Michel Besson, director of the “Andines” Cooperative, which develops Fair Trade cooperation with Palestine, was arrested Monday morning on his arrival at the airport in Tel Aviv and was placed in the retention center.
Besson is being denied entry to Palestine and is awaiting deportation, according to his lawyer Gabi Laski. Laski added that if Besson decides to fight deportation he will have to wait a few weeks in jail before he can get a trial.
Christine Sanguiñeda, Policy Officer Sustainable Development & International Solidarity says, “this act endangers the work of economic development through fair trade which is developing between France and Palestine.”
On July 8, Israeli authorities deported over 150 internationals who arrived at Tel Aviv airport and declared their intention to visit Palestine, as part of the Welcome to Palestine campaign.
The war on Libya has not only been a war that has vindicated NATO’s claim to the most powerful military force on earth, capable of imposing its will through sheer aggression wherever it sees fit, but it has also been a war that has reasserted the western mainstream media’s power to not just fabricate events but to create.
The first media victory was when it got away with claiming that Gaddafi’s government was attacking it’s own citizens in Tripoli from the air, a claim which formed part of the pretext for NATO’s intervention and also served to create panic and anger amongst the city’s residents. No one was held to account when later Russian intelligence satellites and visits from independent observers to the areas alleged to have been targeted, revealed no evidence that such attacks had taken place.
One of the most powerful lies was churned out by none other than British Foreign Secretary William Hague who claimed in the first days of the crisis that Gaddafi had fled to Venezuela. The Libyan government admitted repeatedly that their media was wholly incompetent and unable to provide alternative information at the time, with the result that the people of Libya like the rest of the world believed the claims that were being made. In this instance the result was to create a sense even amongst his traditional support base that they had been abandoned and betrayed. Of course Mr Hague made no apology for such irresponsible remarks when soon after Gaddafi showed his face in the streets of Tripoli.
More recently, the BBC has yet to apologise for using blatantly fake footage from a demonstration in India claiming it was in Tripoli’s Green Square, as part of their evidence that the city had fallen.
Such fabrications continued throughout the six months, as the media reported that areas had been “captured” by the rebels, when in reality, these areas had been blitzed from the air and the sea by NATO rockets with the sole aim of destroying any threat of resistance to its allies the rebels.
As the alliance bombed the rebels’ path to Tripoli, on its way massacring at least 85 civilians in the Zlitan town of Majer, the leaders of hundreds of the country’s tribes, including the largest, Wafalla, Tarhouna, Washafana and Zlitan, reasserted their determination to defend their areas, and to descend on Tripoli should it come under threat.
Meanwhile, the masses of men and women of Tripoli who turned out in rallies against the rebels, felt confident that should the rebels show up in their city they would be able to defeat them with the arms that Gaddafi’s government had been issuing to them since the beginning of the crisis.
Now many of those people have been massacred, have fled or are in hiding. They may or may not have underestimated the ruthless might of NATO, but the media’s narrative that Tripoli fell without resistance is contested by the fact that it took the massacre of thousands and at least five days to establish tentative TNC control of the capital as well as by eyewitnesses accounts of what happened during those five days and beyond.
From the beginning of the fighting in Tripoli on August 20th when I and 35 other journalists became trapped inside the Rixos hotel, it was virtually impossible to get a clear idea of what was happening on the streets outside. Throughout that period the sounds of bombs, gunfire and other heavy weaponry was almost non-stop, with shrapnel and bullets occasionally making their way inside the hotel. But like the rest of the world, the only information we had, apart from the odd moments of communication with contacts inside the city, was from the mainstream international media.
Since my release, I have begun to collate information from residents in the capital in the absence of information from sources which are recognized internationally as “independent”. The following report is based on these accounts and the sources identity must be kept confidential due to the systematic targeting of anyone who betrays disloyalty to the rebels, which as I experienced myself, includes challenging their version of events in the media.
On the first day, rebels from sleeper cells inside Tripoli emerged and began attacking checkpoints manned by Libyan special forces. As is the pattern with their advance into areas on the way to the capital they faced a swift initial defeat. But the first images emerging around the world of the rebels inside Tripoli NATO ensured it would not be short lived. The organisation sanctioned to “protect civilians”, rapidly moved to bomb all checkpoints in the densely packed city. The vast majority of these were manned by volunteers – ie ordinary citizens that had been armed with Kalashnikovs since the beginning of the crisis – so that the rebels could easily move into the city by sea and by road. (see attached image of mother and 17 year old daughter, both volunteers manning checkpoint in Tripoli.)
This was followed by masses of youth and other residents in the capital pouring into the streets to defend their city as they had pledged to do during mass rallies.
The following day, NATO responded with intensified aggression. Eyewitnesses report that during this day, the broadcasting station in Tripoli was bombed, killing dozens. Shortly after the rebels claimed control of Libyan TV and the international media dutifully repeated the claim, blocking any mention of how the takeover had occurred.
Adding to the media’s campaign of confusion, reports of Gaddafi’s sons being caught and that Gaddafi along with other family members had fled the country continued to beam out of televisions across the world.
Having become accustomed to such psychological operations designed to weaken the people’s support for the government by making them believe it had betrayed them, masses defied the reports and marched to Green Square. From inside the Rixos, during the short periods when phone access was revived, my contacts in the city who were in Green Square at the time, informed me that Muammar Gaddafi had been seen driving through the city in his army fatigues urging people to remain strong and not be deceived by the west’s relentless propaganda. This has since been reported by further contact with other residents who were in the streets at the time.
Following relentless bombardment, the masses were pushed back to Gaddafi’s compound Bab al-Azizia where they resisted the rebels’ advance for a further 24 hours. It was during this time that Saif al-Islam, who until then the media and International Criminal Court had been insisting was captured and arrested, showed up at the Rixos hotel where we were trapped. Calm and confident, he took out a group of journalists to Bab al-Azizia where upon their return, they confirmed seeing thousands in and around the compound waving the green flag, including as the tribes had pledged, from their people across the country.
