US listing of BDS as anti-Semitic sparks freedom-of-speech debate

US listing of BDS as anti-Semitic sparks freedom-of-speech debate
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a joint statement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. (AP)
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Updated 23 November 2020

US listing of BDS as anti-Semitic sparks freedom-of-speech debate

US listing of BDS as anti-Semitic sparks freedom-of-speech debate
  • Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel officially rejects anti-Semitism
  • American attorney: ‘To equate BDS and anti-Zionism as a whole with anti-Semitism is just factually wrong’

NEW YORK: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to list the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel as an anti-Semitic organization has reignited a ferocious debate over what constitutes anti-Semitism, and where the line should be drawn regarding freedom of speech.

Kenneth Stern, an American attorney and director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate, called Pompeo’s move “unproductive and troubling.”

Stern told Arab News: “Even though the BDS movers and shakers are clearly anti-Zionist, there are many organizations that support it because they’re concerned about Israel’s control of the West Bank. So to equate BDS and anti-Zionism as a whole with anti-Semitism is just factually wrong.”

Pompeo directed the State Department’s envoy on combating anti-Semitism “to identify organizations that engage in or otherwise support” BDS.

This has raised fears that Palestinian and international human rights groups that Israel accuses, rightly or wrongly, of supporting BDS could be denied US funding.

Though a self-identified Zionist, Stern considers the creation of a blacklist of groups that are highly critical of Israeli policy and society as problematic.

“That’s not how you deal with political differences, by creating a hard and fast rule that takes on all types of protest and dissent and says it’s a hateful one. In fact, it’s not,” he said.

But Harley Lippman, president of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP), could not agree more with Pompeo.  

“BDS is an international movement to bring Israel to its knees,” Lippman told Arab News. “They’re not just criticizing Israeli policies. They're putting in place something that, if the nations of the world cooperated, could destroy Israel.”

Critics say BDS represents a hindrance to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by rejecting the right of the Jewish state to exist and shunning bridge-building efforts on the grounds that they “normalize” Israel.

“All these claims were created by right-wing politicians because none of them are true,” Miko Peled, an Israeli-American activist, told Arab News.

“The demands of BDS are very, very clear: Ending the military occupation, equal rights for Palestinians and all the people who live in historic Palestine, and the right of refugees to return to their land and homes,” he said. 

“These aren’t demands to hurt or expel anyone. They’re remedial, to remedy the reality in which Palestinians exist as a result of the creation of the state of Israel.”

Peled was born and raised in Jerusalem by a “very Zionist family, as Zionist as you can imagine.”

His grandfather signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence, his father was a general in the army, and many of his uncles were ambassadors.

But a journey into Palestinian territories made him come out “to support the struggle for justice and liberty in Palestine.”

He discovered “a narrative that I wasn’t told, that Israelis were kept away from,” and chronicled it in his book “The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine.”

Peled said: “The Palestinians in Palestine live under a brutal apartheid regime, subjected to racist laws and a police state that makes their life impossible.”

He believes that Pompeo’s move to brand BDS as anti-Semitic is based on a false premise: “That opposing and rejecting Israel and Zionism is racist, where in fact the opposite is true. Opposing Zionism is opposing racism and anti-Semitism. But they (Israel’s supporters) flipped it around. Now they perpetuate this myth everywhere.”

The US House of Representatives passed a resolution opposing BDS last year, and several American states have enacted similar laws.

Some of those laws have been struck down, however, for violating the First Amendment regarding freedom of speech.

A survey released last year showed that one in five Americans approved of BDS as a means of opposing Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.

“In campus after campus around the world, students are supporting BDS,” said Peled. “Is it bringing the collapse of the Israeli economy? Of course not. But these things take time. It’s about awareness. More and more people are aware that buying something that’s made in Israel is wrong.”

But Lippman, a longtime member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), said BDS is actually backfiring.

“All it does is galvanize people around Israel. We see ourselves threatened by this, so it ends up motivating us to do more for Israel and defend it more,” he said.

Despite pullouts from Israel by some companies, foreign investment in the country is booming. Israel relies less on exporting commodities than intellectual property such as software, which makes it harder to boycott.

“Israel, while it’s the most powerful nation in the Middle East, is also the most fragile. The fact that its economy is booming despite BDS doesn’t diminish the sinister, prejudiced nature of what they’re trying to do,” Lippman said.

“It’s like saying, ‘There’s a Nazi party in the US but they’re not hurting Jews right now, so what’s the problem?’ Well, not yet. But we all know the Nazi ideology. We know that their goal would be to murder all Jews,” added Lippman, whose family lost 86 members during the Holocaust.

Stern, author of “The Conflict over the Conflict,” which tackles the Israeli-Palestinian debate on college campuses, said: “I understand the desire in parts of the Jewish community and the evangelical community, that there’s one Jewish state and to target it and question its right to exist is a manifestation of anti-Semitism. I get why they want to push that.

“But I worry about the flip side of that. We’re implying in legal terms the idea that anti-Zionism is always anti-Semitism. It’s going to have a negative impact on the ability of Palestinians and others to make their cases. I may not be agreeing fully with their case, but they certainly have a right to make it.”


