Shir Hever: At the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, the Israeli military and political leadership’s attacks on critics reflects Israel’s isolation and the strength of the boycott campaign
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
Today we’re going to be discussing the latest developments for the boycott, divest, and sanction campaign coming out of Israel.
Joining us today is Shir Hever. He’s an economist studying the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories for the Alternative Information Center, a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization dedicated to publishing alternative information and analysis.
Thank you for joining us.
So, Shir, can you tell us about this major conference that was just held last week in Israel?
SHIR HEVER, ECONOMIST, ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER: This conference was organized by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It’s called the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism. It took place between May 28 and May 30.
And this is a very interesting development for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel, because the ministry is very concerned about the kind of criticism that is growing around the world regarding Israel, the apartheid system, the abuse of Palestinian human rights, the mass use of violence against innocent civilians. And that is, of course, something that is being manifested also with the boycott movement, the boycott, divestment, sanction movement, or BDS. And this conference was supposed to be about something else. It was supposed to be about anti-Semitism.
Now, usually the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at least in the past several years, tried to make it very clear that they don’t accuse everyone who criticizes Israel of anti-Semitism, because this sort of argument tends to backfire. Most of the people who express such criticism against Israel on basis of Israel’s violations of human rights are people who are defenders of human rights and would also defend the rights of Jews against attacks based on their race or religion.
Basically they’re saying that those who criticize Israel, those who accuse Israel of crimes are in fact anti-Semites. So this is–I think in many ways it shows that the Israeli ministry is running out of excuses, running out of ideas.
This was a very high-level conference. Many very important speakers were invited. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, gave the opening speech, and in the speech he said that there are three vilifications. And he listed those three. He said the first one was that Israel is accused of committing war crimes. The second one: Israel is accused of not wanting peace. And the third one: Israel is guilty of violating the human rights of Palestinians.
So these three accusations are not vilifications at all. In fact, they are well-documented and well-proven accusations based on international organizations, as well as on many Israeli organizations that say the very same thing. I think most Israelis would actually agree that the Israeli government is not really interested in peace, and yet they continue to vote for it. The fact that the Israeli army committed war crimes has been well established by, for example, the Goldstone Commission, which was actually headed by a Jewish Zionist. The fact that Israel is guilty of violating human rights is even periodically repeated by the U.S. Department of State.
It completely undermines the entire meaning of the word anti-Semitic. And that’s something very concerning, because there are, of course, still in the world people who hate Jews just for being Jews. There are still anti-Semites. But these anti-Semites are now completely confused and obfuscated with legitimate criticism of Israel. What we see basically is that Israel is so desperate because of the decline of its international legitimacy, because the international media is reporting the crimes committed by Israel, that they’re willing to drag with them Jews, wherever they may be, and to allow these Jews to be unprotected from real kinds of anti-Semitism, just so that they could have yet another weapon or another sort of threat mechanism that they can use against those who would criticize them.
NOOR: Now, Shir, a lot of the presentations and documents made at this conference have now been made public. What do you think are the most interesting points or arguments coming out of this conference, particularly concerning what Israel is to do about this growing Palestinian solidarity and BDS movement?
HEVER: If you actually go into the contents of this conference, you see that it’s in many ways a very empty conference. There is not that much interesting content in it.
[snip] an interesting document, although it’s interesting mainly because of what it doesn’t include, and that is a document about online anti-Semitism, which actually talks about various homepages or Facebook profiles which have anti-Semitic contents in them. Well, I don’t think it’s very surprising that such things exist on the web. But the fact that it takes such a central place in a conference hosted by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a way shows that they really don’t have much content to talk about.
But when it comes to strategy, when it comes to how they’re going to deal and act regarding anti-Semitism, suddenly the target changes, and instead of targeting anti-Semitism, they start to target the BDS movement.
The Israeli strategy on dealing with BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) is threefold. It has three layers. One of the layers is about quantity rather than quality. That means that they’re investing large amounts of money. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has recently dedicated $6 million for–in budget to fund various organizations. They’re called GONGOs, which is government organizations, non-government organizations, or GONGO, which means organizations that pretend to be civil society organizations but are actually funded by government, which would promote Israel’s message. They’re paying people to write topics in websites and news sites to promote Israel’s message. So they’re trying to fill the web with their content. I think it’s very easy for anyone to go in, to do a search. And if you do a search on various topics that are controversial, you will find a lot of pro-Zionist content, because this is paid content.
The second layer of strategy that was promoted in this conference and promoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is to change the subject. That means that instead of talking about the occupation, instead of talking about apartheid, about the rights of Palestinians under Israeli law and so on, which is, of course, a topic that would embarrass pro-Israeli speakers very much, they say, let’s change the topic and talk about things like Israeli technology, so as if–if Israel has very advanced technology, that somehow would convince people not to boycott Israel or not to make Israel accountable for its crimes.
This is something that we’ve seen quite a lot. Even when Stephen Hawking decided to cancel his visit to Israel as an act of protest, the argument that was made against him, that he’s using a chip that was produced in Israel, and because of that he’s being a hypocrite and he shouldn’t boycott Israel.
So changing the subject is a strategy that has been recommended to the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs by marketing specialists that got a lot of money from the ministry to promote their strategy, and the ministry has wholeheartedly adopted this policy. If you go into websites of various Israeli embassies around the world, you will see that their news release talk about Israeli technological innovation all the time, and they’re not even trying to engage in a discussion about the peace process, about Palestinian rights, about the occupation, and so on.
So the third level that is promoted by this conference, and also by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is intimidation, basically to threaten pro-Palestinian activists or BDS activists with some kind of retaliation or a action by the Israeli army or the Israeli Mossad. The Israeli military has created a new unit to track BDS activists online and their activities. And the Mossad has also vowed to become active in tracking activists who criticize Israel.
And the point in this is to intimidate activists and try to deter them from getting involved, building on the procedure of the Israeli intelligence as very effective and very violent. I don’t think it’s very likely that the Mossad is going to try to assassinate BDS activists or to directly harm them, because, of course, this policy will backfire and only make the criticism against Israel more powerful. But they’re hoping that just by making the threat they can deter people from making any criticism whatsoever.
And I think it’s very interesting that they’re making that sort of threat against activists at the same time that their argument is, we are going to try to–Israel is a democracy, Israel has freedom of speech. Well, it’s freedom of speech, but if you criticize Israel, then there is a military unit that’s going to track you and follow what you say. So that I think kind of shows their desperation as well.
What’s most interesting about this is that we have all these arguments that are–these three arguments that are made by this conference, and we see them all the time in the media. It’s called called by Israeli speakers Hasbara. Hasbara means explanation. And they repeat these three strategies, which are quantity over quality, changing the subject, and talking about technology instead of the occupation, and intimidation, threatening those people who criticize Israel.
But there’s a fourth one that we don’t see. And the fourth one is what we would expect to see, which is Israel trying to argue that their policies are right. We don’t see the Israeli government trying to say, we have a right to occupy these territories, or Palestinians are actually treated fairly by the Israeli government, because they know this argument doesn’t fly. They know that nobody will buy it. The facts are extremely clear against them. And more than anything, this attests to the growth and the strengthening of the BDS movement.
NOOR: So, Shir, for BDS and Palestinian solidarity activists around the world, what lessons can they take out of this conference?
HEVER: First of all, the fact that this conference even took place, the fact that the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs is reverting to strategies that they’ve abandoned because they’ve proven un-useful shows that the movement is gaining momentum and is becoming stronger. And I think activists should be heartened by this.
Second, I would say it’s very important for activists not to be intimidated, because, of course, if they allow themselves to be intimidated, if they allow this kind of argument to work, then this is exactly what emboldens the Israeli government to pursue more violent action, and not just against Palestinians but also against international activists. And we should be very clear that this is something that will not deter us.
And the third point, and I think maybe the most important point, is that we should not fall into the trap which the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs is trying to lay for us, by which criticizing Israel means criticizing Jews, meaning we should not become anti-Semites. And that is something that is very clearly defined in the BDS movement, and the call for BDS says very clearly, we refuse to cooperate with any organization or individual that is racist or anti-Semite. This is not part of the movement, and we refuse to get assistance, even, from organizations like that.
And they’re right in doing so, they’re very right in doing so, because the Israeli government has shown that it’s willing to sacrifice Jews around the world and their safety in the name of protecting Israeli interests. And in our criticism against Israel and Zionism and Israeli policies, we should of course not go into that trap that is laid for us in which we also accuse Jews as if they have some kind of responsibility for this.
NOOR: Shir Hever, thank you for joining us.
HEVER: Thank you, Jaisal, very much.
NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.