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As pressure rises on Robbie Williams and UNICEF over Israel gig, conflict of interest emerges between singer and NGO

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Roger Waters has written an open letter to British pop-star Robbie Williams, pleading with him not to play Tel Aviv on May 2nd. The ex-Pink Floyd front man told Mr Williams that his decision to play the gig “gives succor to Netanyahu and his regime, and endorses their exceptionalist and deadly racist policies” and “would be giving [his] tacit support to the deaths of over 500 Palestinian children last summer in Gaza”.

Mr Waters impassioned call for Robbie Williams to respect the picket line drawn by Palestinian civil society is the latest moment in a campaign initiated by ‘The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel’ (PACBI) and supported by BDS group London Palestine Action (LPA).

The campaign has drawn attention to Israel’s use of Mr. Williams as part of its ongoing attempt to rebrand itself. Concerned about ‘negative perceptions’ of the country – a reality of killings, land theft and a regime that discriminates so completely it constitutes apartheid – the Israeli state has made a concerted effort to exploit the appearance of foreign artists to promote a false image of Israel as a fun, vibrant, liberal democracy. The policy even has a name, ‘Brand Israel’.

(Screenshot: Facebook)

(Screenshot: Facebook)

Right now an advert for Mr. Williams’s Tel Aviv gig appears on Israel’s tourist information Facebook page, sitting under a sanitised image of a group of happy and vibrant Israeli youth, with a paradisiacal backdrop of blue skies and ocean. This imagery is the antithesis of the daily reality of oppression and violence faced by Palestinians under Israeli control.

Robbie Williams is definitely not the first pop star to break the cultural boycott of Israel. But this time there are a few important twists. First of all, it turns out that the singer is also one of UNICEF’s goodwill ambassadors, and currently the face of the ‘Children in Danger’ campaign, aiming ‘to protect children from violence, disease, hunger, and the chaos of war and disaster’.

Lots of people, Roger Waters included, have seen the contradiction here. As a result of an LPA organized Twitter and Facebook storm, both UNICEF UK and Robbie Williams’s Twitter and Facebook accounts have been inundated with messages arguing that it is incompatible and unacceptable for the singer to promote the abuser and also support the abused. He shouldn’t play Israel, and if he does, he shouldn’t be a UNICEF ambassador. Further to this, over 6000 people (and counting) have signed a petition calling on Robbie Williams not to play in Tel Aviv. He is yet to issue a response.

So, silence from the Williams camp. But, how about UNICEF? They simply state that the singer is performing in Israel ‘in a personal capacity’, and any concerns over ‘his schedule’ should be addressed to his management. It seems in having celebrity ambassadors like Robbie Williams, UNICEF understands the power and responsibility of being a public figure, but apparently seems to have conveniently forgotten it for the time being. Surely UNICEF must think that what Robbie Williams does matters, otherwise why bother having him as an ambassador at all?

If that wasn’t bad enough, it turns out that Tim Clark, vice president of UNICEF UK, is also Robbie Williams’s manager. It appears that a UNICEF UK top brass is profiting from the singer’s normalisation of Israeli crimes against Palestinians, whilst at the same time being in a position of power that will allow him to shield the star from increasing public pressure, and also potentially influence UNICEF UK’s decision making on the issue. This is a clear conflict of interest. There is also an apparent dishonesty on display here on the part of UNICEF. The organisation has palmed off concerned members of the public, telling them to address Mr. Williams’s management on the issue, but knowing full well that UNICEF UK’s management and his own are almost one and the same thing. UNICEF UK even offered to hand the petition on to the singer’s management itself, fully aware that this conflict of interest existed, and failing to disclose it.

LPA calls on Robbie Williams to make a choice in the very near future: either he stands up for all children, including Palestinian children, or he stands down as UNICEF ambassador. He can support UNICEF, or he can support an Israeli regime that abuses children’s rights systematically, but not both. If he goes ahead and plays Tel Aviv, UNICEF should do the right thing and relieve him of his ambassadorship.

The author would like to thank Yael Kahn and Nick Baker for their useful input on this article.

