Palestinian advocacy can’t win on such an uneven playing field—Human rights issues rise and fall in the U.S. and Israel
By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer
Some American workers have been trying to support Palestinians in several ways over the years. Recently Amazon and Google workers have tried to influence their companies’ decisions to supply the Israeli military and government technology used to harm Palestinians. Another case is of AFL-CIO workers who have voted to condemn Israeli violence against Palestinians and to end U.S. financial aid to Israel. On the Israeli side is the government’s attempt to quell the important work of six Palestinian human rights organizations.
Google and Amazon workers stand against technology transfer to Israeli military used to hurt Palestinians
Google and Amazon workers in the U.S. notified their respective employers that they could not support their companies’ decisions to supply the Israeli military and government technology that is used to hurt Palestinians. Quoted by The Guardian, these workers noted, “We believe that the technology we build should work to serve and uplift people everywhere, including all of our users. As workers who keep these companies running, we are morally obligated to speak out against violations of these core values.”
These workers further urged their companies to withdraw from the so-called Project Nimbus and to break relations with Israel’s military. At the time of their message to their companies, there were 90 Google workers and 300 or more from Amazon. They signed the letter internally to keep their names anonymous, for fear that they might invoke retaliation.
Timing is everything given the signing of the Project Nimbus contract with Israel— just as it attacked Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of 250 people, including at least 60 children. The technology under that contract provides cloud services that permit surveillance and unlawful collection of data on Palestinians, which purportedly “facilitates the expansion of Israeli’s illegal settlement on Palestinian land.”
Significantly, Amazon and Google workers’ protest was recognized by Los Angeles Jews for Peace. This group openly supported Google and Amazon workers, calling on their firms to “Stop Supporting the Israeli Military.” Further, it emphatically made its position clear, stating, “We condemn Amazon and Google’s decision to sign the Project Nimbus contract with the Israeli military and government, and ask them to reject this contract and future contracts that will harm our users.”
Major U.S. labor union rules against its San Francisco affiliate’s support of Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement
AFL-CIO leadership has tried to block its San Francisco affiliate, or Labor Council, from even discussing a resolution of BDS. The largest federation in the U.S., the AFL-CIO, is attempting to block its San Francisco affiliate from voting on its support of BDS, which means a vote to condemn Israeli violence against Palestinians and to end U.S. financial aid to Israel.
In a memo to its affiliate, the AFL-CIO concluded, reported in a news source, The Intercept, that the local union “may not hold a vote on [the] resolution and thus any debate is not germane at your meeting,” and it cannot veer from positions of the main organization.
A member of the national committee of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network responded to the AFL-CIO that its decision was “a slap in the face to every Palestinian.” Not responding to the Palestinian objection, the AFL-CIO averred that its prerogative is “to set national policy for its affiliates and that its existing policy [is] in solidarity with working people in the Holy Land. It does not include BDS.”
Apparently the “working people of the Holy Land” do not include Palestinian laborers, who have less and less land every year to work because of creeping annexation. No compromise has been found to resolve the BDS issue between the national union and its affiliate. Its resolution is best summarized by a statement from the national to its local: “If people want to symbolically do that [agree to BDS], they can, but it would be out of order.”
Israel calls leading Palestinian human rights groups ‘terrorist institutions’
Six Palestinian human rights organizations (HROs) were put on notice by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz that they are being designated as having links to terrorist groups. News source Mondoweiss reported that the list of HROs affected is such prominent entities as Addameer, Al-Haq, and Defense for Children International—Palestine, labeling them as “terrorist institutions.”
Other HROs lumped into the terrorist category include the Bisan Centre for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees. These six are all important organizations that defend the rights of Palestinian children, women, and agricultural workers, among others. Gantz has accused them of “operating undercover in the international arena” on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and of promoting “the goals of the terror organization, including the armed struggle [sic] destruction of Israel.”
Gantz’s actions could result in outlawing the work of these HROs, including closing them down, seizing their property, and imprisoning their staff. This could preclude the important work, for example, of Defense for Children International – Palestine, which defends “Palestinian children in the Israeli military courts and expose grave violations against Palestinian children at the hands of Israeli forces.” Prominent international organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called Gantz’s decision “appalling and unjust.”
An important reaction to this extreme action against Palestinian HROs was voiced by the prestigious Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem. This organization, which is also under attack by the Israeli government, called the government’s attack on the six Palestinian HROs “an act characteristic of totalitarian regimes, with the clear purpose of shutting down these organizations.”
Joining the voices against Gantz’s extreme decision are some U.S. lawmakers, including congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who called the decision, according to Mondoweiss, a “textbook way to evade accountability for human rights violations” and an “affront to everyone who cares about peace.” Also, the over 40,000 members of the American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine voiced their disgust with the Israeli decision, characterizing the effort to quell Palestinian civil society as part of Israel’s “racist policies.” Finally, the U.S. Department of State indicated it would request Israeli clarification of its decision to designate the HROs as terror groups, without any warning.
Israeli authorities have little evidence that the six HROs have any connections to the PFLP except for “the mere affiliation some of their staff have with the political faction.”
“We are Google and Amazon workers. We condemn Project Nimbus,” The Guardian, 10/12/2021
“LA Jews for Peace Policy Statement, Los Angeles, CA,” LAJewsforPeace.org, 10/20/2021
“AFL-CIO leadership tries to block affiliate’s vote on endorsing BDS,” The Intercept, 10/21/2021
“Israel labels leading Palestinian human rights groups ‘terrorist institutions’,” Mondoweiss, 10/21/2021
“AFRP statement silencing Palestinian civil society organizations,” American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine, 10/25/2021
John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID, Department of State, and the World Bank in 65 countries.
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