Viewpoint - June 28, 2018
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Israel fears exposure of its dirty tactics against BDS
by: Ali Abunimah
A top Israel lobby strategist is afraid of The Electronic Intifada.
Speaking at a conference sponsored by the Israeli government last week, Republican pollster Frank Luntz presented slides showing words he deems most effective for use in Israeli propaganda.
At one point, according to the publication The Media Line, Luntz warned audience members not to post photos of the slides online.
"If you do, it will end up on The Electronic Intifada, and it will be used against everyone in this room," Luntz said.
Luntz was no doubt referring to The Electronic Intifada's reporting on a similar conference in May 2016 on how to defeat the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinians rights.
At that time, Luntz abruptly ended his presentation fearing his slides would be publicized.
Since 2016, Israel lobby leaders have acknowledged in a secret report that all their well-funded efforts to stop BDS have failed to stem the movement's "significant successes" and "impressive growth."
The movement has continued to rack up wins amid a global wave of solidarity with Palestinians spurred by revulsion at Israel's massacres of unarmed civilians taking part in the Great March of Return rallies in Gaza.
Yet Luntz is far from the only one who wants to keep a lid on Israel's covert efforts to silence demands for an end to its regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.
Israel has much to hide.
In a detailed report, The Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz, delves into Israel's latest weapon in its war on the Palestine solidarity movement.
This is an ostensibly independent non-governmental organization called Kela Shlomo, or Solomon's Sling.
But from Horovitz's description it appears to be nothing more than a front for the Israeli government to conceal underhanded activity and to evade laws in other countries when interfering in their politics and civil society.
Kela Shlomo's leadership is a who's who of Israel's government and military elite, among them former diplomats Dore Gold and Ron Prosor, former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror and former head of military intelligence Amos Yadlin.
The organization is working in collaboration with Israel's highly secretive strategic affairs ministry.
Headed by Gilad Erdan, the ministry is in charge of Israel's covert efforts to counter the BDS movement. Its director-general, Sima Vaknin-Gil, was a high-ranking military intelligence officer.
Another of the founders of Kela Shlomo is Yossi Kuperwasser, a former military intelligence operative who was Vaknin-Gil's predecessor as director-general at strategic affairs.
Announcing the creation of Kela Shlomo last December, Erdan said the organization would increase Israel's capacity to fight and defeat BDS.
Kela Shlomo is being funded by secret private donors, but the "cooperative arrangement" with the ministry is reportedly being supported with "matching funds," suggesting that government money is also involved even if it does not go directly into Kela Shlomo's accounts.
The need for a front organization was made clear last month when The Jewish Daily Forward revealed that a number of major Jewish communal and Israel lobby groups in the United States had refused generous cash handouts from Israel's strategic affairs ministry.
The groups feared this would put them in violation of FARA, the American law that requires "foreign agents" to register with the counterintelligence division of the Department of Justice.
According to The Times of Israel, the Israeli government's use of Kela Shlomo as a front, "may mean that pro-Israel organizations that hitherto refused to take the ministry's money may now do so."
One of the more troubling revelations in Horovitz's report for The Times of Israel is that Kela Shlomo may already be involved in dirty tricks and smear campaigns against Palestine activists - the same kind of black-ops in which the strategic affairs ministry has itself reportedly been directly involved.
Kela Shlomo co-founder Kuperwasser insisted to The Times of Israel that his organization has no connection with two shadowy Israeli private intelligence firms involved in dirty tricks campaigns, Black Cube and Psy-Group - though Kuperwasser speculated that both firms could have worked directly for the Israeli government.
Last year it was revealed that disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein hired Black Cube to silence and intimidate victims of his alleged sexual assaults.
More recently, it emerged that Black Cube had been tasked by an unidentified client reportedly close to the Trump administration with trying to gather damaging information on top Obama administration officials involved in negotiating the breakthrough 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
That agreement was bitterly opposed by Israel's government and abandoned by President Donald Trump in May.
According to The Times of Israel, Psy-Group was involved in creating a now-deleted website called outlawbds.com containing the names, email addresses and photos of individuals believed to support BDS.
Last September, The Electronic Intifada received an email from outlawbds.com that was copied to a number of other media organizations, proclaiming that outlawbds.com had already published 100 profiles of activists.
"We want these individuals to know their actions are not going unnoticed and someone will lawfully act to stop them," the email stated.
But while denying a direct tie to Black Cube and Psy-Group, Kuperwasser would not deny that Kela Shlomo works with a third shadowy firm, Israel Cyber Shield.
According to a May report by the newspaper Haaretz, Israel Cyber Shield had been spying on prominent Arab American activist Linda Sarsour and her family as part of an effort to discredit her and prevent her receiving invitations to speak on US campuses.
The dossier on Sarsour was reportedly prepared for Act.IL, the Israeli government-linked organization that runs a smartphone app by the same name to manipulate public opinion and smear and bully Palestine solidarity activists.
But while Kuperwasser "declined to comment," on any relationship between Kela Shlomo and Israel Cyber Shield, The Times of Israel reported from other sources that "there is or was a relationship of some kind between the two entities."
Other sources said, according to The Times of Israel, that "Kela Shlomo actually grew out of Israel Cyber Shield" and that the spy firm continues to collect information for Kela Shlomo.
The Times of Israel's David Horovitz hides his concern about the cooperation between the strategic affairs ministry and Kela Shlomo with grandstanding about morality that is well encapsulated in the article's headline: "BDS is a dirty business. Those who battle it on Israel's behalf must stay clean."
But anyone really concerned about morality and staying "clean" would not justify Israel's massacres of unarmed civilians in the caged ghetto of Gaza, as Horovitz does, using the irrelevant claim that many of those killed in cold blood were members of Hamas.
As Human Rights Watch, among others, has affirmed, "Hamas' encouragement of and support for the protests and the participation of Hamas members in the protests do not justify the use of live ammunition against protesters who posed no threat to life."
Horovitz's real concern is revealed when he writes that "pro-Israel advocacy must not go down into the sewer" because "it's wrong and because it will boomerang."
"The repercussions when any such activity is exposed, and exposed it assuredly would be, are certain to far outweigh any benefit," he adds.
To put things plainly: more people around the world understand that Israel is an apartheid state that violently deprives millions of Palestinians of their most fundamental rights solely because they are not Jews.
In an effort to counteract this, Israel must market itself as a friendly, open and vibrant democracy filled with gay pride parades, high-tech, and sexy women on beaches.
Israel's approach is reminiscent of the "Total Strategy" adopted by South Africa's leaders in the dying years of the apartheid regime.
This involved unprecedented internal repression, accompanied by promises of "reform" aimed at presenting a gentler side of South Africa and staving off growing global isolation.
Just like Israel's effort to defeat the Palestinian freedom struggle, the racist rulers in Pretoria attempted to convince their population and the world that the country faced a "total onslaught" from enemies aiming for the destruction of South Africa.
But whereas apartheid South Africa's bogeymen were Soviet Communism and the "terrorists" of Nelson Mandela's liberation movement, Israel's are Hamas, Iran and BDS. Israel's propaganda - like South Africa's did with Blacks - always demonizes Palestinians, ignoring far-reaching efforts at conciliation.
To have any chance of succeeding where apartheid South Africa failed, Israel must paint the real defenders of democratic values - Palestinians and their allies who demand full and equal rights for Palestinians - as evil people.
Yet because it's not true, it is an impossible task without dirty tactics that undermine the very marketing message that Israel hopes to sell; real democracies and open societies don't engage in smear campaigns, sabotage and possibly illegal activities against human rights defenders.
Horovitz surely knows this. And given his full-throated support for Israel's violent repression against Palestinians, it's safe to assume he'd support Israel's covert dirty war on the BDS movement if he thought Israel could get away with it.
But like Frank Luntz, he knows that the truth will come out and it will only expose Israel even more nakedly for what it really is.
Perhaps the highest profile concealment effort currently going on is the suppression of Al Jazeera's undercover documentary, The Lobby - USA, exposing some of the inner workings of the US Israel lobby.
In March, The Electronic Intifada exclusively published the first concrete details of what is in the film.
The film reportedly identifies a number of lobby groups as working directly with Israel to spy on American citizens using sophisticated data gathering techniques. The documentary is also said to cast light on covert efforts to smear and intimidate Americans seen as too critical of Israel.
Some of the activity revealed in the film could include US organizations acting as front operations for Israel without registering as agents of a foreign state as required by US law - precisely the situation that Kela Shlomo seems designed to facilitate.
Earlier this month, The Electronic intifada reported that Qatar, which hosts and funds Al Jazeera, had indefinitely delayed broadcast of the film over "national security" fears.
Qatar's leaders are concerned that the very Israel lobby the film exposes could put pressure on the Trump administration to withdraw a major US airbase the tiny, gas-rich Gulf emirate sees as vital to deter invasion from bigger regional rivals such as Saudi Arabia.
A similar Al Jazeera film focusing on the role of the Israel lobby in the UK was broadcast in 2017. It showed how an Israeli embassy operative linked to strategic affairs minister Gilad Erdan plotted to "take down" a British minister seen as too critical of Israel.
I discussed The Lobby - USA and its censorship on the Moderate Rebels podcast with Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton.
Original Article: Israel fears exposure of its dirty tactics against BDS
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