But like the peaceful march in the western mountains on July 24th which was attacked by NATO and the rebels, the masses in Bab al-Azizia were broken up by NATO bombing an entrance for the rebels and attacks by Apache gunships.
The same fate was visited upon gatherings in Green Square. Bab al-Azizia alone was reported to have been bombed 63 times during that time.
With both Green Square and Bab-Alzizia now in control of the rebels, the resistance continued in areas like Tripoli’s poorest neighbourhood Abu Saleem, which a few weeks previously had held a mass demonstration against the NATO aggression and in support of the Jamahiriya. Fighting against the rebels also raged on in Salah Eldeen and El Hadba.
Armed with Kalashnikovs and Rocket Propelled Grenades, the citizens of these areas fighting 8,000 kg bombs, Apache gunships, US, European and UAE special forces and the rebels laden with NATO’s sophisticated weaponry, became part of the carnage and piles of bodies were reported to line the streets.
Since then, any area known to have supported Gaddafi has reportedly been bombed or been subjected to homes and apartments being burnt and looted. And even the mainstream media has been unable to ignore the systematic targeting and lynching of anyone with black skin. It is widely known that Gaddafi’s opponents deeply loathed his rhetoric and policies in support of Black Africa.
With Sirt, Sabha and Beni Walid being amongst the last areas still flying the green flag high, the rebels claim to be giving these a deadline before they resort to a “military response”, implying that in the meantime, a non-military avenue will be pursued. Yet again, the media fail to highlight that the rebels’ ally, NATO, has been openly bombing these areas.
The same media has unquestioningly swallowed NATO’s line that the targets have been exclusively “Gaddafi’s forces”, in the face of evidence before their very eyes to the contrary and in the absence of any independent investigation into the death toll of the 30,000 bombs estimated to have been dropped over the past six months.
The last concrete figures on the second day of fighting put the death toll in 12 hours of fighting in Tripoli alone at 1,300 with 900 injured. Far from Tripoli falling without resistance these figures suggest that Tripoli fell with the masses resisting being massacred.
As in Zlitan, Zawiya and elsewhere, the same atrocities as those committed in Tripoli, are being carried out in Beni Walid and Sirt with the complete silent complicity of journalists and “independent” observers on the ground. This is “free Libya”, so long as the thousands of dead and in hiding upon which it is based goes unmentioned.
Demonstrators hold a banner reading “Stop to social butchery, diktat of the European Union” during a general strike in Rome, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011.
Italy’s riot police have clashed with anti-government demonstrators rallying against the government’s controversial austerity package, which the Senate recently approved.
The police reportedly used batons and fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse the protesters in the capital of Rome, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
Moreover, hundreds of demonstrators tried to break through a police barrier protecting the upper house of parliament in which the vote for the austerity package was held.
The package, initially introduced by Prime Ministers Silvio Berlusconi, was approved by a vote of 165 to 141.
The EUR 54 billion package of spending cuts and tax hikes is meant to help the debt-ridden eurozone country balance its budget deficit by 2013.
The package was originally worth EUR 45.5 billion, but was raised due to market concerns. It will now be passed on to the lower house Chamber of Deputies for approval, before it comes into effect.
Meanwhile, analysts believe the Italian government needs an additional EUR 10 billion cut in spending to achieve a balanced budget by 2013.
Italians had a day earlier, also staged demonstrations against the package.
“Given that Italy has no real tax on residential properties, the lowest capital gains tax rate in Europe and rampant tax evasion among higher-income professionals, why not recover resources from the people who have the money”?
On Tuesday September 6th local Palestinians from the village of Al Walajeh gathered with international activists to protest the building of the illegal separation barrier as well as the destruction of ancient olive trees. The demonstrators succeeded in halting the razing of Palestinian land for approximately one hour before soldiers violently broke up the protest arresting one Palestinian and one Israeli activist.
On September 5th bulldozers protected by dozens of soldiers arrived at 4 AM and uprooted 50 olive trees that date back at least 100 years. The bulldozers also destroyed 18 almond trees, 27 pine trees, and 8 fruit trees. The destruction took place in an area of over 1 square mile and was declared a closed military zone, prohibiting media coverage of the devastating operation.
Mohammed Al-Atrash (Abu Wajih), the elderly farmer who owned the trees, will receive no compensation for his loss.
In the aftermath residents of Al Walajeh called for a presence of media and activists to highlight this illegal destruction carried out by the Israeli government. At approximately 10am on Tuesday several residents from the village, joined by ISM and other activists, walked down to the site of the olive grove, which is now a wasteland. Upon arriving they stood in front of the construction machines and forced them to halt their work.
Soldiers declared the area a closed military zone and disbanded the protest by force within an hour. Yousif Shakawi, a local resident in his 50’s was arrested along with one Israeli activist. The remaining protesters were held at distance so that the work could resume.
The trees were destroyed in preparation for the building of the illegal Israeli apartheid wall which is planned to run several hundred metres inside the 1967 green line, effectively seizing hundreds of dunnums of land from around Al Walajeh. If the Israeli government succeeds in completing the wall along the planned route the village will be surrounded on three sides with the army controlling entrance and exit to the village.
Sheerin Alaraj, who has lived in Al Walajeh all her life, explained to us that construction of the wall was continuing in spite of an on going appeal process in the Israeli high court with a ruling expected September 27th . However Sheerin has little confidence in the process as she explained to us “the court is just an extension of the military arm of Israel.”
In 2004 the International Court of Justice declared that the apartheid wall is illegal and Israel should tear it down immediately and compensate the victims. In spite of this ruling Israel has continued construction of the wall which annexes 8.5% of the entire West Bank territory. Since 2000 Israel has destroyed approximately 330,000 olive trees in the West Bank and Gaza. There is currently a campaign to boycott Caterpillar Inc. for its role in supplying the Israeli government with equipment used to enforce the occupation.
As the time for harvesting olives nears and Israeli military and settlers continue to destroy the main agricultural pillar of Palestinian culture and livelihood, International Solidarity Movement will be actively working throughout the harvesting season to safeguard Palestinians and assist in harvesting despite this and other events that have threatened security and access to Palestinian farmland. For more information on ISMs Olive Harvest Campaign, visit our website.
