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20 MARCH 2009

Received by email on 20 March 2009:

Soldiers’ Accounts of Gaza Killings Raise Furor in Israel


JERUSALEM — In the two months since Israel ended its military assault on Gaza, Palestinians and international rights groups have accused it of excessive force and wanton killing in that operation, but the Israeli military has said it followed high ethical standards and took great care to avoid civilian casualties.

Now testimony is emerging from within the ranks of soldiers and officers alleging a permissive attitude toward the killing of civilians and reckless destruction of property that is sure to inflame the domestic and international debate about the army’s conduct in Gaza. On Thursday, the military’s chief advocate general ordered an investigation into a soldier’s account of a sniper killing a woman and her two children who walked too close to a designated no-go area by mistake, and another account of a sharpshooter who killed an elderly woman who came within 100 yards of a commandeered house.

When asked why that elderly woman was killed, a squad commander was quoted as saying: “What’s great about Gaza — you see a person on a path, he doesn’t have to be armed, you can simply shoot him. In our case it was an old woman on whom I did not see any weapon when I looked. The order was to take down the person, this woman, the minute you see her. There are always warnings, there is always the saying, ‘Maybe he’s a terrorist.’ What I felt was, there was a lot of thirst for blood.”

The testimonies by soldiers, leaked to the newspapers Maariv and Haaretz, appeared in a journal published by a military preparatory course at the Oranim Academic College in the northern town of Tivon. The newspapers promised to release more such anecdotal accounts on Friday, without saying how many.

The academy’s director, Dany Zamir, told Israel Radio, “Those were very harsh testimonies about unjustified shooting of civilians and destruction of property that conveyed an atmosphere in which one feels entitled to use unrestricted force against Palestinians.”

The revelations caused an immediate uproar here, with some soldiers and reservists saying they did not recognize the stories being told as accurate.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio that he believed such incidents to be exceptions, adding, “The Israeli Army is the most moral in the world, and I know what I’m talking about because I know what took place in the former Yugoslavia, in Iraq.”

It was clear that Mr. Zamir felt that his concerns, which he had raised earlier in a letter to the military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, had not been taken seriously and that was why he published the testimonies.

Since the war ended, others have raised similar questions, generating a heated debate within military circles.

“According to the code, a soldier has to do his utmost to avoid civilian casualties and that involves taking some risk,” said Moshe Halbertal, a Jewish philosophy professor at Hebrew University who, along with three others, rewrote the military ethics code eight years ago. “That is the question we have to struggle with. From the testimonies of these soldiers, it sounds like they didn’t practice this norm.”

Amir Marmor, a 33-year-old history graduate student in Jerusalem and a military reservist, said in an interview with The New York Times that he was stunned to discover the way civilian casualties were discussed in training discussions before his tank unit entered Gaza in January. "Shoot and don’t worry about the consequences,” was the message from the top commanders, he said. Speaking of a lieutenant colonel who briefed the troops, Mr. Marmor said, “His whole demeanor was extremely gung ho. This is very, very different from my usual experience. I have been doing reserve duty for 12 years, and it was always an issue how to avoid causing civilian injuries. He said in this operation we are not taking any chances. Morality aside, we have to do our job. We will cry about it later.”

Some 1,300 people were killed in the Gaza war, but how many of them were combatants remains a matter of controversy. Israel lost about 10 soldiers in Gaza, some because of fire by its own forces.

The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which has documented the Gaza deaths, says that about two-thirds of the 1,300 were civilians, among them 121 women and 288 children, which it defines as anyone 18 and younger.

But the Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Israel said Thursday that it had analyzed the Palestinian center’s names and found that some that it listed as civilians were identified as combatants on Hamas-related Web sites. Some listed as children were 17-year-olds with guns, it said, adding that more than 500 of those described by the center as civilians it considered “unknowns” because most were men of combat age whose activities could not be easily traced.

It argued that the proportion of women and children among the dead was relatively low, showing that Israel had not killed in an indiscriminate fashion.

Gur Rosenblat, a company commander during the Gaza operation, said in an interview: “To say that people were killed without justification — the opposite was true. We put soldiers at risk to prevent harming their civilians.”

Israeli experts noted that Palestinian women had served as suicide bombers in the past so that soldiers in Gaza did not always know when a woman was approaching whether she was a threat.

One of the soldiers’ testimonies involved the killing of a family. The soldier said: “We had taken over the house, and the family was released and told to go right. A mother and two children got confused and went left. The sniper on the roof wasn’t told that this was O.K. and that he shouldn’t shoot. You can say he just did what he was told.”

Much of what happened in Gaza, some military experts said, was in reaction to the way events unfolded in the second Lebanon war in 2006 when Hezbollah caused many Israeli casualties.

In that war, when Israeli soldiers took over a house, they sometimes found themselves shot at from a house next door. The result was that in Gaza, many houses next to those commandeered by troops were destroyed to avoid that risk.

Still, Israeli ethicists say they are troubled by what they have heard.

“Unfortunately, I think that selective use of killing civilians has been very much on the agenda for fighting terror,” said Yaron Ezrahi, a political scientist at Hebrew University who has been lecturing at defense colleges. “The army believes that a weak spot of Israeli deterrence is its strong commitment not to kill civilians, and there has grown the sense that it might have to temporarily overcome that weakness in order to restore deterrence.”

27 APRIL 2009

Received by email on 27 April 2009:

Breaking news....

Scotland today joined Ireland and South Africa when the Scottish Trade Union Congress, representing every Scottish trade union, voted overwhelmingly to commit to boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. This is the third example of a national trade union federation committing to BDS and is a clear indication that, while Israel can kill Palestinians with impunity and Western support, it has lost the battle for world public opinion. It is now seen to be a state born out of ethnic cleansing and still expanding through the violent dispossession of the Palestinian people.

Speaker after speaker expressed intense anger at Israel’s butchery of 1,300 Palestinians in Gaza over the New Year, as well as the much longer history of Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. The vote followed a visit to Israel/Palestine by an STUC Delegation in March which heard from a wide range of trade union and other bodies and returned with a unanimous recommendation that the parent body adopt BDS.

The STUC move to a position of BDS followed debate on the Delegation report with affiliated unions as well as consultations across Scotland. There were written and oral submissions from Zionist as well as human rights bodies.

The commitment to BDS was made despite aggressive lobbying by Zionist groups, including an absurd warning that a commitment to active support for Palestinian human rights would lead to attacks on Scottish Jews, and the parachuting into Scotland of the Histadrut’s Head of Communications from Israel.

The STUC’s new position is a dramatic breakthrough which has the potential to greatly accelerate the boycott campaign already underway in Scotland against, for example, Israeli companies and sporting or cultural visits. The Scottish Government earlier in the year yielded to public concerns and cancelled a trade delegation to Israel.

It will also make easier the task of building a mass boycott campaign across the land surface of Scotland, in every town and small community, in every supermarket and every sporting and cultural event.

Israel’s New Year mountain of corpses in Gaza, together with its frequent murder of unarmed civilians across Palestine was only the latest in a long series of Israeli massacres. We may be unable to stop the next one, but our job of building the sort of mass BDS campaign that can confront Israeli violence with a countervailing force has just become easier. An aroused world opinion is increasingly ready to ensure that all don’t die in vain.

We can only offer hope to the hard-pressed Palestinians that their freedom is coming, however long Israel and its allies work to delay it.

Speaking prior to the debate, STUC General Secretary, Grahame Smith, said: “The STUC General Council is recommending support for boycott and calls for sanctions against Israel because of its attacks on the human rights of Palestinian people and its breaches of international laws.

Mr Smith continued: “On our recent visit to Israel and Palestine we witnessed the human rights violations experienced by ordinary Palestinians on a daily basis. We saw how restrictions on movement and checkpoints prevent people from going to work, to school and to visit their families – even when they are sick and dying.”

“We heard powerful arguments from the Palestinian Human Rights Organisation, Al-Haq, outlining how Israel is in breach of the Geneva Conventions, and the need for other signatories to international laws to hold Israel to account.”

“Our delegation also met with the leadership of Israeli trade union centre, Histadrut, and the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions. The STUC has carefully considered the complex issues involved, and we believe that we have a moral obligation to show solidarity to Palestinian people.” Read full STUC Press Release

View the STUC General Council Recommendation on BDS passed at Congress today in Perth. The significant paragraphs are:

6.1 The General Council is recommending that Congress should take a position of:
* supporting boycotts and disinvestments against lsrael,
* calling for sanctions against lsrael,
* encouraging positive investments in the occupied territories.

