Do 14 Feb 2013
In the last two parts of this series, published in this past fall, we met Jon “Yani” Haigh, who injected himself into the Greta Berlin debacle by signing an open letter along with multiple virulent racists and several sockpuppet accounts, that claimed that there was nothing racist going on in the racist troll groups where Greta Berlin found the holocaust denial video that she posted on the Free Gaza Movement (FGM) Twitter account.
Haigh, who lives in Brisbane, Queensland, works with a politically connected Republican lawyer by the name of Kamal Nawash. As discussed in greater detail in the first two parts of the series, Nawash, following a failed run for the Virginia State Assembly, decided to found a group called Free Muslims Coalition Against Terror, an astroturf operation that serves to root out “extremist Muslims” and generally provides an Arab/Muslim fig leaf for repressive US government policies.
These are, to be sure, strange bedfellows for anyone who, like Haigh, claims to be a Palestinian solidarity activist. As we will see in the following, however, they are not the only ones.
In the course of my research for this series, I was made aware that Haigh, with Kamal Nawash and one Rafi Gassel, had cowritten a roughly US$1 million USAID grant application for a project called “The Path to a Shared Future”. The project, we discover in the Background section, builds on a previous effort known as “Best Plans”.
Best Plans: US Government-Affiliated Normalisation
“Best Plans” is a “glimmer of hope in a sea of hate“, according to a Jerusalem Post article by fellow “Free Muslims” board member Ray Hanania, which also describes an effort called the “Israel-Palestine Confederation”, headed up by Nawash associate Josef Avesar.
Held at the University Centre of Samaria, an institution located in the illegal settlement of Ariel, the group brought together a group of mostly right-wing Israeli Jewish students with a “smattering” of Palestinian citizens of Israel and “some two dozen” Palestinians from the West Bank for open-ended brainstorming on “peace plans”, ranging from Israeli Jewish participants’ plans to culturally assimilate Palestinians into the colonial society of Israel or to extend apartheid from the river to the sea, with citizenship “after an unspecified period of time” for Palestinians who profess loyalty to a state that is explicitly not theirs, to Kamal Nawash’s plan for an “Israeli-Palestinian Confederation”.
It seems to have been a good strategic choice to hold the Best Plans conference in the segregated colony of Ariel, where Palestinians are banned from entering without special dispensation from the authorities, rather than occupied East Jerusalem, where Avesar decided to hold his “Israeli-Palestinian Confederation” mock elections. Avesar’s conference had to find new accommodations after Palestinian anti-apartheid activists became aware of it.
Protesters gathered outside the hotel to condemn the process of normalization of the occupation promoted by the conference, amidst the collapse of the peace process, continuing settlement construction and the confiscation of Palestinian land.
Conference events taking place in Beit Jalah and Haifa over the next few days have promoted a false illusion of Palestine already being liberated and contributed to the normalization of the Israeli occupation. One demonstrator commented that “how would such a confederation even be possible under the occupation?”
The management of the Ambassador Hotel announced their decision to cancel the conference events in a printed statement posted at the hotel’s entrance. A hotel manager stated that “we have been manipulated by the conference organizers, who did not reveal to us its real purposes. We refuse to take part in their attempts to veil the reality of Palestinian suffering.”
The criticisms raised by the Palestinian activists concerning the Avesar event apply in equal measure to the Nawash “Best Plans” conference: Both violate the Palestinian call to boycott “normalisation” events, i.e., events that bring Israeli Jews and Palestinians together to “sort out differences” without acknowledging the real context of inequality and oppression. Under the anti-normalisation prong of the Palestinian-led Boycott/Divestiture/Sanctions campaign, collaborative activities between Israeli Jews and Palestinians must explicitly state their opposition and resistance to the oppression of the indigenous Palestinian population.
One can imagine how well that plan would have gone over with the right-wing Israeli Jewish participants of the Nawash conference.