With a little more than a year till the 2012 elections the White House and Congressional leadership are anxious to pass pending Free Trade Agreements (FTA) as soon as possible. Most worrisome of all is the pending FTA between the US and Colombia. Corporate leaders and US and Colombian government officials with their public relations operatives are peddling lie after lie to justify passage.
The following guide put together by The Alliance for Global Justice will help people to better understand and counter the falsehoods they will be hearing and countering in the coming weeks.
Distinguishing between fact and fiction with claims regarding the pending US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement
CLAIM: Passing the FTA will put the US in a better position to pressure Colombia to improve its labor and human rights record.
REALITY: US intervention in Colombia has caused more problems than it has helped and the FTA would only make things worse. Recent investigations by the Colombian Attorney General have uncovered extensive US involvement regarding domestic spying by former President Álvaro Uribe’s administration. Information was shared with and analyzed by embassy staff and domestic spying programs were funded by the CIA. Activities included gaining access to the bank accounts, following the families and bugging the offices of Colombian magistrates.
Targets also included labor leaders. According to an August 20, 2011 Washington Post article, “Another unit that operated for eight months in 2005, the Group to Analyze Terrorist Organization Media, assembled dossiers on labor leaders, broke into their offices and videotaped union activists. The United States provided equipment and tens of thousands of dollars, according to an internal DAS report, and the unit’s members regularly met with an embassy official they remembered as ‘Chris Sullivan.’”
Furthermore, through Plan Colombia, the US and Colombia adopted policies that reject dialogue and negotiations for peace in favor of a military solution for the country’s ongoing civil war, on which the US has spent over $7 billion since 2000. The result has been massive displacement of rural populations, military scandals and murder and disappearances, yet no path opened toward resolution. Meanwhile, non-military aid has more often than not been used to fund programs that augment war and repression.
There is no reason whatsoever to believe that the quest for peace and human rights in Colombia would be bettered by increasing US influence through passage of the pending FTA.
CLAIM: Colombia has already made significant progress in its labor rights record and it deserves for the US to pass the FTA as a reward for Colombia’s “good behavior”.
REALITY: Colombia continues to lead the world in the number of unionists murdered, year after year registering more assassinations than the rest of the world combined. In 2008 there were 48 unionists murdered, in 2009 there were 29 and in 2010, there were 51, 19 of whom were members of teachers unions. In 2009 the rate of impunity for labor and other political assassinations was 95.6%. In 2010 that rate had gone up to 98.5%, and in 2011 a court study showed the rate to have risen to over 99%.
US corporations are guilty of increasing the violence against unionists. Drummond Coal Company, based in Birmingham, Alabama, was caught making payments to death squads that assassinated union leaders. Chiquita Banana was found guilty in US court and fined for paying death squads, and Coca-Cola has long been implicated in assassinations of unionists at its bottling company.
CLAIM: The Labor Action Plan agreed on by the Obama and Santos administrations has granted important concessions and protections to Colombian unions, and passage of the FTA will help assure that this plan is truly implemented.
REALITY: There is no enforcement mechanism for the concessions in the plan. Furthermore, an AFL-CIO statement says, “…the Labor Action Plan fails to include commitments with regard to collective bargaining in the public sector, collective bargaining above the enterprise level, or collective bargaining over pensions.” Most worrisome is that workers are supposed to accept, on good faith, that anti-labor violence and better worker conditions will be assured in the future. But with 3,000 unionists killed in the past 25 years, there’s no good faith left.
CLAIM: Colombia has already made significant progress in its human rights record and it deserves for the US to pass the FTA as a reward for Colombia’s “good behavior”.
REALITY: Since Santos has taken office, members of the political opposition have been assassinated on an average of one every three days. The estimated number of disappearances has risen from around 50,000 to more than 61,000.
While roughly half of Colombia’s people live in poverty and half of its children are not in school (estimates vary from as low as 43% to 65% for both), Colombia has the second highest defense budget in Latin America, following the much bigger Brazil. Instead of building schools, the government has been engaged in a 11 year project, with US funding, to build a series of new prisons to accommodate an explosion in incarceration, including a 300% increase in political arrests.
The Colombian government holds well over 7,500 political prisoners. Only 500 to 1,000 of these are Prisoners of War. The vast majority are in jail for legal and nonviolent resistance. Some 5,000 of these captives are from rural populations. The most common charge against political prisoners is that of “Rebellion”. Comparatively, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are holding somewhere between 10 and 20 captives.
CLAIM: Passage of the US-Colombia FTA will help bring peace and stability to Colombia and will renew the confidence of would-be investors.
REALITY: If recent behavior is any indication, the administration of President Santos and the Colombian military have no interest in peace. Nor does the US government, as long as it insists on the military solution to Colombia’s conflict.
From August 12-15, 2011, more than 20,000 peasant, indigenous and Afro-Colombian community members, along with representatives from the Catholic Church, national and international human rights defenders and leaders of social and labor movements, gathered for a National Encounter for the Land and Peace. While the conference was commencing, the Colombian military began a commencement of its own, undertaking an indiscriminate and unprovoked bombardment of the municipality of Chaparral, Tolima.
While the Encounter was still underway, Pres. Santos declared the door to negotiations was “closed” and that he had “the key and the key is in my pocket”. That same weekend, Santos went on to say that “Advocacy for peace is harmful.”
In the weeks preceding and including the Encounter, seven peasant labor leaders and one human rights defender were arbitrarily arrested in Putumayo with no reasons given nor charges made. And in the two weeks following the Encounter, there have already been a number of assassinations, assassination attempts and disappearances of members of the political opposition and unionists.
The best way to increase investor confidence in Colombia is not through war and repression nor via neoliberal trade agreements. What is needed is dialogue that brings together all major sectors of Colombian society to work out a political solution to the conflict. That is the only way to foster an atmosphere of real stability.
