July 14, 2007

Israel and its backers have hit back at moves to isolate the country, writes Ed O'Loughlin in Jerusalem.

THE international campaign to boycott Israel took a new turn this week with news that the Dutch Government has warned a Rotterdam company to stop supplying construction equipment for Israel's 700-kilometre Palestinian separation barrier.

Media reports say Maxime Verhagen, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Affairs, recently told the firm Riwal that its contract to supply cranes was "undesirable" in light of the International Court of Justice's ruling - three years ago this month - that the project breaks international law.

This warning from a government normally considered friendly to Israel reflects a mounting international campaign to boycott Israel because of its continuing occupation and colonisation of Arab territories seized 40 years ago last month.

But the calls have sparked a bitter counter-campaign from Israel and its supporters abroad. Also this week, the US Congress unanimously passed a resolution condemning as "anti-Semitic" the proposed boycott of Israeli contacts by the British academics' union on May 30.

"When Israel comes under attack from hatemongers, it is American values that are also under attack," said the resolution's main sponsor, the congressman Patrick Murphy.

Last week the 800,000- member British Transport and General Workers Union voted to join Unison, Britain's biggest union, with 1.3 million members, in boycotting Israeli goods and sporting contacts in a campaign similar to that imposed on South Africa's apartheid regime in the 1980s.

In South Africa itself, the trade union congress, COSATU, is spearheading its own campaign to isolate Israel over what it describes as apartheid policies, despite opposition from its senior partner in the ruling coalition, the President Thabo Mbeki's African National Congress.

In the US, meanwhile, the family of the peace activist Rachel Corrie this week revived its attempt to sue the multinational Caterpillar Corporation for supplying the Israeli Army with the armoured bulldozer that crushed the 23-year-old in Gaza in March 2003.

Last year the synod of the Church of England voted to divest its shares in Caterpillar and other companies supplying equipment used in Israel's military occupation, although church commissioners subsequently refused to do so.

The US Presbyterian Church has also voted to divest from some companies trading with the Israeli military, as it did from South Africa in the 1980s.

The Israeli Government says it is ludicrous for foreign journalists or academics to seek to boycott the only country in the Middle East with a free press and academic freedom. It asks why Israel's government is singled out for human rights protests ahead of regimes such as Sudan, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

"The idea that all the problems of the region are Israel's fault doesn't stand up to logical examination," said an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mark Regev. "It makes it look like there's an agenda there that hasn't been stated openly … The same people will justify suicide-bombing, all too often."

In the US the leading pro-Israeli academic Alan Dershowitz, a professor of human rights law at Harvard, is leading what he terms a campaign for academic freedom. Professor Dershowitz has assembled a team of the world's 100 best lawyers, who will sue to "devastate and bankrupt" those seeking to boycott Israel. "We will isolate [British universities] from the rest of the world," he said.

US academics who criticise Israel and its policies are subject to close monitoring by Israeli support groups, who often organise protests against what they term anti-Semitic views.

The prominent sociologist Norman Finkelstein and a supporter were last month denied tenure at Chicago's DePaul University following a campaign led by Professor Dershowitz, whose book, The Case for Israel, had been criticised by Professor Finkelstein.

Palestinians say calls for an academic or trade boycott of Israel should be seen in the light of Israel's own restrictions on Palestinian life, including academic and economic activity.

Bernard Sabella, a sociology lecturer at Bethlehem University and a Christian MP for the party Fatah, contrasts Israel's opposition to boycotts or sanctions with its own imposition of a total economic blockade on the Gaza Strip, which, according to a World Bank report leaked yesterday, now faces "irreversible economic collapse".

But Dr Sabella is ambivalent about calls for an academic boycott. "You have hundreds of Israeli academics who are outspoken against the occupation and thousands who aren't. … It's very complex and you can't just go and say you want to boycott a particular university or a particular individual. I see the call more as a kind of challenge to Israeli academics, to wake up and take up their role, to take a position that will advance the peace process."

War was a success, says Olmert

THE Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, toured the border with Lebanon on Thursday and declared last year's war with Hezbollah a success.

On the first anniversary of the war, Mr Olmert tried to sound positive in spite of two Israeli soldiers remaining in the hands of Hezbollah. "We had great achievements in this war," he said, speaking near a road that was hit by one of the nearly 4000 rockets Hezbollah fired into Israel last year.

Mr Olmert's view of the war as a success is not shared by many Israelis. The Prime Minister has already been chastised by the Winograd Committee for his conduct in the war, which was described as a "severe failure". Analysts believe he will be unable to remain in office once the final report is delivered next month.

Guardian News & Media

The Sydney Morning Herald


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    Education: Arizona State University, Bachelor of Science in Political Science. City University of Seattle, graduate studies in Public Administration.

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