The influential Science Council of Japan (SCJ) adopted a statement rejecting research at civilian institutions for military purposes. It comes in response to government investment in dual-use technologies.
The SCJ, which was created in 1949 as an independent body representing academia, warned Japanese universities and research institutions against participating in military-related research, the Japan Times reported. In a statement adopted by the council’s executive body on Friday, it said taking grants from the defense ministry would compromise scientific independence.
It comes after 10 months of deliberation by a 15-member committee, which was formed in May 2016 to consider whether the long-held opposition to military research should be overturned. The SCJ previously rejected military research in 1950, and again in 1967.
The policy statement carries no legal force, but the council’s opinion carries great weigh in Japanese scientific circles and the government.
The council was called to revise its policy, after Japan’s Defense Ministry boosted its funding of research into dual-use technologies, which can have both civilian and military applications. The funding almost doubled for 2017 to $96 million, compared to the previous year, according to The Asahi Shimbun.
The decision to reject military research came earlier in March. At the meeting on Friday, the council’s board debated on whether to adopt the statement directly or submit it to the SCJ General Assembly, which is to convene next month. The executives chose the former.
Japanese academia remains reluctant to deal with military technologies for historical reasons. Imperial Japan rounded up scientists to participate in the war effort during World War II.
Hundreds of Jordanians have staged a protest rally to voice their outrage at Amman’s gas agreements with the Israeli regime, calling on the government to scrap the ‘deals of shame.’
The protesters took to the streets of the capital, Amman, on Friday, carrying national flags and holding signs to decry Israel-Jordan gas deals, the latest of which was inked in September last year.
During the march, the Jordanian demonstrators chanted slogans such as “Our dignity is dropping from deals of shame,” with some holding posters that read, “USA stop commissioning on our blood.”
The Jordanian National Campaign also joined voices with the protesters, calling on the government to drop the 2016 deal as it represents an obstacle to the country’s independence and economic development.
Besides the dependency aspect, activists argue that the money, which will be paid to Israel by Amman under such accords, will be used to finance Tel Aviv’s military and its occupation of Palestinian lands.
In September 2016, a deal was struck between an Israeli gas consortium and the Jordan Electric Power Company, valued at $10 billion (€9.25 billion).
Under the deal, the US-based Noble Energy company and other investors in Israel’s largest gas field will supply Jordan’s national electric company with 8.5 million cubic meters of gas over 15 years.
The agreement was quickly met with widespread popular opposition in Jordan, promoting thousands of people to fill the streets and slam the government over “gas imports from the Zionist enemy.”
The new turnout on Friday came weeks after Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the regime in Tel Aviv has been quietly exporting natural gas to Jordan through an American intermediary firm.
According to the report, gas deliveries to two Jordanian companies, the state-owned Arab Potash and Jordan Bromine, started in January. The firms had signed a 500-million-dollar, 15-year deal three years ago to purchase gas from Israel’s Tamar partners. The US State Department had acted as a mediator to forge the deal.
Over the past months, Jordan has been rocked by separate rallies held in protest at high living expenses and unemployment.
The Jordanian government is one of the only two Arab regimes that have open, diplomatic relations with Israel — the other being Egypt.
Tel Aviv and Amman signed a peace agreement in 1994, but many Jordanians are firmly opposed to normalization of ties with the occupying regime of Israel.
Activists gathered in Leuven’s crowded Oude Markt in the Belgian university city on Thursday, 16 March, to demand an end to participation by KU Leuven (the Catholic University of Leuven) and Belgian police and prosecutors in an EU-funded collaboration with Israeli police. Titled LAW-TRAIN, the project aims to “develop interrogation techniques.” A coalition of groups in Belgium have come together to oppose participation in LAW-TRAIN and end such collaborations with Israeli institutions through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research fund.
Organized by Leuven-based groups, including Comac Leuven, Intal and the Leuven Palestine Action Group, participants from a number of organizations, including Palestina Solidariteit and Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, joined in the awareness-raising street theater-style protest calling on KU Leuven’s rector, Rik Torfs, to pull out of the project.
