Last night I witnessed an attempt to cover Israel's crimes against humanity with a veneer of respectability.
Joëlle Fiss is a pro-Israel lobbyist who masquerades as an anti-racist campaigner with Human Rights First, a group dedicated to "American ideals." Based in New York, she is visiting Brussels this week to promote her new book Tiptoeing on Minefields.
The first speaking engagement of her trip was organized by D&D Consulting Services, an outfit headed by Dimitri Dombret, former secretary-general of European Friends of Israel. It took place yesterday.
As Fiss's job title describes her as a "senior associate" with a "fighting discrimination" program, I felt it would be appropriate to solicit her views on Israel's systematic discrimination against Palestinians. So I asked her during yesterday's talk if she agreed that Israel was an apartheid state. Fiss replied that my question was "illegitimate."
"I don't have discussions with my Palestinian friends" about whether or not Israel is an apartheid state, Fiss said, claiming that they prefer to discuss "checkpoints, refugee issues, the specifics, not generalities." Her unnamed friends "don't throw around that word ['apartheid']; they are extremely pragmatic, not dogmatic."
Unwilling to tolerate this evasion, I then asked Fiss if -- as a campaigner against discrimination -- she was familiar with the UN's official definition of apartheid, which refers to the domination of one racial or ethnic group over another. It is beyond dispute, I contended, that Jews are accorded more rights by the State of Israel than Palestinians. Fiss said she had no opinion on this matter.
Ironically, her book alludes to the lynchpin in Israel's apartheid system: the Law of Return. Yet she merely mentions that this 1950 legislation declares that "every Jew has the right to return to his homeland." Despite all the chats she has apparently conducted with "my Palestinian friends" on "refugee issues," she does not explicitly acknowledge that Palestinians uprooted by Zionist forces two years earlier are denied the right to return to their homeland. This blatant injustice elicits no response from this purported expert on discrimination.
The 111-page book is influenced by Fiss' previous job as an official in the European Parliament and her stint chairing the European Union of Jewish Students. Brief and readable, it is nonetheless more a work of propaganda than of intellectual exploration. Fiss, who holds British and Swiss citizenship, is moist-eyed about her devotion to both Israel and the EU. "Just like the EU, Israel represents a utopia to yearn for, as well as a concrete reality to live in," she writes.
The main argument in her essay is that the Jewish diaspora should consider having a "citizen's initiative." It would be modelled on a provision in the EU's Lisbon treaty, which theoretically allows ordinary people to shape the Union's agenda if 1 million signatures are collected on a particular topic.
Fiss draws a clumsy parallel between how the Zionist movement "translated a covenant between the Jewish people that led to statehood" and a "constitutional process" in the EU that attempted to "create a tighter connection between its members and its peoples."
This hogwash overlooks how the EU's constitution has been rammed down the throats of the EU's citizens. When French and Dutch voters rejected this blueprint for a militarized and neo-liberal Europe in 2005, it was repackaged and renamed the Lisbon treaty. Ireland was the only country which held a referendum on the revamped treaty; the Irish rejected it in 2008 but were bullied into voting "yes" when a second poll was held the following year.
(The title Tiptoeing on Minefields is, to put it mildly, unfortunate. Fiss concerns herself with metaphorical minefields -- the prospect of the tame political ideas she toys with "exploding in your face." Her beloved Israel, however, has created literal minefields -- by, for example, littering large parts of Lebanon with cluster bombs in 2006).
Tomorrow Fiss, will be back in her old workplace, when she will address a breakfast meeting hosted by Frédérique Riss, a Belgian member of the European Parliament (MEP). Ries is a vice-chairwoman of European Friends of Israel, a cross-party alliance of MEPs.
I asked Ries why she was teaming up with a purported champion of human rights like Fiss, when she (Ries) routinely defends a state that denies an entire people its elementary rights. Ries did not reply.
Aura of sophistication
It is not hard to work out what is going on here. The Zionist lobby is seeking to cultivate an aura of sophistication around its activities in order to divert attention from the evils of apartheid and occupation. As I wrote earlier this year, the lobby in Brussels has recently tried to depict Israel as compassionate by hosting an event trumpeting that state's humanitarian aid activities. Joëlle Fiss, incidentally, is one of a number of committed Zionists with experience of working inside the European Parliament (where she has been a press officer for its foreign affairs committee and a policy adviser to its Liberal grouping). MEPs for Germany's Free Democrats -- the junior party in Angela Merkel's coalition government -- have hired Adam Mouchtar as a speechwriter on Middle East issues. Mouchtar has combined this work with running the Brussels office of B'nai B'rith, an international Zionist group.
Considering the European Parliament has become more powerful in recent years, it is perhaps inevitable that Zionists are trying to wield more clout within its corridors. As they beaver away trying to make apartheid respectable, the rest of us should concentrate on making apartheid history.
•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 23 April 2013.
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