6.6 The STUC acknowledges its relationship with both PGFTU and Histadrut and supports the development of a constructive dialogue between them. The STUC will explain its position on BDS to Histadrut, and will, over the next 12 months, raise with them Histadrut positions in relation to Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The STUC will review its relationship with Histadrut in this context.

Join the discussion - join the campaign!

Executive Member of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions: Manawel Abdelall speaking in Scotland this week.
Thursday 23 April, 7.30pm: Glasgow with Keith Hammond, BRICUP STUC building, 333 Woodlands Road Friday 24 April, 6pm: Edinburgh Augustine Church Centre, George IV Bridge

Join Scottish PSC- we are all volunteers with no paid staff - or make a financial donation to help us continue campaigning work:

Send a cheque to:
Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign
c/o Peace & Justice Centre
2 Princes Street
Edinburgh EH2 4BJ
SPSC is affiliated to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (UK)

17 May 2009

Received by email on 17 May 2009:

Edinburgh Film Festival Returns Israeli Sponsorship Money

Ginnie Atkinson, Managing Director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) has confirmed that EIFF will not be taking Israeli Embassy money to help fund the 2009 film festival. Atkinson was unwilling to admit EIFF was influenced by Scottish PSC, or by the protest emails the EIFF has received since Tuesday, and said that the decision was “a natural conclusion to having realised that we had made a mistake in the first place”.

Their decision follows the Scottish PSC call earlier today for a protest outside the Filmhouse in Edinburgh where the EIFF is based. Mention of the Israeli Embassy on the EIFF’s ‘Honour Board’ was removed after Atkinson and the EIFF admitted that “it was a mistake to accept the £300 from the Israeli Embassy”.

In response to the initial decision by the EIFF to accept Israeli government sponsorship British filmmaker, Ken Loach, called the festival and requested that they reconsider. When they refused, he issued the following statement:

“I’m sure many film makers will be as horrified as I am to learn that the Edinburgh International Film Festival is accepting money from Israel. The massacres and state terrorism in Gaza make this money unacceptable. With regret, I must urge all who might consider visiting the festival to show their support for the Palestinian nation, and stay away”

George Galloway also issued a statement demanding that the money be returned. It reads:

"If the film festival wants to continue to enjoy an outstanding international reputation it will not hesitate to return this tainted money to the Israeli embassy. I find it astonishing that a spokesperson for the festival accused those of us who want this money returned of ‘ghettoising’ film-makers. If there’s a prize for satire at the festival, contestants need to know that the result is a foregone conclusion. It is Israel that is herding the Palestinian people into the ghetto and, in the case of Gaza earlier this year, bombing to smithereens those it had taken the precaution to lock in. “If the festival does not do the right thing – morally, and commercially – then no self respecting artist or director should take part. Sense prevailed three years ago over this issue. I’m sure it will again.”

11 AUGUST 2009

Israel shooting demands questions

Andrew M Potts
Posted: Tuesday, 11 August 2009

A deadly shooting spree in a Tel Aviv gay youth centre has reminded the world that it is not just the Islamic parts of the Middle East where homophobia is rife.

Two were killed and another 15 wounded by a gunman in an unprovoked attack. In the days after, Israeli homophobes set up a Facebook group, “I hate gays too”, in direct reference to the shooting.

A poll conducted by Haaretz newspaper following the shooting found 46 percent of Israelis still believe homosexuality is “a perversion”. Only 42 percent said it was not.

It seems strange that this could happen in a country that recognises same-sex marriages performed abroad, that has gays serving openly in its military, and where same-sex couples may adopt. But such victories have come largely via the courts and the country’s parliament, the Knesset, is still home to many an outspoken homophobe.

And such MKs have a malicious support base — in 2006 ultra-Orthodox Jews (‘haredim’ in Hebrew) rioted in Jerusalem for days, protesting a planned Pride march, burning cars and street furniture and beating passers-by in an outbreak of violence that makes the Cronulla riots look like a minor street scuffle.

And while the killer’s identity remains unknown, haredim have been involved in two disgraceful acts in the last few days. On Thursday gay activists and a journalist with Israeli Army Radio were attacked by a mob in a haredi neighbourhood in West Jerusalem while putting up anti-homophobia posters about the killing, and a soldier with a haredi military unit is being held by police for for making online threats in relation to a rally held in response to the shooting in Tel Aviv on Saturday.

Yet that same rally was attended by President Shimon Peres and the education and culture ministers of the current right wing government. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have also spoken out — though much of the finger pointing has been at Netanyahu’s coalition partner, the religious Shas Party, whose MKs have in the past blamed gays for causing earthquakes and called homosexuality a disease.

Homophobia will continue to exist in Israel but if anything positive has come from this incident, it is that perhaps now a conversation has begun.

11 AUGUST 2009

Tel Aviv Horror

Written by Jo Tuesday, 11 August 2009

I am not aware of any GLBT organisation here formally even expressing condolences to those in Tel Aviv amidst the horrific homophobic murders that took place on the 1st of August.

If this is really the case, I am both appalled and ashamed to be part of what appears to be an increasingly parochial ‘me-first’ GLBT community Down Under.

I look forward to extensive coverage of this event of global significance to our community. Were this to happen in Australia we would expect support and solidarity from overseas, I have no doubt of that.

I think that Tzipi Livni’s speech should be made available to us all, as it is one of the most significant speeches against hatred by an Israeli or world leader, at a time of grief and suffering.

San Francisco is holding a memorial procession as I write this, and I have communicated directly to Gay Tel Aviv and expressed horror and solidarity.

I would ask that anyone with access to Facebook do the same.

South Australia

[Jo, this week we run a feature on the Tel Aviv murders – Ed.]

11 AUGUST 2009

City in shock

Written by Justin Rudzki
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Justin Rudzki reports from Tel Aviv in the wake of an attack on a gay community centre that left two dead.

Ask any local lad in the know and he’ll tell you that Saturday night here is all about Cheech Beach, an open air bar on the shores of the Mediterranean where the boys gather from about 11pm to see out the close of the weekend together.

Situated smack in the middle of the city’s main waterside promenade, its location characterizes a country where everything must coexist: there is little choice in Israel, a nation almost half the size of Victoria. In some areas this creates a tension that is palpable; in others, less so. On most days the average Tel Avivian will tell you that their metropolis is the place that does it best: one of those harmonious, multicultural melting pots that works.

The night of Saturday, August 1 was a very different tale.

The facts are already well known: as is par for the course in the modern age, within hours a local tragedy became front page news around the globe. At around 11pm on Saturday evening – the end of the weekend in a country that works Sunday through Thursday – a lone gunman entered one of the two community centres that service the gay community in Israel’s largest city and opened fire on gays and lesbians attending a weekly support group for teenagers.

Two died – Nir Katz, 24 and Liz Trobishi, 17. A further 15 were injured. For many, the incident was a forced coming out to the family members who were later notified of their condition.

Some four days on, the impact still looms large. The victims are struggling to come to terms with the enormity of what has happened to them; the perpetrator is yet to be found. The city is in shock. Even in this part of the world, where violence and terror are regular guests on the evening news, an event like this can shake people to their core.

Within hours, citizens who have uncomfortably familiar networks for spreading bad news swung into action. Modern technology became the bearer of bad news: text messages, internet, social networking sites. By midnight a group of local gays spearheaded an initiative to have as many as possible change their Facebook profile pictures in support of the victims.

Vanity gave way to a whole host of pride flag images adorned with black ribbons and memorial candles. By 8am the following morning, less than 12 hours after the city was ripped from its summer slumber, the work had turned to gathering support for a hastily convened rally.

At 4.30pm people began assembling on Rothschild, a leafy, tree-lined boulevard dominated in the middle by a pedestrian thoroughfare – a kind of year-round gathering place where locals sit on benches in deep conversation, ride bicycles, drink coffee and play Bocce. The Aguda building, scene of the prior evening’s sinister events, is tucked into a side street less than 50 metres away.

