To Prison, Again, for Protesting Against Israel’s Colonial Rule

Israeli activist Jonathan Pollack pens a powerful Op-Ed in Haaretz on his arrest, putting into context his act of solidarity with Palestinians who face altogether different circumstances than his own.

The Ofer military prison near the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 2, 2009.
The Ofer military prison near the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 2, 2009. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Jonathan Pollak, Haaretz, Jan 07, 2020

I am currently detained in an Israeli jail, the result of refusing to attend or cooperate with criminal charges laid against me and two others for joining Palestinian protests in the West Bank against Israel’s colonial rule. Because I am an Israeli citizen, the proceedings in the case are held in an Israeli court in Jerusalem and not at the military court, where Palestinians are tried.

>> Police arrest left-wing activist Jonathan Pollak in Haaretz building

It has been almost nine years since the last time I was incarcerated for more than a day or two. Much has changed since. Politically, reality does not even resemble that of a decade ago, and none of the changes were for the better.

Politically, the world seems to have lost much of its interest in the Palestinian struggle for liberation, placing Israel at one of the historical peaks of its political strength. I am in no position to discuss the profound changes within Israeli society and how even farther to the right it has drifted. Israeli liberals are much better suited for such a task, because they hold their country dear and feel a sense of belonging that I cannot feel and do not want to feel.


Jonathan Pollak at Hermon Prison in 2011. (Yaron Kaminsky)

Personally, I am older, more tired and, mostly, not as healthy as I was. Of course, the price I have paid for my part in the struggle is a fraction of that paid by Palestinian comrades, but I cannot deny its subjective weight on me: from physical injuries, some irreversible, through sporadic despair, anxiety and sense of helplessness, to the encumbering sensation of loss and the presence of death – and the grip all these have on my day-to-day life. And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Right now, just as it was back then, sitting in prison is better than any other alternative available to me.

The legal fallacies that riddle the case against us are of little significance. While it is fair to assume that had I agreed to cooperate, the trial would have ended up with an acquittal, my refusal to recognize the court’s legitimacy is based on two main grounds.

The first is that my Palestinian comrades do not enjoy the luxury of being tried in the relatively comfortable conditions of the Israeli courts. Rather, they are tried as subjects in the parody of a legal system that are Israel’s military courts. Unlike me, Palestinians do not have the option of refusing to cooperate with their captors, since the vast majority of them are tried while remanded into custody for the duration of their proceedings.

Additionally, the punishment Palestinians are faced with is significantly harsher than that specified in Israeli law. Thus, in this regard as well, despite refusing to recognize the court’s legitimacy, the price I am likely to pay is significantly lower than that paid by my comrades.

The second, more fundamental ground to refuse to cooperate is that all Israeli courts, military or otherwise, lack any legitimacy to preside over matters of resisting Israeli colonial rule, which employs a hybrid regime, ranging between a distorted and racially discriminatory democracy in its sovereign territory and a flat-out military dictatorship in the occupied territories.

Faced with the tremendous shift to the right in Israeli politics, the shrinking remnants of the Zionist left – once the country’s dominant elite group – are consumed by lamenting the decline of Israeli democracy. But what democracy is it they wish to defend? The one that has dispossessed its Palestinian citizens of their lands and their rights? The one that, at best, views these Palestinian citizens as second-class? Perhaps it is the democracy that governs the Gaza Strip through vicious siege while it reigns as a military dictatorship in the West Bank?

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Trump strategy to stifle campus organizing for Palestinian rights


UNC-Chapel Hill Students for Justice in Palestine, December 24, 2012. (Photo: Facebook)

Josh Ruebner, Mondoweiss, December 12, 2019

President Trump signed yesterday an Executive Order empowering the federal government to crack down on campus organizing for Palestinian rights under the guise of combating antisemitism. 

“This is our message to universities: If you want to accept the tremendous amount of federal dollars that you get every year, you must reject antisemitism,” Trump stated during a White House Hanukkah reception which doubled as a signing ceremony.

