

By late afternoon, and the program running overtime, US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, repeated US talking points about Israel and vigorously opposed BDS. Interestingly, he urged Israel to resume peace talks with the Palestinians because, “when we have such a tool, our hand is strengthened, not with the core advocates of BDS, who have a truly anti-Israel agenda independent of the conflict, but with those who are persuadable, and there are significant numbers of such people.” It was a theme repeated by Tzipi Livni earlier in the day. BDS would apparently suffer if at least the illusion of peace talks took place.

Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked, a hard-right politician who has called all Palestinian people the “enemy”, said that “justice ministers around the world are great friends of Israel. They all love Israel and want to cooperate with it, especially in light of Israel’s experience in the war against terrorism.” She’s right; this co-operation is deepening and will likely continue to do so after more attacks like the ones recently suffered in Europe.

By day’s end, with all the fish, chicken, salad and marzipan chocolate eaten, the final session was about the cultural boycott of Israel and how to beat it. Actress Yael Abecassis said that she was a “spokesperson [for Israel] as soon as I leave the house, when I leave the country.

We are all soldiers.” Musician Idan Raichel said that BDS activists had never successfully cancelled his performances. Producer Shuki Weiss, who revealed that Elton John was asked to sign an Israeli loyalty pledge before his show in Tel Aviv, said that few international musicians were listening to the BDS call by former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters.

It was a surreal day, filled with determination to defeat BDS, but participants were seemingly incapable of truly understanding why the movement was surging globally. Anti-Semitism was the oft-stated reason. The current mood in Jewish Israel is nationalistic, belligerent, fearful and contemptuous of Palestinians, pro-military and intolerant of dissent. International media is being blamed for Israel’s poor global standing.

BDS is working. Israeli companies are increasingly moving out of the West Bank to avoid being boycotted (though corporate media outlets like the Financial Times continue to produce plush spreads about the “start-up nation”). In many ways, the West Bank and Israel are already indivisible politically and morally; it’s one state with Jews and Arabs facing different rights and laws. Israel proper is complicit in establishing and deepening the West Bank colonies. De-facto annexation of the West Bank is happening today. Gaza remains broken.

The fact that this anti-BDS event happened at all, after years of Zionist groups and the Israeli government claiming the movement was irrelevant, was a clear sign that BDS has started to bite. Mossad is already pushing a cyberwar against BDS activists. The anti-BDS conference revealed that there are few strategies being contemplated apart from more money for US campuses to spread Israeli propaganda and funds to better sell the country’s supposed benefits to an increasingly skeptical world.

There’s no doubt that draconian legislation against BDS could hamper the movement’s rise in the short term, and BDS leaders could be targeted by political, social or military means, but the underlying trajectory of Israel is clear. The US and its allies are now supporting the “first signs of fascism in Israel”, Gideon Levy recently said. BDS will continue to grow globally because Israel is helping its cause on a daily basis.

27 March 2016


A World War has Begun: Break the Silence


I have been filming in the Marshall Islands, which lie north of Australia, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Whenever I tell people where I have been, they ask, “Where is that?” If I offer a clue by referring to “Bikini”, they say, “You mean the swimsuit.”

Few seem aware that the bikini swimsuit was named to celebrate the nuclear explosions that destroyed Bikini island. Sixty-six nuclear devices were exploded by the United States in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958 — the equivalent of 1.6 Hiroshima bombs every day for twelve years.

Bikini is silent today, mutated and contaminated.  Palm trees grow in a strange grid formation. Nothing moves. There are no birds. The headstones in the old cemetery are alive with radiation. My shoes registered “unsafe” on a Geiger counter.

Standing on the beach, I watched the emerald green of the Pacific fall away into a vast black hole. This was the crater left by the hydrogen bomb they called “Bravo”. The explosion poisoned people and their environment for hundreds of miles, perhaps forever.

On my return journey, I stopped at Honolulu airport and noticed an American magazine called Women’s Health. On the cover was a smiling woman in a bikini swimsuit, and the headline: “You, too, can have a bikini body.”  A few days earlier, in the Marshall Islands, I had interviewed women who had very different “bikini bodies”; each had suffered thyroid cancer and other life-threatening cancers.

Unlike the smiling woman in the magazine, all of them were impoverished: the victims and guinea pigs of a rapacious  superpower that is today more dangerous than ever.

I relate this experience as a warning and to interrupt a distraction that has consumed so many of us.  The founder of modern propaganda, Edward Bernays, described this phenomenon as “the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the habits and opinions” of democratic societies. He called it an “invisible government”.

How many people are aware that a world war has begun? At present, it is a war of propaganda, of lies and distraction, but this can change instantaneously with the first mistaken order, the first missile.

In 2009, President Obama stood before an adoring crowd in the centre of Prague, in the heart of Europe. He pledged himself to make “the world free from nuclear weapons”. People cheered and some cried. A torrent of platitudes flowed from the media. Obama was subsequently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
It was all fake. He was lying.

The Obama administration has built more nuclear weapons, more nuclear warheads, more nuclear delivery systems, more nuclear factories.  Nuclear warhead spending alone rose higher under Obama than under any American president. The cost over thirty years is more than $1 trillion.

A mini nuclear bomb is planned. It is known as the B61 Model 12. There has never been anything like it. General James Cartwright, a former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said, “Going smaller [makes using this nuclear] weapon more thinkable.”

In the last eighteen months, the greatest build-up of military forces since World War Two — led by the United States — is taking place along Russia’s western frontier.  Not since Hitler invaded the Soviet Union have foreign troops presented such a demonstrable threat to Russia.

Ukraine – once part of the Soviet Union –  has become a CIA theme park. Having orchestrated a coup in Kiev, Washington effectively controls a regime that is next door and hostile to Russia: a regime rotten with Nazis, literally. Prominent parliamentary figures in Ukraine are the political descendants of the notorious OUN and UPA fascists. They openly praise Hitler and call for the persecution and expulsion of the Russian speaking minority.