About Ben Whitaker

Ben Whitaker is an activist with London Palestine Action. LPA is a network of people in London taking creative action against Israeli apartheid through BDS and other effective, participatory Palestine solidarity work.

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46 Responses

  1. HarryLaw
    HarryLaw on May 1, 2015, 11:34 am

    Alice Rothchild wrote on this site a couple of weeks ago about Gaza’s children, under the headline “The most massive child abuse in the world” and the UK Representative of the children’s charity UNICEF is going on a singing tour of Israel, the perpetrators of those children’s abuse. He should be kicked out of his position.

    • Nubia
      Nubia on May 2, 2015, 1:57 am

      Rothchild is great, but forget UNICEF. Executive Director Anthony Lake was Bill Clinton’s National Security Advisor and close friend of the family, which got him the job. He brought Zionists into the top level of UNICEF, and they must be applauding Robbie Williams’ appearance. Since he is supposedly unpaid, they may give the UK Rep a bonus for the propaganda coup.

      • Kathleen
        Kathleen on May 4, 2015, 9:44 am

        Not uncommon for many organizations. Move to the top through connections not qualifications for the position.

        Robbie Williams seems to be trying to help Israel rebrand. Too bad UNICEF continues to smear their own standing in the world.

  2. pabelmont
    pabelmont on May 1, 2015, 11:50 am

    Is UNICEF-UK a private organization, or is it part of UNICEF itself? Can these problems be taken up with UNICEF itself? Maybe propose decertify UNICEF-UK?

  3. pshoben
    pshoben on May 1, 2015, 12:20 pm

    Great article Ben.
    Judging by the activity on twitter over the past week, many people are completely outraged about this, and are letting Robbie Williams know exactly how they feel.

    UNICEF UK have got a very difficult problem on their hands. Robbie Williams has been a very successful ambassador for them up until this year, but they can’t now keep him on and retain any credibility.

    • just
      just on May 1, 2015, 4:29 pm

      Apologies for misspelling your name below, Stan.

  4. just
    just on May 1, 2015, 4:07 pm

    Thanks for this, Ben. I can’t believe that this is still even an issue!

    Annie wrote about it last November:

    “In mind-boggling contradiction, UNICEF Ambassador Robbie Williams books gig in Tel Aviv”
    – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2014/11/contradiction-ambassador-williams#sthash.kIpNj6QQ.dpuf

    Then Stan Hoban wrote about it last month ( with a great video by LPA!)

    “Video: Pressure mounts on Robbie Williams to choose between Tel Aviv and UNICEF”
    Stan Hoben – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/?s=robbie+williams#sthash.7UfSF7PW.dpuf

    And here we are on May Day and still nothing has changed. It is an abomination.

    Many thanks again. Any suggestions on what more we can do, wherever we are?

    (PS~ at least Oxfam dropped ScarJo Sodastream… or vice versa!)

    • Kathleen
      Kathleen on May 4, 2015, 9:46 am

      Robbie chose Israel…not Palestinian children. UNICEF has to let him go or continue to lose any credibility.

  5. just
    just on May 1, 2015, 4:40 pm

    Not unrelated, and perhaps Robbie might want to take a gander:

    “Israel Festival hit hard by boycott in wake of Gaza assault, director admits

    Israel’s flagship annual cultural festival has been forced to curtail its 2015 schedule because last summer’s assault on Gaza and the growing impact of Palestinian calls for cultural boycott are making it harder to attract international artists.

    The Israel Festival’s new director Eyal Sher “does not hide the problems that constrained its production,” the Hebrew-language Israeli publication Mako reports.

    “This year’s festival was produced with a shortened schedule against the background of Operation Protective Edge,” Sher says, “and had to face, like many cultural and academic bodies in the country, BDS [boycott divestment and sanctions].”…”

    http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/israel-festival-hit-hard-boycott-wake-gaza-assault-director-admits

    ;-)

  6. Bornajoo
    Bornajoo on May 1, 2015, 5:19 pm

    Well I suppose he had to make a tough choice between justice for over 500 murdered Palestinian children and money/PR/profile. Not that he really gave it a moments thought

    I’ve always considered him to be a total wanker and it’s now proven beyond doubt that he is indeed a very big one.

    He should immediately be stripped of this role

  7. Kris
    Kris on May 1, 2015, 9:54 pm

    MODERATOR–the link to the petition, at the end of the sixth paragraph, doesn’t work:

    “Further to this, over 6000 people (and counting) have signed a petition calling on Robbie Williams not to play in Tel Aviv. He is yet to issue a response – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/05/presssure-conflict-interest#comment-145893

    • DaBakr
      DaBakr on May 2, 2015, 5:37 pm

      @kr

      his response is: he is here. thats his response. clear as a bell.

      • Kris
        Kris on May 4, 2015, 2:44 pm

        Thanks, DaBakr. Obviously the man is not fit to be a UNICEF ambassador, so I have written to UNICEF.

        This is what I want to see: “Never again! Not in my name, and not in anyone’s (including UNICEF’s) name.”

  8. michelle
    michelle on May 2, 2015, 3:06 am

    .
    500 children
    plus all the children who were maimed
    physically and mentally
    how many children don’t have parent(s) because of Israel
    how many children are locked up in Israel prison
    how many children are without drinking water healthy food
    because of Israel
    .
    if ‘all’ the Jewish people who disagree with Israel as it is
    went to Israel gained voting rights helped like minded people
    become leaders became police soliders guards gate keepers
    …. would their numbers make the much needed changes
    .
    G-d Bless
    .

    • Sycamores
      Sycamores on May 2, 2015, 1:47 pm

      Michelle,

      nearly 3,000 children injured

      more than 370,000 children left shell-shocked

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/gaza/11372893/Hundreds-of-thousands-of-children-shell-shocked-after-the-war-in-Gaza.html

      the numbers are horrifying but rarely mention on MSM.

      • oldgeezer
        oldgeezer on May 2, 2015, 2:21 pm

        Not just horrifying but wanton and criminal by the Israelis.

        I posted a while ago on an article which referred to the number of rockets fired on Israel that it would be more relevant to know the number of bombs and shells fired on gaza. As well as the tonnage. (the final consideration would be type of explosive as military grade explosives pack a much bigger punch so a weight comparison could mislead).

        Anyway… The amount of arms used on the civilian population is clearly massive as shown by the extent of the damage. In addition let’s not forget that Israel expended it’s entire arsenal of some munition types during that brief period and had to get emergency resupply from the US.

        It was criminal, wanton and pure evil.

      • Sycamores
        Sycamores on May 2, 2015, 5:03 pm

        Hi oldgeezer,

        i saved this link from the end of last summer

        The estimated cost of the total ammunition used in Gaza fighting is estimated at about 1.3 billion shekels [$370 million]. According to the army’s figures, 39,000 tank shells, 34,000 artillery shells, and 4.8 million bullets were supplied during the fighting. Senior military figures estimate that land forces alone used at least 60 percent of the 5,000 tons of ammunition given to them, but the IDF [Israeli army] cannot yet evaluate it accurately.

        According to the same senior staff officer, most of the ammunition came from Israeli production lines. Some of the ammunition was purchased from the US during hostilities, within the “advance placement” program. Additional ammunition and fighting equipment, along with medical equipment, were also ordered during hostilities, using an expedited procedure via the Defense Ministry.

        http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/how-many-bombs-has-israel-dropped-gaza

      • oldgeezer
        oldgeezer on May 2, 2015, 5:11 pm

        Thanks Sycamore!

        The few thousand homemade rockets from Gaza pale in comparison.

      • michelle
        michelle on May 2, 2015, 11:33 pm

        .
        Hello Sycamores
        i hope you’ve had a lovely week
        m
        .
        makes ‘you’ wonder what the complete numbers are
        counting each day from the Nakba to now
        .
        i watched a utube clip today it was of a five year old child
        crying and begging his daddy not to leave
        his daddy was being arrested for ‘stealing’ water
        .
        then i saw a clip that said it was of a five year old child
        being arrested then (days?) later released at 3am
        i couldn’t watch it
        .
        G-d Bless
        .

      • michelle
        michelle on May 4, 2015, 5:24 pm

        .
        Videos of israeli soldiers arrest 5 year old ch…

        accused of throwing a stone at a tire
        I miss read the bit about the time of release
        .
        G-d Bless
        .

  9. Blake
    Blake on May 2, 2015, 4:53 am

    “Land of Creation”

    The world must be 67 years old according to zionists then.

    • Boo
      Boo on May 2, 2015, 10:38 am

      Well, that makes them 100 times more lame than even American fundamentalists — if such a comparison is even conceivable.

      • Mooser
        Mooser on May 4, 2015, 12:05 pm

        “— if such a comparison is even conceivable.”

        From what I’ve seen, the comparison is perfectly appropriate.

  10. eGuard
    eGuard on May 2, 2015, 11:13 am

    Tim Clark, vice president of UNICEF UK, is also Robbie Williams’s manager.

    I see.

  11. just
    just on May 2, 2015, 2:48 pm

    Robber Williams is probably on stage right now, eh?

    Such an example he’s setting for his kids! I read this today:

    “British rock legend Robbie Williams landed in Israel Thursday evening ahead of a huge concert that he will perform in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening.

    A massive crowd is set to gather in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park who will let Williams entertain them as he performs his first ever show in Israel.

    The energetic singer landed in his private jet at Ben Gurion Airport and was accompanied by his wife and children as well as his father who is slated to perform at the concert.”…

    http://www.i24news.tv/en/news/israel/society/69728-150502-robbie-williams-lands-in-israel-ahead-of-massive-tel-aviv-concert

    Was he already a “legend”? Really?

    • Bornajoo
      Bornajoo on May 2, 2015, 3:24 pm

      “Was he already a “legend”? Really?”

      Even wankers and tossers have their own legends who are usually wankers and tossers just like them. So you could say that he is a legend in the world of wankers and tossers

      • just
        just on May 2, 2015, 3:56 pm

        UNICEF needs to drop- kick the “wanker”/”tosser” right into his fans’ lap.

        asap.

    • DaBakr
      DaBakr on May 2, 2015, 5:41 pm

      @jst

      so you are now resorting to the same thing Zionists do. They talk about what a ‘has-been’ and washed-up old geezer R. Waters is. But since boycott is a personal choice it is expected you will boycott RWilms work just as -some- Zionists won’t touch a R.Wtrs song either. Their loss.

      the whole boycott hysteria surrounding S.Johannsen/Israel has not made a dent in her career and its doubtful any dent will be made on Williams either.

      • just
        just on May 2, 2015, 8:53 pm

        Are you paying any attention at all?

        He does have a conflict of interest as UNICEF UK ambassador.

        “Robbie Williams is definitely not the first pop star to break the cultural boycott of Israel. But this time there are a few important twists. First of all, it turns out that the singer is also one of UNICEF’s goodwill ambassadors, and currently the face of the ‘Children in Danger’ campaign, aiming ‘to protect children from violence, disease, hunger, and the chaos of war and disaster’”. – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/05/presssure-conflict-interest#sthash.Gr8FXRkz.dpuf

        Hope you enjoyed his pits.

      • DaBakr
        DaBakr on May 2, 2015, 10:24 pm

        Roger Waters just aged another 10 years. Maybe the UN should administer “loyalty-to-anti-Zionist’ tests before hiring spokespeople.

      • Mooser
        Mooser on May 4, 2015, 12:07 pm

        “Maybe the UN should administer “loyalty-to-anti-Zionist’ tests before hiring spokespeople.”

        A criminal-records check is almost always encountered when applying for employment, and I don’t see why the UN shouldn’t be more cautious than the average employer.

  12. jimby
    jimby on May 2, 2015, 5:21 pm

    I have a hard time now that I have learned that Bob Dylan is an active supporter of the Jewish Defense League and the Kach party. He admired Meir Kahane. The JDL was designated a terrorist group by the US govt. Screw Dylan…..

    • ckg
      ckg on May 2, 2015, 11:32 pm

      I have a hard time now that I have learned that Bob Dylan is an active supporter of the Jewish Defense League and the Kach party.

      I would surely think Dylan could understand the Palestinians’ plight: When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose. But there is no supporting evidence.

    • Kathleen
      Kathleen on May 4, 2015, 8:17 am

      Dylan is an ethnocentric and has been for decades. Narcissist

  13. just
    just on May 2, 2015, 7:13 pm

    ahem:

    “You can count on our Robbie, all right. He plays the irresponsible, cheeky English chav, but in fact he is an extremely responsible artist. When he calls his concert tour “Let Me Entertain You,” you can be sure that he will be entertaining come hell or high water.

    There’s no doubt that the vast majority of the tens of thousands of people who came to Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park on Saturday night went home properly entertained. Perhaps even overly so. There were too many moments during the performance when it felt as if the guy on stage was grabbing your shirt and asking, “So, am I entertaining you? And now, are you entertained now, too? Are you really entertained, or just a bit? Because if it’s not enough I can shake my arse harder and tell a few more jokes about my druggy past and sing a few more Queen songs.”

    ……. Robbie came to entertain and to entertain and also to run through 20 of his songs. And his band was professional, nothing more. We also saw a bit too much of his armpits.

    Since Williams respected his Sabbath-observant fans and started late, this review is being written in the course of the concert. Soon he’ll sing “Angels,” and that is sure to be an uplifting moment — I’m not being snarky. So crank up by around 15 percent the feelings my words suggest. It still isn’t a good concert.”

    http://www.haaretz.com/life/music-theater/1.654642?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

    So, was it worth it Robbie? Sounds like you didn’t exactly overwhelm……

  14. John Salisbury
    John Salisbury on May 2, 2015, 7:31 pm

    Great work Ben.
    Another artist who I will have leave off the play list….joining Neil Young , Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. Pink Floyd on high rotation however.

    • ckg
      ckg on May 2, 2015, 11:08 pm

      Another artist who I will have leave off the play list….joining Neil Young , Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. Pink Floyd on high rotation however.

      I must be getting old. I already tossed my Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, and Dylan vinyl. (I think they all want to share money but just don’t take a slice of their pie.) But I had to google Robbie Williams to see who he is.

  15. just
    just on May 3, 2015, 12:31 am

    Gideon Levy:

    “Roger Waters, the bright side of Israel’s moon

    The occupation upsets this rock legend. The killing of children horrifies him. The airstrikes in Gaza make him lose sleep.

    Robbie Williams played at Tel Aviv’s biggest park last night. Tens of thousands of cheering Israelis surely welcomed him (these lines were written before the concert). One justice-loving Englishman tried to dissuade him from appearing. I would like to thank that Englishman from the bottom of my heart.

    For over a decade, Roger Waters has dedicated his time and good name to the struggle against the Israeli occupation. The occupation upsets him. The killing of children horrifies him. The oppression discomfits him. The airstrikes in the Gaza Strip make him lose sleep.

    He concluded that the Israelis must pay for their crimes and that boycotts are a just and effective instrument. Waters thinks that entertaining the Israelis at Yarkon Park is equivalent to performing at South Africa’s Sun City in the 1980s during apartheid.

    It was where whites gambled at the casino and watched international acts just a short distance from where blacks suffered oppression. Nowadays, Israelis throng to the park when just an hour’s drive away Gaza wallows in its ruins and the West Bank in its occupation.

    The situation is intolerable to anyone with a sense of justice. Waters wrote to Williams about it, reminding the pop star of his fondness for soccer and his position as UNICEF’s U.K. ambassador, and telling Williams how Israel killed four young children playing soccer on a Gaza beach during last summer’s war. “I encourage you, Robbie, and all other artists, not to play in Israel until Israel complies with international law,” Waters wrote (in vain)……

    …….In Israel, which can’t count one genuine protest singer among its popular musicians, he has of course been labeled anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. Kobi Oz, an Israeli musician of Waters’ stature (almost), called on Waters a few years ago to make music and shut up.

    As Oz put it, “I was deeply disappointed to learn that you have decided to build a wall between yourself and your Israeli fans …. Instead of recognizing the situation’s complexity, you have joined the campaign to boycott Israel, appointing yourself as a judge in a conflict between Middle Eastern tribes. (How British of you!)” And how Israeli of Oz to shut his eyes and trill.

    About a year ago Waters explained his motivation. His father, 2nd Lt. Eric Fletcher Waters, a conscientious objector who drove an ambulance during the London Blitz, was persuaded to join the Royal Fusiliers and fight fascism. He was killed in occupied Italy, when Waters was just a baby.

    
Waters believes that he is following in his father’s footsteps. He says that after coming to Israel and seeing the occupation, he is incapable of remaining silent. We should bow our heads in thanks to him.

    The debt to Waters is the debt of a generation to which Pink Floyd was much more than a soundtrack. It’s a debt for nights of confessions and soul-baring talk inspired by “Us and Them”; for loves that lasted an instant, or a lifetime, that owe their existence to “The Dark Side of the Moon.” But now us and them are old already, and this generation, at least, should listen to what Waters has to say.

    Waters closes his opinion piece explaining his activities in light of his father’s actions, which like his open letter to Williams he published on Salon.com. He ends with a quotation from the song “Two Suns in the Sunset,” which he wrote for Pink Floyd: “Ashes and diamonds / Foe and friend / We were all equal / In the end.”

    In a country without a single courageous Waters, I write to him in his own words. Wish you were here.”

    The rest @ http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.654613?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

    Two legends. They both rock.

    • John Salisbury
      John Salisbury on May 3, 2015, 3:59 am

      To Kobi Oz…. What is complex about it?

    • eGuard
      eGuard on May 3, 2015, 7:18 am

      Thanks for stealing this into public space ;-), just Hood. A pity I had to learn about some Israeli singer named Kobi Oz. (Maybe someone can tell him that the “it’s complicated” deflection does not work any more. Instead, it’s a red flag for Apartheid-excuse-ahead).

  16. eGuard
    eGuard on May 4, 2015, 3:16 am

    Take another look at the picture. What is the background, a Gaza filmset in Mexico? Why the fist, Robbie? Why do these children close to Robbie Williams not look happy at all? Are these children safe in his hands?

    He knows. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WW3iVLc_bs

  17. Kathleen
    Kathleen on May 4, 2015, 8:24 am

    Have people contacted UNICEF stating that there is a clear contradiction with him serving as a Goodwill Ambassador playing for and profiting from playing for an apartheid state, regularly committing child abuse and killing Palestinians children? Just looked for petitions etc. Nothing I could find. Contacting UNICEF…now

    • Kathleen
      Kathleen on May 4, 2015, 8:42 am

      Just contacted UNICEF asking them to drop Robbie Williams as a so called Goodwill Ambassador…unless that is UNICEF supports Israel’s Gaza massacre and the daily humiliation of Palestinian adults and children. Imprisoning Palestinian children. Theft of Palestinian land etc. Surprised Code Pink and other groups have not put petitions together.

      Contacted their hotline office
      [email protected]

      They have a better contact page at their website. Can you believe at the top of their page it says “children first” Clearly not the 500 or more innocent Palestinian children that were slaughtered by the Israeli government in the Gaza summer of 2014. They don’t count.

  18. a blah chick
    a blah chick on May 4, 2015, 9:35 am

    I saw this on twitter, don’t know if it’s been confirmed.

    Karen MacRae @kazahann
    Lauryn Hill’s managers have notified Israeli producers that she wants to cancel because of the occupation! Please lend her support #BDS

  19. just
    just on May 4, 2015, 4:42 pm

    O/T but great news!

    “The student councils of five South African universities decided Monday to join an academic boycott of what they refer to as “Apartheid Israel,” and said they will be pressuring their institutions to implement the boycott.

    “The Israeli regime is proving itself to be anti-children, anti-student and anti-education,” student council presidents of the universities said in a statement.

    Many opponents of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign have said BDS is just another form of age-old anti-Semitism, a criticism the five South African universities – the University of South Africa, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Durban University of Technology, Mangasutho University of Technology and the University of the Western Cape – sought to defuse.

    “Conflating criticism of Israel’s colonial policies of Occupation and Apartheid can not and should not be equated with anti-Semitism,” the statement said.”…

    more @ http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/1.654962?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

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