CLAIM: The US-Colombia FTA, along with Santos administration’s agrarian reform plan, will help develop the rural infrastructure, create new jobs for farm workers, and help reestablish displaced farming families.
REALITY: After some 13 years of Plan Colombia, an estimated 4 to 5 million persons have been forcibly displaced, 60% of these being from farming families and 60 to 70% being women and girls. During the first ten years of Plan Colombia (1998 to 2008), 760,000 peasant families were forcibly removed from over 13.5 million acres. Conversely, paramilitary death squads now control some 10 million acres of the country’s most fertile land. In almost all cases where there has been massive displacement, the vacuum has been filled by big landowners, narco-traffickers, agribusinesses and transnational mining and energy corporations.
The Santos agrarian reform plan does more to consolidate displacement and land loss than to make up for it. Farmers who come from families that have cultivated plots for generations are being asked to show titles in areas where titles have never been used or kept. Much of the dispossessed farm land has been replaced by African Palm plantations. Farming families from these areas who are participating in the agrarian reform are being told that they will have to wait until the plantations reap a full crop before they can return. That is a process that takes up to 10 years. Since African Palm plantations are notorious for leaving the soil depleted, when these farmers come back to their plots, they will be trying to raise crops on wasted terrain. Ultimately, only a minority of displaced farmers will be able to return to their land, while ownership will be consolidated for a majority of the interests that have benefited most from the forced removal of rural people.
CLAIM: The US-Colombia FTA, as well as pending FTAs with Panama and South Korea, will bring jobs to workers in all the involved countries.
REALITY: Neoliberal free trade policies have been a big part of the reason that economic crises are taking place all over the world and have led to ever widening gaps between the rich and the poor. Colombia has the second largest gap between the rich and the poor in South America and the eighth largest worldwide, according to the World Bank’s World Development Institute. The FTA will make matters worse.
For US workers, FTAs have not lead to more and better jobs, but to blighted, failing cities where industries once thrived and to rural areas where it has become almost impossible for family farms to survive. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) maintains that KORUS will make the US trade deficit with Korea twice as bad, up to $26.9 billion annually within seven years. This will result in 888,000 jobs lost as a result of Korean imports. If one figures in employment created by increased US exports and jobs lost because of the already existing deficit with South Korea, there are some 200,000 jobs that will be lost. The EPI predicts a US-Colombia FTA will result in a loss of 55,000 jobs.
CLAIM: The US Congress and President Obama were elected to listen to, represent and serve the people of the US and to act in their best interests.
REALITY: According to a poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal in 2010, the number of US residents surveyed who believe FTAs hurt the country went up to 53% from 32% in 1999. And this unhappiness with FTAs reaches across political perspectives. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, as well as a separate poll that same year by the Pew Research Center, show that over 60% of both Tea Party sympathizers and union families oppose FTAs. And both Tea Partiers and union members vote at higher rates than the general public. So who is the White House and Congressional Leadership listening to if it is not We, The People?
Will Congress and the White House listen to the US people and stop trying to pass these harmful FTAs? One thing is for sure…they are sure to pass them if we don’t stand up and tell them not to.
A retired college professor who has sailed approximately 8,000 miles to the eastern Mediterranean has now arrived at his destination: the exact location where Israeli forces tried to sink a US Navy ship in 1967, killing or injuring over 200 American servicemen.
Larry Toenjes, 74 years old, is planning to hold a memorial service for those killed on board the ship, the USS Liberty. Israel shelled and torpedoed the ship, an electronics surveillance ship, in an attack that lasted as long as the attack on Pearl Harbor.
While Israel and its partisans have tried to claim that the attack was “a mistake,” a 2003 inquiry by an independent commission led by a retired four-star Navy Admiral, a Rear Admiral, and the highest ranking Medal of Honor recipient in the U.S., a Marine General, announced on Capitol Hill that all the evidence indicated that the attack had been intentional, had consisted of an act of war against the United States by Israel, and that a cover-up had been ordered by the White House.
In addition, the commission found that rescue flights had been recalled by President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. While almost no media covered the Capitol Hill briefing, a full record of its findings is in the Congressional Record and Stars and Stripes military newspaper. [more information on the incident]
Toenjes, who departed from Galveston, Texas, almost four months ago, is accompanied by Marine veteran Rusty Glenn, also from Texas, who joined him in Malta. While there has been concern that Israel might interfere with their voyage as it has other boats in the Mediterranean, ramming and hijacking some, so far Israel seems to be ignoring the voyage. Toenjes will remain 12 miles offshore, in international waters, where the attack took place.
In a column published by the Galveston News, Toenjes explained that he was undertaking the voyage for two primary purposes: to honor the men who died in service to their country and to try to draw attention to attempts by their surviving families and crew-mates to obtain the full government investigation that is legally required but that has been blocked by the powerful Israel Lobby.
Toenjes’ trip is being tracked on the website of the Council for the National Interest (CNI), which will stream live his memorial service later today, which will be carried by satellite phone to a radio program hosted by a Liberty survivor, Phil Tourney.
While the national media have ignored this voyage, Toenjes and Liberty survivors hope that the American public will learn about his undertaking by word of mouth, blogs, and social media.
Below is an earlier report broadcast by Press TV:
FAQ on Israeli assault on the Liberty
A group of pro-Israel activists, backed by StandWithUs, a national US organization funded by individuals who have played a leading role in stoking Islamophobia, is planning to take legal action to force the Olympia Food Co-op to rescind its historic decision to boycott Israeli products.
The Electronic Intifada has obtained a copy of a 31 May 2011 letter sent to the Board of Directors of the Olympia Food Co-op in Olympia, Washington, threatening “expensive” legal action if the pro-Israel activists’ “demands” to end the boycott of Israeli products are not met.
Other documents, supported by interviews, confirm that the Israeli government has taken part in discussions about, and been given advance knowledge of, the planned lawsuit and another planned action against Evergreen State College in Olympia in response to Palestine solidarity activism by students.
Evergreen State is noted for being the school attended by Rachel Corrie, who was killed by an Israeli occupation soldier operating a bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in March 2003.
