Guardian letters page publishes a diversity of opinion on why Israel is cruel & oppressive

This is cross posted from Anne’s Opinions

In yesterday’s Guardian letters page (May 15) the decision was unanimous. Israel is guilty.

The first letter is from Lord Andrew Phillips.  Before reading it you should know that Lord Phillips has previous “form on Israel. He has claimed that “America is in the grip of the well-organized Jewish Lobby“, and he once chaired an event organized by MEMO, a Hamas-supporting group.

The basis for today’s letter was a ‘Comment is Free’ column (May 8) objecting to the proposed boycott of Israel by the TUC and other UK unions.

Phillips writes:

Israels ambassador, Daniel Taub, is right to say the Unison boycott is discriminatory (From boycott to bigotry, 9 May). That is the unavoidable crudity of all boycotts, which are usually last-resort expedients when governments do nothing. For many there is no other practical means of expressing, with any sniff of effectiveness, abhorrence at the relentless colonisation by Israel of the West Bank and East Jerusalem (appropriating so far well over 40% of their land mass by recent Foreign Office calculations).

Actually, according to these maps produced by the BBC (whom one could hardly accuse of being biased towards Israel) the following conclusion is drawn:

“Israel has pursued a policy of building settlements on the West Bank.These cover about 2% of the area of the West Bank.”

According to this AIJAC report the number is probably less:

“B’tselem is highly critical of Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank, and commissioned a detailed survey of the West Bank to determine the degree of settlement control and published a highly critical report last year. The group choose to focus their publicity for the report on the fact that municipal and regional councils associated with the settlements had theoretical legal jurisdiction over 42% of the West Bank, but they also conceded that their survey showed that the “built-up area” of settlements constituted a mere .99% of West Bank land. (As for the 42% number, one often quoted by Palestinian advocates, it is pretty irrelevant. This is municipal jurisdiction – ie zoning, planning, responsibility for local road maintenance – over mostly empty land. This land can become part of a future Palestinian state essentially at the stroke of a pen.)”

Back to Phillips’ letter:

“The fact that a significant minority of Israelis, and many Jews here, vehemently oppose both that colonisation and Gaza’s slow strangulation, with the oppression and humiliation that attends them, only underlines the complete failure of western (particularly US and UK) diplomacy, replete as it is with double standards.”

Again, lots of emotive words with no facts to back any of them.  He does not even explain what double standards he is talking about.

Phillips continues:

“If the Israeli government were remotely interested in accommodation with Palestine, as opposed to its subjugation, they would long ago have ceased their annexation programme…”

Annexation program? The only area captured in 1967 that has been annexed is “East” Jerusalem, i.e. the part of Jerusalem that was originally home to thousands of Jews until they were expelled by the Jordanians in 1948.

The next letter on the page is from a Sylvia Cohen, who writes to express support for the boycott of Israel’s Habima Theatre (a bit late now that the boycott has been rejected). Again, Ms. Cohen has “form” on Israel with at least two previous letters in the Guardian, one rejecting any celebration of Israel’s birth, as the Jewish state was “founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people from their land.”

The third letter was written by Ernest Rodker. Again, Mr. Rodker is no ordinary outraged citizen. He is the UK spokesman for the Israeli man convicted of treason, Mordechai Vanunu.  (He can be seen here being interviewed by Iranian Press TV.)

His letter is a farrago of lies, exaggerations and outright propaganda. He writes:

“It is strange to read Daniel Taub, defending what he calls the voices speaking for peace against being boycotted, when he is representing and defending one of the most vindictive and oppressive governments in the Middle East.” [emphasis added]

While I’m not sure which human rights organizations have attempted to quantify Israel’s level of “vindictiveness”, the suggestion that the Jewish state is among the most oppressive in the region is simply risible. (See this report by Freedom House for a definitive analysis of Israel’s human rights record.) 

Rodker continues:

“Faced with thousands of Palestinians imprisoned for long periods without trial, many in their teens, assassinations of suspects not proven guilty, and appropriation of hundreds of acres of land through illegal evictions alongside the building of many illegal settlements, and all in the name of defending Israel, Taub’s comments are hardly credible.”

“Thousands of Palestinians imprisoned”? Wrong. Even B’Tselem has the number at 308. Assassinations of suspects not proven guilty? By “suspects” perhaps he’s referring to the targeted killing of terrorists in neighboring Gaza involved in the planning or execution of attacks against Israelis, a practice the U.S. has been using quite liberally to kill terrorists thousands of miles away from its shores, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The final letter is by Karl Sabbagh, a Palestinian-British writer, who comments:

[…] if Taub thinks that the boycotts of Israel have done “nothing at all”, why is he so exercised about them?

WhyBecause boycotts have a publicity appeal which have everything to do with delegitimization and nothing to do with practicalities.

Sabbagh goes on to list some companies who have withdrawn from collaboration with Israel under pressure from BDS groups, but the immediate victims of these boycotts and economic blackmail are the Palestinians themselves. If Sabbagh would ever come to Israel he would see that the trains (from which Deutsche Bahn were pressured to withdraw) are running (not on time, this is Israel after all), the electricity (from which Veolia was pressurized to withdraw) is humming and Israel’s economy continues to thrive.  The BDS-ers are certainly not having it all their way, as the site “Divest This!” explains.

Sabbagh concludes:

“Taub may say he is concerned on behalf of the Palestinians, but there are plenty of Palestinians – I am one of them – who cheer every victory of the boycott movement as a sign that there are limits to Israel’s power to have things its own way.”

He may claim proudly to be a Palestinian, but he lives in Britain and will not feel the effect of boycotts on himself or his family. He is ready to sacrifice his co-nationals on the altar of his radical-chic “right-on” mentality.

These four letters illustrate more clearly than any textual analysis the Guardian’s World View – showing Israel in the worst light possible, exaggerating every conceivable sin, and belittling Israel’s undeniable progressive and democratic advantages.

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