Shortly before the anointed start time the crowd had the appearance of a low level sit in. A core of passionate activists gathered chanting choruses of “In pride, without fear” and other emotionally charged catchphrases. By the time the official program of speakers got underway the gathering had shifted dramatically in form, its scale well and truly symbolizing a community and city mobilized. Traffic was forcibly stopped as the crowd spilled out, covering the boulevard from pavement to pavement.

A number of high profile politicians came to speak, including a former Education Minister and Israel’s only out gay Member of Parliament. And then there was Tzipi Livni. The charismatic National Opposition Leader addressed the crowd with a passionate conviction. In one of the most poignant commentaries of the afternoon she urged the community to see “this crime as a turning point” and expressed the hope that it might "give the strength to everyone in the gay community to live their lives …. give strength to a child to go to his parents and say: 'I am gay' or 'I am lesbian'.”

They spoke about the many things to be learnt from a tragedy like this. Strong voices that talked of how this event will mobilize the community; how we need to fight for more rights, more acceptance and a tolerance that runs deeper and ultimately permeates well beyond a few square inner city miles. Although borne of the desire to see something good ultimately come out of something so heinous, there is no denying the necessity of these calls to action. In addition to the demands for a better tomorrow, there is much talk on the street here about the things to remember and contemplate: like the young man and woman who lost their lives as the result of a brutal crime, the random and inexplicable nature of evil that sometimes rears its head in even the most civilized of societies, and some of the deeper prejudices those actions may or may not represent.

But when the shock wears off, one of the most important things will be for this city to not self-flagellate – to ensure it remembers the value of what it has managed to construct; that in the moments before and after the tranquility of that summer evening were shattered by a violent crime there were many symbols of a place that, on most days, provides a secure, accepting and free environment for gays and non-gays alike to live. There’s the open celebration of life in a beachside bar, a forum of support for the newest members of the community; the sort of people that would mobilize in an instant in support of their own, and a National Opposition leader who is willing to come out at a moment’s notice in support of a group whose mere existence often polarizes the electorate.

That in middle of one of the most troublesome regions in the world there exists a place like this is a reason for Tel Aviv to retain a sense of pride amidst all the work still to be done. Justin Rudzki is an Australian freelance journalist based in Tel Aviv.

Pictured: 1. An injured man is treated as he is brought into Ichilov Hospital. 2. A sister of Nir Katz mourns with his family. Photos: Getty Images


written by Jo Harrison , August 13, 2009

Thank you Justin for this moving article which conveys the horror and the pride. Much appreciated. Jo Harrison

19 AUGUST 2009

Empathy with Tel Aviv

Written by Michael Barnett & Colin Krycer
Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Dear Israeli Gay Youth,

This weekend we woke to the terrible news of the attack in the Tel Aviv gay youth centre. Unfortunately "random" hate violence is all too common in the world but what was most chilling about this particular attack was that it was targeted at gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) youth in their safe space. The attack was malicious and calculated. The damage was brutal. The scars will last forever.

It is imperative that the authorities seek down those responsible and make them face the full consequences of their actions. An example must be set that this is never to happen again. The government must ensure there is adequate legislation for all types of hate crimes, and specifically those against GLBT people.

The entire world is a poorer place as a result of this senseless attack.

Please accept our most sincere condolences for those who died in the attack and our best wishes for a speedy recovery for the people who were injured and traumatised.

Michael Barnett & Colin Krycer
Representatives of Aleph Melbourne – GLBT Jews

Tel Aviv shooting shocks Israel

Lyndon Barnett
Tuesday, 11 August 2009

An estimated 20,000 Israelis filled Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv last Saturday night in remembrance of those shot the week prior in the gay youth centre. An array of Israeli stars, including Dana International, performed at the memorial rally.

Israeli president Shimon Peres addressed the crowd. “The shots which struck this proud community affected us all as human beings, as Jews and as Israelis. The man who targeted the two victims targeted all of us… Everyone has the right to be different and proud… I came to share your tears after the death of two young innocents. Be strong and courageous,” he said.

Former Australian Project Runway contestant Oren Nuri returned to Israel last year to pursue a fashion career. He said Tel Aviv’s gay and lesbian community found support from each other to cope with the tragedy.

“It’s been crazy here. It was a complete shock. But it has been a fascinating and beautiful thing to see how the community here in Tel Aviv has responded. We help each other as one large group,” he said.

“We are essentially a minority inside a minority, so we must support each other, our bond is stronger.

“For the moment we offer respect to the people who’ve been killed. Many community members have changed their Facebook profile pictures to a pride flag and a single lit candle.” The blatant act of hate received world-wide coverage and sparked discussion in Israeli society, with many politicians quick to defend Israel’s equality credentials.

Openly gay MK Nitzan Horowitz told the Knesset, “I am a proud member of the gay community. I don’t know what went through the mind of the shooter or what was torturing his soul, but I do know one thing — the shooter wanted to hurt as many people as possible, just because they belonged to a certain social group.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “I would like to take this opportunity to say to all of Israel’s citizens: We are a democratic country, a country of tolerance, a law-abiding state, and we will honour every person regardless of his or her beliefs.”

In Sydney, Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins offered a special memorial prayer at last Friday night’s Shabbat service at the Emanuel Synagogue in Woollahra. In doing so he categorically rejected bigotry in all its guises.

Dayenu, Sydney’s Jewish GLBTI group, issued a statement saying, “there is still widespread prejudice in relation to GLBT issues and until our society is willing to work on getting to know those who are different to themselves, the world will not be a safe place for gays and lesbians — and all minority groups, Jews included.”

The shooting took many by surprise because the Mediterranean city of Tel Aviv is widely known for its acceptance of diversity.

“Ever since Dana International won Eurovision all the gay people in Israel have felt they had a place to go. Tel Aviv became a safe haven and as a result, internationally, Tel Aviv gained a reputation as a place for enjoyment without harassment. We have parties, clubs and beaches,” Oren told SSO.

“Broader Tel Aviv society has finally accepted diversity and then something like this happens.”



On Thursday 3 September 2009 I was made aware of a blog called “AJN Watch” whose purpose seems to be to ensure that the Australian Jewish News, otherwise known as the Israeli Zionist Times, keeps to the straight – as distinct from gay – and narrow – as distinct from progressive and all-embracing for the health and well-being of the Australian Jewish community.

In truth, I haven’t had such a good laugh in years! At least it would be a good laugh if, indeed, it wasn’t all too tragic. This homophobic talmud-loving claptrap is enough to cause young Jewish people having trouble with their sexuality to commit suicide, and this is NOT in the least funny!

It seems that one of their latest rantings is against Michael Barnett of Aleph and their attacks on him are such that they could be the ravings of any fascist or semi-fascist organization. Their abuse is much on the levels of what one expects from some of the journalists in the Herald Sun, the Daily Telegraph and the Australian, not to exclude some of the journalists and ex-politicians given house room in the Fairfax media.

In Nazi Germany they began by smearing people because they were Jewish and Jews were compared to vermin, rats running around the streets of Germany and as vermin, to be exterminated.

Smear is very easy to move from one sphere to another, so are these people who belong to a group of humans who were murdered because they were Jews not able to see the parallel to smearing people because they are homosexual and are therefore vermin and to be exterminated because they will contaminate Jewish society?

Is this sort of behaviour to be tolerated because it is about freedom of speech, or does it illustrate a violation of the human rights of others and should therefore be condemned?

These groups of people are the first to scream their heads off when holocaust deniers like Frederick Toben rear their nasty heads, but do the same to people who are gay because their “bible” says this is not permitted under Jewish law. There are other items in their “bible” which have do’s and don’t’s in them but as these contradict laws in modern society, they can’t be acted on. But homophobia is everybody’s game so it is to be played to the full!

The manifesto of this cowardly blogger is:

AJN Watch, Melbourne, Australia

AJN Watch observes & comments (mainly) on prejudice, misrepresentation and monopolistic abuse of power in the pages of the Australian Jewish News - especially regarding the observant community. The AJN is the main source of information to and about Australian Jewry and often aims to set the agenda and influence attitudes. It is this blog's mission to spotlight errors, expose misrepresentations and vigorously respond to items that malign or defame the Orthodox community.

No names are associated with this blog, so the brave soul or souls who run it haven’t got the courage of their convictions to expose themselves to scrutiny in the real world, yet have the cheek – chutzpah if you like – to sit in judgement on others.

The Australian Jewish News is a disgusting rag by anybody’s standards – their behaviour towards Jews who happen to be gay, lesbian, transgender or people living with HIV/AIDS has long been outrageous, and the option, which I exercised some years ago is to stop buying it.

It would be interesting to know by what standards this arrogant blog sets itself up to be judge, jury (or should that be Jewry) and executioner of the AJN when it puts itself above scrutiny by hiding with great cowardice under a blanket of anonymity!

Prejudice and misrepresentation are the hallmarks of which this blog is guilty and if they sit in judgement on others, others sit in judgement of them. They are just as bigoted and biased as any other rabid religious right-wing organization to which so many religions subscribe.

Thanks to Antony Loewenstein and Michael Brull for being the faces of those of us who do not succeed in getting into print because we are not well-known writers, or we are persona non grata with the media responsible for publishing items which are antithetical to zionism and judaism.

The following letter, published by Antony Loewenstein in his blog on Sunday 6 September 2009 appeared in the Sunday Age of the same date:

The Jewish community has no debate on Israel

Published by Antony Loewenstein
6 September 2009

The following letter by Michael Brull, blogger for Independent Australian Jewish Voices, appears in today’s (6 September 2009) Sunday Age:

Dvir Abramovich (”There are as many Jewish opinions as there are Jews”, 30/8) quotes approvingly some Jewish declaration that ”most communal roof bodies include a wide range of opinions”. [But] all major communal Jewish organisations support almost everything the Israeli Government does. They make no pretence at including alternative views, and actively seek to smear people who hold different views.

To give some examples, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry called Norman Finkelstein and Ilan Pappe anti-Semitic in their submission to the Senate on academic freedom. The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council’s Bren Carlill said I wanted to see the West Bank ”Judenrein” because I said settlements had a relation to the lack of peace.

The [B'nai B'rith] Anti-Defamation Commission privately wrote to New Matilda, urging them to stop printing articles criticising Israel, singling out two serial offenders: Antony Loewenstein and myself. We’re both Jewish.

Age readers should not fear that disbelieving Abramovich makes them anti-Semites. It means they take anti-Semitism more seriously than those who think it’s an easy way to win arguments.



Received by email on 4 September 2009:

Please send letter of support to:
His Excellency Mr Lars A WENSELL ,
Royal Norwegian Embassy, Canberra.

Norway to divest from Israeli arms firm involved in West Bank wall

Published yesterday (updated) 03/09/2009

Bethlehem – Ma’an – Norway has decided to divest from the Israeli arms firm Elbit over its role in the construction of the West Bank separation wall.

Norway's finance minister, Kristin Halvorsen, made the announcement at a press conference in Oslo on Thursday the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

In response, the Israeli Foreign Ministry summoned Norway’s ambassador, stating that "Israel will consider further steps of protest in the future."

Halvorsen said the decision was based on the recommendation of a Norweigan Ministry of Finance council whose role is to ensure that government investments abroad meet ethical guidelines, the Israeli newspaper stated.

"We do not wish to fund companies that so directly contribute to violations of international humanitarian law," Halvorsen was quoted as saying in a report on the Norwatch Web site.

Elbit manufactures a surveillance system installed on several parts of the separation wall.

Haaretz said the recommendation submitted by the Ministry of Finance council on ethics stated that it considered "the fund's investment in Elbit to constitute an unacceptable risk of complicity in serious violations of fundamental ethical norms."

The council was referring to a 2004 International Court of Justice ruling, stating that the wall represented a breach of international law.

The wall is, in reality, a network of walls, fences, and guard towers designed to stretch 700 kilometers through the interior of the West Bank. The barrier also severs Jerusalem from the surrounding West Bank, loops around settlements, and dissects Palestinian communities. Israel says the wall is intended to stop Palestinian attacks.

The Norwegian government has come under pressure from pro-Palestinian groups calling for divestment from firms involved in settlements, the wall, and other aspects of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

According to Haaretz, Norway's pension fund is invested in 41 different Israeli companies.

A research project by the Coalition of Women for Peace called "Who profits from the occupation" found that almost two thirds of those firms are involved in the development and construction of settlements in the West Bank, the newspaper said.


Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation

An Open Letter to the Toronto International Film Festival:

September 2, 2009

As members of the Canadian and international film, culture and media arts communities, we are deeply disturbed by the Toronto International Film Festival’s decision to host a celebratory spotlight on Tel Aviv. We protest that TIFF, whether intentionally or not, has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine.

In 2008, the Israeli government and Canadian partners Sidney Greenberg of Astral Media, David Asper of Canwest Global Communications and Joel Reitman of MIJO Corporation launched “Brand Israel,” a million dollar media and advertising campaign aimed at changing Canadian perceptions of Israel. Brand Israel would take the focus off Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and its aggressive wars, and refocus it on achievements in medicine, science and culture. An article in Canadian Jewish News quotes Israeli consul general Amir Gissin as saying that Toronto would be the test city for a promotion that could then be deployed around the world. According to Gissin, the culmination of the campaign would be a major Israeli presence at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. (Andy Levy-Alzenkopf, “Brand Israel set to launch in GTA,” Canadian Jewish News, August 28, 2008.)

In 2009, TIFF announced that it would inaugurate its new City to City program with a focus on Tel Aviv. According to program notes by Festival co-director and City to City programmer Cameron Bailey, “The ten films in this year’s City to City programme will showcase the complex currents running through today’s Tel Aviv. Celebrating its 100th birthday in 2009, Tel Aviv is a young, dynamic city that, like Toronto, celebrates its diversity.”

The emphasis on 'diversity' in City to City is empty given the absence of Palestinian filmmakers in the program. Furthermore, what this description does not say is that Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages, and that the city of Jaffa, Palestine’s main cultural hub until 1948, was annexed to Tel Aviv after the mass exiling of the Palestinian population. This program ignores the suffering of thousands of former residents and descendants of the Tel Aviv/Jaffa area who currently live in refugee camps in the Occupied Territories or who have been dispersed to other countries, including Canada. Looking at modern, sophisticated Tel Aviv without also considering the city’s past and the realities of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, would be like rhapsodizing about the beauty and elegant lifestyles in white-only Cape Town or Johannesburg during apartheid without acknowledging the corresponding black townships of Khayelitsha and Soweto.

We do not protest the individual Israeli filmmakers included in City to City, nor do we in any way suggest that Israeli films should be unwelcome at TIFF. However, especially in the wake of this year’s brutal assault on Gaza, we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann have all characterized as an apartheid regime.

This letter was drafted by the following ad hoc committee:

Udi Aloni, filmmaker, Israel; Elle Flanders, filmmaker, Canada; Richard Fung, video artist, Canada; John Greyson, filmmaker, Canada; Naomi Klein, writer and filmmaker, Canada; Kathy Wazana, filmmaker, Canada; Cynthia Wright, writer and academic, Canada; b h Yael, film and video artist, Canada
Endorsed By:

Ahmad Abdalla, Filmmaker, Egypt
Hany Abu-Assad, Filmmaker, Palestine
Mark Achbar, Filmmaker, Canada
Zackie Achmat, AIDS activist, South Africa
Ra'anan Alexandrowicz, Filmmaker, Jerusalem
Anthony Arnove, Publisher and Producer, USA
Ruba Atiyeh, Documentary Director, Lebanon
Joslyn Barnes, Writer and Producer, USA
Harry Belafonte, Musician/Actor, USA
John Berger, Author, France
Walter Bernstein, Screenwriter/Film Producer, USA
Dionne Brand, Poet/Writer, Canada
Daniel Boyarin, Professor, USA
Judith Butler, Professor, USA
David Byrne, Musician, USA
Noam Chomsky, Professor, USA
Julie Christie, Actor, USA
Guy Davidi Director, Israel
Na-iem Dollie, Journalist/Writer, South Africa
Igor Drljaca, Filmmaker, Canada
Eve Ensler, Playwright, Author, USA
Eyal Eithcowich, Director, Israel
Lynne Fernie, Filmmaker and Programmer, Canada
Sophie Fiennes, Filmmaker, UK
Peter Fitting, Professor, Canada
Jane Fonda, Actor and Author, USA
Danny Glover, Filmmaker and Actor, USA
Noam Gonick, Director, Canada
Malcolm Guy, Filmmaker, Canada
Rawi Hage, Writer, Canada
Anne Henderson, Filmmaker, Canada
Mike Hoolboom, Filmmaker, Canada
Annemarie Jacir, Filmmaker, Palestine
Gordon Jackson, Jazz Musician, South Africa
Fredric Jameson, Literary Critic, USA
Juliano Mer Khamis, Filmmaker, Jenin/Haifa
Bonnie Sherr Klein Filmmaker, Canada
Joy Kogawa, Writer, Canada
Paul Laverty, Producer, UK
Min Sook Lee, Filmmaker, Canada
Paul Lee, Filmmaker, Canada
Yael Lerer, publisher, Tel Aviv
Mark Levine, Professor, USA
Jack Lewis, Filmmaker, South Africa
Ken Loach, Filmmaker, UK
Arab Lotfi, Filmmaker, Egypt/Lebanon
Kyo Maclear, Author, Toronto
Mahmood Mamdani, Professor, USA
Fatima Mawas, Filmmaker, Australia
Anne McClintock, Professor, USA
Tessa McWatt, Author, Canada and UK
Viggo Mortensen, Actor, USA
Cornelius Moore, Film Distributor, USA
Yousry Nasrallah, Director, Egypt
Joan Nestle, Writer, USA
Rebecca O'Brien, Producer, UK
Pratibha Parmar, Producer/Director, UK
Anand Patwardhan, Documentary Film Maker, India
Jeremy Pikser, Screenwriter, USA
John Pilger, Filmmaker, UK
Shai Carmeli Pollak, Filmmaker, Israel
Ian Iqbal Rashid, Filmmaker, Canada
Judy Rebick, Professor, Canada
David Reeb, Artist, Tel Aviv
B. Ruby Rich, Critic and Professor, USA
Wallace Shawn, Playwright, Actor, USA
Eyal Sivan, Filmmaker and Scholar, Paris/London/Sderot
Elia Suleiman, Fimmlaker, Nazareth/Paris/New York
Eran Torbiner, Filmmaker, Israel
Alice Walker, Writer, USA
Thomas Waugh, Professor, Canada
Christian Wiener Freso, President – Union of Peruvian Filmmakers, Peru
Debra Zimmerman, Executive Director Women Make Movies, USA
Howard Zinn, Writer, USA
Slavoj Zizek, Professor, Slovenia
Posted by TIFF Open Letter at 11:00 PM


The Tel Aviv Party Stops Here

by Naomi Klein

This column was first published in The Nation ( © 2009 The Nation

When I heard the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was holding a celebratory "spotlight" on Tel Aviv, I felt ashamed of Toronto, the city where I live. I thought immediately of Mona Al Shawa, a Palestinian women's rights activist I met on a recent trip to Gaza. "We had more hope during the attacks," she told me. "At least then we believed things would change."

Al Shawa explained that while Israeli bombs rained down last December and January, Gazans were glued to their TVs. What they saw, in addition to the carnage, was a world rising up in outrage: global protests, as many as 100,000 on the streets of London, a group of Jewish women in Toronto occupying the Israeli Consulate. "People called it war crimes," Al Shawa recalled. "We felt we were not alone in the world." If Gazans could just survive, it seemed that their suffering could be the catalyst for change.

But today, Al Shawa said, that hope is a bitter memory. The international outrage has evaporated. Gaza has vanished from the news. And it seems that all those deaths-as many as 1,400-were not enough to bring justice. Indeed, Israel is refusing to cooperate even with a UN fact-finding mission headed by respected South African judge Richard Goldstone.

Last spring, while Goldstone's mission was in Gaza gathering devastating testimony, the Toronto International Film Festival was making the final selections for its Tel Aviv spotlight, timed for the Israeli city's hundredth birthday. There are many who would have us believe that there is no connection between Israel's desire to avoid scrutiny for its actions in the occupied territories and the glittering Toronto premieres. I am sure that Cameron Bailey, TIFF's co-director, believes that himself. He is wrong.

For more than a year, Israeli diplomats have been talking openly about their new strategy to counter growing global anger at Israel's defiance of international law. It's no longer enough, they argue, just to invoke Sderot every time someone raises Gaza. The task is also to change the subject to more pleasant topics: film, arts, gay rights-things that underline commonalities between Israel and places like Paris, New York and Toronto. After the Gaza attack, as the protests rose, this strategy went into high gear. "We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits," Arye Mekel, deputy director-general for cultural affairs for Israel's Foreign Ministry, told the New York Times. "This way, you show Israel's prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war." And hip, cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, which has been celebrating its centennial with Israeli-sponsored "beach parties" in New York, Vienna and Copenhagen all summer long, is the best ambassador of all.

Toronto got an early taste of this new cultural mission. A year ago, Amir Gissin, Israeli consul-general in Toronto, explained that the "Brand Israel" campaign would include, according to a report in the Canadian Jewish News, "a major Israeli presence at next year's Toronto International Film Festival, with numerous Israeli, Hollywood and Canadian entertainment luminaries on hand." Gissin pledged, "I'm confident everything we plan to do will happen." Indeed it has.

Let's be clear: no one is claiming the Israeli government is secretly running TIFF's Tel Aviv spotlight, whispering in Bailey's ear about which films to program. The point is that the festival's decision to give Israel pride of place, holding up Tel Aviv as a "young, dynamic city that, like Toronto, celebrates its diversity," matches Israel's stated propaganda goals to a T. Gal Uchovsky, one of the directors in the spotlight, is quoted in the festival catalog saying that Tel Aviv is "a haven [Israelis] can run away to when they want to forget about wars and the burdens of daily life."

Partly in response, Udi Aloni, the wonderful Israeli filmmaker whose film Local Angel premiered at TIFF, sent a video message to the festival, challenging its programmers to resist political escapism and instead "go to the places where it's hard to go." It's ironic that TIFF's Tel Aviv programming is being called a spotlight, because celebrating that city in isolation - without looking at Gaza, without looking at what is on the other side of the towering concrete walls, barbed wire and checkpoints - actually obscures far more than it illuminates. There are some wonderful Israeli films included in the program. They deserve to be shown as a regular part of the festival, liberated from this highly politicized frame.

It was in this context that a small group of filmmakers, writers and activists, of which I was a part, drafted The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration Under Occupation. It has been signed by the likes of Danny Glover, Viggo Mortensen, Howard Zinn, Alice Walker, Jane Fonda, Eve Ensler, Ken Loach and more than a thousand others. Among them is revered Palestinian director Elia Suleiman, as well as many Israeli filmmakers.

The counterattacks-spearheaded by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the extremist Jewish Defense League - have been at once predictable and inventive. The most frequently repeated claim is that the letter's signatories are censors, calling for a boycott of the festival. In fact, many of the signatories have much-anticipated films at this year's festival, and we are not boycotting it: we are objecting to the Tel Aviv spotlight portion of it. More inventive has been the assertion that by declining to celebrate Tel Aviv as just another cool metropolis, we are questioning the city's "right to exist." (The Republican actor Jon Voight even accused Jane Fonda of "aiding and abetting those who seek the destruction of Israel.") The letter does no such thing. It is, instead, a simple message of solidarity, one that says: We don't feel like partying with Israel this year. It is also a small way of saying to Mona Al Shawa and millions of other Palestinians living under occupation and siege that we have not forgotten them.

This column was first published in © 2009 The Nation(

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, now out in paperback. Her earlier books include the international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies; and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002).


The following two articles were received by email from Jewish Voice For Peace - in the USA:

Fighting the Lies- Toronto International Film Festival

A Blizzard of Lies

This fact sheet is a response to the campaign of disinformation being waged against the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) protest letter, "The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation,” [1] signed by 1,000 people including Viggo Mortenson, Danny Glover, Naomi Klein, Harry Belafonte, Wallace Shawn, Eve Ensler, Jane Fonda along with many Israelis and Palestinians. This year, TIFF decided to put a celebratory spotlight on Tel Aviv at the festival, in line with the goals of the Israeli Consulate’s “Brand Israel” program. In its own words, the “Brand Israel” program aims to publicize Israeli culture in order to distract public attention from its human rights record. The letter of protest objects to this politicization of the film festival, saying it is inappropriate given Israel’s nearly 42-year occupation of the Palestinian Territories, the recent assault and continuing siege on Gaza, and the history of and ongoing dispossession of Palestinians in Tel Aviv-Jaffa itself.

Since the release of the protest letter, public figures and media outlets have spread false charges and misinformation about the letter, some even going so far as to raise slanderous accusations against some letter signers.