Turin industrial area to host Islamic cultural center

Turin industrial area to host Islamic cultural center
Updated 6 sec ago

Turin industrial area to host Islamic cultural center

Turin industrial area to host Islamic cultural center
  • The facilities ‘will be open to all the citizens of Turin,’ including a major exhibition room

ROME: A huge disused industrial area in Turin, one of the biggest cities in northern Italy, will soon host a large Islamic cultural center with a mosque.

The city council sold the former Nebbiolo complex on Tuesday for just over €1 million ($1.1 million). This large area in the “Motown” industrial zone, very close to the old Fiat car workshops, now belongs to the Italian Islamic Foundation “Al-Waqf,” which already runs the Mohammed VI mosque on via Genova in the center of the city.

The Nebbiolo workshop, formerly an iron foundry, had been left abandoned for several years. Production in this old-fashioned industrial site ended in the 1970s due to a financial crisis.

The City Council bought it, but it took a long time before Turin Mayor Chiara Appendino decided for a new destination of use for the area, which will now finally come into a new life.

Half of the surface of the site (equal to 5,322 sq m) will be developed into residences for students with reduced rates.

The City Council Foundation and Al-Waqf formally agreed that it will be open to undergraduate and postgraduate students “from any university and institute,” without restrictions on access linked to religion.

The rest of the property will host an Islamic cultural center where courses and recreational and cultural activities will be organised, “for the promotion of knowledge of Islamic culture among Italian citizens,” Al-Waqf said in a statement.

The center will be run in coordination with another that was inaugurated in 2013 in via Genova, the first place of worship for Muslims opened in the city.

Activities such as language courses, seminars, public meetings, open debates and visits to Islamic places of worship will be organized in various reading and meeting rooms. The facilities “will be open to all the citizens of Turin,” including a major exhibition room. 

The ground floor of the structure, which overlooks the iconic Corso Novara street, will be used as a prayer and meeting room.

“Recovering a space that had been abandoned for years with a nice project linked to the university residence, study rooms, spaces for associations and prayer spaces is an excellent result for the city and for the neighbourhood,” Antonino Iaria, city planning councilor of the Municipality of Turin, told Arab News.

Turin already hosts 15 mosques. Nearly 60,000 Muslim live in the city and half of them hail from Morocco.


Shots fired at Ukraine presidential aide’s car in assassination bid

Shots fired at Ukraine presidential aide’s car in assassination bid
Updated 22 September 2021

Shots fired at Ukraine presidential aide’s car in assassination bid

Shots fired at Ukraine presidential aide’s car in assassination bid
  • More than 10 bullets hit the car near the village of Lesnyky, around 5 kilometers outside the capital Kiev, wounding the driver

KIEV: A volley of shots was fired at a car carrying Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s principal aide on Wednesday in what a senior official called an assassination attempt.
More than 10 bullets hit the car near the village of Lesnyky, around 5 kilometers outside the capital Kiev, wounding the driver, a police statement said. It said a criminal case on suspicion of premeditated murder had been opened.
A local television station said at least 19 bullet holes could be seen on the driver’s side of the car.
A senior lawmaker said the aide, Serhiy Shefir, was not hurt. Shefir is close to the president, leading a group of advisers.
Zelenskiy, who came to power on a promise to take on the country’s oligarchs and fight corruption, is currently in the United States at the UN General Assembly.
His office said Zelenskiy had been informed and would comment shortly.
Zelenskiy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the assassination attempt could be a result of the president’s fight against the oligarchs.
“This open, deliberate and extremely violent assault with automatic weapons cannot be qualified any differently than as an attempted killing of a key team member,” Podolyak told Reuters.
“We, of course, associate this attack with an aggressive and even militant campaign against the active policy of the head of state,” Interfax Ukraine quoted Podolyak as saying.
“The president’s policy aimed at fundamental transformation of the state will remain unchanged,” he said, promising tougher measures against oligarchs.
Parliament is this week due to debate a presidential law directed on reducing the influence of oligarchs.


Pakistan FM urges Taliban to keep its promises to international community

Pakistan FM urges Taliban to keep its promises to international community
Updated 22 September 2021

Pakistan FM urges Taliban to keep its promises to international community

Pakistan FM urges Taliban to keep its promises to international community
  • Taliban seem more ‘open-minded’ than last time they were in power, Qureshi tells briefing attended by Arab News
  • ‘Pakistan hasn’t been recognized for what we’ve done (to help the US)’

WASHINGTON: The Taliban should respect international opinion and keep their promises to have an inclusive government and not allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorist groups, Pakistan’s foreign minister told reporters in New York at a briefing attended by Arab News.

“It would be a positive step for the Taliban to include ethnic Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara groups in their government,” said Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who is attending the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.

The Taliban seem to be more “open-minded” than the last time they were in power in the 1990s, he added, calling for reconciliation and respect for human rights, including women’s rights.

“If the Taliban can demonstrate these objectives, it will be positive (for Afghanistan),” Qureshi said. “We believe that the reconciliation process in Afghanistan can’t be completed without the formation of a united government.”