Towards a Normalised Future
The programme discussed in the USAID application turns out to be an expansion on the “Best Plans” normalisation conferences. In the words of the application:
This proposal involves the selection of two teams of Palestinians and Israelis who are representative of the various ideologies, views and schools of thought that are found in Palestinian and Israeli societies. The two teams, made up of approximately six individuals each, will be required to attend organized workshops and seminars throughout Palestine and Israel to engage Israelis and Palestinians who are representative of the general populations about the minimum contacts, rights and access that they would require to accept a political solution. The seminars will not presume a particular solution such as two-state or one-state solution. The actual proposed solution or solutions will be attempted at the end of the process after the Israeli and Palestinian teams become exposed to the wishes of population and share their findings in the structured reporting process.
This is the definition of astroturfing. Some unspecified persons – one assumes it will be Nawash and his “Free Muslims” mob – will select two teams of Palestinians and Israelis (Jewish Israelis, one assumes) who they deem “representative” of the spectrum of thought found in Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish society. Those teams will carry out what amount to glorified focus groups throughout Israel and the territories occupied since 1967 to engage Israeli Jews and Palestinians who are “representative” about their bare minimum requirements for a political solution. After the focus groups, the two teams will develop the “actual proposed solution” based on their understanding of the wishes of the “representative” people who came to their focus groups.
In addition to being “representative” in the opinion of the “Free Muslims”, these team members must also be “articulate speakers and writers with academic credentials who are able to report without adding, subtracting or reframing discussion content.” In other words, they must come from the more privileged sectors of the society, particularly given the severely limited access to education (especially higher education) for Palestinians.
No information is provided on how the “representative” focus group participants will be selected, or by whom. Crucially, there is no provision for participation by the communities themselves in defining the conditions and manner of their participation, nor any indication that the communities themselves would have any say in deciding who is “representative” and who is not. Every bit of the process is top-down, with the US government-linked “Free Muslims” deciding who participates, whom to listen to, and how to describe the wishes of their hand-picked participants.
“Importantly”, the proposal adds, “the teams will be ‘locked down’ together in a conducive environment (like the Dead Sea Resort) for a period of no less than 5 days before any conferences for a series of workshops on using technology, deal [sic] with objections, managing public discourse and workshop the conference process and the content.” “Dealing with objections” is sales-speak for wheedling a customer into saying yes to something they don’t actually want to buy. “Managing public discourse” once again emphasises that it is the “Free Muslims” team members who are managing the process, not the local communities. Their “discourse” must be managed, rather than simply being listened to.
After the initial conferences are complete, the two teams will be required to submit individual or joint proposals for peaceful solutions based on the feedback that was learned from the conferences.
Each team will be asked to try to reach an agreement on a proposed solution for the Palestinian Israel conflict. However, individual group members may submit their own proposal if they do not agree with a proposal by one or more group members.
The teams will then be required to submit their various proposals to representative audiences in Israel and Palestine. The proposal envisions six additional conferences with three in Israel and three in Palestine to test the proposals on representative audiences. The audiences will be encouraged to give their feedback on the respective proposals. Following the conferences and the feedback from the audiences, the teams will be required to reevaluate their proposals and determine whether the proposals may require amendments or improvements.
In other words, after the handpicked teams work out amongst themselves what proposals they can agree on based on what they were able to glean from the “managed discourse” of the “representative” community members who participated in the focus groups, the teams then go before more “representative audiences” (it is unclear whether these are the same “representative” audiences as the initial focus groups). These “representative” audiences will then provide “feedback”, which will be reevaluated in order to determine whether the teams’ proposals will require amendments.
Just to hammer home the importance of being “representative”, the working language will not be the native languages of the communities in question:
The experience gained in The Best Plans Project indicate that people are capable of using English as the working language with translations to Hebrew and Arabic.
So, in addition to whatever criteria the “Free Muslims” will use to determine whether a focus group participant is “representative”, the “representatives” must also have at least a working knowledge of English – which is the native language of many Jewish Israelis (including the current PM), but much less accessible to Palestinians with their limited educational opportunities – thus further restricting the field. It is not entirely clear whether “translations” means that there will be interpreters present (yet another layer of mediation between the communities and “their” plans), or whether only the written documents produced by the teams will be translated.
One can be excused for thinking at this point that this is remarkably similar to the US occupation régime’s plan for “caucuses” as a substitute for actual elections in Iraq. However, that plan may actually have involved fewer levels of mediation by “representatives” selected by outsiders.
