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It’s Not Good To Talk

This is a cross-post from Joseph Weissman

The Amos Trust is a Christian charity which focuses on social action, particularly in Nicaragua, India, and in Israel/Palestine. By far the project to which they dedicate most time and attention is Palestine.

Ben White runs Amos Trust’s campaign A Just Peace For Palestine.

White expands upon his activities with the Amos Trust in this interview conducted by Stephen Sizer, who himself is a trustee of the charity.

Whilst I commend Christians who have a social conscience, I don’t think that working with Amos Trust is something you should feel terribly proud of.

I have highlighted how the Amos Trust casually draws upon historical themes of theological antisemitism, framing the Christmas narrative in a way hostile to the Jewish nation.

It was Garth Hewitt, the founder of the Amos Trust, who came up with the idea to rewrite Christmas carols as anti-Zionist anthems. The Amos Trust have also produced this “walled nativity” in 2007:

Incidentally the Separation Barrier is located towards the West, therefore the Magi wouldn’t actually have a problem getting in from the East, but nevermind.

Recently, Amos Trust have made headlines due to their position on ASHamed Jews.

Garth Hewitt told a Christian news agency that anti-Zionist Jews remind him of the Hebrew prophets:

However, Canon Garth Hewitt of Britain’s Amos Trust and “A Just Peace for Palestine,” had a different response [to the Jewish Boat To Gaza]. He told ANS in a recent e-mail, “This was an incredible example of Jewish prophetic witness which reminds me strongly of both Amos and Micah.”

This should demonstrate to most people that the Amos Trust are nutters.

I think that Ben White, who fancies himself as a serious commentator on the Middle East, has made a terrible decision to work for the Amos Trust on Israel/Palestine. It is harmful to his image as someone who wants to appear both scholarly and revolutionary.

Still, perhaps eager to impress his new employers, Ben White has just launched a new website calling for a boycott of Israeli telecommunication company Bezeq, Disconnect Now.

Basically, BT welcomed Bezeq into its Global Alliance of phone companies early last year. However, Bezeq allows Israelis to make phone calls to people in the settlements and vice versa. Therefore, BT should kick Bezeq out of the Alliance.

Now, whilst I’m usually suspicious about anything to do with the BDS movement, I can at least get the point when anti-Zionists oppose Caterpillar for its role in housing demolitions, or call on governments to stop military aid to Israel, and so on.

But Ben White is opposed to people speaking to each other by phone. He would happily punish the whole of Israeli society because some people phone other people in the settlements. Leaving aside wider political issues for the moment, I think that’s a ridiculous position to take.

If the Israeli government are providing financial incentives for poorer people to move to the settlements, then protest against the Israeli government. But to protest against these people being able to phone their relatives at affordable rates seems a bit silly and rather harsh.

In any case, by Ben White’s own logic, by connecting people all around the world to political hotspots, BT are also complicit in human rights violations in Zimbabwe, Iran, Eritrea and Sudan, as well as supporting illegal occupations in Turkey and China. That’s okay though.

Ben White’s employers have this letter in the Guardian outlining why they think BT should really listen to Ben White’s latest web project. He has also gained support from Stop The Wall, the New Internationalist, the PSC, Christian newspaper Ekklesia, War on Want, and assorted Methodists.

The JC reports on the Guardian letter here, focusing on Ken Loach’s support for Disconnect Now.

Speaking of connecting, did you spot something interesting here? Ken Loach and Ben White both support this initiative. They are both on record as saying they “understand” (nod nod wink wink) why people hate Jews.

Oh well. Birds of a feather flock together.

By now, you may already be questioning whether Ben White’s Disconnect Now campaign is appropriate or sensible in any way. And indeed, there are further reasons to be puzzled by Ben White’s logic.

The JC notes:

Activists say Bezeq should be boycotted as it provides communications to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. But BT denies any of its products ever reach the West Bank. The deal means Bezeq International is now part of the “BT Alliance”, helping BT sell communications services to multi-national companies in Israel. None actually operates in the West Bank. Bezeq also has a partnership with Palestinian network PalTel to connect calls between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

So Bezeq is in partnership with Palestinian communications firm Paltel.

Here is the press release from Paltel about their co-operation with Bezeq:

Nablus – The Palestine Telecommunications Company, Paltel announced the availability of direct access from the fixed line prepaid cards “Ahlan” to the fixed line network of Bezeq International.  This service will allow all subscribers to connect to Paltel and receive calls directly by using the pre-fix of 0765 and then dialing the designated number.  This new service is the result of Paltel’s eagerness to provide permanent advanced services to customers while ensuring the highest levels of quality are maintained.

So, Ben White is campaigning against BT for associating with Bezeq. To be consistent, Ben White should also be campaigning against Paltel for associating with Bezeq. If BT are complicit in the Occupation then so are Paltel.

Would Ben White suggest that Palestinian firms who work alongside Israeli firms are complicit in the Occupation?

Yes he would, as it turns out.

Last year, White wrote for Comment is Free:

” [...] the Palestinian Authority is also staffed with “native” West Bank leaders for whom business interests long since trumped fighting for national liberation. Then there are also the groupings created by individuals who have a loyal power base around them.”

White here criticises huge swathes of Palestinian society in a terribly unfair manner. Also I can’t help thinking that his use of the term “native” sounds horribly colonialist.

Having told us that he understands antisemitism (which might vex Israelis), and then criticised the “natives” in the West Bank (which might vex Palestinians), we have to wonder, is Ben White really the best person to be running political campaigns about the Middle East?

The more you read White’s new site, well, it just gets more and more confusing.

The Disconnect Now website heavily implies that Bezeq set up an internet platform for Kahanist settlers:

There are also references in media reports to Bezeq’s presence in so-called ‘outposts’, settlements that have not been officially authorised, or legalised, by the Israeli state:

But if you read the article linked to from Haaretz closely, clearly it wasn’t Bezeq that set up the settlers’ internet connexions, but some other company:

The Havat Gilad outpost is not linked up to the water and electricity networks, and there is no other infrastructure. “We have only 25 Bezeq [telephone] lines for 25 families,” says Zar. “So we brought in a company that connected us via Kedumim. We have wireless Internet and the entire outpost is connected.”

Obviously the settler ideology is wrong and Kahanism is a really dangerous ideology. It’s one I’ve blogged about a fair number of times.

But do Bezeq deserve to be boycotted because Kahanists have obtained 25 Bezeq phonelines?

If you’re going to worry about any company that Kahanists use and then hold said company accountable, it’s clear from the Haaretz piece the real culprit isn’t Bezeq but Facebook:

“There are 2,000 people with another circle around them, to whom the [operators of the Facebook page] also convey information. Public awareness is important in the long term. It’s important to us to explain ourselves, and Facebook is another tool. It’s important to the public, as well as the hilltop youth, to hear what we have to say.”

Ben White has not launched a campaign calling for everyone to disconnect now from Facebook because settlers use Facebook to spread Kahanism. However, he has launched a campaign to boycott Bezeq because religious settlers use Bezeq lines.

Why? I can’t think of any reason other than that Bezeq are Israeli whereas Facebook is American, and Ben White wants to focus on evil Israeli corporations. Perhaps White realises that launching an anti-Facebook campaign would look too quixotic even for him.

But why would White oppose a communications firm in the first place, as opposed to an Israeli munitions firm or a bulldozing company?

It seems Ben White doesnt like talking with people who urge dialogue in the Middle East:

Only last month he wrote in Cambridge student paper Varsity:

“A popular tactic by Israel’s defenders – particularly on campus – is to urge ‘dialogue’ and ‘moderation’, the same patronising words heard from preservers of the status quo in the segregated Deep South and apartheid South Africa. ”

So Ben White doesn’t want dialogue with people who don’t want Israel boycotted, ie. most Jews and 99.9% of Israeli Jews. He thinks talking to people who oppose boycotts won’t solve anything.  That might be why White has switched off comments on his blog, because he won’t “dialogue” with “Israel’s defenders”.

Perhaps this attitude might also explain why he has selected an Israeli communications company as the object of his wrath.

But I think BT’s Michael Prescott should be commended for his marvellous response to the Disconnect Now campaigners.