Saturday, July 12, 2014

Israel loses a battle Down Under

AS Israeli bombs and missiles rain on Gaza, Israelis with nothing better to do take their ringside  seats in supposedly endangered Sderot to applaud, and Knesset members who should be in a different kind of secure institution clamour for a war of extermination.

In Israel itself, as well as around the world, there are demonstrations. Among those on the London protest today, with a banner calling for Palestinian freedom, were a fairly new group called Young Jewish Left, some of whose families could have been counted on to back 'Israel Right or Wrong' in the past.

If  Bibi Netanyahu and those competing to be more warlike think they can ignore such voices, they may soon learn otherwise. Even the US State Department, having seen the peace talks it sponsored collapse with nothing achieved, has warned Israel that it may be facing a tidal wave of boycott and sanctions.

I've not been an uncritical supporter of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) myself, especially not when people keep talking about them in initials, which I suspect can mean we are talking among ourselves like a cult, and not communicating with the uncommitted, nor thinking how and when to apply each tactic so as to be both justified and effective.

But I've no doubt that boycott as such is a legitimate and reasonable tactic to adopt, whether to put pressure on Israeli institutions or simply to express one's repugnance at what the Israeli state is doing. And as people look for something alse to do after writing letters and going on demonstrations I can see more and more looking for such means.

That's why a court case in Australia has highly topical importance. I'm grateful to blogger Asa Winstanley and the Electronic Intifada website for bringing it to our attention.

Back in October an Israeli group called Shurat HaDin, misleadingly claiming to be a human rights group, brought a case to an Australian court against an associate professor  called Jack Lynch of the University of Sydney.

Lynch had refused to endorse a fellowship application from Dan Avnon of the Hebrew University, because of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions and their links to the Occupation and the military.

He explained the academic boycott strategy: “to withhold cooperation from fellowship schemes which represent institutional links between our university and these two Israeli universities which therefore make us [in Sydney university] indirectly complicit in the occupation.”

Since there was nothing to prevent the Israeli candidate from applying to others to endorse his application, and Jack Lynch was simply exercising his own choice, one might of thought that was up to him. But Shurat HaDin took the Australian academic to the Australian federal court, claiming his stance was discrimination, and motivated by racism against Jews. So the issue was not whether Dan Avnon had been unfairly treated but whether it was illegal to apply or advocate a boycott at all.

Australian Jewish institutions which are not normally that critical of Israel thought this was not the way to oppose the boycott, and said it was a bad move. Jack Lynch was able to point to other occasions when he had worked with Jewish and Israeli colleagues, so could not be accused of general prejudice. Sure enough, in April, the court struck out most of the case.

And now those bringing the case have withdrawn. Jack Lynch says this shows the boycott is "fireproof".

.Shurat HaDin are not just some naive independent outfit who happened to make a mistake. As Asa Winstanley points out:

A US State Department memo published by WikiLeaks shows the group’s leader Nitsana Darshan-Leitner admitting to taking a lead from Mossad, Israel’s international spy agency, notorious for dirty tricks campaigns and for assassinations of Palestinian activists, political leaders and fighters.

Shurat HaDin has been been heavily involved in Israel’s strategy of using global courts to attack critics of Israel – dubbed “lawfare.”
But as Jack Lynch says, the case had “completely backfired” on Shurat HaDin, which had gone around leading politicians touting the so-called London Declaration Against Anti-Semitism, and getting them to sign up that BDS activism was antisemitic.

In a statement to the press, Lynch said the final collapse of the case against him represented a “complete vindication for the principled stance I have taken in fighting off a despicable attack on political freedom in Australia.”

Now Australian academic unions which had been worried about the legal implications can feel free to back members who engage in a boycott. Meanwhile the judge must decide on how to recover some of the costs of the case, and Jack Lynch is hoping he can be reimbursed. 

For my part, remembering the time-honoured history of boycotts, from the origins of the word in Ireland , through those of Nazi Germany and South Africa, I am glad that a shameful attempt to hide the power of a brutal occupier behind the rights of individual Jews has been rebuffed. Had Shurat HaDin succeeded it might have damaged the Palestinian people but it would most certainly have harmed the Jews.

If Shurat HaDin is really close to the Israeli  "intelligence" services our verdict must be "Misguided by Mossad"!

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