David Wakim Memorial Lecture – Telling lies about Palestine

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E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā hau e whā, tēna koutou, tēna koutou, tēna koutou katoa

Te whare Columba Centre ki tū nei – tena koe, E ngā tangata whenua o tenei rohe – Ngāti Whātua kia ora koutou – ngā mihi mahana ki a koutou – e nga iwi o to mōtu tēna koutou tēna koutou, tēna tātau katoa

Greetings and welcome to you all – thanks for coming this evening. It’s nice to be back in Auckland – even if it is with a microphone rather than a megaphone!

It’s my privilege to be delivering this lecture in memory of David Wakim. Dave was a wonderful humanitarian and I shared the end of a banner with him many times in protests for Palestinian rights. I’m going to share one small story which underlines the man he was. David and Janfrie ran a pharmacy in Eden quarter on Dominion Road. I went in there one day to buy a syringe – for making paint bombs. (To make a paint bomb you put two holes in either end of an egg, blow out the egg contents, seal one end with a few drops of hot wax from a candle, use a syringe to fill the egg with paint and then seal that end with hot wax). Neither David nor Janfrie were around but there were 2 or 3 other people in the shop and a helpful young man behind the counter showed me various syringes and I decided on a decent big one. Then this young man leaned forward over the counter towards me (this was pre Covid) and said in a quiet voice “Would you like some clean needles with that?” I was immediately flustered and began to explain about paint bombs but that conversation wasn’t going anywhere so I paid and left quickly.

Part of Dave Wakim’s humanitarianism meant his pharmacy was part of the government’s needle exchange programme for drug addicts. I remember Graham Brazier from Hello Sailor at Dave’s funeral saying Dave was never judgmental about any of the addicts who came for clean needles – they were always treated with dignity and respect. Those of us who knew Dave remember him very fondly.

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In this talk I won’t be using the term Zionism. I try to avoid it for two reasons. First it is confusing for the public. Second it means different things to different people – for most of us it relates to the racist apartheid policies of the Israeli government but for others it can mean the 19th century movement for a Jewish homeland or it may simply mean the Jewish right to practise their faith and follow their cultural beliefs wherever in the world they are – something no-one could argue with.

Tonight I’m talking about the lies told about Palestine by the pro-Israeli lobby. That might sound a bit downbeat and negative but I can assure you it is not. 

I hope tonight you will go away feeling positive, clear headed and uplifted because we are on the right side of history and we are winning.

In was 72 years ago when at its very formation Israel delegitimised itself with brutal, blatantly racist, colonial policies towards Palestinians. But because Israel was and is important for western imperialist powers as a beachhead in the oil-rich Middle East – the liberation of Palestinians has been held up. And part of that hold-up has been a string of lies told about Palestine and Palestinians by the pro-Israeli lobby. We are going to unravel some of those lies tonight.

Before we talk about the lies let’s celebrate to fact the tide is turning in the Western World in support of Palestinian human rights. We are winning the debate – around the world and here in Aotearoa-New Zealand. 

Internationally the pro-Palestinian campaigns are stronger. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is having important wins locally and internationally. (BDS is a Palestinian-led movement which was launched in 2005 to uphold the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity) More Jewish voices, both young and old, are speaking out here and around the world and nasty smears of anti-semitism directed against Palestinian solidarity activists are being called out for what they are. Even members of the US congress who show strong support for Palestinian rights are winning their seats again when once the pro-Israeli lobby in the US would have been able to oust them.

Nothing illustrates the changes in thinking better than the key findings from a recent survey of Jewish Americans by the right-wing thinktank, The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, which was released in July. There were three main findings:

  • One quarter of American Jews express intensely critical ideas about Israel and Zionism, including that Israel is racist, colonial and apartheid. 
  • More than that, 31 percent, would vote for Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar regardless of Israel lobby smears of the two congresswomen as antisemitic. 

  • Despite the efforts of Israel lobby organizations to blame the left for antisemitism, American Jews don’t buy it. 51 percent see the right wing as the source of most antisemitism, while only 1 percent see the left wing as primarily responsible for anti-semitism (12% blame left and right equally)

Things are changing. Israel’s narrative as the only peace-loving, democratic state in the Middle East surrounded by hostile Arab neighbours has been falling apart for years. It’s a narrative on life-support because the Israeli narrative contradicts what people see as the reality of Israeli actions and policies on the ground in the Middle East. It is failing so badly that the Israeli lobby has resorted to trying to make it illegal to campaign in favour of Palestinian human rights. They have tried, partially successfully, to have BDS declared illegal in some European countries and in various US states. 

Their main defence strategy for Israeli policies are bogus claims of anti-semitism which they throw around like confetti against supporters of Palestinian human rights. The latest effort has been to introduce a new definition of anti-semitism which tries to link criticism of Israel with anti-semitism.

All this effort to weaken criticism of Israel underlines the absolute important of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement – because BDS is Israel’s Achilles heel – their weak point and because of that,  it’s the single most important strategy we have to build solidarity with Palestine and put pressure on Israel. 

Let’s be clear: for the international solidarity movement the most important game in town is BDS.

This was neatly summed up by Nobel Peace prize winner and South African Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, when talking about Israeli government policies – “we should name it apartheid and boycott”

Tutu also points the way when he talks about the importance of international solidarity to bring change for Palestinians:

“We could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through… non-violent means, such as boycotts and disinvestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime,”

Israel is terrified of BDS. The more successful we become in campaigning for BDS, the more desperate the pro-Israeli lobby will become to label us as anti-semitic. Let me put it another way: If we are NOT being attacked with false claims of anti-semitism by the increasingly desperate pro-Israeli lobby then we are not doing our job.

It’s important to say here that we must not downplay anti-semitism in the world – there is plenty of it and it is hideous. We all know it when we see it. I and many others at this talk tonight have joined public protests against anti-semitism for example when Jewish graves in the Symonds Street cemetery have been daubed with swastikas. We abhor racism in all its forms whether it is anti-semitism, Islamophobia, white supremacy, anti-Palestinian or anti-Arab racism, anti-Maori or anti-Pasifika racism. We don’t tolerate it on our social media pages and we condemn it wherever it occurs. 

That’s been a long introduction – so let’s look at the most important lies told about Palestine by the pro-Israeli lobby:

This map shows some of the 600 red dots which each represent a Palestinian village which was “depopulated” (aka ethnic cleansing) in 1948.

And they knew. In 1897 the rabbis of Vienna sent a fact-finding mission to Palestine, they famously reported back that the bride ‘was beautiful but married to another man.’ But the implication of this wry remark — that the pro-Israeli lobby should look elsewhere was ignored.

As I said earlier spurious claims of anti-semitism have become common in defending Israeli policies. They are a critically important part of the pro-Israeli strategy to distract from its racist policies towards Palestinians.

Former Israeli Minister of Education Shulamit Aloni spelt this tactic out very clearly when she appeared on a “Democracy Now” interview in 2002. She was asked why critics of Israel were often labelled anti-semitic. She said:

That’s a remarkably frank description of Israeli strategy and we see it played out around the world and here in Aotearoa.

So how do we see the Israeli lobby working in New Zealand?

The pro-Israeli lobby does its most despicable work behind closed doors with news editors, journalists, cartoonists, members of parliament, senior public servants, government ministers etc. These people are intensely pressured whenever they speak out against Israel’s brutal military occupation and apartheid policies towards Palestinians. Our own cartoonist Malcolm Evans dared to illustrate Israel as an apartheid state and lost his job at the Herald as a result.

The pro-Israeli lobby does not want the Palestinian struggle in our newspapers and general media. The lobby applies pressure so these groups and individuals will “silence themselves” – in other words to self-censor – knowing if they report things unfavourable to Israel or take sides with the Palestinians they risk being called out publicly as being anti-semitic.

The pro-Israeli lobby acts like a mafia protection racket for racism and brutality, using bullying and political thuggery to constrain criticism of Israel and to stifle Palestinian voices.

Despite all this, Israel is losing. It has a serious image problem. They are spending many millions on propaganda campaigns and as I said earlier have resorted to trying to make campaigning for BDS a criminal offence in European countries and several states in the US.  

Millions has been spent developing propaganda strategies – using the same public relations companies used by the likes of the tobacco industry, the private healthcare industry and pharmaceutical companies in the US.

Here are some of their propaganda manuals produced over the years:

And propaganda they are. Here is how it is expressed in one of the manuals:

And the last thing on Israeli propaganda. Israel is deeply frustrated at spending 20 times more on propaganda but support for Palestinians keeps climbing.

Peddling lies about Palestine is a challenge for the Palestine Solidarity movement. One of our roles is to counter these lies by:

  • Telling the plain unvarnished truth of Israel’s refusal to abide by international law and United Nations resolutions.
  • Explaining the three aims of the BDS movement (all based on international law and UN resolutions)
    • Ending the occupation of Palestinian territories (Security Council resolution 242)
    • Ending Israel’s 65 apartheid laws against Palestinian Israelis (www.adalah.org)
    • Allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their land and homes in Israel (UN resolution 194)
  • Showing films such as the brilliant film “Gaza Fights for Freedom”
  • Touring Palestinian speakers to advance their solutions for justice and enduring peace in the Middle East. This needs to include Palestinians in Israel, in the West Bank, Gaza strip and in the diaspora 
  • Organising public demonstrations of support – eg our national day of action against annexation when 10 centres around Aotearoa took part
  • Challenging MPs and community leaders to stand up for Palestinian human rights against spurious claims of anti-semitism from the pro-Israeli lobby
  • Building local support for the Palestinian struggle within Maori and other indigenous organisations (such as West Papua), Churches, Mosques, Synagogues, union groups and community organisations

What are we calling for?

We are NOT calling for negotiations – if we have the US and Israel on one side of the table and Palestinian representatives on the other the power imbalance is overwhelming. It cannot possibly lead to a just settlement.

We are calling for BDS, as we did against South African apartheid, to require Israel to follow international law and United Nations resolutions

BDS campaigns aiming at specific international targets such as – 

  • PUMA (supports Israeli soccer teams in the occupied Palestinian land – and is the main sponsor of the Silver Ferns) 
  • Hewlett Packard (involved in providing technology which is used to surveil and oppress Palestinians living under military occupation
  • Divestment from the Superfund and Kiwisaver providers from the 112 companies identified by the UN Human Rights Council as being complicit in supporting illegal settlement building on Palestinian land.

Finally…

I’m more of an activist than a speaker so I want to finish with what we can do together to develop and build the Palestinian struggle here in Aotearoa. All of you (aside from the pro-Israeli trolls on line) are an important part of this movement and each and every one of you can take action. The first step is to get on our Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa newsletter list (Email secretary@PSNA.nz) We will keep you up to date and every fortnight we will ask you to take one simple on-line action. If you can do just that the campaign will be that much stronger.

We need you!

We are on the right side of history and we are winning!

Ka whawhai tonu matou! Ake Ake Ake

Kia ora.

 

 

9 COMMENTS

  1. Once again you’re backing a losing cause.

    Israel now has diplomatic relations with the UAE and Bahrain with Saudi Arabia likely to follow shortly. Arabs leaders say they’ve run out of patience with Palestinian leaders and are moving on.

  2. As I’ve done for years, again I recommend all who truly wish to know the facts about Israel/Palestine, read: The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe. And for the reluctant, Pappe’s book is ever an enlightening, very discomforting read.
    My personal opinion of Netanyahu: – he is a liar & a murderer!

    • It was not amazing at all Scott – it was foreign policy in Trumpian Style. US wants to sell its arms so the trade off was that UAE could buy sophisticated weaponry if it signed up to a peace deal. Of course, similar terms also applied to Bahrain and now, unsurprisingly, Qatar wants a slice of the same cake. The fat is now hitting the pan as the balance of Israel’s military might that was supposed to be the equivalent of all its ME neighbours, as supported by the US, will be eroded. Who in their right mind would see the arms sales proceeding given the degree of influence that Israel has over the US establishment. What will remain unchanged however, is the annual $3 Billion ‘stipend’ the US taxpayers send to Israel and Trump’s propensity for reneging on international agreements. It would be a brave person who would predict where the deals between Israel and its ME ‘allies’ will end up.

      • It would be a brave person who could predict where the ultimate peace deal will lie.

        However, the Palestinian cause has been weakening for three decades now. Probably the tipping point was the Palestinian leadership coming out in favour of Saddam Hussein in 1990 with the Kuwait war. They were against virtually every Arab country, and particularly those in the Arabian peninsula.

        Is it likely this trend will reverse in the next two or three decades? I would say not. Israel is getting stronger, both economically and militarily. The BDS movement is not as potent an idea as it was a few years ago. The US, irrespective of the President, is not going to abandon Israel. Nether will Europe. The memory of the Holocaust will ensure that for many decades hence.

        So what choices do the Palestinians have? They could keep rejecting all possible deals, but after three decades they now know that each successive offer gets worse. It is quite possible that in another decade or so the Trump deal will look pretty good in hindsight.

        I suspect the ultimate deal will be a variation of the Trump deal, though with more land and more autonomy for the Palestinians. One of the key features of the Trump deal is the economic package that sits alongside it. The tunnel to link Gaza and the West Bank and major redevelopment of Gaza, including urban rebuild, a port and an airport. This might get upped. it would not surprise me if the economic side of the deal became as high as one trillion dollars, which would be about $1 million per Palestinian. It is enough to transform the entire infrastructure, plus a complete set of modern schools, universities, hospitals. And enough for a massive industrial and technological investment fund.

        The US, under the leadership of President Biden, along with the various states of the Arabian Peninsula could afford one trillion dollars.

      • It hasn’t taken long. It already looks as though the UAE deal is pretty close to being on the skids. US lawmakers are opposed to the selling of F-35 fighter jets to Abu Dhabi and the Israelis are back to stealing land off the Palestinians.

  3. Hmmmm. Providing cybersecurity with backdoor access? Sounds like a convenient set-up if one doesn’t trust its clients. Are you sure you got that one right, or is the ‘them’ you refer to the Israelis?

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