But wait, there’s more…
After the proposals are tested before representative audiences, the two teams will then meet for face to face peace negotiations to write a peace agreement. If no united peace agreement is reached by consensus, then the two groups will be required to attempt to reach a proposal by majority vote, where as the preferred method is consensus.
If an agreement is reached the solution will be distributed to the populations via newspaper advertisements, electronic media and other written and multimedia dissemination processes. The website will be updated and adapted to allow people to read the final proposal, comment on it and cast a vote for or against the proposal.
So, after “representative” team members selected by outsiders conduct focus groups with “representatives” selected by outsiders and decide amongst themselves what they think the handpicked focus group participants want, and then focus group that proposal with even more “representatives” selected by outsiders, the two initial groups of “representatives” selected by outsiders will come together to decide on a “united peace agreement” amongst themselves. If, and only if, the “representatives” are able to reach a consensus will the public as a whole be let in on the proposals, and given an unmediated opportunity to comment on them and vote for or against them.
Essentially, then, the idea is to do a community theatre production of the bogus “peace process” with limited public participation only at the fag end of the process.
The authors of this application – Nawash, Haigh, and Gassel – are not unaware of the Palestinian movement against “normalisation” with the apartheid system, discussed above. Indeed, they expressly acknowledge its existence, and state that “The two teams must work independently (…) to avoid the anti-normalization concerns in which Palestinians are discouraged from working closely with Israelis.” Which is to say that, rather than honour the anti-normalisation campaign, they seek to circumvent it by claiming that Israeli Jews and Palestinians working on this normalisation project are not really normalising because they aren’t working on the same project in the same place at the same time.
However, it would be unfair to say that the Towards a Shared Future project doesn’t include any innovative elements. It does, chief amongst them the element of surreptitious electronic surveillance. The USAID application includes funding for the purchase of fifteen pairs of “ZionEyez” (now Zeyez) sunglasses “built-in HD camera, microphone, recording media and interface live to mobile phones”.
“These glasses”, it is noted in a footnote, “are high quality and very difficult to pick as being other than normal Raybans. They provide an ability to record events without creating a sense of ‘cameras are watching me everywhere’.”
The USAID: An Odd Partner for Social Justice Activists
Perhaps more significant than the content of the application itself is the source of the funding sought: the US Agency for International Development.
Whilst it presents itself publicly as a humanitarian aid agency helping benighted populations out of poverty, in reality, the agency is an instrument of US foreign policy, often working in tandem with another, better known, Agency. Recently, the Venezuelan-led ALBA (Alternativa Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América – Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America) states voted to expel USAID from their territory, following the “parliamentary coup” that ousted centre-left Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo, replacing him with a politician more willing to make deals with foreign mining corporations.
This is just the most recent in a long series of coups supported in one way or another by USAID activities. In the 1960s and 1970s, USAID provided torture training and equipment to Uruguayan “security” forces, as was revealed when USAID torture instructor Dan Mitrione was captured by the Tupamaro guerrilla organisation. Similarly, USAID provided support for the military dictatorship in Brazil, the murderous “Baby Doc” Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti, and, more recently, was implicated in US-instigated 2002 coup against Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez according to the documents unearthed by lawyer and researcher Eva Golinger. USAID’s role in the current murderous coup/occupation regime in Haiti is also a matter of record.
When first confronted with the USAID connection, Yani Haigh defended the agency, stating that it is merely an agency that “distributes money based on criteria”.
This is undeniably true:
Where there is a subservient dictatorship, USAID helps prop it up. Where there is a disobedient government, USAID works with other CIA associates like the “National Endowment for Democracy” and the “International Republican Institute” to “enhance civil society”, i.e., to finance and provide propaganda for right-wing groups willing to overthrow the miscreants.
In short, USAID is about as likely an instrument of justice for the Palestinians as, well, the “Free Muslims against Terror”.
The USAID application includes a somewhat detailed bio/CV of Jon “Yani” Haigh, revealing that the “Free Muslims” and the USAID application discussed above are by far not the end of the story. Haigh’s other dubious connections will be discussed in the next instalment.
In a comment below, Haigh writes:
Anyone on that list will tell you that I never buckle to Zionists, sexists, homophobes, abuse or liars.
Fortunately, Haigh has a track record on this subject, which allows us to see exactly how strong a stance he takes against sexist abuse, in particular: