Cartoonists urge Angoulême to drop Sodastream

Dozens of well known cartoonists, including Joe Sacco, Tardi and Baru have signed an open lettre urging the Angoulême Comics Festival to drop Sodastream as a sponsor:

We, cartoonists, illustrators and authors from all countries, are surprised, disappointed and angry to find out that SodaStream is an official sponsor of the Angoulême International Comics Festival.

As you must know, SodaStream is the target of an international boycott call for its contribution to the colonization of Palestinian land, due to its factory in the illegal settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, its exploitation of Palestinian workers, and its theft of Palestinian resources, in violation of international law and contravening international principles of human rights.

Angoulême has had an important role in the appreciation of comics as an art form for over 40 years. It would be sad if SodaStream were able to use this event to whitewash their crimes.

We ask you to cut all ties between the Festival and this shameful company.


This fight against Sodastream, for having established a plant in a Israeli settlement on stolen Palestian land in the West Bank, a plant Sodastream itself has admitted was a mistake, is just one small battle in the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) struggle against the Israeli Apartheid State. It’s similar in fact to that long struggle against South African Apartheid in the seventies and eighties and hopefully it can lead to similar results. Certainly the Israeli government fears the movement:

The movement’s economic impact is also becoming evident. The recent decision by the $200 billion Dutch pension fund PGGM to divest from the five largest Israeli banks because of their involvement in occupied Palestinian territory has sent shock waves through the Israeli establishment.

To underscore the “existential” danger that B.D.S. poses, Israel and its lobby groups often invoke the smear of anti-Semitism, despite the unequivocal, consistent position of the movement against all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. This unfounded allegation is intended to intimidate into silence those who criticize Israel and to conflate such criticism with anti-Jewish racism.

Getting Angoulême to drop Sodastream sponsorship, though welcome, is of course not going to change Israeli policies but seeing conservative pension funds start to drop Israeli investments, as much out of conviction as for legal concerns, that’s a game changer.

Footballers against Israeli apartheid

The 2014 under-21 European Championships are supposed to be held in Israel, which is a bit awkward considering it just destroyed a football stadium as a novel new way of expressing its displeasure with the Palestinians. Sport, like art, is of course important to the well being of any peoples and it’s no wonder then that Israel regularly targets both.

To their considerable credit, more than sixty European professional footballers have protested against these acts and urged UEFA to withdrawn the competition from Israel:

We, as European football players, express our solidarity with the people of Gaza who are living under siege and denied basic human dignity and freedom. The latest Israeli bombardment of Gaza, resulting in the death of over a hundred civilians, was yet another stain on the world’s conscience.

We are informed that on 10 November 2012 the Israeli army bombed a sports stadium in Gaza, resulting in the death of four young people playing football, Mohamed Harara and Ahmed Harara, 16 and 17 years old; Matar Rahman and Ahmed Al Dirdissawi, 18 years old.

We are also informed that since February 2012 two footballers with the club Al Amari, Omar Rowis, 23, and Mohammed Nemer, 22, have been detained in Israel without charge or trial.

It is unacceptable that children are killed while they play football. Israel hosting the UEFA Under-21 European Championship, in these circumstances, will be seen as a reward for actions that are contrary to sporting values.

Despite the recent ceasefire, Palestinians are still forced to endure a desperate existence under occupation, they must be protected by the international community. All people have the right to a life of dignity, freedom and security. We hope that a just settlement will finally emerge.

Well done.

We didn’t start the fire

No more mister nice guy

The London Review of Books looks at the context in which the new Israeli attack on Gaza is taken place:

Electoral considerations are likely to have played a role in Israeli decision-making, but hardly driven them. Both Netanyahu and his defence minister, Ehud Barak, had been smarting since March from a previous Egyptian-mediated ceasefire, according to which they informally agreed not only to stop attacking the Gaza Strip but also to discontinue assassinations. An Islamic Jihad leader I interviewed at the time reckoned this was a climbdown too far for Israel’s leaders and they were bound to renew hostilities sooner rather than later.

Pummelling Gaza yet again was intended to remind all concerned – not least the new Egypt – who makes the rules, though it would also reassure the Israeli electorate they need not fear the prospect of Obama punishing Israel for Netanyahu’s embrace of the Romney/Adelson ticket. As expected, the Obama White House has reiterated its commitment to Israel, and Congress has been busy passing unanimous resolutions supporting Israel’s right to self-defence in its colonial possessions. The positions of most European states have been only marginally less obscene.

One of the eternal failures of the news media is their ahistorical approach to the Israeli apartheid state: news coverage only begins when Israelis are victims and anything that comes before it is ignored.

Howard Jacobson’s pathological need to be persecuted

There’s a disease that strikes English novelists of a certain age and fame, that makes them think whatever small talent they have at creating Times reviewed stories means they have an unique insight into human nature and the political realities of 21st century Britain. This usually manifest in rightwing babble about the problems of the day, as exclusively revealed to whichever newspaper with spare column inches to fill, as well as through novels that suddenly tackle big political issues in the way literary writers normally reserve for dabbling in science fiction: naively and ploddingly reinventing cliches better writers had long since abandoned and being proud of it. Martin Amis and Ian McEwan are the best examples of this disease, but Howard Jacobson seems determined to join them.

Jacobson is “best known for writing comic novels that often revolve around the dilemmas of British Jewish characters” as Wikipedia puts it. Not one to hide his Jewishness under a bushell and keen to let you know how his background makes him uniquely able to provide insights into the Israel/Palestinian conflict, he has been making a nuisance of himself for years in opinion pieces. As with Amis and McEwan, his politics also infected his fiction, metastasising in The Finkler Question, made unreadable by his politics.

So it comes as no surprise that when he saw the images of Asian shopkeepers defending their communities against the riots in London two weeks ago he saw something quite different from the rest of us:

The good thing that came out of the riots was a renewed sense of community. “How does one put this without sounding gross … it was terrific to see the Asian communities on telly and not to have to think about terrorism, and not to have to think about the thing I’m always thinking about… do they want to kill Jews?”

A remark on par with Amis’ similar ones on wanting to make Muslims suffer for 9/11. But there seems to be more going on with Jacobson, he seems convinced that pogroms could break out in London any minute and that like any good Jew he needs to be prepared. It’s not a mindset that’s not unique to him; I’ve stopped being surprised at the number of middleclass Jewish people living in England or America, never having suffered any discrimination in their lifetimes, convinced that it’s only a matter of time before the killings start again. If the most important event in your history is the Holocaust, it’s not surprising some people get a bit paranoid.

With Jacobson however it almost seems as if he would welcome persecution, that he feels agrieved that there are no pogroms in England and the number of real anti-semitic incidents (as opposed to people being accused of anti-semitism because they disagree with Israeli policies) is low and has remained low for decades. Hence remarks like the above, as to him it’s inconcievable that Asian people would not want to oppress him. Call it victim envy.

It reads better in the original German

Palestinian but pretending to be Jewish to score with a Hebrew chick? In Israel you’re guilty of rape if she finds out the truth after you had sex:

Segal said: “The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls. When the very basis of trust between human beings drops, especially when the matters at hand are so intimate, sensitive and fateful, the court is required to stand firmly at the side of the victims – actual and potential – to protect their wellbeing. Otherwise, they will be used, manipulated and misled, while paying only a tolerable and symbolic price.”

UPDATE: Lenny has more:

The woman who filed the charge can hardly be burdened with most of the responsibility. Who knows what pressures she was under? Perhaps no pressures other than the racist ideology that she will have internalised if she is a normal product of the Israeli education system. But perhaps it was put to her that her honour as an Israeli Jewish woman, and that of her family, had been sullied by her treasonous intercourse with an Arab from East Jerusalem and that, if she wished to expiate her crime, she should say that she had been raped. Whatever the case, without the backing of the forces of racist patriarchy her complaint would not have resulted in a conviction. It’s not as if it’s easy for women to get their complaint heard and a conviction obtained when a rape really has occurred. It’s not as if the criminal justice system throws its weight behind women every time they experience domestic violence, harrassment, or sexual violation. This was a complaint that, with its obvious paucity of evidence of any kind of violation or assault, could easily have been dealt with outside of the courts. Instead, they devoted their considerable resources to keeping this man in lockdown – he was under house arrest for almost two years while the case was brought to trial – and so loading the scales against him that even when no evidence of rape emerged, he still ended up ‘guilty’.

Insult to injury

The IDF did not just storm the aid convoy to Gaza and kill nine activists, they also stole their possessions:

Israeli troops have been accused of stealing from activists arrested in the assault on the Gaza flotilla after confiscated debit cards belonging to activists were subsequently used.

In their raid of 31 May, the Israeli army stormed the boats on the flotilla and, as well as money and goods destined for the Palestinian relief effort in Gaza, the bulk of which have yet to be returned, took away most of the personal possessions of the activists when taking them into custody.

Individual soldiers appear to have used confiscated debit cards to buy items such as iPod accessories, while mobile phones seized from activists have also been used for calls.

The boycott is not stupid nor collective punishment

Sometimes even normally sensible bloggers can get it wrong. That the Flying Rodent actually takes professor Norm seriously is bad enough, but that he would give the following motivation for as to why people support a cultural boycott of Israel:

Here’s my take on why that is – it’s because you have a lot of people who want to do something about a horrible situation. This is something, they think, ergo let’s do that. I don’t think I’m being uncharitable to Norm if I note that he himself is a great thinker-upper of somethings to do in horrible situations, those somethings often being highly dubious and counterproductive themselves.

Further, it’s clear that the issue attracts a lot of people on both sides who like to see the world in very black and white terms, and find shades of grey confusing and annoying. I think that in many ways, stuff like Israel/Palestine has become a replacement for domestic politics, since the UK’s national discourse has largely devolved into a glorified piss-fight over who can empty the public’s bins most cheaply. Again, I have to observe that Norm himself is not entirely bulletproof against that type of criticism.

The idea that people only care about Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians out of dissatisfaction with domestic politics not just insulting but dumb. It’s just another form of whataboutery: “why do you care about the Palestinians so much when the NHS has to cut spending”. People, certainly on the left and especially in the socialist left have always combined domestic causes with international involvement and it’s a sure bet that the people most involved with the boycott and disinvestment campaign are also active in more local activism.

Let’s not even mention the crack about wanting “to see the world in very black and white terms”. That’s such a cheap shot, only a step above accusing people of being terrorist sympathisers. The facts being as they are, it is quite possible to acknowledge that in Israel/Palestine both sides have their faults while still conclude that it’s better to be on the side of the people with no heavy weapons being put on a “starvation diet” for having elected the wrong government than on the side of the people who do have heavy weapons and use them to make sure the first group of people remain on that diet.

Meanwhile another normally sensible blogger also has a bee in his bonnet about the boycott. Steven Poole objects to Iain Banks’ announcement of no longer allowing his books to be sold in Israel:

I have written hereabouts before on why cultural boycotts are stupid, and that still applies (the idea that the refusal of pop musicians and sportsmen to play in South Africa somehow broke the apartheid régime is a fairytale). Iain Banks himself realizes too that it is a stupid (and actually vicious) idea: his plaintive “what else can we do?” doesn’t even pretend to be a justification; it is merely the Politician’s Logic of “Something must be done; this is something; therefore, we must do it.”

Banks himself calls a boycott “a form of collective punishment”, which Steve takes seriously. Clarifying himself in the comments, he says that a boycott is “an act of collective punishment. I assume we can all agree that collective punishment is vicious?”

I disagree with both of Steve’s points: a boycott is not a form of collective punishment, nor is it stupid. He’s right to say that the cultural and sporting boycott of South Africa didn’t end Apartheid, which nobody has ever claimed anyway, but wrong to think it didn’t matter. This boycott was a necessary tool to put pressure on the South Africa, but only one part of a much larger boycott and disinvestment campaign against the Apartheid regime in South Africa, just like the academic boycott of Israel‘s apartheid regime. What happened in the case of South Africa was a series of campaigns, that costs years and decades to get going, which slowly isolated the regime from the outside world, aimed at making Apartheid economically unsustainably. It involved getting western companies to stop investing in South Africa, getting western governments to stop selling arms to them, getting ordinary people to no longer go on holidays there, etc. The cultural boycott was one part of this broader campaign and was important, especially in the eighties, as South Africa did put forward a last ditch effort to rehabilitate its image — remember Sun City?

The same goes for the boycott and disinvestment campaign underway against Israel, which has built its own Apartheid system. Like the campaign against South Africa its aims are to put economic pressure on Israel while creating the sense that this is not a normal, democratic country. Which is why an academic boycott matters, even if it wouldn’t harm Israel all that much. Actions like Banks’ send the signal that the ongoing Israeli treatment of the Palestinians won’t be tolerated, that our governments might think Israel is an acceptable ally/friend of the west, but that we don’t share that opinion. Again, this is exactly what happened with the campaign against South African Apartheid.