These developments indicate new, even more aggressive tactics by pro-Israel organizations funded by anti-Muslim agitators including Steven and Rita Emerson to suppress, deter and malign any form of Palestine-related dissent, protest or solidarity action.
An historic vote
The highly symbolic action, which gained global attention, came in response to the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) measures against Israel until Israel respects Palestinian human rights and international law.
From the first moment the boycott resolution was passed, Olympia community members who supported and organized for it were accused of anti-Semitism by the Northwest chapter of StandWithUs.
Now, StandWithUs is taking its assault against the OFC to a new level with its backing for legal action.
Also in June 2010, students at Evergreen State College voted overwhelmingly to back an initiative calling on college administrators to divest the school’s assets from any companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, and specifically Caterpillar Corporation, which makes bulldozers Israel uses to demolish Palestinian homes.
It was a Caterpillar bulldozer that Israeli forces used to kill Rachel Corrie as she attempted to prevent such a demolition. According to a StandWithUs flyer (PDF), Rachel Corrie “died in Gaza after interfering with Israeli counter-terrorism operations.”
Documents show that in addition to targeting the Olympia Food Co-op, StandWithUs is helping to plan a civil rights complaint against Evergreen State College.
Threat of legal action against Olympia Food Co-op
The 31 May letter (PDF) sent individually to members of the Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors is signed by five individuals who identify themselves as “members of the Olympia Food Co-op (‘OFC’) who oppose OFC’s boycott of Israeli made products (‘Israel Boycott’) and divestment from Israeli companies (‘Divestment’).”
The five are Kent L. Davis, Linda Davis, Susan Mayer, Susan G. Trinin and Jeffrey I. Trinin. All except for Mayer also appeared in a StandWithUs Northwest video published on YouTube in June entitled “Why BDS Scars Don’t Heal: A StandWithUs Production.”
The video alleges that the BDS effort in Olympia has been motivated by and generated anti-Semitism, and was run by a secretive and conspiratorial “dark organization” from outside the community.
It also claims that the BDS effort in Olympia and a similar initiative in the town of Port Townsend, north of Seattle, last year had generated “a climate of fear and terror for Jews.”
The activists’ letter makes sweeping allegations that the OFC board engaged in “numerous procedural violations” in passing the boycott of Israeli goods, but it does not provide any examples of such violations.
The letter writers claim to have made many sincere efforts to rectify the unspecified “violations” but asserted that their complaints had “fallen on deaf ears as the Board steadfastly refuses to revisit its position on the Israel Boycott and Divestment policies.”
“At this point,” the letter states, “we are left no choice but to demand in no uncertain terms that OFC act in accordance with its rules and bylaws and rescind the Israel Boycott and Divestment policies.”
The letter sets a thirty-day deadline for a response and adds, “Regrettably should the board reject our demand, we are prepared to pursue relief through the court system.”
The pro-Israel activists’ letter concludes, “If you do what we demand, this situation may be resolved amicably and efficiently. If not, we will bring legal action against you, and this process will become considerably more complicated, burdensome, and expensive than it has been already.”
Lawsuit “a matter of time”
Reached by telephone, Avi Lipman, a Seattle-based attorney that The Electronic Intifada learned represents the letter writers, confirmed that two letters had been sent to the OFC board — the 31 May letter obtained by The Electronic Intifada and a follow-up.
However, Lipman said that a lawsuit had still not been filed, and “there is still an opportunity for the board to take the remedial action my clients have asked for.”
Lipman would not specify any procedural violations made by the OFC board. “I don’t want to get into it in any detail,” he said, indicating that the 31 May letter described “in general terms what our concerns are.”
But Lipman did not seem optimistic that the board would rescind the boycott decision as demanded. After the initial thirty-day deadline, Lipman said his clients had given the board an additional fifteen-day period to act.
“That time has also expired,” Lipman said. “The board has indicated that it plans to stand by the actions it has taken, so it seems clear to me that remedial action will not be taken.”
“It’s just a matter of time before we go to court and seek relief from the court,” Lipman added.
Lipman was keen to emphasize that his clients’ complaints were not based on the substance of the BDS decision, but merely the alleged, unspecified procedural violations. “The issue is how the process unfolded and the procedures that were followed and not followed by the board,” Lipman said.
He stressed that if the boycott of Israeli goods was revoked, and then reinstated according to the proper procedures, his clients would abide by it.
“An allegation that doesn’t have an allegation”
“We don’t have any statement on the non-existent lawsuit,” Jayne Kaszynski, Staff Representative to the Olympia Food Co-op Board, told The Electronic Intifada. “It’s pretty much impossible to respond to an allegation that doesn’t have an allegation.”
Kaszynski said that the BDS decision and the procedures used to reach it had generated widespread public debate among Co-op members, especially on the OFC’s blog. She added that any member who was unhappy with a decision of the board had “democratic alternatives” to legal action.
“If you’ve read the bylaws you know that we have a simple member petition process. Any member can create a petition and if they get 300 members to sign it, they can get pretty much any issue put on a ballot,” Kaszynski said.
The OFC has 22,000 active members, according to Kaszynski, “so the 300 signature requirement is not very high. So far no one has exercised this democratic right in relation to the boycott.”
The petition procedure is described in the Olympia Food Co-op Bylaws.
Lipman, however, said his clients did not think they should use this procedure because they see the original boycott decision as illegitimate, and therefore the burden should be on the board, not on his clients, to take remedial action.
Smearing BDS as “anti-Semitism”
At one point, the StandWithUs YouTube video briefly displays an image of a Nazi Swastika superimposed on a Star of David, with a caption above it stating “Actual image from handout.”
The video provides no information on where this handout was supposedly distributed or any evidence that it has anything whatsoever to do with the Olympia Food Co-op.
Yet the smear is clearly meant to tar any and all BDS supporters — presumably including those who self-identify as Jewish — as anti-Semites.
“I really don’t think it’s comfortable for Jews to live in the city of Olympia and be outwardly expressing Jews,” Kent Davis, one of the letter writers, claims in the video. “You know, you can be a closet Jew and that’s fine. I just don’t feel comfortable discussing my religion or my beliefs in a mixed group environment anymore.”