But Trump’s Executive Order has nothing to do with combating the scourge of antisemitism, the revival of which he is greatly responsible for by stoking white supremacy. Instead, it is primarily designed to pressure universities to disallow students to boycott for Palestinian rights. 

This aim, however, is not self-evident in the text of the Executive Order, which omits any reference to Israel, Palestinians, or BDS. The true intent of Trump’s action is obfuscated in a brief mention that government agencies “shall consider” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism and its associated contemporary examples of antisemitism in determining whether Jewish people have had their civil rights violated under Title VI of Civil Rights Act.

To be clear, the federal government should ensure that the civil rights of all religious minorities are upheld. And, also to be clear, what the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism describes, along with many of its contemporary examples, are unambiguously and unimpeachably anti-Jewish bigotry.

However, some of the IHRA’s examples of antisemitism touching upon criticism of Israel are problematic. These include “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” and “applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

These vague and subjective examples are designed to be flexible enough to cover large swaths of First Amendment-protected free speech. For example, campus Zionist groups could argue that Jewish students’ civil rights are being violated if a Students for Justice in Palestine chapter advocates for a single, democratic state in which indigenous Palestinians would have equal rights to Jewish Israelis; hosts an academic panel deconstructing Israel’s foundational racist policies and laws; or organizes a campus boycott of Israeli goods to protest Israeli governmental policies without simultaneously and with equal vigor organizing boycotts against every other single country in the world with a parliament.

While the text of the Executive Order requires this background knowledge to understand its real impact, the Trump administration’s dubiously entitled “fact sheet” accompanying the order necessitates no such digging. 

Immediately under a bullet point noting “horrific acts of violence against Jewish Americans and synagogues in the United States,” the Trump administration oh-so-subtly pivots to a smear campaign against “18 Democrat [sic] Members of Congress [who] cosponsored legislation in support of the anti-Semitic ‘Boycott, Divest, Sanctions’ (BDS) movement,” claiming they “shockingly compared support for Israel to support for Nazi Germany.”

In fact, the resolution in question, H.Res.496, introduced by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), reaffirms in general terms the First Amendment right of people to engage in boycotts and maintains that “Americans of conscience have a proud history of participating in boycotts to advocate for human rights abroad,” including “boycotting Nazi Germany from March 1933 to October 1941 in response to the dehumanization of the Jewish people in the lead-up to the Holocaust.” 

These aptly-named bullet points are the quintessence of the Trump administration’s weaponization of antisemitism and its concomitant Islamophobia.

It is worth noting that the president resorted to this Executive Order only because a similar legislative effort has stalled in Congress due to First Amendment concerns. The order mirrors the misleadingly-named Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which is currently languishing in committee and has failed to pass previous congressional sessions.

It is also important to acknowledge that Trump’s Executive Order was not issued on a whim but as the culmination of a deliberate strategy to stifle campus organizing for Palestinian rights. On the campaign trail, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman menacingly pledged that “the Trump administration will ask the Justice Department to investigate coordinated attempts on college campuses to intimidate students who support Israel.” And the FBI has dutifully responded by siccing its agents on students who would threaten the supply of Sabra hummus in cafeterias. 

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Tell Donald Trump to Stop Using Jews to Shut Down Free Speech

After a week of antisemitic speech, today Donald Trump is signing an executive order to withhold money from college campuses that tolerate “anti-Israel” movements

As a Jewish college student, I know that Trump’s order isn’t meant to keep me safe – it’s meant to silence human rights advocates and, in particular, Palestinian and Muslim students.

Students who speak out against the occupation on college campuses are already targeted and censored. At the University of Michigan, where I go to school, Palestinian students know that sharing their stories publicly might mean being added to shady online blacklists or labelled antisemites.

Now Trump wants to crack down even further on campus free speech, and he’s doing it under the pretense of protecting us.

Trump’s executive order is meant to create a culture of fear for people who fight for Palestinian rights and freedom. The more who speak out against him today, the harder it will be for him to succeed. Will you add your name to our petition condemning Trump’s attacks on free speech in our name?

Criticizing Israel’s military occupation is not antisemitic. In a time of rising and deadly antisemitism, Jews need to be loud and clear eyed about what fighting for our safety means.

Trump cannot be trusted to define antisemitism for us. He incites deadly white nationalist violence against our community. He calls us disloyal. When speaking to American Jews, he refers to Israel as “your country” because he believes we do not really belong here. This Executive Order will not protect our community from Trump’s white nationalism or the violent threats we face.

IfNotNow is standing up for Jewish safety in solidarity with Palestinians, Muslims, and everyone targeted by white nationalist violence. Together, we will fight antisemitism and white nationalism, claim the right to speak for ourselves, and fight for the freedom and dignity of all Israelis and Palestinians.

Today that means condemning in the clearest possible terms Donald Trump’s dangerous Executive Order attacking free speech. Will you add your name to our petition rejecting Trump’s order now? The more people who speak out, the harder it will be for him to silence us, or our allies.

Let’s be loud.

Becca Lubow
IfNotNow Michigan

Join us in court and defend the right to boycott in Olympia, Washington

Center for Constitutional Rights, October 21, 2019

Join us in court tomorrow in Olympia, Washington, as Center for Constitutional Rights Deputy Legal Director Maria LaHood argues in our case Davis v. Cox defending former volunteer board members of the Olympia Food Co-op in their decision to boycott Israeli products in line with the co-op’s mission and long history of encouraging social justice.

Courts dismissed the lawsuit against our clients in 2012, 2014, and 2018, yet the plaintiffs have continued to pursue the case in an attempt to chill free speech and punish support for Palestinian human rights. We will continue to argue that the lawsuit brought against our clients is illegal and should be dismissed.

Learn more on our case page.

Revealed: rightwing push to ban criticism of Israel on US campuses

Documents seen by Guardian show fresh attack on university debate under the guise of prohibiting antisemitism


Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu in 2017. First amendment advocates see the potential spread of such laws as a major threat to free speech on campuses. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

Ed Pilkington, The Guardian US, 17 Oct 2019

Rightwing activists are attempting to spread new laws across Republican-controlled states that would ban criticism on public university campuses of Israel and its occupation of Palestinian territory.

Pro-Israel and conservative lobbyists are encouraging state lawmakers to outlaw antisemitism in public education, from kindergarten through to graduate universities. But the proposed definition of antisemitism is so wide that, in addition to standard protections against hate speech towards Jews, it would also prohibit debate about the human rights violations of the Israeli government.

First amendment advocates see the potential spread of such laws as a major threat to free speech on campuses.

Among the activities that would be prohibited by the new laws are human rights investigations focusing specifically on Israel. Also banned would be any speech “demonizing Israel by … blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions” or “delegitimizing Israel by … questioning Israel’s right to exist”.

The push began at a conference in August held by the American Legislative Exchange Council, Alec, a conservative network which has a long history of propagating rightwing policies at state level through model bills. The group, dubbed a “bill mill”, has spearheaded attacks on trade unions, opposition to Obamacare, voter suppression measures and legislation blocking efforts to address the climate crisis.

The meeting at Alec is disclosed in emails obtained under a freedom of information request by David Armiak, research director for the watchdog Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and shared with the Guardian. They show that several Republican state lawmakers joined pro-Israeli lobbyists in Austin, Texas, to discuss disseminating new restrictions on speech relating to Israel on campuses across the heartlands.

The private meeting was led by Randy Fine, a Republican from Florida who was instrumental in passing in May the first state law outlawing antisemitism in public education. A week later he emailed fellow participants under the subject line: Anti-Semitism Bill Discussed at Alec.

Fine has faced controversy in the past over his aggressive opposition to public debate about Israel. Earlier this year he called a local Jewish constituent a “Judenrat” because the man had attended a forum titled: Palestine/Israel, Opening the Dialogue.

The term “Judenrat” was the name for Nazi-mandated councils in Jewish ghettos during the second world war and has been used to refer to Jews who collaborated with the Nazis.

Also attending the meeting at Alec were lawmakers from South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma, as well as representatives of two pro-Israel lobbying groups. “It was great to see you at the Alec conference last week in Austin and to briefly share the work we did in passing HB 741, the strongest antisemitism bill ever passed in the United States,” Fine wrote to them.