This fact sheet refutes three key false charges:

1) That the protest letter unfairly singles out Israel.
2) That the letter calls for a boycott of the Film Festival and Israeli films.
3) That the letter in any way delegitimizes Tel Aviv.

These charges are all false, as we explain below.


By selecting Tel Aviv for the inauguration of its City to City program, TIFF became a key player in an explicit, openly-stated Israeli effort to divert world opinion from ongoing violations of international law. “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theatre companies, exhibits,” Arye Mekel, deputy director-general for cultural affairs for Israel's Foreign Ministry, told The New York Times. “This way, you show Israel's prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.” [2]

In so doing, TIFF violated the trust of festival supporters by politicizing the festival, instead of maintaining political neutrality.

Israel's flirtation with branding as a solution to the problem of increasing global isolation goes back to 2006 when then Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni announced the new initiative. As Reuters reported in 2006 [3] :

"After decades of battling to win foreign support for its two-fisted policies against Arab foes, Israel is trying a new approach with a campaign aimed at creating a less warlike and more welcoming national image. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who has argued that the protracted conflict with the Palestinians is sapping Israel's international legitimacy, this week convened diplomats and PR executives to come up with ways of “rebranding” the country. ..The campaign is a departure from the government's long-held practice of "hasbara", or "explaining" itself to Western audiences that may have little sympathy for crackdowns on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Now Israel wants to create an alternative image abroad, focused exclusively on assets like tourist attractions and business innovations. In the words of one campaigner and ad executive, the aim would be to create "a narrative of normalcy".

When Anholt Nation Brands Index included Israel for the first time [4] in its annual survey of national brands in 2006, Simon Anholt wrote that "Israel's brand is, by a considerable margin, the most negative we have ever measured in the NBI, and comes in at the bottom of the ranking on almost every question." He surmised that the surprisingly low rankings in all areas, including Tourism, and Culture and Heritage, were due to the fact that "if the politics create sufficient disapproval, no area of national interest is safe from contamination."

While he lauded Israel for recognizing its brand problem, which stemmed largely from disapproval of its harsh treatment of Palestinians, he cautioned that no country had ever successfully changed its brand through through "marketing communications and forms of deliberate propaganda." "This is surely because," he wrote, "all countries, at some level, get the reputation they deserve."

Nonetheless, Israel has continued with the program, as reported in the New York Times [5], treating global opprobrium as a PR problem rather than a human rights problem. This strategy was explicitly linked to TIFF when Israel consul general Amir Gissin announced the launch of a 10-month branding campaign[6].

“Upon his posting to Canada last year, Gissin made it clear that his mission was to “make Israel relevant” to Canadians and use Toronto as a test market for the Israel brand during his term. The lessons learned from Toronto will inform the worldwide launch of Brand Israel in the coming years, Gissin said." He also announced that "plans are in the works for a major Israeli presence at next year’s Toronto International Film Festival, with numerous Israeli, Hollywood and Canadian entertainment luminaries on hand."


"The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation" clearly does not call for a boycott. "We do not protest the individual Israeli filmmakers included in City to City," it states, "nor do we in any way suggest that Israeli films should be unwelcome at TIFF." In fact, TIFF has a long history of including Israeli filmmakers in the festival without protest. One of the letter’s drafters is Israeli filmmaker Udi Aloni, whose film Fallen Angel had its premiere at TIFF. One of the protest letter-signers is Palestinian citizen of Israel filmmaker Elia Suleiman whose film, The Time that Remains, is featured in this year's festival.

What the signers do object to, particularly given Israel's widely condemned 22-day military assault on Gaza this past winter, "is the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign," and in particular, the singling out of Israel for special reward through the celebratory spotlight on Tel Aviv.

Choosing not to make a specific demand, the letter aims instead to call attention to a more accurate history that reflects the stories of both Jews and Palestinians in the region. The letter's signers are "disturbed" by the decision to celebrate Tel Aviv in a way that erases the complex history of the city and the ongoing dispossession of and attacks on Palestinians, none of which is even mentioned in festival programs and descriptions of the City to City celebration of Tel Aviv.

Despite the fact that the letter does not contain a specific call to action, many groups and media outlets repeat the same lie over and over again about a so-called call for a boycott. One has to ask, have they actually read the letter? Clearly not.

Alan Dershowitz, “Filmmakers and writers seek to censor Israeli film,” Jerusalem Post
"A group of hard-Left filmmakers and writers from around the world have been using their celebrity to try to coerce the Toronto International Film Festival into banning Israeli films....That is why they seek to close it to views different than theirs. "Speech for me but not for thee!," is the age-old mantra of censors." Bnai Brith
“Several prominent names in the film industry, including Jane Fonda, Danny Glover, and about 50 others, signed a petition to boycott the Toronto International Film Festival because of the event’s focus on Tel Aviv-based film makers.” Israel Today
Hollywood stars boycott film festival for focusing on Tel Aviv: «Hollywood heavyweights Jane Fonda and Danny Glover have joined a very vocal boycott of the 2009 Toronto Film Festival, which will focus this year on Tel Aviv and its film industry.» Talk show host Dennis Prager:
«They have a Toronto film festival and some of the people who have made films that are there have pulled out because they are showing Israeli films... and they have asked them not to... a group of actors, authors, musicians and activists is circulating a letter of protest about a special program at the Toronto Film festival focusing on Tel Aviv and Israeli culture. The letter which has been endorsed by the likes of, ready?... Naomi Klein, Jane Fonda, and Danny Glover ... Of all the countries in the world that should not be allowed to show a film at a festival. It's Israel.» Gossip Blogger Perez Hilton
“Stars Boycott Toronto Film Festival Due To Israeli-Palestinian Conflict!” (Perez column is source for Ha'aretz coverage)

These reports fail to mention, of course, that the letter has been signed by Israeli filmmakers like Udi Aloni, Elia Suleiman, Ra'anan Alexandrowicz, Rachel Leah Jones, Osnat Trabelsi, Eyal Sivan, Shai Carmeli Pollak, Eran Torbiner, Guy Davidi, Avi Hershkovitz, and Eyal Eithcowich. These filmmakers obviously are not advocating that they be boycotted. They are speaking out against their government’s use of art to cleanse its international image.


Nothing in the letter can, in any way, be understood as saying or even suggesting that Tel Aviv should not exist as a city. The festival programmers have described Tel Aviv as “a young, dynamic city that, like Toronto, celebrates diversity.” In response, the letter points to facts left out of this description, including the well-documented fact that Palestinians lived on the land that is now Tel Aviv before it was founded.

What the letter does talk about is Tel Aviv's history, and referring to established history no more challenges Tel Aviv's legitimacy than the telling of history of any city or state. What it does is ask is that we recognize that the story of Tel Aviv, like that of Israel itself, is complicated by the fact that Palestinians lost their homes, villages and land to make way for the modern Israeli city, and that the loss of homes continues in Jaffa today.

Further, many of the false charges against the letter stem from the claim that it refers to Tel Aviv as “contested.” This is pure fabrication. Read the letter[7]. The word “contested” does not appear.

As Naomi Klein, one of the drafters of the declaration said, "Asserting historical facts in no way argues that Israel should not exist or calls for its destruction. That is an absurd claim that is being circulated with the express purpose of discrediting the letter and changing the topic from what is at hand: is this really the right year for TIFF to celebrate Tel Aviv? The reason we object to the spotlight is not past events but present day ones -- for instance, the fact that Tel Aviv, far from being outside the conflict, is the military center of Israel, a place from which fighter jets departed on their missions to Gaza last December/January.”

Finally, many of the false charges against the letter stem from a statement made not by the letter-writers but rather by TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey, who, as TIFF co-director, is most decidedly not a co-signer of the protest letter. Indeed, Cameron Bailey was lauded by Stand With Us for standing by the City to City program. He who used the term "contested" to describe Tel Aviv, saying in an open letter,, that spotlighting Tel Aviv was "not a simple choice and that the city remains contested ground."

Yet once again, numerous sources have continued to repeat the outright fabrication that the TIFF protest letter questioned Tel Aviv's legitimacy. It did not. Rabbi Marvin Hier went so far as to absurdly charge all signers of the letter with seeking the destruction of the Jewish state. Further, though the letter says people like Archbishop Tutu have called Israel an apartheid state, it does not use the language directly.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, Simon Wiesenthal Center "… this is nothing less than a call for the complete destruction of the Jewish State. There can be no other interpretation when the legitimacy of Tel Aviv is called into question." Rabbi Hier’s statement is the most egregious use of this misinformation, but the advocacy group StandWithUs and the news outlet the Jewish Telegraphic Agency repeated it, too. Stand With Us Fact sheet on "The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation,"
«Tel Aviv is not “contested” ground. No proposed peace agreements ever envisioned including Tel Aviv, Israel’s second largest city, in a future Palestinian state.» Jewish Telegraphic Agency "Danny Glover, Jane Fonda and Alice Walker have a problem with a Toronto film festival celebrating Tel Aviv, which they call "contested ground" governed by an "apartheid regime”
______________________________________________________________________ About Jewish Voice for Peace Founded in 1996, Jewish Voice for Peace is a national grassroots peace organization dedicated to promoting a US foreign policy in the Middle East based on peace, democracy, human rights and respect for international law. With some 85,000 supporters and members, JVP’s board of Jewish American and Israeli advisors includes Pulitzer and Tony award winner Tony Kushner, actor Ed Asner, poet Adrienne Rich, historian Howard Zinn, singer Ronnie Gilbert as well as other respected rabbis, artists, scholars and activists. [1] "The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation." [2] Ethan Bronner, "After Gaza, Israel Grapples With Crisis of Isolation," New York Times, March 18, 2009, [3] Dan Williams, “Don't mention the war: Israel seeks image makeover,” Reuters, October 26, 2006, [4] News agencies, “A country with a bad reputation,” Ynet, November 22, 2006,,7340,L-3331279,00.html [5] Ethan Bronner, "After Gaza, Israel Grapples With Crisis of Isolation," New York Times, March 18, 2009, [6] Andy Levy-Alzenkopf, “Brand Israel set to launch in GTA,” Canadian Jewish News, August 28, 2008, 7]


Setting the record straight: Response to historical distortions, TIFF

Setting the record straight: a JVP response to fabricated and misleading history being used to attack the Toronto Declaration, the letter signed by over 1,000 artists and filmmakers protesting the Toronto International Film Festival’s choice of Tel Aviv for a celebratory spotlight.


"Stand With Us," a US-based right wing Israel advocacy organization, says, “The Toronto Declaration is filled with misinformation, distortions, and lack of context.“ In fact, it is the Stand with Us “fact sheet” that is filled with misinformation and outright fabrications of history. We’ve consulted with historians to get to the bottom of Stand With Us claims.


"Tel Aviv was not built on “destroyed Palestinian villages.” It was built on empty sand dunes outside of Jaffa in 1909. Its population soared, especially in the 1920’s and 1930’s in part because the sizeable Jewish population of Jaffa moved to Tel Aviv when Arab violence against Jews erupted in 1920, 1921, 1929, and 1936 to 1939. In the 1921 Jaffa riots, 47 Jews were murdered and 146 wounded."


Tel Aviv was founded on land that was anything but empty.

The few dozen acres on which the modern city was founded in 1909 had a long history of land use and hundreds of owners over the centuries. The first Tel Aviv neighborhood was built on land bought for the Jewish settlers, in a sale that European consuls had to force Ottoman officials to allow because many of the owners objected to and continued to contest for many years.

Since that first land purchase, Tel Aviv has grown into a large city, expanding onto land annexed from the surrounding Arab villages. In fact, the Israeli human rights group Zochrot has documented 7 Palestinian villages on which Tel Aviv is built: Shaykh Muwannis, Summayl, Jammasin al-Gharbi, al-Manshyyah, Salama, Abu Kabir, Fishermen Village, and Irsheed. (For larger version of Zochrot's map, to the left, click here. The original built-up portions of the villages are in orange, the surrounding areas would have included related farmland. Village names are in the upper right corner.)

Today Tel Aviv ranges from Jaffa & Bat Yam in the south, Ramat Hasharon in the north, and, to the east, past the Ayalon highway and into the high rise office district. The entire region on which Tel Aviv has spread was in use in pre-state Palestine as farmland and villages; it was some of the most fertile land in the area. It was precisely the fertility and the economic growth occurring in the Jaffa region that made it the perfect place to establish Tel Aviv.

What happened to the villages on which Tel Aviv was built? ?They were depopulated and either destroyed or repopulated with Jews. Tel Aviv annexed land from all the villages surrounding it. The ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from these villages is well documented. It's not a secret. In some cases, it's even celebrated. The Irgun, the pre-state Jewish militia, has its museum in a confiscated Arab home near the beach in what was Manshiyya, a mixed Jewish- Arab neighborhood on the border of Jaffa and Tel Aviv that was attacked and mainly destroyed by the Irgun in 1948.

The Irgun's website describes the attack in detail, as does Menachem Begin in his book on the history of the Irgun. Both describe the Irgun's attack on Jaffa and its surrounding areas in April 1948, before the evacuation of the British. The Irgun lobbed mortar shells into Jaffa and blew up houses in Manshiyya. Much of the Palestinian population of Jaffa fled in terror. The attack on Jaffa and subsequent fleeing of its inhabitants was an important domino in frightening urban Palestinian Arabs into leaving pre-state Palestine / Israel in 1948. (The Irgun website:; Begin's book: _The Revolt: Story of the Irgun, published by Steimatsky in 1951; a picture of the Irgun museum is here: These attacks don't excuse Palestinian attacks on Tel Aviv, which also occurred. But they do make it clear that the Jewish militias committed themselves to conquering Jaffa and the surrounding region and claiming the land for themselves.

Much of Tel Aviv University is built on the ruins of the destroyed village of Sheikh Muwannis. Prior to its destruction, about 2,000 people lived in the village, which had more than 200 houses and two elementary schools, one for boys and one for girls. In March, 1948, the Irgun violated an agreement between the village and the Haganah and infiltrated the village, kidnapping five of the village leaders. This act inspired the flight of not only residents of this village but from many Palestinians in the surrounding coastal plain. This sequence of events, too, is well documented: Benny Morris describes it in _The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949_, published in 1987 by Cambridge University Press.

Regarding the riots of 1920, 1921, 1929, and 1936 to 1939: each of these events is embedded in a more complicated and complex history than the phrase 'Arab violence against Jews' allows. Each case includes a multitude of factors and forces, including the British colonizers and their different strategies for holding power, different Arab forces vying for control, and Jewish groups competing with each other. It is not, and has never been, enough to tell the story of Arab-Jewish conflict as a simple aggressor-victim relationship. We recommend a few books dealing with these topics: Mark LeVine, Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv, and the Struggle for Palestine, 1880-1948 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2005) and Zachary Lockman, Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1906-1948 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1996).

One has to wonder: why are American Jews denying what Israeli Jews willingly acknowledge? The city of Tel Aviv is built in good measure on destroyed Palestinian villages and the conquest of Jaffa.


"Arab residents were not “exiled” from Jaffa in 1948. Arab and Palestinian leaders launched a war against the Jewish community after rejecting the 1947 UN Partition Plan which would have peacefully divided sovereignty in the land between Arabs and Jews. Arab Liberation Army forces took control of Jaffa and systematically shelled Tel Aviv. 20,000 of Jaffa’s 70,000 Arab residents, including notables and other civic leaders, chose to leave the city even before any fighting had begun. Despite Israel’s urgent plea that they remain, the others also left in panic when the battle for Jaffa escalated in April 1948, hoping that they would return once Arab forces vanquished Israel. The British helped them evacuate. Only 4,000 to 5,000 remained. Today, Jaffa’s Arab population is 20,000."


This telling of history is pure propaganda and simply misleading. The majority of Palestinians in Jaffa fled when the city was shelled repeatedly over the course of several days. Fleeing one's home to escape indiscriminate mortar attacks, and being barred from returning afterwards --that is, indeed, being exiled. Moreover, the claim that "Israel" offered an "urgent plea that they remain" is not true; Ben Gurion's own words in his diaries make that entirely clear. Jaffa was attacked before the state was established, before the British evacuated, in order to establish 'facts on the ground.' (_The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949_, page 95 of the 1987 version.)


"Israel did not “exile” Palestinians from the three villages into which Tel Aviv expanded as its population soared. Like the Jaffa residents, they chose to evacuate to escape the fighting as the war escalated."


As in the examples of the village of Sheikh Muwannis and the city of Jaffa, Palestinians from the villages into which Tel Aviv expanded fled their homes in fear of their lives. The pressing issue is not whether they were forced out literally at gunpoint - as in Lydda or Ramle - or fled after hearing about a nearby massacre or village occupied by Jewish troops. More important is the acknowledgment that like some 750,000 other Palestinians from throughout the land that is now Israel, they became refugees when the state of Israel was established. Israel then prevented them from returning to their homes, which was a right to which they were entitled under international law. These Palestinians lost their land and homes, which were confiscated by the new state. And they continue to fight for the recognition of their history, which is being denied even today.

None of this history "delegitimizes" the city of Tel Aviv, but it does put its history and present reality – including continued rampant discrimination against the city's Palestinian residents – in proper perspective, which the Jewish leaders criticizing our efforts refuse to do. Two films in the Toronto International Film Festival, Jaffa and Ajami, address this painful reality. Yet the TIFF's City to City program spotlightight Tel Aviv makes the violent history of Tel Aviv-Jaffa invisible. To that we object.

Many major cities are built through conquest or built by slave labor (important parts of Washington DC, including the White House) or processes of dispossession that are regarded as morally unacceptable in the 21st century. Tel Aviv is no different. Part of becoming “legitimate” entails acknowledging this past and making amends for it.


Israel has not caused the suffering of Palestinian refugees. Israel has no control over how they are treated in Lebanon, Syria, Canada or elsewhere. With the exception of Jordan, Arab countries had an inflexible policy after 1948 of refusing to resettle refugees in order to use them as a weapon in the propaganda war against Israel and to demand a right of return that would destroy Israel demographically. None of the other 40 million refugees between 1945 and 1958 have made such demands. All have been resettled."


The establishment of the state of Israel was catastrophic to Palestinian society. 85% of Palestinians living in what became the state of Israel were made into refugees, exiled from their homes and lands. (Badil: Many were settled in refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon and Syria, and others became internal refugees inside of Israel, where they made lives in new communities, cut off from their original property. To this day, Israel refuses to allow Palestinians access to their homes or lands, in contravention of 4th Geneva Convention, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and UN Resolution 194.

We are concerned with the ongoing suffering caused directly by Israel, such as by the excruciating siege on Gaza, the brutal assault there in December-January 2009, and the continued dispossession of Palestinians from their homes in Jaffa. Jaffa has been targeted for settlement by ultra-nationalist Jews, many of whom are supporters of the settler movement or former settlers themselves, who aim to "Judaize" the mixed city. This scheme comes part and parcel with the simultaneous displacement of Palestinian residents from the city.

Businesspeople, too, are facilitating 'urban redevelopment' in Jaffa, which is continuing the displacement of the Palestinian population of Jaffa, who don't have the financial means to withstand these forces of gentrification and, too, have nowhere else to go. Jaffa residents, like other Palestinian citizens of Israel, have faced systematic and institutionalized discrimination, such as restrictions on employment and subpar educational facilitaties, that have kept them at an economic disadvantage. For more on the Judaization of Jaffa/displacement of Palestinians in Jaffa, see and


When Israel did administer the West Bank and Gaza, it brought freedom and prosperity to the residents, including the refugees who live in UN camps run by UNRWA. The Territories became the 4th fastest growing economy in the world in the 1970’s and 1980’s. When Israel tried to improve the refugee housing in the UNRWA camps, the PLO and the UN denounced these efforts.


The idea that Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza might bring the Palestinian inhabitants of those areas "freedom" shows just how farfetched and fantastical this version of reality is.

Israel's 42 year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is indefensible. Don't take our word for it; read Israel's own scholars, journalists, human rights activists and even former Shabak chief Ami Ayalon, who warned against the occupation turning into apartheid.


Israel has already absorbed and resettled over 600,000 refugees from the 1948 War: the Jewish refugees from Arab countries. In the wake of the 1948 War, over 850,000 Jews were forced out of Arab countries where some had lived for millennia.


The fate of the Jews of Arab origin is not at issue here. What is at issue is the denial of Israel's responsibility for causing the mass exodus of Palestinians from their homes before, during and after the establishment of the state of Israel.


Israel did not commit a “brutal assault” on Gaza. Hamas, the Iranian proxy that calls for the murder of Jews, the “obliteration” of Israel, and its replacement with a Taliban like theocracy, had launched 7,000 rockets and mortars at civilians in Israel’s southern communities since Israel’s total withdrawal and uprooting of settlements in Gaza in 2005. Israel was acting in self-defense, and upheld the most stringent standards of combat. "I don't think there's ever been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF is doing today in Gaza." British Colonel (ret.) Richard Kemp, BBC TV News, Jan. 18, 2009.


Human rights groups ranging from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, to Palestinian groups like Al Haq and Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, and Israeli groups like B'tselem and Gisha, all have produced reports condemning Israel's illegal use of collective punishment, including the use of disproportionate force. There is simply no other word than "brutal" for the assault on Gaza, which killed nearly 1,400 people. According to B'tselem, more than half of those killed were civilians, including more than 300 children and minors. Breaking the Silence, the Israeli group of present and former soldiers, published a report that used soldiers testimonies to substantiate claims that phosphorous was used to target civilians; human shields were deployed; and civilians, at times, selectively targeted.

Gaza residents were already the victims of multiple injustices. They have endured the ongoing illegal blockade of Gaza, which has barred badly needed food, medical supplies and goods from entering the area; and many are refugees, including many from Jaffa, who have been forced over the decades to fl their homes more than once.


Israel is the opposite of apartheid South Africa, even according to Jimmy Carter. Apartheid was a legal system of discrimination, segregation and domination based on race. Israel, like the United States, has a legal system based on equal political and civil rights for all. The Palestinians are not Israeli citizens, and wish to have their own state. Today, they have their own government, the Palestinian Authority, and are governed by its legal system.


Israel's legal protections for civil rights are indeed laudable, but consistently violated as Palestinian citizens don't enjoy full equality or the privileges afforded to Jewish citizens. Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are subject to the legal protections of international law, which Israeli regularly flaunts.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are not governed by their own legal system. They do not have a government but rather a political authority that functions only at the mercy of the state of Israel, which intervenes whenever it wants and controls every meaningful aspect of the Palestinian economy and territory. Jewish settlers are governed by Israeli laws -- and receive Israeli privileges -- but the Palestinians living down the road (on whose private land many settlements have been built) live under military occupation, without equal rights or access to justice. Indeed, the West Bank is full of roads open only to Israeli citizens, closed to Palestinian residents of the West Bank. Hundreds of Israeli checkpoints are scattered throughout the West Bank and the Israeli military enters Palestinian cities, towns and villages at will. In short, Israel's occupation defines life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

__________________________ Fact sheet prepared with the assistance of Soraya Kaufman; Professor Mark Levine, UC Irvine; and Professor Joel Beinin, Stanford.
Mark Levine is the author of Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv, and the Struggle for Palestine, 1880-1948 (2005).
Joel Beinin is the author of The Dispersion Of Egyptian Jewry: Culture, Politics, And The Formation Of A Modern Diaspora (1998)
__________________________ About Jewish Voice for Peace

Founded in 1996, Jewish Voice for Peace is a national grassroots peace organization dedicated to promoting a US foreign policy in the Middle East based on peace, democracy, human rights and respect for international law. With some 85,000 supporters and members, JVP’s board of Jewish American and Israeli advisors includes Pulitzer and Tony award winner Tony Kushner, actor Ed Asner, poet Adrienne Rich, historian Howard Zinn, singer Ronnie Gilbert as well as other respected rabbis, artists, scholars and activists.

For more information, contact : Jewish Voice for Peace?1611 Telegraph Ave., Suite 550; Oakland, California 94612 ph: 510 465 1777 x4 | fx: 510 465 1616

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 1

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 2

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 3

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 4

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 5

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 6

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 7

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 8

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 9a

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 9b

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 10

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 11

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 12

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 13

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 14

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 16

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 17

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 18

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 19

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 20

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 21

Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 22



Mannie's blogs may be accessed by clicking on to the following links:

MannieBlog (from 1 August 2003 to 31 December 2005)

Activist Kicks Backs - Blognow archive re-housed - 2005-2009

RED JOS BLOGSPOT (from January 2009 onwards)

Page updated 17 APRIL 2014 and again on 26 OCTOBER 2016

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