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Western leaders grow deaf to Israeli abuses

Middle East
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Israel has just emerged from its extended, three-week high holidays, a period that in recent years has been marked by extremist religious Jews making provocative visits to the al-Aqsa mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem.

Many go to pray, in violation of Israel’s international obligations. Most belong to groups that seek the mosque’s destruction and replacement with a Jewish temple – and now enjoy support from within the parliament, including from prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party.

A rash of such visits last autumn outraged Palestinians and triggered a wave of so-called “lone-wolf” attacks on Israelis. The attacks only recently abated.

Taking advantage of the renewed quiet, Israel allowed a record number of ultra-nationalists to visit the mosque, figures released last week show. Parties of Israeli soldiers are also now entering the site.

The police, whose recently appointed commander is himself from the extremist settler community, has recommended too that restrictions be ended on visits by Jewish legislators who demand Israel’s sovereignty over the mosque.

Israel’s treatment of this supremely important Islamic holy site symbolises for Palestinians their powerlessness, oppression and routine humiliation. Conversely, a sense of impunity has left Israel greedy for even more control over Palestinians.

The gaping power imbalance was detailed last month at a special hearing of the United Nations security council. Hagai El-Ad, head of B’tselem, which monitors the occupation, termed Israel’s abuses as “invisible, bureaucratic, daily violence” against Palestinians exercised from “cradle to grave”.

He appealed to the international community to end its five decades of inaction. “We need your help. … The occupation must end. The UN Security Council must act. And the time is now,” he said.

Israeli politicians were incensed. El-Ad had broken one of Israel’s cardinal rules: you do not wash the country’s dirty linen abroad. Most Israelis consider the occupation and Palestinian suffering as purely an internal matter, to be decided by them alone.

Netanyahu accused B’tselem’s director of conspiring with outsiders to subject Israel to “international coercion”.

With the US limply defending El-Ad’s freedom of speech, Netanyahu found a proxy to relaunch the attack. David Bitan, chair of his party, both demanded that El-Ad be stripped of his citizenship and proposed legislation to outlaw calls for sanctions against Israel in international forums.

Unsurprisingly, El-Ad has faced a flood of death threats.

Meanwhile, another UN forum has been considering Israel’s occupation. Its educational, scientific, and cultural body, UNESCO, passed last month a resolution condemning Israel’s systematic violations of Palestinian holy sites, and especially al-Aqsa.

Again, Israelis were enraged at this brief disturbance of their well-oiled machinery of oppression. The abuses documented by UNESCO were overshadowed by Israeli protests that its own narrative, one based on security paranoia and Biblical entitlement, was not the focus.

While Israel exercises ever more physical control over Palestinians, its moral credit is rapidly running out with foreign audiences, who have come to understand that the occupation is neither benign nor temporary.

The rise of social media has accelerated that awakening, which in turn has bolstered grassroots reactions like the boycott (BDS) movement.

Aware of the dangers, Israel has been aggressively targeting all forms of popular activism. Facebook and Youtube are under relentless pressure to censor sites critical of Israel.

Western governments – which joined the chorus of “Je suis Charlie” after ISIL’s lethal attack on the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo magazine last year – have cracked down on the boycott movement. Paradoxically, France has led the way by outlawing such activism, echoing Israeli claims that it constitutes “incitement”.

And left-wing social movements emerging in Europe face loud accusations that any criticism of Israel is tantamount to an attack on all Jews. Notably, a British parliamentary committee last month characterised as anti-semitic parts of the opposition Labour party under its new leader Jeremy Corbyn, a champion of Palestinian rights.

In these ways, European governments – fearful of upsetting Israel’s patron in Washington – have been trying to hold in check popular anger at a belligerent and unrepentant Israel.

Illustrating that caution, UNESCO was forced last week to vote a second time on its resolution, this time removing the word “occupation” and, against normal practice, giving equal status to the occupier’s names for the sites under threat from its occupation.

