Last Thursday, Toronto’s downtown “Palestinian” club Beit Zatoun hosted the outspoken anti-Israeli member of the Knesset (MK) Basel Ghattas. The venue is known for its hostility against Israel. Such events are the norm there – a few years ago they hosted another loudmouth from the Knesset, Jamal Zahalka. Earlier this year they provided platform for the virulent anti-Semite Ken O’Keefe.
The only Jewish organization to confront the event was JDL-Canada. Its members and sympathizers stood across the street from the club with police officers dividing both sides. That didn’t stop a few lefties from provoking confrontation.
Ghattas came to Canada to promote the latest “initiative” against Israel, the newest “flotilla” to Gaza, which this time will be known as “Women’s Boat to Gaza”. As it was the case with the previous boats, this will be another attempt to “break” the blockade of Gaza. Toronto was Ghattas’ second stop, a few days earlier he appeared at a leftist event in Montreal, which was also picketed by JDL-Canada.
Such presentations attract many more extreme lefties than actual Arabs. The audience consisted almost exclusively of white leftists who are seen time after time on similar occasions. A person, probably a woman, attending the talk is a constant presence in the Queers Against Israeli Apartheid group. This year they marched with the extremists of Black Lives Matter in the annual Dyke March.
Another old anti-Semitic “friend” showed up as well. Here he tried again to attack the Jews but the police stopped him from crossing the street, as they did during some of his previous escapades.
JDL-Canada had a few supporters inside Beit Zatoun willing to engage Ghattas in an argument over his views. However, as soon as they started, they were promptly kicked out.
The best news from the event was that Beit Zatoun, the anti-Semitic club, will be closing its doors in November, 2016, but they will hold plenty of events until that time. That was stated in the introduction by one of the organizers.
So, what are the views that Dr. Basel Ghattas advocates and why do they cause such a reaction from the non-leftist segment of the Jewish community?
I obtained a recording of the event. When listening to it, it becomes clear that Mr. Ghattas is very open about what he wants politically. I’ll go into the details soon, but the summary of his ideas is that he considers Israel an occupying force. The victims of the occupation are not only Gaza and the West Bank, but also the so-called “Israeli Arabs” in Galilee (even though they are Israeli citizens). Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are pathetically inefficient in opposing the sinister right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Negotiations have not worked and the end of occupation (or rather the end of Israel) will be achieved either by war or social activism and sanctions. The BDS movement and actions, like the flotilla to Gaza, are major elements of that strategy.
Here I should note that these are not the ideas of an extreme PLO functionary. Mr. Ghattas is a parliamentarian – he is one of the leaders of the Arab bloc in the Knesset. Elected politicians are expected to serve their country, yet he doesn’t hide his efforts to destroy the country that let him reach such a high position. He is paid by his homeland that has entrusted him with legislative power. When such a person consistently sabotages his country, his behaviour, in plain language, is called treason. I don’t think that any member of the parliament in a European country would be allowed to do for long what Mr. Ghattas does. It looks like the Israeli government is either excessively tolerant or completely blind. Both options are disturbing.
In his speech he outlined the basis of his struggle. He said that though Israel doesn’t comply with the UN resolutions, it is still very sensitive to international reactions to its policies. Ghattas gave as an example a case heard by a Hague tribunal involving Palestinian water rights. Many countries ignore that judicial institution, but Israel sent government representatives to defend its case. The same applies to the flotillas – while the boats are small, Israel’s reaction is as if it has been invaded. Such actions have psychological effect on Israel. The BDS movement, which is international, has similar effect. The Canadian group that supports it is big and plays a leadership role. They are his heroes.
At that moment, somebody from the audience interrupted him to defend Israel. In the heated verbal exchange that followed, Ghattas insisted that the Canadian BDS supporters want peace and democracy in “Palestine”, that’s why they were his heroes, while the person who interrupted him was on the side of the occupation.
After the commotion ended and the offending lady was kicked out of the lefty lair, Ghattas continued on the same topic. The Canadian BDS groups support his cause and now, with the new government, there is a potential to change the policies toward Israel despite the efforts of the Jewish lobby. (Justin Trudeau always pays lip service to supporting Israel but maybe Ghattas knows more about the true intentions of the new government.)
He added that BDS is very important not just because of the economic impact but also because of Netanyahu government’s reaction. They try to turn the tide around through propaganda using the world Jewish organizations – billions of shekels are allocated in Israel’s budget for the purpose. The pressure must continue because Israel is sensitive to accusations of human rights violations. Ghattas didn’t like this government. It is the most right-wing government in decades, formed with Likud’s majority. It has included extreme right-wingers like Lieberman that nobody thought possible years ago. (Maybe the consistent “Palestinian” violence despite all compromises changed Israelis’ minds…)
Ghattas sees this as the Israeli reality. This government will last and it cannot be changed – no hope for resolving the conflict, Netanyahu will maintain and manage it. The Palestinian society is divided between Hamas and Fatah. Criticism – the Palestinian Authority depends on Israel. Ghattas asked Abbas to stop the security agreement with Israel. But he knows that without Israel’s support the PA will collapse within 24 hours. No political force in the Palestinian society exists that can reach reconciliation. At least, he can’t see this happening within the next few months. If that happens, it will have serious impact on the Israeli government. In 2014 Netanyahu stopped transferring taxes to the PA as well as the release of prisoners. Unfortunately, Europe has other priorities and doesn’t deal with that when they deal with Syria, Iraq, Islamophobia, terror. International organizations can play a role in ending the occupation. Members can bring attention to the continuing oppression of 4 to 5 million Palestinians, deprived of their basic rights. Gaza Palestinians live in the largest prison in the world.
(I should note again that Ghattas is an “Israeli Arab” and Israeli citizen, so his dealings with Abbas, citizen of the future “Palestinian State” raise a few questions. As we will see below, some “Israeli Arabs” are ready to demand land in Israel, which at this point is not disputed officially by the PA).
Two things need to be the main focus: international activities, where the BDS movement and the flotilla are a major tool. The second tool are the Palestinians inside Israel. There are 1.5 million of them, they have their own political parties, even though the Zionists didn’t want them to remain in 1948 after the partition. Israel occupied more territories after the war and some Palestinians remain there. The Nazareth area should be Palestinian.
Then he went into the usual litany about the apartheid treatment in Israel. Still, Ghattas admitted that the freedom of speech in Israel can be used against the country. Because of it, the Palestinians in Israel can be much more active than the Palestinians in general. However, they all are Palestinians and have to unite and resist. The Palestinian diaspora, Palestinians in Israel and even the Jewish supporters can work together. They won 13 seats in the Knesset – showing the world that they can unify and manage their differences, Islamists and communists came together to share a common ground.
After Ghattas’ speech, a previous participant in the Gaza flotilla explained the purpose of the movement. They are often asked why they don’t enter Gaza through the Israeli checkpoints, but the idea is to challenge the situation because the indigenous people never ask the oppressor for permission. The members of the flotilla are the freedom fighters of today, solidarity demands going back. It’s like the civil rights movement in the USA in the 1960’s. And of course, he asked for money to finance the venture.
Then came the questions and answers session. In one of his responses Ghattas stated that the division of the Palestinian politics was so disastrous that it could be called a second Nakba. Palestinians must start a reunification by throwing away the old movements.
Then he went into details about how he saw the process of destruction of Israel. In a colonial society change can be achieved in two ways. One of them is war, military resistance, which means a lot of blood and killing. He doesn’t see it happening and doesn’t want it to. He is against war and killing. The Palestinian people in their 100 years of resistance saw that only popular resistance might bring results. The other way is boycott and sanctions, the same that happened with South Africa. Iran surrendered after sanctions, the same could be done in Israel’s case. It is difficult, the world is not ready, Canada tries to criminalize BDS, but imposing sanctions on South Africa was also difficult. Nancy Reagan considered the idea crazy. Yet without boycott and sanctions, the apartheid regime couldn’t be dismantled. That’s what should happen, it is hard, but piece by piece, with incremental pressure from the ground, they can do it from the campuses in Europe and the United States. This will break Israel; he knows the Israelis very well. He worked in Israeli technological institutions. If much lighter sanctions are imposed on Israel, not like those imposed on Iran, that will have stronger effect that will be felt faster than in South Africa. The Israelis react like oxygen to the actions of the world. During the war in Gaza, the Ben Gurion Airport was closed for 24 hours, the Israelis went crazy, they were stuck in Europe and Istanbul. It was a sign of what might happen if there are sanctions on Israel. A Canadian newspaper wrote about his statements at the World Social Forum about BDS and the Israeli newspapers started sending him questions. What do you want? He replied: I am a man of peace. The other option – war, killing, what do you expect, the Palestinians to continue living under this situation with no resistance? If the world doesn’t help them, what are they to do? People who do not resist occupation, do not deserve to be people.
In another answer he criticized the citizenship law that prevents the Arab family reunification. It is promoted as a measure to fight terrorism but it is discriminatory toward Arab women who don’t participate in terrorism. (People who regularly read the news will have some disagreements with the last statement.)
A question about the Palestinian Authority brought up the issue of Mahmoud Abbas. Years ago he threatened to resign; he should have, if he had self-respect. He can’t live forever. What happens when he goes?
Ghattas replied that currently there are various institutions in the West Bank, unlike in the times of Yasser Arafat when everything was much more centralized. He stated that he didn’t know what to say and I didn’t care about the PA. The PA is a structure that has no real authority in the region, the Israeli Army has the power and goes anywhere, into Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem. What authority is this? What agreement of peace is this? Abbas was interviewed a few months ago on Channel 2 and he gave the most insulting interview. Ghattas: And I wrote about it, that my leader, the Palestinian nation’s leader, even under occupation should show some pride, some dignity. But he was saying give us one week and we can show you that we can make order in our cities, not in Area C, but in Area A. So, whatever happens with that structure, is not going to make a difference. The only question that matters is whether the PLO with its current structure would continue or change. But the Palestinian movement and the diaspora would add new points of reference to the Palestinian struggle. If you give up struggle and accept only negotiations, you have only one strategy – negotiations. We cannot win through negotiations. Can you convince Netanyahu to give up the West Bank? No. To take out 300,000 settlers? No. It’s like the provincial governments you have in Canada. All the Palestinian people want to change the nature of the Palestinian leadership.
That was a disturbing statement. Abbas, with all his hypocrisy, still wants to create the impression that he plans to curtail the terrorist activities. Ghattas outright rejects that as a weakness. Probably, the violent “resistance” is a preferred option. And I should say again, those are the views of a Member of the Knesset, not of an obscure PLO operative.
In 2014, the Israeli journalist Caroline Glick published the book “The Israeli Solution”, where she proposed the unification of Israel and the West Bank under the control of the government. The idea caused serious objections because the annexation could bring more violent Arabs into the country. Listening to Dr. Basel Ghattas makes it clear that even without that action, things are getting worse in Israel. Even the Arabs who benefit from all the privileges of the Israeli citizenship are turning against their country in the name of an uncertain extremist future.
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