The secret power of the pro Israeli lobby

The Rai-al-Youm newspaper writes an editorial in support of its editor Abdel Bari Atwan after an event he was due to address at the House of Commons earlier this week was cancelled under pressure from the pro Israeli lobby.

The parliamentary Labour Friends of Palestine group has bowed to pressure from Labour Friends of Israel and cancelled an important event at the House of Commons that was to be chaired by Rai al-Youm’s Palestinian editor-in-chief, Abdel Bari Atwan.

Atwan is known for his dramatic delivery and humour – these can create opportunities for his words to be taken out of context and twisted into something else altogether. There has been a concerted campaign against him in parts of the media, presumably because his passion is convincing.

Atwan is not alone, Ban Ki Moon, the United Nations secretary-general, has complained of the same attempt by pro-Israeli propaganda entities to use his own words to paint an inaccurate picture of his stance: “Everyone is free to pick and choose what they like or dislike from speeches,” he wrote in yesterday’s New York Times. “But the time has come for Israelis, Palestinians and the international community to read the writing on the wall: The status quo is untenable. Keeping another people under indefinite occupation undermines the security and the future of both Israelis and Palestinians.”

The campaign against him seeks to brand Atwan as anti-semitic. Yet anyone who has studied his thoughtful writing on the Israeli-Palestinan question would be well aware of the following:

Atwan is a highly vocal critic of what he describes as Israel’s “racist” and “apartheid” treatment of his fellow Palestinians, nevertheless he is an advocate of a peaceful, non-violent settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The event at the House of Commons was due to take place on Tuesday
The event at the House of Commons was due to take place on Tuesday

In his memoir, A Country of Words, Atwan says, “We have to learn to live together in peace and co-operation in a multi-cultural society in one democratic secular state for two people. One state for both peoples governed by a representative democracy and on an equal footing. We manage it here in London, it is working in South Africa, and there is enough room for everyone in Palestine. I respect the Jewish people and their religion. I do not want to destroy Israel but I do want to end racism and the current Apartheid system.”

The much-quoted extract from Lebanese television when Atwan is reported as saying that he will “dance in Trafalgar Square if Iran drops a nuclear bomb on Israel” is a perfect example. In fact the extract has Atwan saying that Arabs need to show more solidarity in confronting Israel. The expression he used earlier in the interview, which is not on the clip, is much like “I will eat my hat” in English – i.e. he believes it so unlikely that Iran would have a nuclear bomb (and, of course, it did not, in 2007 when this interview took place) and bomb Israel that if it does, he would go and dance in Trafalgar Square. This interview is, in fact, remarkably prescient detailing an American-Iranian rapprochement that would indeed follow… seven years later.

Atwan was born in refugee camp in Gaza and his parents were forced to leave their village home at gunpoint during the Nakba. Why would he not be angry and impassioned when he addresses these and all the subsequent injustices Palestinians have had to endure? Surely he is entitled to his point of view and to share it with others? It is unacceptable that a parliamentary group of pro-Israeli MPs can silence someone with a challenge to voice.

Criticizing Israel is not anti-semitic.

Will we see Ban Ki Moon branded “anti-semitic” for voicing these following words, born of the wealth of his experience in dealing with international conflicts and decades of polite diplomacy?

“I warned the Security Council last week, Palestinian frustration and grievances are growing under the weight of nearly a half-century of occupation. Ignoring this won’t make it disappear. No one can deny that the everyday reality of occupation provokes anger and despair, which are major drivers of violence and extremism and undermine any hope of a negotiated two-state solution.”

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