As with the swastika “handout,” no evidence is ever presented of any specific incidents that back up this grave charge likening placid Olympia to 1930s Berlin, or to link the alleged climate of fear to the Olympia Food Co-op’s boycott of Israeli goods.
A “dark” outside conspiracy
In the StandWithUs video, the letter writers and other speakers allege that the BDS action at the Olympia Food Co-op was planned by a shadowy organization that came in from outside the community, and then disappeared leaving behind acrimony and conflict from which there has been no “healing.”
None of these allegations come with any specifics or facts and the overall tone is conspiratorial.
“It’s amazing that I’ve been pushed aside as a Jew in this town because of the BDS,” says Tibor Breuer, identified as an OFC member in the video. “It’s a very, very dark organization that has no interest in anything that has to do with the two-state solution.”
BDS is, in fact, not an “organization,” but the term given to a set of principles and tactics which have been taken up by independent individuals and solidarity groups all over the world in response to the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions measures on Israel until Israel ends its human rights violations and respects Palestinian rights and international law.
“When BDS comes into these communities, they just divide people in all sorts of ways and then they leave and the community is stuck with having to somehow heal and we can’t heal yet,” Linda Davis, another of the five letter writers, alleges in the video.
“BDS was over there in Europe celebrating their victory, and we’re stuck with this shit,” Breuer adds.
In fact, at the time the OFC boycott was passed, and since, those who initiated it spoke frequently to the media, and all have been local Olympia community and Co-op members.
Ironically, Robert S. Jacobs, the director of StandWithUs Northwest, acknowledges as much.
Refuting suggestions that the pro-Israel counterattack against BDS is centralized, Jacobs told The Electronic Intifada, “Similar to the BDS movement, we’re made up of activists in the community who passionately feel they want to express a certain perspective and hope that opinion leaders will adopt that perspective.”
Jacobs admitted in the interview that there was no such thing as “BDS central.” Yet the video that bears the StandWithUs name and features the letter writers paints an altogether different picture.
Meanwhile, the vilification of Palestine solidarity activists as anti-Semites is not surprising given the views of some of the StandWithUs leadership.
One board member and founder in Los Angeles, Mordechai “Moti” Gur, describes the purpose of StandWithUs in the following terms on the website for another organization he founded: “We combat the soft jihad and local intifadas by Muslim organizations by exposing everyone to the light of truth” (The Moses Project).
Other StandWithUs documents and websites routinely malign Palestine solidarity activists — including the nine civilians killed by Israeli commandos on the Mavi Marmara as “jihadists.”
But while the pro-Israel activists in the StandWithUs video allege — without offering a shred of evidence — that OFC was the victim of a “dark” external conspiracy by anti-Semitic outsiders bent on dividing their community, they themselves are receiving significant external backing.
How StandWithUs describes its role
StandWithUs is a national pro-Israel advocacy organization which has taken a lead in fighting “delegitimization” and BDS.
Pro-Israel groups and the Israeli government have since last year claimed that virtually all Palestinian solidarity work amounts to an effort to delegitmize Israel. In recent policy speeches, US officials have vowed to help Israel combat “delegitmization” — though precisely what this means in practice and how it may affect civil liberties and free speech is unclear.
The Northwest chapter of StandWithUs has been particularly active in combating BDS efforts not only in Olympia but at the food co-op in Port Townsend, north of Seattle, where there was an unsuccessful bid to emulate the OFC boycott. (Disclosure: I was invited to Port Townsend in August 2010 to speak at a community event in support of BDS).
But how deeply involved is StandWithUs, and how does the organization liaise with the Israeli government in mounting these local battles?
Jacobs characterizes StandWithUs Northwest as little more than a small local chapter, “a two-person office,” providing basic support and advice to individuals such as those threatening to sue the Olympia Food Co-op.
Jacobs told The Electronic Intifada his group’s contact with the five letter writers was largely limited to providing printed materials, helping bring in speakers and offering advice. He said he had not seen either of the letters sent to the OFC board.
Although Jacobs did acknowledge working with and meeting repeatedly with the letter writers, he characterized the relationship to any potential lawsuit as arms length:
“Since we’re not actually a party to anything down there, frankly we’re not in any of the loop regarding the legal matters. Just from an attorney-client privilege standpoint anything we would do with anybody would be violating some kind of potential privilege. So, we know that they’re doing some stuff. I know they’ve been working with an attorney. I know which firm it is but beyond that we have not in any way participated in the legal discussion.”
Jacobs acknowledged attending one meeting related to the potential lawsuit.
“We were at one meeting, I don’t know how many months ago, before anything actually happened,” Jacobs explained.
“We had been asked by some of the folks down there if we knew any attorneys up here [in Seattle], so we mentioned a number of names. But I was at a meeting where they had an initial — they had not retained any attorney or developed any permanent relationship with an attorney — when they had someone there talk off-the-cuff about what an attorney could do for them.”
Jacobs was also adamant that his office had not done any fundraising toward a potential lawsuit. “I don’t foresee us putting any money into a lawsuit,” he said, adding, “I don’t know of anybody who’s giving them money. I’ll be that blunt about it.”
Jacobs estimated that the amount of money his office had spent on work related to the OFC boycott — presumably not including staff time — amounted to just hundreds of dollars principally for printing flyers and brochures.
The role of the Israeli consulate
Asked what role the Israeli government plays in StandWithUs Northwest’s work, Jacobs stated that he personally knew Akiva Tor, the Israeli Consul General for the Pacific Northwest, based in San Francisco, and that Tor would be speaking at an upcoming StandWithUs fundraising event. Jacobs acknowledged that StandWithUs had helped to bring Tor’s deputy to speak in Port Townsend.
Jacobs said that the Israeli consulate did not play any “active role” in opposing the OFC boycott, but, he added, “from the information standpoint they want to know what’s going on.”
“We update him [Tor] on what’s happening in the community here,” Jacobs said.
“If what you’re talking about is if there is some sort of central coordination out of Israel for the activity we are doing here, absolutely not,” he added.
Tor had also offered to speak in Olympia, but it had not happened yet, according to Jacobs. “I know he met in a coffee shop with the Corries [Cindy and Craig, the parents of Rachel Corrie]. I heard that from all sorts of people in Olympia,” Jacobs stated.
Yet, this characterization is at best incomplete.
A deeper role for Israeli officials?
Although Jacobs has confirmed reporting to Israeli officials what goes on in the local community, the relationship may be even closer than he acknowledged.
A “Weekly Status Report” of StandWithUs Northwest, for the week of 5-11 March 2011 states that the following meetings took place:
“Rob [Jacobs] and Carolyn in Olympia with Olympia activists, Akiva Tor and Avi Lipman on Thursday – Presentation of legal case, discussion of Evergreen strategy and Olympia community speaker opportunities.”
Carolyn Hathaway is the co-chair of StandWithUs Northwest.
In his conversation with The Electronic Intifada, Jacobs did not disclose that Israeli Consul General Tor had not only already traveled to Olympia at the behest of StandWithUs, but had participated in a meeting with the activists threatening to sue the OFC and their lawyer.
The “status update” was posted on a website that archives emails sent to members of a private list of StandWithUs affiliates, but the website itself is unprotected.
It appears that this and other documents may have been published inadvertently, given how revealing they are of StandWithUs Northwest’s activities and strategy and the contradictions with Jacobs’ own characterizations.
Akiva Tor did not respond to a request to speak to The Electronic Intifada left with a staff person at his office.
The attorney, Avi Lipman, would not disclose what was discussed at the March meeting, again citing attorney-client privilege. Lipman said, however, “The Israeli consulate has nothing to do with this action. StandWithUs is not our client. We represent the individual co-op members who have asked the board to take remedial action.”
While all that may technically be true, none of it is inconsistent with a close advisory and an eventual fundraising role for StandWithUs and even the Israeli consulate.
Nor does it explain the presence of an official from a foreign government at a meeting in which legal action against OFC and possibly Evergreen State College was discussed.
Lipman would also not discuss how his clients might be able to afford an “expensive” — as the 31 May letter put it — legal action.
Another worrying possibility is that through StandWithUs, and possibly other organizations, Israeli diplomatic missions may collect intelligence about local activists or people who express views sympathetic to Palestinian human rights in order to exclude such people from visiting the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip on political grounds.
In July, for example, Israel detained and deported dozens of individuals who planned to visit the occupied West Bank at the invitation of Palestinians.
StandWithUs remains fully engaged in Olympia lawsuit
Jacobs’ characterization of his organization’s role with the planned lawsuit as almost incidental is flatly contradicted by another document made public via the StandWithUs email archive.
The agenda for an upcoming 27 September 2011 StandWithUs Northwest Executive Committee meeting includes the following items:
- The civil rights complaint against Evergreen State College
- The law suit against the Olympia Food Co-op
- Working to shut down the “educational” programs that Ed Mast has circulated to all Washington State social studies teachers and librarians
- Speakers Bureau
Thus the OFC lawsuit and the Evergreen State College civil rights complaint are both “projects” of the StandWithUs Northwest Executive Committee, and firmly on its agenda.
Ed Mast, it is worth noting, is a Seattle-area activist and playwright who has provided educational resources on Palestine.
In addition to everything else, it would appear that rather than merely providing an alternative, pro-Israeli viewpoint, StandWithUs is working to censor and exclude other viewpoints from schools and libraries and exclusively impose its own.
And, far from being merely restricted to its local area, StandWithUs Northwest is apparently assuming a national role:
StandWithUs Northwest helping other regions
- Helping Avi Posnick in NY oppose the BDS boycott proposal at the Park Slope Food Co-op in Brooklyn
- Helping Gail Rubin in Davis oppose the BDS boycott proposal at the Sacramento Food Co-op in Sacramento
It is clear from its agenda that not only is StandWithUs Northwest playing a continuing role in Olympia, but expanding its anti-BDS activities across the country.
Focus on procedure, not substance
During his interview with The Electronic Intifada, Jacobs characterized the grievances the letter writers had with the co-op in a manner remarkably similar to the 31 May letter which he said he had not seen. He acknowledged that it was StandWithUs’ advice that the case should focus on procedure, rather than substance.
“Courtrooms aren’t the place to discuss foreign policy and they wouldn’t make a decision based on that,” Jacobs explained. “The same is true with the board members that were on the board [of OFC] at the time. Most of them were sympathetic to the BDS movement and trying to make an argument counter to theirs would be a huge educational effort and probably not very successful.”
This, Jacobs said, was the rationale for focusing on procedure, rather than substantive arguments.
StandWithUs, fundraising and donations from Islamophobic extremists
Jacobs presents StandWithUs Northwest as almost a shoe-string operation. “We’re thought of as this huge, incredibly wealthy organization,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “As far as Jewish community organizations go, even on a national basis, we don’t have anything near the kind of resources of some other organizations such as ADL or AJC. Here frankly, we barely cover our own costs just in operations.”
But public financial filings of StandWithUs, which raises funds under the legal name “Israel Emergency Alliance,” (IEA) tell a quite different story.
The IEA’s mandatory Form 990 financial filings to the Internal Revenue Service (available from the website Guidestar) show an organization with $4.2 million in annual revenue and impressive fundraising capacity, including donations from leading Islamophobic extremists Steven and Rita Emerson.
In 2008, Jacobs himself received an annual salary of $96,923 for an average forty-hour week, more on a pro-rated basis than StandWithUs founder and national executive director Roz Rothstein who received $100,000 for an average sixty-hour week, according to the filings. In 2009, Rothstein’s salary was raised to $150,000.
StandWithUs also has an international presence, with an Israeli office and a European base in Brussels, which together accounted for a million dollars in expenses in 2009.
The largest area of expenditure, however, is for campus advocacy at US colleges and universities, which accounted for $2.6 million in 2009.