Even with the resolution neutered, UNESCO’s usual consensus could not be reached. The resolution – pushed by the Palestinians and Arab states – passed by a wafer-thin majority, with European and other governments abstaining.

Israel and its enablers have successfully engineered a hollowing out of official discourse about Israel to blunt even the mildest criticism.

Gradually, as the UNESCO vote and Corbyn’s experiences in the UK highlight, western powers are accepting Netanyahu’s doubly illogical premises: that criticising the occupation is anti-Israel, and criticising Israel is anti-semitic.

Incrementally, western leaders are conceding that any criticism of Netanyahu’s policies – even as he tries to ensure the occupation becomes permanent – is off-limits.

El-Ad called for courage from the UN security council. But his words have fallen on deaf ears.

A version of this article first appeared in the National Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook
About Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

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13 Responses

  1. eljay
    November 3, 2016, 9:51 am

    The fact that Israel is a blatantly and unapologetically oppressive, colonialist, (war) criminal and religion-supremacist state that refuses to honour its obligations under international law puts lie to its self-proclaimed “moral beacon” and “light unto the nations” status.

    The “Jewish State” – in true Zio-supremacist fashion – expects the world to turn a blind eye to its past and on-going campaign of injustice and immorality. Sadly, the world is all too eager to comply.

  2. Ossinev
    November 3, 2016, 4:11 pm

    “Most Israelis consider the occupation and Palestinian suffering as purely an internal matter, to be decided by them alone”

    One could quite easily substitute “Israelis” with “Germans” and “Palestinians” with “Jews” and be transported back to 1930`s Germany. Same level of self denial and warped justification for ongoing atrocities.

    “Notably, a British parliamentary committee last month characterised as anti-semitic parts of the opposition Labour party under its new leader Jeremy Corbyn, a champion of Palestinian rights”

    As a UK national and media scrutiniser IMHO the whole “Growing anti – semitism in the UK ” and “deep rooted Anti – Semitism problem in the Labour Party” has been a load of manufactured c..p from start to ? finish. It has been a clumsy and predictable Zionist Lobby orchestrated campaign, to use their cherished phrase , “delegitimise” the new Pro – Palestinian leadership of the party in the form of Jeremy Corbyn and his new groundswell left wing support base ( mostly younger generation ). This campaign has been jumped upon by anti – Corbyn elements in the Labour centre and right to undermine Corbyn and of course by the Tories who couldn`t possibly have looked such a gift horse in the mouth. Don`t get me wrong – I have been if anything a “traditional” Labour Party supporter but now despair of the main figures in the Party( left middle or right ) as a bunch of cowards specifically in their responses to this Anti – Semitism farce. Perversely it is Corbyn who has most lost my respect. As I have said before on these pages I think that he has showed himself to have been a wimp. He had a golden opportunity from the outset to state clearly and unequivocally that criticism of Israel and criticism of Zionism is not Anti Semitic and stood his ground if criticised or challenged with the obvious facts and figures. For whatever reason ( unless I am missing a statement from him ) it appeared to me that he backed off – and in his case it cannot be attributed to Zionist lobby influences. Yes a wimp.

    • oldgeezer
      November 3, 2016, 8:09 pm


      Are you in the UK? It is hard to get the pulse of a nation from outside. While I don’t disagree with what you have stated it is my impression that the witch hunt against Corbyn has not only backfired when it comes to labour supporters but it has also exposed the lobby and weakened the accusation of antisemitism against opponemts to Israeli crimes.

      If you do live there I would appreciate your thoughts on that and if you don’t… hmmm.. well I would still like your take on that aspect.

  3. Talkback
    November 3, 2016, 4:13 pm

    “Most Israelis consider the occupation and Palestinian suffering as purely an internal matter, to be decided by them alone.”

    Certain Germans had a similar approach regarding Jews.

    • Citizen
      November 7, 2016, 12:46 pm

      Once upon a time, so did regime’s in France re Algeria, and South African regime, most especially.

  4. ritzl
    November 3, 2016, 4:35 pm

    Not all western leaders. :)

    Stein and Johnson were pretty blunt about Israel on Tavis Smiley the other night. Stein in particular went on at some length about routine Israeli crimes.


  5. zaid
    November 3, 2016, 11:15 pm

    The UNESCO Thing have driven Zionazis crazy.

    • annie
      November 4, 2016, 1:36 am

      oh yeah,. did you hear the latest, that some wacko blamed the earthquake in italy on the unesco legislation? .. probably thinks they angered god or something, crazy wackos.

      Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Ayoub Kara, who during a visit to the Vatican Wednesday claimed that last week’s earthquake in central Italy happened because of the latest UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem.

      from cook above:

      … chair of his party, both demanded that El-Ad be stripped of his citizenship and proposed legislation to outlaw calls for sanctions against Israel in international forums.

      how can israel vote to outlaw anything in international forums??

      • RoHa
        November 4, 2016, 6:55 am

        Well, God does have his pet peeves. He inflicts natural disasters onto Americans because they are too tolerant towards homosexuals. He tosses lightning down onto ladies who wear wired bras. Now we know he is taking a Firm Line on the UNESCO resolution. Just something else to watch out for.

  6. Ossinev
    November 4, 2016, 10:19 am

    “Are you in the UK?”
    Yup definitely here in dear old blighty and have been following this “institutionalised anti – semitism in the Labour Party” charade since it all kicked off – with a mixture of bemusement and irritation. It stinks to high heaven of an organised Zionist Lobby plot to undermine criticism of Israel and the BDS movement. I think what spooked the Zios was the thought that the UK`s second largest party had suddenly voted into leadership an openly Pro-Palestinian and ergo by definition anti- Israeli leader in the shape of Jeremy Corbyn. He brought along with him a groundswell of left leaning younger activists with similar views on Zionism and Israel and the thought of someone with that sort of status standing up in a major international western political forum such as the UK Parliament, directly criticising Israel and accusing them of war crimes , human rights abuses , apartheid policies etc made the Zios seriously wet their pants. So if in doubt or in damp bring out the old tried and trusted “anti – semitism ” card. The paper I read most here in the UK the Times has been particularly supportive of keeping this canard afloat – not surprisingly given that it boasts 5-6 Jewish article writers including the seriously unhinged Melanie Philips. Not a week has gone by since all this started without some direct or oblique reference to this mysterious new “anti-Semitism ” problem.

    As to whether it has backfired I think probably it has. The UK has a very small population of Jews ( around 270,000 I believe). A significant number of those who are non Zionist/non Israeli Firsters will have been further alienated from their extremist brethren because of the unwanted attention it has brought on Judaism in the UK. As for the ordinary John Smith in the street he will I believe have been angered by accusations that his country ie the country which stoodfast against the evil Nazis and fascists is suddenly being accused of being a hotbed of anti – semitism. He will also be asking why has such a small population such media influence?

    As I have said before Corbyn had an opportunity to stand up and defend the ordinary John Smith and clearly state that being critical of Zionism and being critical of Israel is not anti – Semitism and to state clearly that it is grossly insulting to UK history and traditions to suggest that those UK citizens who chose to criticise Israel and Zionism of being “anti – semitic”.

    For whatever reason he has chosen not to do so – perhaps time will tell ?

  7. Vera Gottlieb
    Vera Gottlieb
    November 4, 2016, 12:52 pm

    In one word: COWARDS!!!

    • Kay24
      November 4, 2016, 2:22 pm

      Many of them are bought, had their arms twisted, threatened, or are thirsting for power that only the mean occupier and illegal settlement builder can give them.

  8. xanadou
    November 5, 2016, 3:30 pm

    “Most Israelis consider the occupation and Palestinian suffering as purely an internal matter, to be decided by them alone.”

    Exactly what had informed the Nazis’ decision to exterminate the inhabitants of the Jewish ghetto in 1943 Warsaw.

    The Israeli PR machine may be well-oiled but they are not particularly smart. Their “successes” are predicated on the ignorance and western leaders’ need for Israeli useful idiots to further the former’s misplaced ambitions.

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