This is seldom news in the West, or it is inverted to suppress the truth.

In Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — next door to Russia – the US military is deploying combat troops, tanks, heavy weapons. This extreme provocation of the world’s second nuclear power is met with silence in the West.

What makes the prospect of nuclear war even more dangerous is a parallel campaign against China.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.05.31 PM-1

Seldom a day passes when China is not elevated to the status of a “threat”.  According to Admiral Harry Harris, the US Pacific commander, China is “building a great wall of sand in the South China Sea”.
What he is referring to is China building airstrips in the Spratly Islands, which are the subject of a dispute with the Philippines – a dispute without priority until Washington pressured and bribed the government in Manila and the Pentagon launched a propaganda campaign called “freedom of navigation”.

What does this really mean?  It means freedom for American warships to patrol and dominate the coastal waters of China.  Try to imagine the American reaction if Chinese warships did the same off the coast of California.

I made a film called The War You Don’t See, in which I interviewed distinguished journalists in America and Britain: reporters such as Dan Rather of CBS, Rageh Omar of the BBC, David Rose of the Observer.

All of them said that had journalists and broadcasters done their job and questioned the propaganda that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction; had the lies of George W. Bush and Tony Blair not been amplified and echoed by journalists, the 2003 invasion of Iraq might not have happened, and  hundreds of thousands of men, women and children would be alive today.

The propaganda laying the ground for a war against Russia and/or  China is no different in principle. To my knowledge, no journalist in the Western “mainstream” — a Dan Rather equivalent, say –asks why China is building airstrips in the South China Sea.

The answer ought to be glaringly obvious. The United States is encircling China with a network of bases, with ballistic missiles, battle groups, nuclear -armed bombers.

This lethal arc extends from Australia to the islands of the Pacific, the Marianas and the Marshalls and Guam, to the Philippines, Thailand, Okinawa, Korea and  across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India. America has hung a noose around the neck of China. This is not news. Silence by media; war by media.

In 2015, in high secrecy, the US and Australia staged the biggest single air-sea military exercise in recent history, known as Talisman Sabre. Its aim was to rehearse an Air-Sea Battle Plan, blocking sea lanes, such as the Straits of Malacca and the Lombok Straits, that cut off China’s access to oil, gas and other vital raw materials from the Middle East and Africa.

In the circus known as the American presidential campaign, Donald Trump is being presented as a lunatic, a fascist.  He is certainly odious; but he is also a media hate figure.  That alone should arouse our scepticism.
Trump’s views on migration are grotesque, but no more grotesque than those of David Cameron. It is not Trump who is the Great Deporter from the United States, but the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Barack Obama.

According to one prodigious liberal commentator, Trump is “unleashing the dark forces of violence” in the United States. Unleashing them?

This is the country where toddlers shoot their mothers and the police wage a murderous war against black Americans. This is the country that has attacked and sought to overthrow more than 50 governments, many of them democracies, and bombed from Asia to the Middle East, causing the deaths and dispossession of millions of people.

No country can equal this systemic record of violence. Most of America’s wars (almost all of them against defenceless countries) have been launched not by Republican presidents but by liberal Democrats: Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Obama.

In 1947, a series of National Security Council directives described the paramount aim of American foreign policy as “a world substantially made over in [America’s] own image”.  The ideology was messianic Americanism. We were all Americans. Or else. Heretics would be converted, subverted, bribed, smeared or crushed.

Donald Trump is a symptom of this, but he is also a maverick. He says the invasion of Iraq was a crime; he doesn’t want to go to war with Russia and China. The danger to the rest of us is not Trump, but Hillary Clinton. She is no maverick. She embodies the resilience and violence of a system whose vaunted “exceptionalism” is totalitarian with an occasional liberal face.

As presidential  election day draws near, Clinton will be hailed as the first female president, regardless of her crimes and lies – just as Barack Obama was lauded as the first black president and liberals swallowed his nonsense about “hope”. And the drool goes on.

Described by the Guardian columnist Owen Jones as “funny, charming, with a coolness that eludes practically every other politician”, Obama the other day sent drones to slaughter 150 people in Somalia.  He kills people usually on Tuesdays, according to the New York Times, when he is handed a list of candidates for death by drone. So cool.

In the 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton threatened to “totally obliterate” Iran with nuclear weapons.  As Secretary of State under Obama, she participated in the overthrow of the democratic government of Honduras. Her contribution to the destruction of Libya in 2011 was almost gleeful. When the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, was publicly sodomised with a knife – a murder made possible by American logistics – Clinton gloated over his death: “We came, we saw, he died.”

One of Clinton’s closest allies is Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of State, who has attacked young women for not supporting “Hillary”. This is the same Madeleine Albright  who infamously celebrated on TV the death of half a million Iraqi children as “worth it”.

Among Clinton’s biggest backers are the Israel lobby and the arms companies that fuel the violence in the Middle East.  She and her husband have received a fortune from Wall Street. And yet, she is about to be ordained the women’s candidate, to see off the evil Trump, the official demon. Her supporters include distinguished feminists: the likes of Gloria Steinem in the US and Anne Summers in Australia.

A generation ago, a post-modern cult now known as “identity politics” stopped many intelligent, liberal-minded people examining the causes and individuals they supported — such as the fakery of Obama and Clinton;  such as bogus progressive movements like Syriza in Greece, which betrayed the people of that country and allied with their enemies.

Self absorption, a kind of “me-ism”, became the new zeitgeist in privileged western societies and signaled the demise of great collective movements against war, social injustice, inequality,  racism and sexism.

Today, the long sleep may be over. The young are stirring again. Gradually. The thousands in Britain who supported Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader are part of this awakening – as are those who rallied to support Senator Bernie Sanders.

In Britain last week, Jeremy Corbyn’s closest ally, his shadow treasurer John McDonnell, committed a Labour government to pay off the debts of piratical banks and, in effect, to continue so-called austerity.
In the US, Bernie Sanders has promised to support Clinton if or when she’s nominated. He, too, has voted for America’s use of violence against countries when he thinks it’s “right”. He says Obama has done “a great job”.

In Australia, there is a kind of mortuary politics, in which tedious parliamentary games are played out in the media while refugees and Indigenous people are persecuted and inequality grows, along with the danger of war. The government of Malcolm Turnbull has just announced a so-called defence budget of $195 billion that is a drive to war.  There was no debate. Silence.

What has happened to the great tradition of popular direct action, unfettered to parties? Where is the courage, imagination and commitment required to begin the long journey to a better, just and peaceful world? Where are the dissidents in art, film, the theatre, literature?

Where are those who will shatter the silence? Or do we wait until the first nuclear missile is fired?

This is an edited version of an address by John Pilger at the University of Sydney, entitled A World War Has Begun.
John Pilger can be reached through his website: www.johnpilger.com

26 March 2016


Letter in The Age, 24 MARCH 2016


The West must confront its wrongs


After every attack on the West (note: not those in Turkey), our so-called leaders state the mantra, "they will not make us live in fear, we will carry on with our lives" etc. The people who commit these terrorist acts are immediately vilified, correctly, but with little discussion of cause and effect. The manifest lie that intelligence agencies and police have any way to prevent these atrocities needs to be ridiculed. Historically, there is no evidence to suggest terrorism committed by individuals can be stopped by monitoring. The root of the issue lies in the British and French destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the ongoing wars and support of dictators in the region, predominantly over oil, that have occurred since. Ongoing hegemony that has fuelled our economies at the expense of others. But strangely no one wants to talk about it, so instead of a robust discussion on where the West has gone wrong and what can be done to fix it, the West presents itself as an immaculate victim of Arab/Muslim ignorance. Without our friends the Saudis, Islamic State wouldn't financially exist. As long as we continue the "we have done nothing wrong" or "they're just fanatics" dialogue we are doomed to allow these dreadful people to increase in number.

Gerard Grant, Knoxfield

20 March 2016


From Mondoweiss - 18 March 2016

Israel’s legal warfare on BDS fosters repression and McCarthyism across the world


A BDS logo

The global movement supporting the Palestinian people’s right to freedom, justice and equality has taken impressive steps into the political mainstream in recent years. Efforts by the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to hold Israel accountable for its serious violations of international law and to end international complicity in these violations are more widely supported and impactful than ever before.
Israel’s current government, its most racist ever, has dropped all pretences of “enlightenment” and “democracy”. This has helped to expose Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid to world public opinion like never before. In this context, and given the fast spread of BDS in recent years, Israel has tried hard but failed to slow down its gradually intensifying international isolation in the academic, cultural, sports and, to a lesser extent, economic sphere.
As a result, Israel, its lobby groups and its right-wing supporters have launched an unprecedented, well-funded global campaign to silence Palestinian narratives and criminalize BDS advocacy, especially in western countries. Israeli-induced attacks on free speech and civil rights in Europe, the US and Canada, among others, are fostering an ominous environment of bullying, intimidation and repression that has all the hallmarks of the era of McCarthyism in the US and the worst days of the apartheid regime in South Africa.
In a desperate attempt to suppress BDS from above, after losing many battles for the hearts and minds at the grassroots level, Israel and its pressure groups, including anti-Palestinian billionaires, are pressuring governments, legislatures and officials in the west to implement patently anti-democratic measures that threaten civil liberties at large. This should deeply concern not just activists supporting Palestinian rights, but all those who value civil liberties as well as progressive movements struggling for racial, gender, social, economic, indigenous and environmental justice.
The authoritarian measures adopted against BDS so far include the prosecution of BDS activists in France, like the recent arrest of an activist for wearing a BDS t-shirt; proposals to exclude organisations that support BDS in the US from public funding or contracts; the Canadian parliament’s condemnation of BDS and threats against Palestine solidarity groups; and the British government’s intimidation of local councils that have voted to support BDS measures, among other attacks on local democracy in the UK (more details on all these below).
Glenn Greenwald has described this well-orchestrated series of draconian measures as the “greatest threat to free speech in the West”. Yet Israel’s exceptionalism in some mainstream quarters in the west remains intact.
South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has once likened this singling out of Israel’s regime for unconditional military, political and financial support, not to mention protection from accountability, by the US and other western governments to placing Israel “on a pedestal” above every other state. Many people are afraid to criticize Israel’s policies, Tutu argues, because of the exceptionally intimidating methods used by its lobby.
BDS is an inclusive, anti-racist movement that is anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is opposed on principle to all forms of racism and discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The BDS movement is advocating for Israel to be taken off “the pedestal” and held to account like other states committing similar crimes.
It is clear that Israel has been lobbying for and is directly behind these deeply worrying anti-democratic attacks that are intended to criminalize the advocacy of Palestinian rights. But they are also part of a growing trend in western countries of eroding civil liberties in the name of ‘security’, and of governments and unaccountable elites concentrating power in their hands and undermining democratic principles.
The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the broadest coalition in Palestinian society that is leading the global BDS movement, stands in full solidarity with BDS activists in France and elsewhere who are facing witch-hunts and persecution for their principled advocacy of Palestinian human rights.
While they may succeed in chilling freedom of expression at first, anti-democratic legislation and legal bullying cannot possibly hide or make more palatable Israel’s crimes against the indigenous Palestinian people.

 Ultimately, a fast increasing number of progressives and liberals around the world are learning about and condemning Israel’s ongoing siege of the occupied Gaza Strip, its incessant theft of Palestinian lands and resources, and its ongoing ethnic cleansing of entire Palestinian communities, especially in and around the Jordan Valley, East Jerusalem and the Naqab (Negev).
No Israeli propaganda or lawfare can whitewash its incarceration of millions of Palestinians in racially segregated ghettos, surrounded by walls, military watchtowers and checkpoints, its system of apartheid, or its denial of the UN-stipulated right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes of origin.
We are encouraged by the Swedish foreign ministry’s statement re-affirming basic democratic principles by stating that BDS “is a civil society movement” and that “governments should not interfere in civil society organization views”. Sweden is now the first western country to openly break away from Israel’s incessant bullying and has taken a courageous step that other governments should follow.
We urge civil liberties groups, human rights organizations, people of conscience and public figures to join us in condemning and opposing government-led attacks on free speech and civil liberties that are being implemented in order to undermine civil society’s human rights advocacy initiatives on behalf of the Palestinian people.
We reiterate the call of the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council on governments to respect and protect the civil and political rights of their citizens and to meet their legal obligations in order to bring Israel’s violations to an end, instead of colluding with Israel and muzzling their own citizens in order to shield it from criticism and accountability.
We urge human rights organisations and other civil society entities worldwide, irrespective of their own views of BDS, to adopt the principled position of defending the right of people and organizations to engage in BDS campaigns.
BDS is inspired and inspiring. It is a movement that is inspired by our people’s long heritage of non-violent popular resistance, the South African anti-apartheid movement and the US Civil Rights movement, among others. It is in turn inspiring a whole generation of Palestinian and international activists, academics, artists, feminists, racial and social justice movements, LGBTQ advocates, and others, to speak truth to power in the pursuit of our respective inalienable rights. United, we shall overcome.
Palestinian BDS National Committee Secretariat
17 March 2016


In 2010, then justice minister Michèle Alliot-Marie issued an instruction to state authorities that  “Article 24, line 8 of the 1881 law on the press allows the punishment of citizens or organizations who call for the boycott of goods from a country whose policies they criticise” on the grounds that such a call constitutes discrimination. Since then, more than 30 activists have faced criminal charges over their participation in nonviolent BDS advocacy.
In October 2015, the Court of Cassation, France’s highest appeals court, issued a ruling stating that the call to boycott Israeli products on the basis of their “origin” is illegal. BDS calls for the boycott of Israeli products on the basis of complicity, not identity. Israeli companies are complicit in violating international law, and trade with Israel while it maintains its system of oppression against the Palestinians, as was the case with apartheid South Africa, is a form of support for its regime’s human rights violations.
Regardless, nearly all forms of BDS activism is France are focused on activities other than calling for a boycott of Israeli products and cannot in any way be considered illegal.
Using a false and arbitrary interpretation of the Court of Cassation ruling to claim that all activities in support of BDS are illegal, there have since have been a number of attempts by the police to prevent demonstrations in support of BDS from taking place. In early March, a solidarity activist was arrested simply for wearing a tshirt supportive of BDS, as was reported.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls recently stated that he would speak with the Ministry of Interior to discuss what further measures could be taken to repress BDS activism.
The Paris city council has passed a resolution condemning the BDS movement which also uses a false interpretation of the Court of Cassation ruling.
Despite all of this state-backed repression, the BDS movement in France continues to mobilise wide support, including through street demonstrations, for the end of international complicity with Israeli apartheid and settler colonialism.


According to the new Right to Boycott website, anti-BDS bills or resolutions have been introduced in 21 different states and in the US Congress.
On July 23, 2015, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed the country’s first explicitly anti-BDS state law. This new law requires the creation of a state-run “blacklist” of foreign companies that heed calls for boycotting Israel and compels the state’s pension fund to divest from those companies.
The Combating BDS Act of 2016 introduced into the US Congress seeks to authorize state and local governments to divest assets from and prohibit investment in any entity that “engages in a commerce or investment-related boycott, divestment or sanctions activity targeting Israel.”
Bills introduced in Congress, New York, Illinois, and Maryland sought to defund or reduce government funding to colleges and universities that fund or subsidize activities and participation in groups, including the American Studies Association, that endorse academic boycotts of Israel.
In June 2015, President Obama signed the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) into law. This broad free trade law included provisions opposing BDS and making it a principle trade objective during negotiations with the European Union for the United States to discourage “politically-motivated actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction” Israel and “Israeli-controlled territories”.
In reassuring BDS activists across the US, the legal advocacy group Palestine Legal affirms, “Boycotts have long played a significant role in U.S. history, and the Supreme Court has held that boycotts to effect political, social, and economic change are protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. The call for a boycott of Israel is based on Israel’s human rights violations, and is intended to effect social and political change. The Constitution is the ‘law of the land,’ so federal, state, and local laws cannot take away your constitutional rights.”


In October 2015, a governing Conservative party press release announced that the government would take steps to “prevent town hall boycotts” and prevent local councils and other public bodies from supporting the BDS movement or measures aimed at companies that participate in Israeli violations of international law.
The UK government press release announcing the measures included a number of smears against the BDS movement, falsely claiming that it calls for a boycott on the basis of ethnic identity. Justice Minister Michael Gove made similar smearsduring a recent speech.
The UK government’s measures have advanced through a policy note on public procurement and proposed changes to local government pension scheme regulations.
Public procurement: On 17 February 2016, the Cabinet Office published a Procurement Policy Note (PPN)1 that restates existing legal obligations regarding public sector procurement processes. It uses World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules to argue that public bodies cannot refuse to deal with a company because of its “country of origin”. However, the WTO Public Procurement agreement does allow for any measure enacted in order to “protect public morals”.
The government document is clearly designed to have a chilling effect and to intimidate councils into falsely thinking that they are no longer allowed to exclude companies that violate human rights from tender exercises. However, the document does not introduce new legal obligations or requirements for public bodies. Nor does the policy guidance note prevent local councils from excluding companies from tendering processes due to their role in human rights violations, confirmed to be perfectly legal by the previous government.
Local government pensions: On 25 November 2015, the government launched a consultation regarding new regulations for how local government invest pension funds. This includes a proposal to give the Secretary of State veto power over local authority investment decisions and states that the government will publish additional guidance making clear that investment decisions “should not pursue policies which run contrary to UK foreign policy”. That guidance has not yet been published.
These steps fatally undermine the government’s stated commitment to transfer power to local government and communities. They also represent a serious attack on local democracy and civil rights.