The growing role of the Emersons
The growing role of husband and wife Steven and Rita Emerson in StandWithUs is highly significant. The couple have been key supporters of Islamophobic campaigns in the United States, and they have considerable fundraising muscle that could potentially be flexed to support the planned Olympia lawsuit and civil rights complaint against Evergreen State.
US nonprofit organizations are not required to reveal their sources of funding, but IEA’s 2007 IRS filing includes a list of donations with the names of donors redacted. However, some names are still visible.
One donation for $25,000, for example, came from “Friends of Israel Defence Forces” and another, for $15,500, came from Steven J. Emerson.
There are dozens of other five- and six-figure donations from addresses in several states, especially California, New York and Illinois.
While donation amounts for subsequent years are unavailable, other evidence indicates that Steven and Rita Emerson have assumed a growing role in StandWithUs and have likely donated considerably more money.
In 2009, for the first time, the Emersons assumed an official leadership role, Rita as a board member and Steven as vice-president.
StandWithUs also introduced a program named for the couple called “The Emerson Fellowship” — almost certainly indicating a substantial financial contribution by its namesakes.
The Emerson Fellowship is a program to pay for students all over North America to engage in pro-Israel advocacy and agitation on their campuses. The 27 September StandWithUs Northwest Executive Committee meeting agenda includes an item about “Completing the 2011-12 Emerson selection process.”
At the center of an Islamophobic network
Steven and Rita Emerson have enriched themselves from fear-mongering, incitement and defamation against Muslims, a phenomenon a recent New York Times op-ed likened to 19th century anti-Semitism (“Don’t Fear Islamic Law in America,” Eliyahu Stern, 2 September 2011).
A 2010 investigative report by The Tennessean newspaper found that in 2008 Steven Emerson paid his own for-profit company $3.4 million in fees from a nonprofit charity he founded, which, according to the newspaper, “solicits money by telling donors they’re in imminent danger from Muslims.”
According to the investigation, Emerson’s nonprofit acted as a front for a lucrative for-profit venture (“Anti-Muslim crusaders make millions spreading fear,” 24 October 2010).
Unusually, the Emerson nonprofit’s 990 forms do not list any staff, board members or salaries except for Steven Emerson who is the organization’s sole officer.
The alarming rise of virulent Islamophobia in the United States in recent years is not something that just happened. It was the result of assiduous and deliberate campaigns by a well-funded network of donors, organizations and prominent individual ideologues or “misinformation experts,” as a recent report by the Center for American Progress documents (“Fear, Inc., The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” August 2011 [PDF]).
Steven Emerson is one of the top five “misinformation experts” named in the report. These individuals, according to the report, “travel the country and work with or testify before state legislatures calling for a ban on the nonexisting threat of Sharia law in America and proclaiming that the vast majority of mosques in our country harbor Islamist terrorists or sympathizers.”
Targeting Evergreen State College for student activism
The planned civil rights complaint against Evergreen State College may be an attempt to use alleged incidents of campus anti-Semitism as the basis for a legal action to discredit the divestment campaign at the school.
On 8 November 2010, a story appeared on the news website MyNorthwest.com under the byline of Alex Silverman with the headline “Pro-Israel students harassed, leave Evergreen State.”
It alleges that Evergreen State, once an oasis of tolerance, had become a place where some students have faced “torment and harassment” and have even left “simply for expressing their opinions about a controversial issue.”
The story claims five unnamed students “transferred out” of Evergreen State because of “harassment,” but the only source is a student named Joshua Levine. “There are days I feel uncomfortable walking across campus alone because I wear a yarmulke [Jewish skull cap] on my head,” Levine alleges.
Levine, president of the campus chapter of Hillel — another national pro-Israel organization — is also a StandWithUs Northwest Emerson Fellow
But what were the examples of “harassment” that supposedly led to this situation? Just like the StandWithUs video, the only ones Levine provides conflate Palestine solidarity with “anti-Semitism”:
“Checkpoints were erected outside the bus stop,” Levine told Silverman. “People claiming to be IDF [Israeli army] veterans shoving toy assault rifles in people’s faces, demanding to see their student ID before they could go onto campus.”
Students have staged similar actions on campuses across North America to highlight the well-documented abuses Palestinians face living under Israeli military occupation.
The article quotes Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor decrying the supposedly dire situation.
The MyNorthwest.com story also notes: “This summer, the student body at Evergreen State voted overwhelmingly to divest from companies with economic interests in Israel, further fueling the anti-Israel fervor on campus.”
That, it would seem, is what is making Levine so uncomfortable.
Laying the ground for a civil rights complaint
Recently, the US Department of Education began investigating precisely such a civil rights complaint stemming from charges of anti-Semitism because of Palestine solidarity activism at the University of California-Santa Cruz.
That federal investigation is the first of its kind, though it may well be the model for targeting Evergreen State College.
Has StandWithUs, through Levine, been carefully laying the ground for a similar effort to use US civil rights protection legislation to suppress criticism of a foreign government that engages in massive human rights abuses and discrimination of precisely the kind civil rights legislation is meant to prevent?
Importing Israeli repression to the US?
What is particularly troubling about the threatened legal action against OFC and Evergreen State backed by StandWithUs and its close collaboration with the Israeli government, is that it appears to import Israeli tactics of political repression into the United States.
Earlier this year, Israel passed a law that imposes heavy fines on anyone who participates in or advocates a boycott of Israeli businesses, universities and social and cultural institutions or illegal West Bank settlements. The law was strongly condemned by human rights organizations as a violation of basic freedoms.
The threatened legal action against the Olympia Food Co-op may be a “do it yourself” version of the law on US soil. Simply taking someone to court imposes a punishment on them through high legal fees before any judgment is ever rendered. That may be the whole point.
It should serve as a red flag that however small and tight-knit a community, powerful pro-Israel groups, backed by racist anti-Muslim demagogues and funders, in coordination with Israeli officials, are prepared to go to any length to smear and harass people.
They’ll do whatever it takes to keep people quiet about Israel’s human rights abuses, war crimes and the international complicity that the BDS movement seeks to expose, challenge and bring to an end.
Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse