Walmart hired global security giant Lockheed Martin a few years ago to monitor activism in its massive workforce, according to new documents. The defense contractor tracked employees’ social media and reported protest participation to the retail giant.
Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, provided Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, with intelligence-gathering and surveillance services in 2012, according to a lengthy report by Bloomberg Businessweek. The news has emerged just before Black Friday protests by a union-funded group called OUR Walmart, the report claims. Participants demand higher wages and reliable scheduling for Walmart employees.
While Walmart publicly dismissed the demonstrations as “just another union publicity stunt,” their subsequent actions indicate that they took it seriously. In addition to hiring Lockheed Martin to keep tabs on employees’ social media feeds, the companies ranked stores by labor activity and monitored employees who were known to be involved in labor activism, according to Bloomberg.
The defense contractor offers a product called LM Wisdom, which is marketed as a tool for fighting drug and human trafficking, but which Walmart used to track employees in 2012 and 2013. Lockheed Martin analysts would follow the Twitter and Facebook feeds of workers and then report information about labor activism back to the company’s corporate headquarters. The defense contractor also put together a map of likely routes for five “Ride for Respect” bus caravans that were sent to HQ to demonstrate.
In one of the documents obtained, when asked about the company’s relationship with Lockheed Martin, Walmart Senior Vice President of Labor Relations Karen Ann Cassey said that the company was even “partnering with the FBI/the Joint Terrorism Task Force” to monitor protesters that planned to go to the company’s headquarters, saying that similar protests have become violent.
Walmart didn’t comment on the specific allegations in the Bloomberg story, but sent a statement via email arguing that the measures had been taken to protect their shoppers, employees and business.
“Unfortunately, there are occasions when outside groups attempt to deliberately disrupt our business and on behalf of our customers and associates we take action accordingly,” the statement reads.
Bloomberg retrieved the information on Lockheed Martin’s labor-monitoring services by acquiring documents ahead of a National Labor Relations Board hearing. The case concerns Walmart’s alleged history retaliation against employees who protested against the retailer.
Earlier this year, Walmart announced that its company-wide minimum wage would go from $9 in 2015 and [to] $10. While OUR Walmart touts this wage increase as a victory, they remain steadfast in their demand for a minimum of $15 an hour. The group will be protesting this Black Friday for the fourth year in a row.
Georgia’s infamous ‘School of Assassins’ was besieged by hundreds of activists from across the country, calling for the closure of the military training center and a halt to the militarization of Latin America by the US.
The 25th anniversary protest march was held over the weekend in the town of Lumpkin in northern Georgia, and at the gates of Fort Benning army base, where the former US Army School of the Americas (SOA), hidden now under the name of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), is located, along with the nearby Stewart Immigrant Detention Center, the country’s largest for-profit immigration prison.
Dozens of nonprofit organizations and some 1,400 activists joined the rally, which aimed to protest against the notorious “School of Assassins,” as SOA is referred to, for its production of “death squads” that commit mass murders, torture and other human rights’ violations and military crimes across the globe, activists claim. Watchdogs maintain several Latin Americans dictators and many more security officials, who have perpetrated such crimes, graduated from SOA.
“Despite a shocking human rights abuse record, the School of the Americas continues to operate with US taxpayer money. Closing the SOA would send a strong human rights message to Latin America and the world,” SOA Watch founder and organizer of the event, Father Roy Bourgeois, said in a statement.
Hundreds held vigil in front of Fort Benning, while others marched to protest to the immigrant prison, where some 1,800 migrants await repatriation. Eleven people were arrested after crossing onto the grounds of the prison, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.
The event was attended, among others, by members of Veterans for Peace.
“From Ferguson to Ayotzinapa, we must continue to denounce the militarization of police across the Americas and call for an end of state-sponsored terrorism and violence against our communities. Our clamor for justice must be heard!” the pacifist NGO’s online statement reads.
Newly released documents, obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, suggest the FBI has been monitoring the activities of SOA Watch and infiltrating the NGO, using confidential informants and counterterrorism units.
In 2005, Palestinians issued a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, because of its violations of international law and attacks on Palestinian rights. BDS is now a worldwide movement against Israeli Apartheid, and USPCN wants to work with you to target Coca-Cola, as our contribution to the campaign. Do not contribute to helping Zionist Israel steal and occupy more Palestinian land. Do not contribute to helping Israel continue its colonization of Palestine, and its suppression of Palestinian rights. With every single penny you spend on Coca-Cola, you are indirectly contributing to Israel’s crimes.
Why Boycott Coca-Cola?
The Central Bottling Company (Coca-Cola Israel), an Israeli company that manufactures and distributes CocaCola in Israel, has subsidiaries in the illegal settlements of Katzrin (in the Syrian Golan Heights) and Shadmot Mechola (in the Besan Valley, northeastern tip of the West Bank). The company also owns Tara, whose subsidiary, Meshek Zuriel Dairy, has a dairy farm in the occupied section of the Jordan Valley. In return for $55 million in tax breaks, Coca-Cola built a plant in Qiryat Gat, which sits on stolen land (the villages of Al-Falluja and Iraq al-Manshiya) in 1948 Palestine. The residents were ethnically cleansed in 1949, in contravention of International Law. In October 2005, Coca-Cola increased its investment in Israel by buying a 51% controlling interest in the Tavor Winery. Tavor Winery is an Israeli company based on occupied Palestinian land, at the foot of Mount Tavor, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
The Government of Israel Economic Mission honored Coca-Cola at an Israel Trade Award Dinner for its continuous support over the previous 30 years, and for “refusing to abide by the Arab League economic boycott of Israel.” (from The Southern Shofar—American Jewish newspaper of Alabama).
Environmentalists have long criticized Coca-Cola for posing a serious threat to communities across the world. In India, the Mehdiganj Coca-Cola plant was recently closed by Indian officials, because of its over-utilization of natural water resources, which depleted the local groundwater and released pollution above legal limits.
Coca-Cola, which has always been strongly anti-union, is involved in the intimidation, kidnapping, torture, and murder of union leaders in Latin American, especially for years in Colombia. Labor unionists there have constantly been under threat from paramilitary death squads supported by Coca-Cola.
Businesses in Turkey and India are shunning Coca-Cola over the current Israel – Gaza conflict, according to several news sources.
The Coca-Cola conflict comes as part of the boycott movement targeting Israeli goods and those companies that do business in Israel. Coca-Cola has had a bottling plant in Israel since the 1960s, Haaretz reported.
Pepsi, which left Israel during the Cold War in response to the Arab boycott, has also been spurned in this bout of intensified boycotts.
In Mumbai, India, Muslims called for a boycott of PepsiCo, Kraft Foods Group, and Nestle in addition to Coca-Cola, the Jakarta Globe reported.
Omar Shaikh, a restaurant owner in Mumbai, said “This is our way of showing our anger against Israel. For us, Coke and Pepsi is human blood. They are financing the war against Palestine.”
South Africa issued, on Tuesday, an arrest warrant against four Israeli officials over their role in deadly attacks on pro-Palestinian international activists.
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Against the Israeli occupation in Africa said, in a statement: “South Africa’s Directorate of the Priority Crimes Investigation Unit has issued warrants of arrest against four Israeli commanders from the Israeli Navy and Israeli Defense Forces.”
According to Days of Palestine, the statement announced arrest warrants issued against former Israeli chief of staff Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, former Navy commander Major General Eliezer Marom, former head of Military Intelligence Major General Amos Yadlin and former head of Air Force intelligence Brigadier General Avishay Levy.
“This decision,” African BDS said, “follows a four-year-long case involving a South African journalist, Gadija Davids, who was on board the Mavi Marmara when it was attacked by Israeli commandoes while in international waters in 2010.
“Davids laid her first complaint with the South African Police Services and South Africa’s National Prosecutions Authority in January 2011.
“In November 2012, South Africa’s Priority Crimes Litigation Unit, found that the case met the necessary jurisdictional requirements and that reasonable grounds exist to investigate the alleged crimes that were committed during the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara.”
Arrest in Spain
Just days ago, a Spanish judge reopened a case that, theoretically, could lead to the arrest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, MK Benny Begin and several former top Israeli officials over their role in the same incident.
Three Spanish citizens aboard Mavi Marmara had originally filed a lawsuit against the Israeli occupation in 2010, but the court decided it no longer had the authority to prosecute foreign nationals for alleged crimes committed outside of Spain.
In recent days, Judge Jose de la Mata found a legal loophole that allowed him to relaunch the case against Netanyahu and the other Israelis if they entered Spanish territory.
Students at the University of Liverpool have voted to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, in a significant victory for Palestinian solidarity campaigners.
The motion commits the Liverpool Guild of Students to, among other things, advocate divestment from companies complicit in the Israeli occupation, and to lobby the university to similarly divest. The motion also mandates the Guild to stop stocking Israeli products.
The full BDS motion can be read here.
More than 1,000 students participated in the Liverpool Guild of Students preferendum, in which they were presented with three options: ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or an alternative solution that rejected BDS, but encouraged the union to “raise awareness of the issue.”
Under the preferendum system, students could choose their favourite option from the three choices, or “your top two or rank all three in order of preference.” Points were then assigned “to each option based on the order of preference.”
There were a total of 1,866 points in support of BDS, with 934 opposed to the motion and 1,479 points supporting the alternative solution.
In a press release responding to the victory, the University of Liverpool Friends of Palestine (ULFOP) hailed “a landslide victory” despite a voting system they claimed meant the odds were against them.
“The ballot had one option to pass the motion and two options not to pass the motion. If students didn’t rank all of these options, then their one chosen option was given less weight.”
Despite this and other challenges, ULFOP stated that “the scale of the victory for BDS clearly shows that a large majority of the student body is, or has been made, aware of Israel’s apartheid regime and oppression of the Palestinians, and is prepared to make a stand against it.”
Zohra, a ULFOP member quoted in the press release, described the result as “a genuine reflection of the mood on campus – where students from all faiths and backgrounds believe that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people and their territories is unjust, akin to an apartheid system and thus cannot be allowed to continue.”
In a reference to objections by Israel’s defenders, ULFOP said “they wholeheartedly reject any claims that BDS is divisive on campus, instead recognising that the BDS movement is a non-violent and effective means of applying pressure on the Israeli government and the companies benefitting from the occupation of Palestine.”
Meanwhile, the Union of Jewish Students, who sent an official to Liverpool to support the ‘No’ campaign, described the result as “disappointing”, vowing to work with the Liverpool Jewish Society to continue making “the case against BDS” on campus.
A pro-Palestinian Scottish lawmaker travelling to the occupied Palestinian territories on a parliamentary fact-finding mission has been strip-searched by Israeli forces upon arrival and refused entry.
Andrew Murray, the head of the Friends of Palestine group in the Scottish National Party (SNP), was detained at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on Monday and held in custody for over 24 hours, he told AFP on Friday.
“They strip-searched me, scanned me, swabbed me everywhere,” Murray said, adding, “Twice I asked for representation from the British embassy, twice I was told no.”
He was later deported and banned from entering the occupied territories for 10 years, apparently over his campaign for Palestinian rights.
Carol Monaghan, a member of the SNP, said that she “absolutely condemned” the Israelis’ behavior, adding, “Andy was there on a peaceful, fact-finding trip.”
Sabine Haddad, a spokesperson for Israel’s interior ministry, claimed that Murray lied about the reason of his trip by saying he was a tourist.
Murray, however, responded that he did not lie about any of the questions asked.
Behind the headline news of clashes between Palestinian youths and armed Israeli soldiers, Israel has – as ever – been quietly tightening its grip on Palestinians’ lives in the occupied territories.
Last week in Hebron, a current flashpoint, 50 embattled families still living in the Tel Rumeida neighbourhood, faced a new restriction on movement designed to help free up the area for intensified Jewish settlement.
Some of Tel Rumeida’s residents could be seen silently queuing at the local checkpoint to register their ID cards. Anyone not from the neighbourhood and not on the military’s list will be barred from entering.
Their response differed starkly from the reaction 21 years ago, when residents faced a similar order. Then, the entire neighbourhood refused to register. Israel punished them with a curfew for six months, allowing the families out for a few hours a week to buy food.
How to respond to military orders of this kind stands at the heart of a debate that has revived among Palestinians about the relative merits of armed struggle and non-violent resistance.
A poll in the early summer showed 49 per cent of Palestinians aged between 18 and 22 supported an armed uprising. By September, after the first clashes in Jerusalem, that figure had surged to 67 per cent.
The volatility can in part be explained by an inevitable thirst for revenge as Palestinians watch compatriots being killed and maimed by Israeli soldiers.
But it also reflects a void of Palestinian leadership and strategy. Instead, Palestinians have been buffeted into polarised camps that, put simply, pit Hamas’ rhetoric of armed struggle against the stalled diplomacy of Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority.
Non-violence once earned a central place in Palestinian resistance to occupation. During the first intifada of the late 1980s, Palestinians engaged in mass civil disobedience: they refused to cooperate with the military authorities, burnt their ID cards, refused to pay taxes and held strikes.
That approach never entirely ended. Today it finds expression in the weekly protests and marches by villages against Israel’s steel and concrete barrier eating away at Palestinians’ agricultural lands. These protests remain largely peaceful, even in the face of unceasing army brutality.
But the use of non-violence has been limited to local struggles, waged with the aim of small, isolated victories. It has also invariably coexisted with more violent approaches, from stone-throwing to the current knife attacks.
Much of the blame falls to Abbas, who has appropriated the language of non-violence while failing to harness it to a national strategy of resistance. Even the PA’s support for the villagers’ battles against Israel’s wall has been less than half-hearted.
In the minds of many Palestinians, non-violence has become tainted by association with Abbas’ years of ineffectiveness: his desperate and unsuccessful attempts both to push Israel into peace talks and to cosy up to Washington. The nadir was his declaration of the “sacred” status of the PA’s security coordination with Israel.
It has also not helped that prejudicial demands for non-violence are regularly made of Palestinians by outsiders and dishonest brokers such as Washington. Last month US secretary of state John Kerry singled out Palestinians for blame in the latest clashes. “There’s no excuse for the violence,” he scolded, ignoring decades of Israel’s violent suppression of Palestinian efforts at liberation.
Nonetheless, some Palestinian intellectuals are advocating non-violent resistance as they warn against an armed uprising. Palestinians have a right in international law to resist the occupation, even violently, but this group emphasises the futility of violence faced with Israel’s military superiority. Theirs is a pragmatic argument.
In an article headlined “Don’t go out to die, Palestine needs you alive”, journalist Mohammed Daraghmeh called on Palestinians to “channel the national anger toward mass protest”. Reminding Palestinians that the western world created the conflict and must fix it, Daragmeh warned: “It will not do so if we commit suicide.”
Similarly, Palestinian businessman Sam Bahour has coined the term “smart resistance”, arguing that all the Palestinian factions should commit to non-violent resistance as a way to national liberation.
Both have drawn on earlier strategies of communal solidarity and collective sacrifice – as demonstrated by Tel Rumeida’s inhabitants two decades ago.
One of the architects of the first intifada’s non-violent resistance, Mubarak Awad, recently reminded Palestinians that it is no soft option. “It’s about using nonviolence militantly, like a kind of unarmed warfare,” he told an interviewer.
He suggests instead refusing to carry Israeli-issued IDs, defying curfews, blocking roads, planting trees on sites intended for settlement, tearing down fences, staging sit-ins and and inviting mass arrests to fill to breaking point Israel’s jails.
Such actions require mass participation, mobilising women, children and the elderly – the very groups likely to be excluded by armed struggle.
And, as Awad notes, non-violence also needs a people trained in its techniques and principles. That is why he has translated into Arabic the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Political organisers and strategists like Awad have always topped Israel’s list for arrest. He was jailed and tortured at the start of the first intifada and later expelled to the US.
The power of disciplined non-violent resistance, he adds, is that it forces on the occupier a heavy burden: to “deal with our willingness to stand up for ourselves with nothing but our bodies and hearts”.
It forces Israelis to “choose what kind of people they are”, and creates division and dissent among the oppressor population, weakening its resolve.
It is a challenging message, especially when Israel is so ruthlessly crushing Palestinian hope and dignity. But Awad argues that it is precisely by demonstrating an irrepressible humanity that Palestinians can again discover hope, reclaim their dignity and win freedom.
MSF said its policy is not to accept government money for its operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world.
“This policy allows us to work independently without taking sides and provide medical care to anyone who needs it. This will not change,” the nonprofit said in a statement.
Last week, MSF General Director Christopher Stokes said that the all of the information about the attack released so far makes it “hard to understand” how the Pentagon maintains the bombing was some sort of “mistake.”
MSF believes the attack was deliberate, and therefore a war crime. The group has repeatedly called for an independent investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission.
But Washington maintains that investigations launched by the US and Afghan governments, as well as NATO, will be sufficient.
Since the attack, much of the debate has centered on whether Taliban patients in the hospital were armed, and if the group was using the building as a base of operations.
Doctors Without Borders released its own findings last week, denying that any combatant, whether the Taliban or the Afghan government’s, was armed inside the compound.
The Pentagon said shortly after the attack that they intended to pay for the repairs and to make “condolence payments” to the families of civilians killed. The Pentagon also promised to pay for additional repairs after smashing the hospital with an armored vehicle.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to work with Suraia Suhar, an Afghan-born woman who now lives in Toronto, Canada. At the time, Suraia was organizing with Afghans for Peace (AFP), and I was serving on the board of directors for Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).
Back in 2012, NATO held their annual summit in Chicago, where thousands of antiwar protesters showed up to support AFP and IVAW, and to protest NATO’s ongoing and ever-expanding militarism. The rallies and actions culminated when members of IVAW discarded their medals, echoing the actions of Dewey Canyon III in 1971, when Vietnam Veterans Against the War threw their military mementos on the steps of the Capitol in Washington D.C.
The anti-NATO protests were the last massive antiwar demonstrations to take place in the U.S. Since then, and even in the preceding years (2008-2012), the antiwar movement has been all but absent. However, even when the antiwar movement was active and visible (2002-2007), the war in Afghanistan was a taboo topic. In short, progressives and leftists in North America have never come to terms with the fact that the war in Afghanistan was, is and will always be catastrophic and immoral.
No less than a few weeks ago, as most people know, the U.S. military bombed a civilian hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 12 members of the health organization, Medecins Sans Frontieres, along with 10 Afghan civilians who were being treated for illnesses linked to NATO’s ongoing occupation. Without doubt, the horror continues for the Afghan people, with no end in sight, as Obama decided that he would keep 5,500 troops in Afghanistan until he departs office in January, 2017.
Recently, I had the chance to briefly speak with Suraia, who currently works with anti-racist organizations in Toronto. When asked about the bombing in Kunduz, Suraia said that the world should support Medecins Sans Frontieres’ current campaign and hopefully use this brutal event to apply political pressure, both in the U.S. and abroad. What’s needed, according to Suhar, is an independent investigation. As IVAW showed with its Winter Soldier hearings, the U.S. military will not properly investigate their own. When the military does investigate and occasionally prosecute, low level enlisted servicemen and women are the ones who face the music, not higher ranking officials.
Regarding Obama’s recent announcement concerning U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, she said, “It’s just an extension of the ongoing occupation. Concerning the future, well, I think a lot of that will depend on who’s elected after Obama leaves office.” In other words, “Obviously Trump would have a different approach to foreign policy than Sanders. And given her reputation, I’m worried that a Clinton administration would lead to more war hawk policies abroad than Obama’s failed policies.”
But what about the Afghan women? Suraia isn’t buying it. “This is a tired and debunked orientalist argument. Given that we live in the Information Age, my hope is that those who believe and repeat these claims make the effort to read statistical reports on the quality of life for women in Afghanistan, and how much of the progress, albeit with flawed results, had little to nothing to do with military warfare.” Turns out, bombs aren’t conducive to gender equality or political rights – imagine that.
In fact, NATO’s bombs and raids have created more insecurity. “The entire occupation has been rife with corruption, escalations of violence, preventable casualties, and further disempowerment of the Afghan people. The high numbers of internally displaced people and rise in refugee populations is evident of the deteriorating security in Afghanistan.” Indeed, the situation continues to deteriorate in Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan was considered the good (legal) war, and a justified response to 9/11. Almost immediately fear-mongering was fueled with a rise in Islamophobia, xenophobia, and the media had no trouble propagating anti-terrorism rhetoric in the form of jingoism.” Further, Suhar notes that, “When the Afghanistan war was escalated at the end of 2009, a Democrat (Obama) was in power, so the anti-war movement subsequently, and cowardly I might add, dissipated. It was disappointing to say the least.”
Biting criticism? No doubt. But true nonetheless. I can personally attest to the cowardly position many antiwar organizations took with regard to the war in Afghanistan. Even on the Left, people never understood how to deal with the “good war.” Part of the problem, at least from my perspective, is that we did a poor job of educating peace and justice activists about American Empire, its history and the legacy of so-called humanitarian interventions and counterinsurgency operations.
As far as the antiwar movement is concerned, I asked Suraia what advice she would have for those seeking to rebuild the movement, or better yet, build a new movement to oppose militarism and empire. “I can’t stress enough the importance of working alongside people from Afghanistan who are well informed, experienced, and already doing community organizing. This goes for all conflict regions that the anti-war movement is involved with.”
Moreover, according to Suhar, “I also think it’s important to know how to counter and find alternative solutions to military warfare, so better understanding long-term sustainable development, restorative justice and reparations would tremendously help the peace movement.” Additionally, “The anti-war movement should be aware of the problems that can arise from certain areas of identity politics. A prime example of this is celebrating diversity in the US military, when that military is still serving the interests of the US government and corporations.”
At the end of the conversation, I asked Suraia what life has been like for her, an Afghan woman living in Toronto, who’s outspoken and public:
I think more people are becoming aware that the current climate of Islamophobia and racism has been used to support police state policies, wars abroad, and laws against civil liberties, so there’s been a growing resistance to it. To be clear, being a publicly outspoken Afghan woman living in North America in the post-9/11 world hasn’t been without its challenges.
Running into misinformed and heavily biased views aside, one thing I’ve noticed has been consistent sexist criticisms directed towards myself and the Afghan women I’ve worked with, which has come from many sources – pro-warlord Afghans who support the NATO mission, neoconservative media figures and their followers, and racists in general. Keep in mind, I’m talking about Canadians here. They’ve targeted us with vitriolic harassment and online stalking for being vocal Muslim women from Afghanistan with a political opinion, which of course differs from theirs. This reveals their hypocrisy in claiming to support women’s rights and liberation through Western wars. It’s unavoidable, so I’ve come to expect that it happens. I realize the intent is to silence dissent, but it’s a cowardly tactic. A good defense is transparency and allied support.
Suraia’s advice and reflections are very similar to the guidance and reflections I’ve heard from other Afghans and Iraqis over the years. In short, these activists need solidarity and true allies – allies who are willing to put aside petty differences in the pursuit of ending U.S. Empire abroad and Islamophobia and militarism at home. After all, we’re talking about war, so let’s get serious my friends, because our brothers and sisters abroad require our solidarity and commitment.
Vincent Emanuele can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The military alliance’s largest exercises in over a decade involving over 36,000 troops from 30 NATO members and partner countries, Trident Juncture moved into an active phase across southwestern Europe in mid-October.
“We are against NATO, against war, against the enormous costs that go to the upkeep of military bases,” Chiara Paladino, one of the protest organizers, told RIA Novosti.
Paladino said around 1,000 people demonstrated in Marsala, south of the Vincenzo Florio Airport used as a NATO forward operating base. Anti-NATO protesters gathered from across the province of Trapani, including large Sicilian cities of Palermo, Catania, Messina and Ragusa, she said.
A similar anti-Trident Juncture and anti-NATO rally took place in the major Sicilian city of Palermo late on Friday.
The first phase of the Trident Juncture drills began October 3, running for two weeks in Canada, Norway, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. The second phase, which ends on November 6, is taking place in southern Europe – Spain, Italy, and Portugal – as well as in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
Spanish and Portuguese demonstrators staged protests against NATO this month.
There is a new British organization called Culture for Coexistence with the aim of ending the cultural boycott of Israel, which has been relatively effective in raising public awareness of oppressive Zionist policies, and replace it with “open dialogue” and “cultural engagement.“ A “galaxy of 150 British artists and authors” signed an open letter published in the Guardian newspaper on Oct. 22 announcing the group’s position:
“Cultural boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory and will not further peace,” while “open dialogue and interaction promote greater understanding and mutual acceptance and it is through such understanding and acceptance that movement can be made towards a resolution of the conflict.”
While concepts such as open dialogue and cultural interaction are, in principle, hard to disagree with, their efficacy as agents of conflict resolution has to be judged within a historical context. In other words, such approaches are effective when circumstances dictate that all parties seriously dialogue and interact meaningfully – in a manner that actually promotes “mutual acceptance.”
Is this the case when it comes to Israel? The burden of proof here is on Culture for Coexistence because they are the ones asking the Palestinians and their supporters to put aside a strategy (boycott) that is actually putting pressure on Israel to negotiate seriously.
The Culture for Coexistence signatories do not address this question of efficacy. Instead they make the simple assertion that cultural boycotts are bad and won’t help resolve the conflict while cultural interaction is good and will work to that end. How do they know this? Without evidence of its workability, such an assertion is merely an idealization of cultural engagement that ignores that pursuit’s historical futility during a nearly century long conflict.
Do Israeli Leaders Want a Just Peace?
Cultural interaction with Israel went on for decades before the boycott effort got going. It had no impact on the issue of conflict resolution. Such cultural activity certainly did not change the fact that Israel’s leaders have never shown interest in negotiating a resolution with the Palestinians except solely on Israeli terms.
And, that stubbornness is a major part of the reason why peace talks (and also the Oslo agreements) never worked. There is a whole set of histories, written by Israelis and based on archival research that support the claim that Israel has not sought a just resolution to the conflict. Here I would recommend the Culture for Coexistence signatories read the books of the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe.
Given this historical Zionist attitude, what sort of “greater understanding and mutual acceptance” does Culture and Coexistence expect to accomplish by swapping the boycott for “cultural engagement”? It is a question the signatories of the open letter might address to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who just recently was reported to have proclaimed that Israel will control all Palestinian land indefinitely.
The “galaxy of British artists and authors” aligned with Culture for Coexistence seems oblivious to all these contextual issues. Of course, there is a good chance that some of them are more interested in undermining the boycott of Israel than in the alleged promotion of peace through “cultural engagement.”
As the Guardian article discussing the group notes, “Some of the network’s supporters are closely aligned with Israel,” including individuals associated with Conservative Friends of Israel and Labour Friends of Israel.
Does Cultural Contact Lead to Peace?
There is another, more generic misunderstanding exhibited in the group’s statement. It is found in the letter’s closing assertion that “cultural engagement builds bridges, nurtures freedom and positive movement for change” – a position reiterated when Loraine da Costa, chairperson of the new organization, told the Guardian that “culture has a unique ability to bring people together and bridge division.”
No matter how you want to define culture, high or low, there is no evidence for this position except on the level of individuals or small groups. On the level of larger or whole populations, the assertion that “cultural engagement builds bridges” is another naive idealization that is belied by historical practice. Historically, culture has always divided people (both across borders and across classes) and acted as a barrier to understanding. At a popular level, most people are uninterested in, or suspicious of, foreign cultures and are unwilling to try to pursue cultural interaction.
Israel is a very good example of this cultural xenophobia. Historically, the European Jews who established the state despised Arab culture. They tried to eradicate it among the Mizrahi Jews who came to Israel from Arab lands. This intra-Jewish Israeli prejudice is still a problem today. What aspects of Arab culture (mostly having to do with cuisine) Israeli Jews are attracted to they try to repackage as “Israeli.”
There are two final considerations here: First is the need to be serious and clear in the use of language. One can, of course, say “culture has a unique ability to bring people together” but is this a statement that has any real meaning or is it just a platitude?
And second: If you are going to give advice about a century-old conflict you should know enough about its history to be sensible in your offering. Thus, in this case, if you know that high or low cultural intercourse with Israel (and, as suggested above, there has been plenty of it since the founding of the state in 1948), has actually improved the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace, you should lay out the evidence. However, if one is just offering a banal cliche, well, only the ignorant can take that seriously.
Those who first proposed the cultural boycott did not do it out of some anti-Semitic dislike for Israeli artworks, music, literature or theater. They did it because cultural interaction with Israel had not only failed to promote an equitable peace, but in fact camouflaged the policies of a nation-state that practices ethnic cleansing and other destructive policies against non-Jews.
The logical conclusion was drawn that if you want to pressure the Israelis to change their ways, you withdraw from cultural contact and make any reconnection a condition of their getting serious about conflict resolution.
How is it that the 150 artists and authors who signed the Culture for Coexistence open letter do not know the relevant facts? Setting aside the confirmed Zionists, whose ulterior motive is pretty clear, do these people take this stand because it “feels right” – that is, because they believe cultural interaction ought to, or even must, promote conflict resolution? Alas, this is wishful thinking and, taking history seriously, Palestine may go extinct before such an approach actually helps lead to a just peace.
Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.
The pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel candidate Jeremy Corbyn has become the new leader of Britain’s second biggest political force, the Labour Party.
Corbyn has often demonstrated against Israel’s wars on the Palestinian people. And he’s called for an economic boycott against Tel Aviv. When it comes to Palestine, historically there has been little to choose between Labour and the Conservatives, with both following a pro-Israel line for decades or more.
But now that Corbyn is Labour leader, will there at last be clear blue water between the major parties on this issue? And what implications does this have for British foreign policy and the Palestinian cause?