The former governor of Florida Jeb Bush speaks at the American Legislative Exchange Council in 2013. (M. Spencer Green/Associated Press)

The Florida Republican encouraged peers in other state assemblies to work with one of the lobbying groups, the Israeli-American Coalition for Action, which he said had been “instrumental in providing outside support as I pushed the bill”. In a separate email to the group, IAC for Action’s Joseph Sabag said that he and his legal team had taken Fine’s Florida bill and “refined it into a model that can be brought elsewhere. I urge you to contact me or Rep Alan Clemmons and take advantage of our policy support if you are considering filing a bill.”

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Palestinians Protest Facebook ‘Bias Favoring Israel’

New campaign exposes double-standard of social media giant in dealing with Israeli and Palestinian incitement

Dima Abumaria, The Media Line, 10/07/2019

Journalists, activists launch campaign against alleged violations of user freedoms by social media platform

A Palestinian social media campaign rejecting what it calls “violations” of Facebook rules by censoring Palestinian content has been launched by Palestinian journalists and activists in cooperation with Sada Social Center, which monitors social media violations against Palestinian content.

The campaign is calling on users to tweet using the hashtag #FBblockspalestine by Wednesday night at 8 p.m. to highlight “the threat posed by Facebook against Palestinian content, and to make it public, as well as reveal the double-standard policy of Facebook management in dealing with Israeli and Palestinian incitement on its site.”

“Twitter is the first in a series of actions we will take,” Eyad Rifai, head of Sada Social Center, told The Media Line. “Next week, we will meet with a group of institutions and potential partners to discuss ways to jointly counter the attack on Palestinian content. At a second stage, we will hold field protests as well.”

Rifai said the campaign aims to “protect the digital rights of the Palestinian people so they can practice their right of absolute freedom of speech via cyberspace, although without the involvement of Facebook management that limits their freedoms while allowing Israeli users to incite against Arabs as well as call to kill them.”

He continued by saying that “Facebook has developed an algorithm that automatically deletes users’ posts and accounts if they include names of Palestinian political parties, for example ‘Hamas,’ ‘Jihad,’ ‘Popular Front,’ ‘Qassam,’ ‘Saraya’ and ‘Islamic Jihad,’ or names of martyrs, leaders and others without looking at the context in which they were posted, which sets a historic precedent for infringement on media freedom.”

Rifai pointed out that Palestinian journalists and media people are “unable to practice their journalistic work as a result of Facebook’s unfair policy, which doesn’t pay attention to professional work standards. This puts the Palestinian narrative on Facebook in real danger.”

He said the campaign had sent a letter to the Middle East management of Facebook to condemn the policy, adding that he “isn’t very optimistic” to receive a positive response.

“We will receive the same justification, which isn’t new anymore, that Facebook is an American company committed to renouncing terrorism as part of an agreement with the American government. The algorithm is simply unfair and doesn’t take into account the specificity of the Palestinian cause,” Rifai said.

Dahoud Abu Dalfeh, a Gaza-based journalist who said his Facebook account had been deleted in September for “using content that is against Facebook policy,” told The Media Line that “Facebook management sees using Palestinian symbols, names or political parties as incitement to violence, regardless of the nature of the work of the publisher.”

He insists he was not trying to provoke anyone.

“I was just doing my job when I lost my account,” he explained.

“Even when we cover news regarding Lebanon, we can’t use terms concerning Hizbullah or [Hizbullah leader Hassan] Nasrallah,” he went on. “A lot of times we are not allowed to object or report the deletion of an account. When we try, we receive a message that an unknown error has occurred, which creates another issue.”

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ESPN Host Panicked by Israel-Palestine Comment

Literally the only thing Democrats and Republicans can agree on nowadays is that it’s bad to kowtow to China, but it’s good to capitulate to Israel.

Billy Haisley, Deadspin, 10/8/19

At the tail end of First Take’s extended discussion today about the ongoing debacle between the NBA and China, Stephen A. Smith had one final take he wanted to get off. He began auspiciously, if not with his trademark eloquence: “I would remind you that, throughout this world, one of the things that exists is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Shocking no one, host Molly Qerim just about broke her neck trying to rush to the commercial break.

I’m pretty sure Max Kellerman wasn’t the only one on set making that face.

The funny thing is, Stephen A. was actually making a good point—just not for the reasons he thought. It is true that the vast majority of public figures are exceedingly wary of wading into the Israel-Palestine conflict out of fear of offending the sensibilities of those who refuse to countenance any criticism of Israel, knowing the swift and forceful backlash headed their way if they do. For that reason, it is more or less unchallenged that Israel-Palestine is “too complicated” and “too risky” for the savvily self-interested to opine about. No one wants to get Ilhan Omar’d.

The difference between Israel-Palestine and China-Hong Kong, then, is only that Israel has been more successful in branding its conflict with those it oppresses as genuinely above reproach than China has thus far been with its dealings with Hong Kong. In fact, when comparing the American media coverage of and political response to Israel-Palestine with China-Hong Kong, the main difference is that all the powerful political forces in the U.S. are united in their alignment in support of Israel and in opposition to China. Literally the only thing Democrats and Republicans can agree on nowadays is that it’s bad to kowtow to China, but it’s good to capitulate to Israel.

Stephen A.’s only problem is that he takes exactly the wrong lesson from this. The point he seems to be making isn’t that Israel-Palestine’s presence in political no man’s land is bad and only serves to protect Israel from the criticism it deserves, but instead the opposite, that China-Hong Kong should be placed right alongside Israel-Palestine as terrible things no one in their right mind should want to call out publicly. This fits well with his prior statements on the matter, where he called Daryl Morey “childish” for standing up for a cause. To Stephen A., no value is as sacred or adult as shutting up when there’s money to be had.

He got into Harvard. And now he finally got into the United States.


Ismail Ajjawi, a Harvard freshman who said he was was denied U.S. entry because of his friends’ social media postings, arrived in Boston in time for the start of classes. He is pictured in his home near the El Buss refugee camp in Lebanon. (United Nations Relief and Works Agency)

JAWEED KALEEM, Los Angeles Times, SEP. 3, 2019

A Palestinian student who flew to Boston last month to attend Harvard but was a denied entry to the United States has been allowed into the country in time for the start of classes this week, the university said.

Ismail Ajjawi, 17, was at the center of an uproar involving top Harvard officials, immigrant advocates, international student organizations and thousands of student petitioners after the Harvard Crimson newspaper reported that immigration officials held him on Aug. 23 at Logan International Airport while combing through his social media accounts before canceling his visa.

The incident underscored concerns at Harvard and other universities over the ability of international students and scholars to enter the country as the Trump administration curtails legal immigration.

In a welcome letter Tuesday to students, Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow highlighted immigration barriers for students.

“Since May, the obstacles facing individuals ensnared in the nation’s visa and immigration process have only grown,” he wrote. “Various international students and scholars eager to establish lives here on our campus find themselves the subject of scrutiny and suspicion in the name of national security, and they are reconsidering the value of joining our community in the face of disruptions and delays.”

Ajjawi was a top student in Lebanon, where lived as a refugee outside the southern city of Tyre and attended United Nations schools. He received a scholarship from an international nonprofit to attend Harvard, where he planned to study physical and chemical biology en route to becoming a surgeon.

He was allowed into to the U.S. on Monday after he “overcamve all grounds of inadmissibility,” a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement.

The spokesman did not answer a question about what had changed. Previously, immigration officials had said that Ajjawi “was deemed inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CBP inspection.”

His family released a statement through its attorney, describing his experience as “difficult and anxiety-filled.”

“We truly appreciate the efforts of so many individuals and officials in Lebanon, Washington, Massachusetts and at Harvard that have made it possible for our son Ismail Ajjawi to begin his studies,” it said.

He arrived on campus just in time for his class photo, said the attorney, Albert Mokhiber.

Theodore Kattouf, president of Amideast, the nonprofit that awarded Ajjawi his scholarship, released a statement saying that he was “pleased that Ismail’s Harvard dream will come true after all.”

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