That this is a form of collective punishment is nonsense. A bit of an own goal for Banks to say that his act of individual boycott is “an act of hypocrisy for those of us who have criticised Israel for its treatment of the Palestinian people in general and those in Gaza in particular” as that puts not being able to read one particular author’s books with blowing up the sole power plant in Gaza. (A quick aside: many of the institutions targeted by the disinvestment and boycott campaign are either part of the Israeli oppression machine or profit from apartheid directly.) The collective punishment Israel unleashes on the Palestinians at their whim directly threatens them in their existence: houses are demolished, supposed terrorist headquarters are bombed, olive trees are uprooted etc. In contrast, the academic boycott might mean Israeli students can no longer go to Oxford…

Your Happening World (11)

What’s new for Wednesday:

MLK as plaster saint

Nicky Kristol has some decent advice for the Palestinians:

“On Martin Luther King Day, I wish more Palestinians would absorb the lessons of King and Gandhi and use non-violent but confrontational approaches in challenging settlements, etc. Non-violence is not only morally superior to terrorism, it’s also more effective in challenging a democracy.”

I’m not sure which is worse, Kristol’s cluelessness on how MLK’s activism was recieved back in the day (not well) or his cluelessness about the Palestinian struggle (non-violence has been tried).

But don’t be fooled in thinking this cluelessness is anything but deliberate. MLK, like Gandhi before him, has long since been turned into a plaster saint, the perfect liberal idea of what a civil rights activist or freedom fighter has to be like, with all the more …controversial… parts filed off. It’s an old tactic, also used by people like Christopher Hitches to explain why they did support the Vietcong in their struggle against an US occupation, but not the Iraqi resistance. completely ahistorical of course, and the same people glorifying MLK today would’ve been the first to denounce him had they been there at the time, but in a media climate in which ignorance is king, it’s a tactic that works well. Just look at some of the comments at the post linked above.

Zionists crying wolf too often

Via Aaronovitch Watch (Incorporating “World of Decency”) comes Tony Greenstein’s account of the debate on anti-semitism between Aaronovitch (Zionist / warmonger) and Gilad Atzmon (jazz musician / somebody who if he isn’t anti-semitic, doesn’t do much to deny the charge). Aaronovitch himself was furious that in the choice between two evils, the audience took the side of the jazz musician, but as Greenstein says “the wars and blockades that Aaronovitch has supported in different parts of the world have killed upwards of 2 million people. Atzmon’s anti-Semitism has killed no one because, as far as I’m aware, death by boredom cannot be entered as a cause of death on a death certificate“.

His main point is made slightly later:

When you attack Palestinians and anti-Zionists, not least Jewish anti-Zionists, as being anti-Semitic, then what you do is let the real anti-Semites like Gilad Atzmon off the hook. When you deliberately confuse and conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism it is not the anti-Zionists you hurt but the anti-Semites you help. The only reason Gilad Atzmon can pass himself off as an anti-Zionist, when he is politically at one with Zionism’s founding creed, that diaspora Jewry is a hideous thing and that being Jewish and Zionist is one and the same thing, is because anti-Zionists and anti-Semites are tarred by the Zionists with the same brush of anti-Semitism.

If you cry ‘wolf’ for long enough, don’t be surprised if people no longer believe or listen to you when the wolf makes an appearance. And that is the real contribution of David Aaronovitch and Zionism to the fight against racism and anti-Semitism.

I’m not sure how real this danger is; there have been various studies showing anti-semitism is on the rise in Europe (examples left as exercise for your googling skills) but many of those suffer from the same problem as Greenstein mentions, that they confuse criticism of Israel, anti-zionism and anti-semitism. Anecdotally there have been incidents here in the Netherlands where hotheaded demonstrators against Israel’s War on Gaza have shouted anti-semitic slogans, which have then been used to discredit legitamite attacks on Israel. It does make sense to assume that in a climate where anti-semitism as a charge has been devalued to the point that any criticism of Israel is anti-semitic by default, people will wory less about it as they see how ridiculous most charges are. It even makes sense that this will lead to more real anti-semitism.

From the point of view of the Israel boosters this may not even be so bad, as 1) it delegitamises genuine criticism and 2) it adds credibility to the idea that Israel is the sole defence Jews have against persecution and that therefore they should support it unconditionally. Which doesn’t mean this was a conscious goal of those that have made those accusations the most of course, just that it’s a not entirely unwanted side effect.