Students representing ‘detainees’ were tied to chairs in front of a university building in the square as ‘Israeli soldiers’ paced menacingly behind them. Other participants held signs and placards calling on KU Leuven to get out of the LAW-TRAIN project and support Palestinian human rights, while speakers addressed students and others in the busy square in Dutch and English about the LAW-TRAIN program and Israeli torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners. Activists distributed flyers and information and gathered signatures on the petition demanding Belgian institutions stop participating in LAW-TRAIN.
Activists across Belgium have emphasized the involvement of the Israeli police in the torture, repression and interrogation of Palestinians from Jerusalem and Palestine ’48, as well as their involvement in home demolitions and destruction of Bedouin Palestinian communities in the Naqab. The Israeli Ministry of Public Security, presided over by far-right minister Gilad Erdan, who also holds the state’s anti-BDS portfolio seeking to suppress the international campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions, is also a partner in the project, along with Bar-Ilan University.
“We are protesting the collaboration between KU Leuven and, among others, the Israeli police and Bar-Ilan University. KU Leuven now has ties with the Israeli police and the Israeli security forces, who have been condemned by organizations such as Amnesty International on numerous occasions for their human rights violations and torture practices. We believe it is not OK for a university such as KU Leuven to continue this collaboration. It is condoning and accepting these human rights violations so long as this continues. We want to call on our Rector, who’s been ignoring this whole matter, to end this collaboration,” said Casper Mullie, a student of philosophy at KU Leuven participating in the protest.
“As students, we cannot accept that our universities and institutions where we pay fees every year, to participate in projects that violate Palestinian human rights. In this case, the human rights violations are particularly egregious,” said Ibrahim, a student organizer with Rise Up who traveled from Brussels to participate in the protest in Leuven.
Hundreds of Belgian academics and cultural workers have signed an open letter organized by BACBI,
the Belgian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, calling on the Belgian government and universities to break with the project. In addition, a delegation of high-profile Belgian lawyers and human rights experts traveled to Palestine to study the use of torture by Israeli police and security forces. Israeli Apartheid Week events organized by students at campuses across Belgium had a strong focus on Palestinian prisoners and the campaign to stop LAW-TRAIN.
Samidoun is a member of the coalition against LAW-TRAIN, along with Intal, Comac, Palestina Solidariteit, BACBI, Medicine for the Third World, Vrede, CNAPD, Broderlijk Delen, 11.11.11, Solidarite Socialiste, Een Andere Joodse Stem (Another Jewish Voice), EcoloJ, CNCD 11.11.11, Plate-forme Charleroi-Palestine, Association Belgo-Palestinienne, Leuven Palestine Action Group, Pax Christi Vlaanderen and the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP).
TAKE ACTION: Sign the petition against LAW-TRAIN at http://stop-law-train.be
Major LAW-TRAIN resources include:
- Belgian Coalition against LAW TRAIN
- BACBI archive of LAW TRAIN resources
- BACBI dossier, “The LAW-TRAIN Project: Why a Partnership with the Israeli Police is Indefensible”
- Stop the Wall Campaign, LAW-TRAIN: European License for Israeli Torture
- Stop the Wall Campaign, ECCP, Belgian Coalition Against LAW-TRAIN, “The LAW TRAIN Project: Concerns go Unaddressed“
Blockaders cover the Front Gate at the Luftwaffe’s Buchel Air Base in Germany, which deploys and trains to use up to 20 U.S. B61 hydrogen bombs on Germany Tornado jet fighter
On March 26, nuclear disarmament activists in Germany will launch a 20-week-long series of nonviolent protests at the Luftwaffe’s Büchel Air Base, Germany, demanding the withdrawal of 20 U.S. nuclear weapons still deployed there. The actions will continue through August 9, the anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan in 1945.
For the first time in the 20-year-long campaign to rid Büchel of the U.S. bombs, a delegation of U.S. peace activists will take part. During the campaign’s “international week” July 12 to 18, disarmament workers from Wisconsin, California, Washington, DC, Virginia, Minnesota, New Mexico and Maryland will join the coalition of 50 German peace and justice groups converging on the base. Activists from The Netherlands, France and Belgium also plan to join the international gathering.