The Canadian parliament, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s party, recently voted to condemn the global BDS campaign. The motion was put forward by the opposition Conservative Party but backed by most members of Trudeau’s governing Liberals.
The motion “calls upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian groups or individuals to promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which it describes as promoting the ‘demonization and delegitimization’ of Israel.”
This motion is the latest in a string of government-backed attacks on the BDS movement and infringements on free speech that have also seen government politicians condemning campus activism and smearing BDS as “anti-Semitic” and the signing of a cooperation agreement with Israel that included a specific commitment to fight the BDS movement.
About Palestinian BDS National Committee
The BDS National Committee (BNC) is the Palestinian coordinating body for the BDS campaign worldwide. For more information, visit www.bdsmovement.net/BNC.
Other posts by Palestinian BDS National Committee.

2 Responses

March 18, 2016, 10:10 am
Here in the UK can`t wait for the first challenge to government policy and the resultant publicity whatever the legal or “quasi legal” outcome. Next step individuals writing to their MPs querying the policy/decision. Following step use of the UK Government petition system to request that the policy be reversed.etc. All = publicity and raising of awareness of the issues and the situation in the Stolen and Blockaded Territories. And those cuddly Zionists do not repeat do not like any form of awareness or publicity or any form of direct light being shone on their nasty little Fascist cult colony. So what will be their next tactic ?.Don`t think they have got one really – looking forward to the denouement of their pathetic knee jerk anti BDS campaign. They really are up s..t creek without a paddle on this one.
March 18, 2016, 10:40 pm
Nobody likes a bully. The growing revulsion at seeing the zios’ victims brutalised or reading about Palestinian babies burned and bombed, children brutalised by israeli law enforcement, cold-blooded killings of young men and women and the hopeless despair of generation after generation despairing of life in a concentration camp called israel-occupied-Palestine may not compel the cowardly politicians into action, but the once-overwhelming uncritical sympathy for israel is waning fast, especially among the youngest generation for whom the Jewish holocaust pales in comparison to the horror practised by the US and its Euro cohorts in present day ME against Muslims.
Sic transit gloria mundi…

14 March 2016


Trainspotter: The Madness of King Mbeki, HIV/AIDS edition

  • Richard Poplak
  • South Africa
  • 07 Mar 2016  (South Africa) Daily Maverick

As you’re no doubt aware, former President Thabo Mbeki has been addressing his legacy in a series of letters published on his Foundation’s homepage. Interested South Africans wondered when he was going to get around to dealing with the most controversial aspect of his presidency? They should wonder no longer. Mbeki is still nuts about Aids. The first time, lots of people died unnecessarily. Now, it’s just pathetic. By RICHARD POPLAK.

Like most South Africans who trawl the Great Pacific garbage patch of South African politics for recyclables, I have a new Monday morning ritual. After breakfast, I reluctantly click my way to the Thabo Mbeki Foundation’s homepage, in search of a blinking icon emblazoned with the word “New.” There I find a portal into the past – or, rather, into an ever-evolving, always-under-construction historical theme park called Mbeki Land. The wilds of this place are inhabited by tin men, cackling witches, singing midgets and a menagerie of fantastical creatures, all of whom are presided over by a figure behind a curtain referred to by his minions as “The Prez.” Imagine the visitor’s disappointment when the curtain is pulled back to reveal Thabo Mbeki hunched in a chair, hammering away on – gasp! – a word processor.

For the several months, with Metamucil-like regularity, President Mbeki has published letters on his foundation’s website, all of which deal with some of the more controversial, if arcane, matters related to his term in office.

The following words were not written by Thabo Mbeki, but they provide an overview of his oeuvre, without subjecting the reader to the agony of an actual Mbeki letter:

Behind the issue of warm beverage consumption in parliament was a larger narrative.
For several decades, ever since I decided to step down from my position as president of the African National Congress, and therefore chose to entrust the country’s presidency to others within the one hundred (100) year-old party’s august ranks, the so-called “Issue of Mbeki and the Parliamentary Tearoom” has been hotly contested by the press and the historical fraternity. 

It has been said, by many in both institutions, that President Thabo Mbeki unilaterally chose to switch from Five Roses to Woolworths English Breakfast as the choice of tea bag to be consumed within the contextual space of the tea room, and that this choice reflected not only an uncomfortable closeness with the agents of white corporate power, in particular the grocery chain lobby, but also an unpleasant affinity with the English themselves, with whom President Mbeki had become close during his period in exile. 

Adv. Vusi Pikoli, who was at that time serving as head of the head National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), was said by certain members of the press to have a strong and unwavering preference for Five Roses, and that he, and the Head of the Scorpions, Adv Leonard McCarthy, would strongly object to any attempts at removing the aforementioned tea bags from the tea room, and to replacing them with a superior brand. 

It is also said that when I tabled the issues of Woolworths English Breakfast’s marked superiority at a committee session during the ANC’s 1996 lekgotla, in particular focusing on the nutty aroma and cigar-smoke aftertaste inimical to the Five Roses varietal, Pikoli took copious notes, did not engage, and shortly thereafter began negotiating secretly with the Joko brand. But, as political correspondent Ranjeni Munusamy noted in a Standard 1 essay, written exclusively for Natal Catholic Girls Primary School in August 1987, and titled “What I did during my holidays”—“all is not what it seems.” 

The reader should now consider herself alerted to some signature Mbeki moves: the flip-flopping from first person to third; the convoluted, run-on sentences; the invocation of the long dead as standing witnesses. Wretched prose aside, the offense in these letters lurks within the minutia, within the endless attempts to “set straight” small points of contention while ignoring the larger implications of a billion tiny, ill-made decisions. As far as Thabo Mbeki is concerned, Thabo Mbeki never slipped up, and the country’s ills must be attributed to the tin men, cackling witches and singing midgets on the other side of the curtain.

But the most recent letter was a killer even by the former president’s standards. The issue that we’d all been dreading – Mbeki’s unforgivable policy decisions during the country’s HIV/Aids crisis – finally received its own rollercoaster ride in Mbeki Land. Entitled “A Brief Commentary on the Question of HIV and AIDS”, and published on Monday, it is – and I say this without reservation – the most absurd, tragic, turgid monstrosity that I have ever encountered on the internet. I repeat: On. The. Internet. Where idiocy goes to die. Where Donald Trump goes to Tweet. Where kitten GIFs count as high art.
There is, and always will be, a case to be made against the Western medical fraternity’s all-knowing arrogance, against Big Pharma’s endless rapacity, against the NGO industry’s warped, self- serving disease models, just as there’s a case to be made for respecting and venerating of traditional therapeutic methods. But Thabo Mbeki has never made the case for any of these with the proper rigour. In his most recent effort at white-washing his record, he kicks off with references to the first recorded incidences of HIV in Southern Africa, published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the South African Medical Journal back in 1985. Insanely, the former president is referencing thirty-year-old medical research, which noted that the only locals to have contracted the virus were male homosexuals who recently visited the United States. He quotes this ancient data in order to suggest that there was something fishy about how the virus “mutated” into an equal opportunity murderer of heterosexual South Africans during the mid-90s. 

“Why is this special type of HI Virus confined only to our region of the world!” [Keen observers of the Mbeki’s epistolary form will note the exclamation point in lieu of a question mark. This is a recent development.] “Why does it not spread to other areas, even within Africa! What happened to the 1985 South African HI Virus which behaved in the same way as the US and West European HI Virus! If it mutated into what it is today, why did it not mutate in the same way in the US and Western Europe!”

Is this seriously happening! Is Thabo Mbeki going back to the mat on the “HI Virus” conspiracy in 20-freaking-16! (And just like that, the former president starts a grammar trend.)

Shortly before reminding us that he never actually said that HIV didn’t cause Aids, but rather stated that “a virus cannot cause a syndrome” – South Africa’s ranking post-apartheid moment of purest spoken bullshit – Mbeki defends alternate forms of therapy by quoting the interview one Professor Luc Montagnier gave in a What-Is-Aids-Really? conspiracy-doc called House of Numbers. (Montagnier, Mbeki takes pains to point out, is a Nobel laureate – but hey, so is FW de Klerk) I couldn’t make head nor tails of what the prof was mumbling in the documentary, and it makes even less sense transcribed into Mbeki-ese. Something about oxidative stress, and that treating or curing Aids (I’m not sure which) requires a more holistic approach, including a focus on genital hygiene for women, nutrition, and “building up the poor African's immune system.”

Nutrition, however, is a fancy word for food, and there’s a good reason the majority South Africans didn’t (and still don’t) have access to anything but junk staples. Mbeki, who more than any single South African has guided macro-economic policy since the fall of apartheid, contended with regime’s nightmare legacy by dressing up as Margaret Thatcher. He has now attempted to yoke “nutrition” to his reimagined holistic African First health policy. But access to decent, immune-system-building mega-cuisine really comes down to purchasing power—in other words, if you don’t have money, you eat bleached maize three times a day. Did Mbeki’s signature implemented economic policy, the staggeringly neoliberal GEAR, align with his fantastical unimplemented Aids policy? Did it allow poor South Africans to emerge from the chrysalis of transition into a spirulina and wheatgrass-sipping utopia? 

Not so much.
Which brings us, finally, to the weakest, dopiest and, I’d argue, criminally insipid argument of his most recent epistle—Mbeki’s Ludlum-esque Tuberculosis Supremacy. It goes like this: 
the World Powers, in order to peddle money-spinning ARVs to dumb Africans, all yelled “Aids!” as loudly as possible at the same time, and we were bamboozled into believing that tuberculosis, followed in succession by a bunch of other unsexy diseases, weren’t bigger killers than HIV/Aids. “Why,” Mbeki wants to know, “would the South African Government, knowing the health condition of its own population very well, have been expected so to focus on the 9th leading cause of death as virtually to treat as less urgent and important the first eight (8) leading causes of death, even taken together?” [sic]

I don’t even know where to go with this one. How about here: the ANC government under Mbeki abandoned everyone from tuberculosis patients to schizophrenics by allowing the public health system to drift into dysfunction, helmed (or unhelmed) by the most unloved politician of the democratic era, Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang – the only woman in history to enjoy the privilege of a burner liver. 

I’ve read the theories detailing Mbeki’s outlook on HIV/Aids, how deeply and personally he felt that the tub-thumping of a single disease was means of (once again) over-sexualizing and demeaning the black African body. But if the Aids crisis felt like just another ploy to recolonise Africa, it certainly didn’t tether us to the West anywhere near as much as GEAR’s preamble did. So there’s good re-colonisation and bad re-colonisation, and Mbeki got to pick which was which based on his personal shibboleths? But the kind of technocratic governance that Mbeki was known for preaching is by definition impersonal – you don’t get to sweat over your turn ons and turn offs when babies are dying. A health crisis requires a specific type of leadership, the type the Nigerians applied to the Ebola outbreak. In a country known for chaos, Abuja doubled-down on every piece of available scientific evidence and, poof, away the disease went. Mbeki’s job was to do everything – everything – possible to restrict the spread of any and every disease threatening the welfare of the South African people. If Big Pharma were fucking us in the process, that was a job for the ANC’s ten thousand Mercedes Benz-driving lawyers to sort out.

It gets worse, though. How does Mbeki end off this latest, lunatic zip around Mbeki Land? With a fascinating factoid: 

“The world's biggest killer and the greatest cause of ill-health and suffering across the globe is listed almost at the end of the International Classification of Diseases. It is given the code Z59.5 – extreme poverty.”

Well how about that? Did Mbeki’s policies, health or otherwise, deal with code Z59.5? Perhaps we’ll read about that in an upcoming letter, which in Mbeki Land means blaming poverty on poverty, while concentrating on the brand of tea bags and other tragic, sad-ass minutia. DM

Photo: A file photograph dated 10 February 2007 shows former South African President Thabo Mbeki addressing mourners at the funeral of African National Congress (ANC) stalwart Adelaide Tambo in Wattville, east of Johannesburg, South Africa. EPA/JON HRUSA.


From New Matilda 13 MARCH 2016

Mardis Gras Fracas: No Pride In Detention Makes No Apology For Marching For Nima And Ashkan

The organisers of a Mardi Gras float threatened with expulsion after protesting refugee policies behind a Bill Shorten press conference remains defiantly unapologetic. Amy Thomas and Ed McMahon explain.

Our small organising group for the No Pride in Detention float at this year’s Mardi Gras didn’t anticipate the controversy that has surrounded us in the aftermath. But we’re thankful that it has drawn attention to the campaign against refugee detention, and at the same time, raised a debate about what Mardi Gras should be all about.

Our float, one of the best attended in the parade, was forced to move several places behind Rainbow Labor at the last minute, after we’d initially been scheduled to march behind them. This unexpected shake up followed an abusive confrontation by Mardi Gras staff, who threatened us with expulsion.

Mardi Gras claims they were acting on reports from police. But there’s a circular blame game going on. The police claim they were acting on reports from an unspecified source. Bill Shorten’s office has denied involvement.

It is remarkable that in the very same week the NSW police were forced to apologise for their infamous mistreatment of the first Mardi Gras parade-makers, the 78ers, today’s organisers were so willing to so blindly trust the police’s word.

And it’s also remarkable that Mardi Gras has “stood by” their public abuse of a young queer activist.
The truth is, there was no assault or harassment towards the Labor float. There is no evidence of it, because none exists.

The only possible event they could be referring to was a peaceful protest at Bill Shorten’s press conference. Yes, we stood behind Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek as they spoke to journalists. Yes, we chanted “we’re here, we’re queer, refugees are welcome here”. Yes, we held up signs, with slogans like “Unionists for Refugees” and “14 years imprisonment for homosexuality on Manus and Nauru”.

We’re glad we did so.

If Malcolm Turnbull hadn’t made such a selective appearance, we can assure you, we wouldn’t have let him get away with it, either. It was Turnbull, and his Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, the current overseers of the camps, that featured in our signs and our chants.

We were not marching in the parade to attack Rainbow Labor, and especially not Labor members, many of whom we know support our cause. We certainly had no plans to disrupt their float. Nor do we reject Shorten’s newfound anti-homophobia (better late than never).

We aimed, simply, to march, dance and chant behind them in a display of support for refugees and asylum seekers.

We make no apology for our determination to both campaign against the current Turnbull government’s offshore processing and detention regime, and to challenge Labor’s acquiescence to it.

Our determination to use our platform in the parade to fight for social change represents what Mardi Gras should be — or at least, used to be — that is, a protest.

Our float’s solidarity with refugees is in fitting with tradition. In 1978, one of the key chants was “stop police attacks on gays, women and blacks”. That’s why ‘78ers are writing to us to express their support for what we did.

Behind the mini media firestorm over the treatment of our float is something so much more scandalous and sinister, and that’s the bipartisan policies of cruelty acted out every day on Manus, Nauru and throughout the detention network.

Instead of marching with us in Mardi Gras, a gay refugee couple, Nima and Ashkan, were locked in their home on Nauru, where they live in fear.

Nima fled Iran because he couldn’t live in safety or peace as a gay man. He disclosed his sexuality to the Australian government. And although he has been found to be a refugee, he has been ‘resettled’ in Nauru, a country were homosexuality is illegal, and punishable with 14 years imprisonment and hard labour.

new matilda, nauru
Final approach, flying into Nauru. (IMAGE: Tatters ❀, Flickr)
He fell in love in detention with another asylum seeker, Ashkan. But instead of being able to live freely as a couple in love, establishing a new life, they can only leave their home once a week, and even then only with company. After beatings and abuse, they’re scared for their safety and anxious about their uncertain future.

We know Nima and Ashkan by name, but there are many more like them who we do not know. Of the single men on Manus Island, reports estimate that there may be 50 gay men amongst the asylum seekers.

 Some allege that staff report homosexual activity to authorities. The punishment, as on Nauru, is up to 14 years behind bars.

LGBT and queer refugees are put in an invidious position. Often, the success of a refugee claim about sexuality rests on the asylum seeker being able to ‘prove’ their sexuality (and by narrow Western stereotypes about gay and lesbian lifestyles).

And yet, offshore processing places them in a situation where being out of the closet and living that sexuality puts them in danger. We know that the Salvation Army presented refugees on Nauru with a slide advising them that homosexuality was illegal and to obey local laws. Nima and Ashkan allege they were told the same by Australian authorities.

If politicians profess to support the right of LGBT and queer people in Australia to marry whom they choose, and to be safe from bullying and harassment in our schools, what about those same rights when it comes to refugees, and that same safety?

Australian authorities have also said that Nima and Ashkan can go to Cambodia. But just this week it has been revealed that an Iranian couple who were ‘resettled’ there have felt forced to return home. A Rohingya man has even returned back to Myanmar, the site of mass killings of his people, instead of Cambodia. It’s an expensive and appalling joke.

There is one place Nima and Ashkan and all the refugees can be resettled in peace and safety, and that’s Australia.

No Pride in Detention is just one part of a nation-wide movement for refugee rights that is growing in all sections of society. We’re proud to have drawn attention to what LGBT and queer refugees face, but we know that the camps and detention centres are not safe for anyone. We know it is a lie that ‘stopping the boats’ is about ‘saving lives at sea’ when our politicians are so willing to destroy the lives of asylum seekers and refugees in detention.

A #LetThemStay protest in Sydney. (IMAGE: Andrew Hill, flickr).
A #LetThemStay protest in Sydney. (IMAGE: Andrew Hill, flickr).
The #LetThemStay campaign, and in particular, the stand by the Lady Cilento hospital workers to defend baby Asha, has electrified the movement. Together, and especially thanks to the support of workers and the union movement, we’ve been able to keep baby Asha here — and so far, all 267 asylum seekers and refugees the government wants to send back to Nauru.

Thousands will march nationwide on Palm Sunday calling for Justice for Refugees. We’ll be there and we hope thousands more, including Labor members, will be there too.

Mardi Gras needs to ask what kind of parade it wants to be. Does it want to be a real protest platform for those rights that are yet to be won? Does it want to stand for the most vulnerable, like Nima and Ashkan? Or does it want instead to become a politically safe parade that puts the comfort of corporate donors and the publicity-seeking of politicians ahead of calls for justice and freedom?

In the end, our march in the parade was a triumphant one. It was a moving and affirming experience to have throngs of people in the huge crowd greet us with so much recognition and enthusiasm.

They joined in our chants, gave us the thumbs up, nodded their heads, and showed us what side they were on.
Mardi Gras would do well to choose it, too. History will show it’s the right one.

Amy Thomas & Ed McMahon

Ed McMahon is an organiser of No Pride in Detention. He is an activist and currently studying a Masters of Law at the University of Sydney. Amy Thomas is an organiser of No Pride in Detention. She is an activist, and PhD candidate and tutor at the University of Technology Sydney.

11 March 2016


The following article from CounterPunch is by Neve Gordon - 6 MARCH 2016

Colonialism Inverted: Israel’s War Against Liberal Democracy

A spate of draconic new laws, policies and regulations reinforced by incitement campaigns against the Palestinian citizens of Israel and, increasingly, Jewish liberals is leading very quickly to an inversion of Israel’s colonial project. If, in the past, one could say that Israel is colonizing the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, today the governing strategies developed and deployed by Israel in these occupied areas have infiltrated and colonized the pre-1967 Jewish State as well. Indeed, the colonial leviathan is recoiling inward.

The initial assault against the veneer of liberal democracy included the current government’s proposal of a new bill obligating human rights practitioners whose organizations receive foreign funding to wear tags when they participate in meetings at the Knesset or in other public venues.  Then came the incitement campaign against the combat soldier group Breaking the Silence and other human rights organizations, which have since become routine in the political landscape.  This was followed by the barring of a novel about a love affair between a Jewish woman and a Palestinian man from Israel’s high school curriculum, reportedly over concerns that it could encourage intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews.  Finally, the civics curriculum in high schools is currently being revamped, and some of the basic concepts dealing with democracy are being removed only to be replaced with material that highlights Jewish identity and history.

As it turns out, however, this was only the siftah.  The proposed “Loyalty in Culture” bill, which declares that the state will only fund art that is uncritical of the Zionist project, could have been lifted directly from Stalin’s Soviet Union. Drafted by Minister of Culture Miri Regev, the bill defines disloyal art as: “Denying the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state… support for an armed struggle or terror act by a hostile country or terror organization against the State of Israel; marking Independence Day as a day of mourning; an act of vandalism or physical degradation that dishonors the country’s flag or state emblem.”
According to film director Uri Rosenwaks, who until recently served as the Chairman of the Israeli Documentary Filmmakers Forum, “The lawmakers have managed to portray authors and artists who deal with issues such as human rights, occupation, and democracy as traitors. The twisted irony is that Miri Regev and other ministers are hoping that these very artists will criticize the new laws and regulations, because clamping down on anyone who is critical of Israeli policies gives these ministers credit among their constituency. The most dangerous thing that is currently happening is that criticism itself is increasingly being perceived as illegitimate.”

This move against artists is, however, parveh when compared to the hatred being directed toward Palestinian citizens of Israel, and particularly their representatives.  It is quite rare for a day to pass without one inciting remark or another by politicians and political commentators against Israel’s minority, which constitutes 20 percent of the demos. Member of Knesset Hanin Zoabi is presented in Israeli media outlets as nothing less than Satan, while her colleagues in the Joint List are routinely characterized as terrorists, a fifth column, or traitors. The racism is so overt, frightening, and without shame that my Palestinian friends in Beer-Sheva have stopped turning on the television.

Indeed, on Monday, the Knesset Constitution Committee gave preliminary approval for the “Suspension Law,” which bestows upon (Jewish) Knesset Members the authority to judge whether the ideology of their (Palestinian) colleagues is kosher. And while the bill’s title uses the word suspension, it actually authorizes the Knesset to oust representatives whose behavior is “inappropriate”; namely, “negating the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; inciting to racism; and supporting armed struggle by a hostile state or a terrorist organization against the State of Israel.”

Expressing any kind of support for Palestinian resistance in the West Bank and Gaza will serve as sufficient grounds for expulsion from the Knesset. The message is clear: if once formal (as opposed to real) equality was sanctioned and presented as desirable within pre-1967 Israel, today even formal equality is passé. The goal, as a Ha’aretz’s editorial claims, is “a Knesset without Arabs.”

And what about the Palestinian citizens inside Israel?

I recently drove to the Bedouin village Um al-Hiran, which is destined to be destroyed and replaced by a Jewish settlement called Hiran. Residents of Um-al-Hiram are, of course citizens of Israel. A few kilometers from Um al-Hiran, in the middle of a Jewish National Fund forest, about thirty religious families have been living in a makeshift gated community waiting patiently for the government to expel the Bedouin families from their homes.

During a recent visit to this makeshift Jewish community, I saw houses scattered around a playground and a nice kindergarten with joyful paintings on the exterior wall.  Needless to say, this bucolic setting was both unnerving and surrealistic. On the web I found this picture of the people who are destined to dispossess the residents of Um Al-Hiran. They are all smiling, happy; they are West Bank settlers who have returned to Israel to colonize Bedouin land.   The rooster has come back home to roost.

This article appeared in Al Jazeera.

Neve Gordon is the co-author (with Nicola Perugini) of the newly released The Human Right to Dominate.


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90 years old, political gay activist, hosting two web sites, one personal: http://www.red-jos.net one shared with my partner, 94-year-old Ken Lovett: http://www.josken.net and also this blog. The blog now has an alphabetical index: http://www.red-jos.net/alpha3.htm