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Palestinian campaign against racism accused of 'smearing' Israeli politicians

UK-based group has launched an initiative quoting racist comments by politicians serving in Israel's new cabinet
A supporter of Israel's Likud party waves the national flag at the party's campaign headquarters in Jerusalem on 2 November 2022 (AFP)

An anti-racism campaign targeting senior Israeli politicians prompted a backlash by some Israeli media outlets and the Israeli government on Tuesday.

The pro-Palestinian UK-based EuroPal Forum launched an initiative, 'Israeli Racism in Quotes', earlier this month, quoting politicians currently serving in the new cabinet in Israel.

"The government in Israel, which formed very recently, is the most far-right government in the country's history. Over the years, they have made many anti-Palestinian statements, and they are proud of it," said Zaher Birawi, chairman of the EuroPal Forum. 

"This campaign is meant to show the level of racism among Israeli politicians, and it's very important to expose and show this to the world," added Birawi, speaking to Middle East Eye. 

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'This campaign is meant to show the level of racism among Israeli politicians, and it's very important to expose and show this to the world'

- Zaher Birawi, EuroPal 

Several Israeli newspapers attacked the initiative, calling it a smear campaign. 

Israel's Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Amichai Chikli, said that such Palestinian organisations were motivated by a "progressive extreme leftist ideology or an Islamist ideology", forming what it called an "alliance against the State of Israel and the Jewish people".

Birawi categorically denied the allegations. 

"All we have done is simply take those leaders' quotes and highlight them. We didn't put words in the mouths of the Israeli politicians," he said, speaking from London, where the organisation is based.

Chikli told Israeli media that the "Diaspora Ministry, which is currently adding to it the units for the fight against delegitimisation, will formulate a comprehensive action plan" to deal with organisations like EuroPal Forum. 

"Instead of tackling the real issues, mainly the racism expressed by Israeli politicians, some Israeli media are attacking the people ringing the alarm bell," said Birawi. 

In a statement earlier this week, the pro-Israeli NGO Ad Kan said that the campaign demonstrated a sophisticated effort to undermine Israel and that the government should respond "with a decisive and painful response".

"Their attempt to harm the legitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel constitutes a security risk no less serious than firing missiles at civilians," added the organisation. 

Birawi, however, warned that Israeli civil society should work towards holding its leaders accountable for the statements they make. 

"Arbitrary designations and attempts to tarnish Palestine solidarity campaigns illustrate the length to which notable Israeli groups and politicians will go in order to suppress the conversation about Israeli racism towards Palestinians," said Birawi.

Condoning racism

In December, leaders of Israel's incoming government agreed to scrap a ban on individuals who incite racism from serving in Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

The Jewish Power party, led by far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir, signed an agreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud to introduce legislation that would revoke a section in Israel's Basic Law on the Knesset.

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Introduced in the 1980s, the clause was successful in blocking the return of the outlawed Kach party to the Knesset, which was led by ultra-nationalist Meir Kahane, who advocated for the mass expulsion of Palestinians. 

In 2019, judges disqualified Jewish Power activists Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein from running on similar grounds. 

Marzel, a US-born settler leader in Hebron, is well known for his calls in favour of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Gopstein, the founder of the far-right anti-Palestinian Lehava group, has previously called for the dismantling of the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem.

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