The U.S. citizens are particularly shocked that the U.S. government is pursuing production of a totally new H-bomb intended to replace the 20 so-called “B61” gravity bombs now at Büchel, and the 160 others that are deployed in a total of five NATO countries.
Under a NATO scheme called “nuclear sharing,” Germany, Italy, Belgium, Turkey, and The Netherlands still deploy the U.S. B61s, and these governments all claim the deployment does not violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Articles I and II of the treaty prohibit nuclear weapons from being transferred to, or accepted from, other countries.
“The world wants nuclear disarmament,” said US delegate Bonnie Urfer, a long-time peace activist and former staffer with the nuclear watchdog group Nukewatch, in Wisconsin. “To waste billions of dollars replacing the B61s when they should be eliminated is criminal — like sentencing innocent people to death — considering how many millions need immediate famine relief, emergency shelter, and safe drinking water,” Urfer said.
Although the B61’s planned replacement is actually a completely new bomb — the B61-12 — the Pentagon calls the program “modernization” — in order to skirt the NPT’s prohibitions. However, it’s being touted as the first ever “smart” nuclear bomb, made to be guided by satellites, making it completely unprecedented. New nuclear weapons are unlawful under the NPT, and even President Barak Obama’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review required that “upgrades” to the Pentagon’s current H-bombs must not have “new capabilities.” Overall cost of the new bomb, which is not yet in production, is estimated to be up to $12 billion.
Historic German Resolution to Evict US H-bombs
The March 26 start date of “Twenty Weeks for Twenty Bombs” is doubly significant for Germans and others eager to see the bombs retired. First, on March 26, 2010, massive public support pushed Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, to vote overwhelmingly — across all parties — to have the government remove the U.S. weapons from German territory.
Second, beginning March 27 in New York, the United Nations General Assembly will launch formal negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The UNGA will convene two sessions — March 27 to 31, and June 15 to July 7 — to produce a legally binding “convention” banning any possession or use of the bomb, in accordance with Article 6 of the NPT. (Similar treaty bans already forbid poison and gas weapons, land mines, cluster bombs, and biological weapons.) Individual governments can later ratify or reject the treaty. Several nuclear-armed states including the US government worked unsuccessfully to derail the negotiations; and Germany’s current government under Angela Merkel has said it will boycott the negotiations in spite of broad public support for nuclear disarmament.
“We want Germany to be nuclear weapons free,” said Marion Küpker, a disarmament campaigner and organizer with DFG-VK, an affiliate of War Resisters International and Germany’s oldest peace organization, this year celebrating its 125th anniversary. “The government must abide by the 2010 resolution, throw out the B61s, and not replace them with new ones,” Küpker said.
A huge majority in Germany supports both the UN treaty ban and the removal of US nuclear weapons. A staggering 93 percent want nuclear weapons banned, according to a poll commissioned by the German chapter of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War published in March last year. Some 85 percent agreed that the US weapons should be withdrawn from the country, and 88 percent said they oppose US plans to replace current bombs with the new B61-12.
U.S. and NATO officials claim that “deterrence” makes the B61 important in Europe. But as Xanthe Hall reports for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, “Nuclear deterrence is the archetypal security dilemma. You have to keep threatening to use nuclear weapons to make it work. And the more you threaten, the more likely it is that they will be used.”
For more information and to sign a “Declaration of Solidarity.”
Additional information about the B61 and NATO’s “nuclear sharing” at CounterPunch:
“Wild Turkey with H-Bombs: Failed Coup Brings Calls for Denuclearization,” July 28, 2016.
“Nuclear Weapons Proliferation: Made in the USA,” May 27, 2015.
“US Defies Conference on Nuclear Weapons Effects & Abolition,” Dec. 15, 2014.
John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.
One year after the assassination of Honduran Indigenous leader Berta Caceres, human rights organizations and Indigenous communities continue to demand justice in the case, while the international branch of the struggle pressures to an end of U.S. funding for police and military forces accused of human rights abuses in the Central American country.
Caceres’ family sent a letter Thursday to U.S. Representative Norma Torres to ask for her support for the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, which was reintroduced the same day to the House of Representatives after stalling without adequate support since last year. The bill seeks the suspension of Washington’s security aid to Honduras until the country fulfills more rigorous human rights conditions — including an end to abuses by the police and military and justice in cases like Berta Caceres’ murder.
“It is increasingly clear that the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez is unwilling to act decisively to stop the killings of social activists in Honduras and to conduct honest and thorough investigations of killings and attacks,” Caceres’ family members state in the letter to Torres, urging her to “stand with” them and with Honduras. “In addition, the government has consistently failed to respect basic indigenous land rights, as it is required to do under its international treaty obligations.”
The original U.S. bill inspired by Caceres’ murder paints a grim picture of Honduras’ grave human rights situation, including the lack of justice in cases like Caceres’ murder. “Impunity remains a serious problem, with prosecution in cases of military and police officials charged with human rights violations moving too slowly or remaining inconclusive,” it states, adding that the U.S. State Department itself reported in 2015 problems of “corruption, intimidation, and institutional weakness of the justice system” in Honduras.
Caceres’ family addressed the letter to Torres to ramp up individual pressure for support of the bill. Torres, the first and only Central American in Congress and the founder of the bipartisan Central American Caucus, has faced criticism for aligning herself with the Honduran government, backing Washington’s controversial Alliance for Prosperity security aid package for Central America’s Northern Triangle and for refusing to support the Berta Caceres bill.
“We believe that your support for the Berta Caceres Human Rights Act will further strengthen your standing as an advocate for Central Americans and human rights, both in the U.S. and Honduras,” the family wrote in its letter to Torres, imploring her endorsement of the bill.
Caceres’ family also highlighted in the letter the involvement of active and former members of the military — including suspects trained at the infamous U.S. School of the Americas — in her murder, underlining the urgent need for more rigorous conditions on security aid to Honduran state forces. A former member of the military police in Honduras revealed to the Guardian that her name had been at the top of a “hit list” that a U.S.-trained unit received.
“A government that fails to protect its citizens and whose security forces are implicated in attacks and killings of activists should not be receiving security funding and training from the U.S. government,” the letter stressed, adding that Caceres’ murder is only one example among scores of assassinations, attacks and other forms of intimidation targeting activists in the country.
According to a recent report by the international rights organization Global Witness, 120 land and environmental defenders have been killed in Honduras since 2010 after an increase in state-sanctioned abuses in the wake of the 2009 U.S.-backed military coup.
Meanwhile, in Honduras, members of the organization that Caceres founded — the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras or COPINH — held a march Wednesday in the capital city Tegucigalpa demanding justice one year after her death.
They blasted Honduran authorities over the fact that, to this day, the motive for her assassination has not been identified and perpetrators in the killing not brought to justice. Demonstrators with banners shouted slogans demanding that authorities arrest the masterminds behind Caceres’ murder.
Caceres rose to international prominence for leading the Indigenous Lenca people in a struggle against a controversial hydroelectric dam project in the community of Rio Blanco that was put in motion without consent from local communities. She was also a key leader in the post-coup resistance movement that demanded a constituent assembly to rewrite the Honduran Constitution.
For her environmental and land defense work, she was awarded the prestigious 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, while at the same time suffering dozens of death threats and other forms of harassment. Berta Caceres was shot dead just before midnight March 2, 2016, when gunmen stormed her house and attacked her.
Caceres’ family claim that the Honduran company behind the hydroelectric project she fought against, Desarrollos Energeticos or DESA, and the Honduran government hired contract killers to murder her and other activists.
Her family and fellow activists insists that her legacy will continue to inspire a movement for rights and justice.
In a statement ahead of the anniversary of her murder, Caceres’ COPINH reiterated calls for justice and an end to unwanted corporate projects on Indigenous land and vowed to forge on in the struggle that Caceres championed in the name of a “just society where life is respected.”
“One year after Berta’s murder, she continues teaching us that ideas cannot be killed and the processes of the people cannot be stopped,” the organization said. “May she continue to be present and our task continue with her legacy of resistance and struggle against injustice.”
Foreign policy is one of those areas of democratic governance that doesn’t often get on the public’s radar. But when it does it provides citizens with a kind of unsullied opportunity to apply their values. That is, unsullied by considerations of self-interest, we get to ask what is the right thing to do?
Governments, of course, aren’t quite as free to make such decisions given that they have so-called “national interests” to consider. But Canadians should be able to expect from their federal government that their foreign policy conforms closely to their values.
When it comes to Canada’s policy towards Israel the Trudeau government, aping its predecessor, is several country miles from reflecting Canadian values. That is the irrefutable conclusion of an Ekos poll whose partial results were released February 16th. A second batch of survey results released yesterday (all survey results can be found here: focussed on the issue of whether or not Canadians think it is appropriate to use sanctions and/or boycotts to pressure Israel to obey international law.
The results demolish conventional wisdom on this question. Respondents were asked – in the context of the UN Security Council denunciation of settlement building in the West Bank – “… do you believe that some sort of Canadian government sanctions on Israel would be reasonable?” Overall, 66% expressing an opinion answered yes. But that number is heavily skewed by Conservative supporters, 70% of whom reject sanctions on Israel. Openness to sanctions on Israel by supporters of other federal political parties ranged from 75% for Liberals to 94% for Bloc Quebecois supporters. Eighty-four percent of NDP supporters believed sanctions on Israel would be reasonable.
Levels of acceptance for the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israel was even higher with fully 78% of those with an opinion stating they believe the Palestinians’ call for a boycott is “reasonable.” Again, Conservative supporters expressed radically different views from respondents supporting other parties: 51% rejected a boycott. Supporters of other parties who were receptive to the Palestinian call for a boycott ranged from 88% for Liberal supporters to 94% for the Bloc Quebecois.
Flashback to February 2016, when Parliament adopted a Conservative motion (by a vote of 229-51) condemning Canadian individuals and organizations who promote the Palestinian call for a boycott. That shameful assault on freedom of expression was supported by the Trudeau government. Only the NDP and Bloc opposed it.
When asked if they supported the passing of this resolution a majority of respondents expressing an opinion – 53% – said no while half that that number, 26%, said yes. Only 20 % of Liberal supporters supported the resolution while 55% disagreed with it.
Most Canadians still have little idea of just how sycophantic the Trudeau Liberals are when it comes to support for the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu, particularly when it comes to U.N. votes on Palestinian rights and Israel’s violations of international law.
The Trudeau government has cemented Canada’s reputation as an embarrassing outlier when it comes to UN votes on Israel. Since October, 2015 when it came to power, the Liberal government has voted against United Nations resolutions that were critical of Israel on over 25 occasions. In fact, it has never voted in favour of a U.N. resolution that is critical of Israel. Which illustrious democracies does Canada find itself allied with in these votes? Besides Israel and the US, it’s loyal benefactor, our fellow-travellers are normally Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands. Most of these resolutions pass by a vote of 156 or 158 to six or eight (with our EU allies voting for or abstaining).
Some of the resolutions Canada actively opposed should shock Canadians. The Trudeau government opposed a U.N. resolution that reaffirmed “… the importance of Israel’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons [NPT].” Another resolution, supporting “The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination…” was opposed by the Liberals as was a resolution that almost precisely reiterates the government’s official policy – that “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem…” are an obstacle to peace.
Last December the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously (with the US abstaining) to declare that Israeli settlements on territory intended for a Palestinian state were a “flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of… peace” between Israel and Palestine. Canada remained absolutely silent as it was (effectively) when Israel passed its “land grab” law which retroactively legalises settler homes on private Palestinian land.
What could possibly justify Trudeau’s immoral and frankly irrational stance when it comes to promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians? In determining its policy towards Israel the Trudeau government has three apparent motivations at play: defending Israel’s right to exist, tending to Canada’s specific national interests and reflecting Canadian values.
None of these shine any real light on Canada’s continued blanket support for the Netanyahu government. It is being increasingly argued by Israel’s friends that the trajectory of that country today is in fact the biggest threat to Israel’s existence: a one-party state that can be Jewish or democratic, but not both. Canada on its own has no compelling “national interests” in the Middle East – except as a yes man for the US Empire.
And lastly, Trudeau’s inexplicable stance is overwhelmingly at odds with Canadian values. Not only do large majorities see Israel in a negative light, they reject by 91% the notion that criticism of Israel is necessarily anti-Semitic as implied in the Commons resolution. Flying in the face of Trudeau’s cowardly denunciation of BDS supporters are 75% of his own party supporters who are open to sanctions and 88% who say the same of boycotts.
Justin Trudeau has a lot of explaining to do.
MURRAY DOBBIN, now living in Powell River, BC has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over forty years. He now writes a bi-weekly column for the on-line journals the Tyee and rabble.ca. He can be reached at email@example.com
An often-used tactic to squelch criticism of Israeli state policies toward the Palestinians is to call the criticism anti-Semitic. The sponsors of the event become afraid of the label, anti-Semitism, false as it is, and cancel the event to avoid any controversy. The tactic is used widely across Europe and the United States.
This week, the talk that I was to give in a room at the Rome City Hall about the Women’s Boat to Gaza and the conditions in Gaza was cancelled 24 hours before the event by the council member who had agreed to arrange for the room. His staff revealed that he had gotten intense pressure from the Israeli Embassy and Rome’s Jewish Community Association to stop the presentation.
But that was not the end of the story. In a fast-moving media blitz, organized by Italy’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions program, two of Rome’s newspapers wrote of the cancellation and several radio stations reported on it. BDS Italy scheduled a press conference about the cancellation in the plaza in front of the City Hall at the time the talk was scheduled. About 20 representatives of the news media attended, a much larger number than would have attended the talk itself.
Due to the number of media and the questions concerning the cancellation, Marcello de Vito, President of the Rome City Council, invited three of us to come into the City Hall to discuss the cancellation. This invitation provided us with the opportunity to discuss the conditions in Gaza and the West Bank and the nonviolent tactics such as BDS and Boats to Gaza to bring international attention to the harmful policies of the State of Israel.
From the questions, it was apparent that the President, another City Council member and their staff knew little about the Israeli blockade of Gaza, the illegal settlements, the apartheid wall, the numbers of Palestinian children and youth held in Israeli jails, and the theft of Palestinian resources by Israeli companies.
Something similar happened last year in Bayreuth, Germany, when the prize for Tolerance and Peace, which had been awarded to CODEPINK: Women for Peace, was cancelled by the Mayor after two reporters, known for writing spurious articles, alleged that CODEPINK was an anti-Semitic organization. Following an extensive letter-writing campaign from members of the German Parliament and others who know that CODEPINK’s actions challenging the policies of the State of Israel are not anti-Semitic, the Bayreuth City Council voted to reinstate the award amid much publicity.
Also, last year, a conference in which grandmothers who had been through World War II were to speak was cancelled because of similar allegations. Defenders of Israeli policies targeted 90-year old Hedie Esptein, a vocal critic of Israeli treatment of Palestinians, although her parents had been killed in the Holocaust and she had survived by being sent to England as a part of the Kindertransport,
Responding quickly to false allegations of anti-Semitism is key to blunting the Israeli government’s offensive toward those who challenge the illegal and inhumane policies toward Palestinians. In the case of the Rome cancellation, the pushback from BDS Italy created more publicity about the plight of the Palestinians than the event itself would have.
Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She was a U.S. diplomat and served in U.S. embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned from the U.S. government in March, 2003 in opposition to President Bush’s war on Iraq.
Two British universities have been accused of undermining freedom of speech after cancelling an annual pro-Palestinian event aimed at raising awareness about human rights violations in the occupied territories.
The accusation was leveled on Monday after the University of Exeter and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) announced the cancellation of a pro-Palestinian student-run event called Israel Apartheid Week.
Students at Exeter were barred from giving a street theater performance called Mock Checkpoint, in which some participants were to dress up as Israeli soldiers while others performed the roles of Palestinian victims.
The event had been approved by the student union at the university but was banned for “safety and security reasons” less than 48 hours before commencement. An appeal against the decision was also refused.
Members of Friends of Palestine Society at Exeter accused the university of censoring students, saying, “They are not allowing freedom of speech – by cancelling an event that was in support of Palestinian activism and for Palestinian rights; they are directly censoring us.”
The move prompted almost 250 academics, including 100 professors, to sign a letter denouncing attempts by university officials to silence campus discussion about Israel and its treatment of Palestinians.
“These are outrageous interferences with free expression, and are direct attacks on academic freedom,” the letter noted. “As academics with positions at UK universities, we wish to express our dismay at this attempt to silence campus discussion about Israel, including its violation of the rights of Palestinians for over 50 years.
“It is with disbelief that we witness explicit political interference in university affairs in the interests of Israel under the thin disguise of concern about anti-semitism,” it added.
More than half a million Israelis live in over 230 illegal settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds.
Much of the international community regards the Israeli settlements as illegal because the territories they are built on were captured by Israel in a war and are hence subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbid construction on occupied lands.
Nevertheless, the Israeli regime continues to build more settlements and expand the existing ones.
British universities have been advised to “manage” Palestinian activism on campus in order to comply with the UK government’s ‘Prevent’ counter-extremism strategy.
“Vocal support for Palestine,” “Opposition to Israeli settlements in Gaza,” and “Criticism of wars in the Middle East” are included in a list of “contentious topics” on the Safe Campus Communities website.
The website includes a training section set up by Universities UK and the government’s now defunct Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to help staff fulfill their Prevent obligations.
Since 2015, Prevent has required public sector workers to “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.”
The website says the material is intended to promote free speech by encouraging universities to ensure “topics that may be seen as controversial” may be “debated in a safe environment.”
It advises institutions to take steps to manage events in which “extremist views are likely to be expressed” and ensure such views are challenged by “inviting additional speakers with opposing views.”
“Relevant higher education bodies also need to risk assess and manage events where these or similar views may be expressed,” it says.
Critics fear the guidance could stifle free speech and political expression, according to Middle East Eye.
On Tuesday, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) canceled an ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ event organized for next week by Friends of Palestine because of concerns it would not be “balanced,” Middle East Eye reports.
UCLan said it was concerned that the event, called ‘Debunking misconceptions on Palestine and the importance of BDS [the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement]’, would fall foul of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the UK government.
The IHRA defines anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews,” including “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
UCLan said: “We believe the proposed talk contravenes the new definition and furthermore breaches university protocols for such events, where we require assurances of a balanced view or a panel of speakers representing all interests.
“In this instance our procedures determined that the proposed event would not be lawful and therefore it will not proceed as planned.”
Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said it was absurd to single out support for a Palestinian state or opposition to Israeli settlements as controversial or extremist.
“Given that all major political parties in the UK and the overwhelming majority of governments across the world support a Palestinian state and oppose settlements on the basis that they violate international law and are an obstacle to peace it is absurd to define these as extremist views.
“There is an urgent need for the relevant bodies to review these materials and ensure that any training offered to educational establishments truly reflects the stated intention to uphold academic freedom and freedom of expression,” he said.
Alison Weir provides the following report back on an event that almost didn’t happen:
After I was invited by the Social Justice Committee of the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists (BFUU) to give a public presentation, extremist pro-Israel activists went to work to get the event canceled. They put up blog posts and even a Craigslist advertisement attacking me, exaggerating inaccurate claims about me by the ADL and, especially, the widely refuted JVP-US Campaign dossier on me.
This has become standard practice for Israel partisans who wish to prevent audiences from hearing my presentation.
A few individuals within the BFUU then took up the JVP-USC false claims, trying to get the event shut down before anyone had the chance to hear me directly. This effort threatened to succeed, but ultimately failed when members committed to social justice and free speech refused to cave in.
Activist songwriter-musician Vic Sadot, former Social Justice Committee Chair Cynthia Johnson, human rights worker Tom Luce, and current Social Justice Committee Chair Gene Herman – all longtime, respected Berkeley human rights activists – didn’t give in to the significant pressure, took a great deal of heat for this, and the event went on.
Nevertheless, they were nervous, particularly after seeing the Craigslist ad that seemed designed to foment hate against me and possibly provoke violence. At a recent event elsewhere in the area, a similar smear campaign had been undertaken against me (including another Craigslist ad), and a few Israel partisans showed up to disrupt the event — to the degree that the police had to be called. One Israel partisan then hit a woman videotaping the incident.
Fortunately, no protesters showed up this time, and I again spoke to a full house. The audience included many members of BFUU – which has a long tradition of peace and human rights activism – who came to hear me for themselves.
At the end of the talk, I was honored and extremely grateful to receive a standing ovation. Numerous audience members said they appreciated the talk, had learned new information, and bought my book. One person told me she hadn’t known any of the information before.
This success only happened because Vic, Cynthia, Tom, Gene and others were willing to stick their necks out, and because the BFUU congregation came down on the side of free speech and against censorship.
It would have been much easier for them to cancel the event entirely, or to bring a less “controversial” speaker. But they didn’t.
This is an example of what a few brave souls can do. Thank you.
UPDATE: I’ve just learned that the event was co-sponsored by Norcal Sabeel, another committed and courageous group.
On Tuesday, eight Democratic senators joined former Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio in introducing a Senate bill attacking the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, BDS, which aims at ending the illegal occupation of Palestine and ongoing violations of human rights by Israeli authorities.
Rubio said the bill, titled The Combatting BDS Act of 2017, will “fight back” against the the growing BDS movement by “affirming the legal authority of state and local governments to take tangible actions to counter economic warfare against Israel.”
The bill would allow state and local governments to withdraw funding for any organization “engaged in BDS conduct,” thus giving them “an offensive capability against entities seeking to economically harm Israel,” according to Rubio’s statement announcing the legislation.
“This bipartisan legislation gives state and local governments a legal way to combat the shameful boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel,” said Democratic senator for West Virginia Joe Manchin, a co-sponsor of the bill.
Rubio also explicitly stated that the proposed legislation is a response to the historic U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Israel to end its construction of illegal settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Rubio’s bill is the first attempt to make national several anti-Palestinian solidarity measures passed by state legislatures in Wyoming and New York. Similar to those attempts, however, this legislation will likely fail any constitutional test.
“The Rubio bill doesn’t solve the fundamental problem with these anti-BDS laws, which is that they violate the First Amendment,” said Rahul Saksena, a staff attorney with Palestine Legal, in an interview with The Electronic Intifada.
“Boycotts have been used throughout U.S. history ― from the Boston Tea Party, to the Civil Rights Movement, to the anti-South African ( Apartheid movement ― to challenge injustice and promote social change,” said Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights in a statement responding to New York State’s so-called “blacklist” bill passed in December of last year.
Launched in 2005 by 170 Palestinian civil society organizations — including unions, refugee networks, women’s organizations and professional associations — and inspired by the anti-Apartheid movement, the BDS movement calls on individuals and organizations to pressure the Israeli government to end its illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, recognize the right of return of Palestinian refugees and guarantee full civil and human rights to Arab-Palestinian citizens of the Israeli state.
Hundreds of Belgian Artists and Academics Urge Government to End Participation in EU Project Cooperating with Israeli National Police
In Belgium, 482 professors and researchers, and more than 190 artists, have written an open letter calling on their authorities to withdraw from participating in a European Union funded research project called LAW TRAIN, in which Belgium and Spain cooperate with the Israeli National Police.
The project, aimed at developing joint interrogation methods, is coordinated by an Israeli university with particularly deep ties to Israel’s army and notorious security services. The signatories of this open letter highlight that Israeli methods are tested on Palestinians. Israel’s illegal detention of Palestinian political prisoners, and the systematic abuse and torture perpetrated by Israeli security forces during interrogations, is well documented. And, in 2016 alone, Israelis interrogated at least 7,000 Palestinians, including over 400 children.
This open letter is part of broader efforts by the Belgian Coalition To Stop Law Train, and broader European-wide efforts against the participation of the Israeli military, homeland security and police sector in research and development funded by the European Union. Other forms of mobilizing have included direct actions, conferences, and lobbying.