He said the international community should allow Afghanistan to access its frozen assets abroad in order to alleviate its people’s suffering.

The international community, he added, can help stabilize Afghanistan politically and economically, and create an environment where its people do not have to flee and become refugees in neighboring countries.

Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghan refugees for decades without international assistance, Qureshi said, adding that Islamabad’s strategic interest lies in a united Afghanistan that will not allow India to use it as a base to “destabilize” his country.

He said Pakistan seeks to recalibrate its relationship with the US based on trade, economic ties and fostering political stability in the region in the aftermath of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

Bilateral ties should transcend the situation in Afghanistan, he said, adding that Pakistan helped and sided with the US in its “war on terror” after the 9/11 attacks, and facilitated American troop movements and logistics during its war in Afghanistan over the past two decades. “Pakistan hasn’t been recognized for what we’ve done (to help the US),” Qureshi said.

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Two Taliban among three killed in Jalalabad attack

Two Taliban among three killed in Jalalabad attack
Updated 22 September 2021

Two Taliban among three killed in Jalalabad attack

Two Taliban among three killed in Jalalabad attack
  • The attack in Jalalabad city is the latest on Taliban targets in Nangarhar province
  • Islamic State-Khorasan claimed responsibility for several weekend attacks in Jalalabad

JALALABAD: Two Taliban fighters and a civilian were killed Wednesday by gunmen who attacked a checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan, security sources and witnesses said.
The attack in Jalalabad city is the latest on Taliban targets in Nangarhar province, which for years was the main operating base of the Daesh group’s Afghanistan chapter.
A security source and witnesses said unidentified gunmen in a rickshaw attacked a checkpoint in Ghawchak district of Jalalabad and killed two Taliban guards and a civilian bystander.
A Taliban official confirmed the attack, but said the dead were all civilians.
In another incident, local residents said that two Taliban fighters were injured while trying to defuse an improvised explosive device in Jalalabad.
Further details were not immediately available.
Islamic State-Khorasan, the local branch of the militant group, claimed responsibility for several weekend attacks in Jalalabad that killed at least two people.
They were the first deadly blasts since the last US forces withdrew from Afghanistan on August 30.
IS-K also claimed responsibility for a bloody attack that killed more than 100 people at Kabul airport at the end of August.
Although both Daesh and the Taliban are hard-line Sunni Islamist militant groups, they differ on the issues of religion and strategy, which has led to bloody fighting between the two.


Philippines’ Duterte vows accountability for anyone who went ‘beyond bounds’ in drug war

Philippines’ Duterte vows accountability for anyone who went ‘beyond bounds’ in drug war
Updated 22 September 2021

Philippines’ Duterte vows accountability for anyone who went ‘beyond bounds’ in drug war

Philippines’ Duterte vows accountability for anyone who went ‘beyond bounds’ in drug war
  • Human Rights Watch accuse Duterte of trying to mislead the international community into believing his government was investigating unlawful killings

UNITED NATIONS: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday that anyone found to have “acted beyond bounds” in his campaign against illegal drugs would be held accountable under national laws, while appearing to reject an International Criminal Court probe.
Duterte told the United Nations General Assembly he had instructed the justice ministry and police to review the conduct of the campaign, in which more than 6,100 suspected drug dealers have been killed since 2016. Activists say many thousands more, mostly users or small-time peddlers, were killed by mystery gunmen.
“Those found to have acted beyond bounds during operations shall be made accountable before our laws,” Duterte said in a video address to the annual gathering that drew criticism from rights groups.
Human Rights Watch accused Duterte of trying to mislead the international community into believing his government was investigating unlawful killings, noting that out of thousands of drug war killings only one case had resulted in a court conviction.
In a statement, Carlos Conde, Senior Philippines Researcher at Human Rights Watch, said what the public had got instead was “more propaganda and stonewalling by the authorities.”
Duterte made no mention of a formal investigation into possible crimes against humanity, which was approved by judges from the International Criminal Court last week, although he appeared to reject outside interference in human rights issues.
“We have recently finalized with the United Nations our Joint Program on Human Rights. This is a model for constructive engagement between a sovereign Member State and the United Nations,” he said.
“Meaningful change, to be enduring, must come from within. The imposition of one’s will over another – no matter how noble the intent – has never worked in the past. And it never will in the future.”
Duterte’s government said last week it will not cooperate with the ICC or allow any investigators into the Philippines. Duterte and his police chiefs have said the killings were in self-defense and his government has insisted the ICC has no right to meddle in the country’s affairs.
Rights groups say Duterte personally incited deadly violence in the drug war and accuse police of murdering unarmed suspects on a massive scale. Rights group say the police summarily executed suspects, which the policy deny.
In February, the Philippine police said they were looking into a government review of the killings after the justice minister made an unprecedented admission to the United Nations of widespread police failures.
In his speech, Duterte also said the Philippines would welcome an unspecified number of Rohingya Muslim refugees who had fled violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
The justice ministry had been ordered to work with the UN High Commissioner on Refugees to make preparations, he said.
“The Philippines has limited resources during these extraordinary times. But what we can do for humanity and to uplift human dignity, we will,” Duterte said.