Podcast Ep 53: Whitewashing Ukraine’s Nazis

On episode 53, The Electronic Intifada’s director Ali Abunimah joins Asa and Nora for a roundtable discussion on Ukraine, NATO, the imperialist push toward war with Russia and how it all relates to Palestine.

On 20 March, Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, addressed Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. He used the occasion to heap praise on Israel’s settler-colonial regime.

Zelensky called on Israel to send more weapons to Ukraine than it has already.

“Everyone in Israel knows that your missile defense is the best. It is powerful. Everyone knows that your weapon is strong. Everyone knows you’re doing great,” Zelensky said.

“You know how to defend your state interests, the interests of your people. And you can definitely help us protect our lives, the lives of Ukrainians, the lives of Ukrainian Jews,” he added.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Ali explains, “we’ve constantly been seeing Ukrainian officials pleading for Israeli weapons and praising Israeli weapons, without of course ever mentioning that those Israeli weapons are tested on Palestinians, against defenseless Palestinian civilians.”

What has been consistent, he adds, “is Ukraine’s insistence that Ukraine not be identified with the Palestinians, but that Ukraine be identified with Israel.”

We also discuss the ramifications of the massive propaganda campaign to sanitize the Nazi battalions inside Ukrainian forces, the expansion of Western hegemony and what this war could mean for the future of the entire planet.

Asa talks about the concealed history of the West’s rehabilitation of top Nazi officers and their integration into secret anti-communist armies after World War II. Today, Asa says, we are seeing the ongoing normalization of Nazis when we look at the situation in Ukraine.

Articles we discussed

Video production by Tamara Nassar

Theme music by Sharif Zakout

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Full transcript

Lightly edited for clarity.

Asa Winstanley: Hello, and welcome to The Electronic Intifada Podcast, myself and my co-host, Nora Barrows-Friedman, are here today with our colleague, Ali Abunimah. Thank you, Ali, for joining us. How are you doing?

Ali Abunimah: Very good, Asa. It’s always great to be on The Electronic Intifada Podcast, my favorite podcast.

Asa Winstanley: Yeah, mine too. So today, we are going to have a bit of a roundtable discussion about Ukraine and everything that’s been happening in Ukraine, the war in Ukraine, the geopolitical fallout, and the general political implications of the war and the aftermath of the war. So we thought that a good place to start would be to talk about the recent speech of the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, to Israel’s Knesset. So what did you think …?

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Let’s first let’s go to a little clip of that for some, just some highlights. And then we’ll talk about it.

(Zelensky speaking to Knesset): Ukrainian and Jewish community, always were, and I’m sure will be very intertwined, very close. Now, I want to remind you the words that you know, very well, Golda Meir said, “we want to live, our neighbors want to see us dead.” We are in different countries, we are absolutely in different conditions. However, the threat is the same for you and me, for you and us, total destruction of people, culture, state, and even the name of Ukraine. I have the right to draw this parallel and this comparison in our history, and your history, in our wars for survival, and the Second World War.

Listen to what Kremlin is saying, simply listen to that. They even use such terminology that were mentioned then, when the Nazi Party was marching through Europe and wanted to destroy everyone and everything, to subjugate peoples and to destroy us and you completely without even a word. They were calling it the final solution for the Jewish question. You remember that? And you will never forget that. But you are hearing what they’re, they’re speaking these words, again, the final solution in respect to us, to the Ukrainian question to us that was spoken out loud. This is what Moscow is saying, without the war against us, they would have not have ensured the final solution for their safety exactly in the same way.

And it was spoken 80 years ago, everyone in Israel knows that your anti-missile defense is the best. It’s very powerful. Everyone knows that your arms are very powerful. Everyone knows that you are great, you know, how to stand for your state interests, interests of your people, you definitely can help out people. One could ask and ask why we cannot receive arms from you or why Israel did not implement powerful sanctions against Russia to affect Russian business.

Ali Abunimah: Yeah, it’s interesting because when Russia first invaded Ukraine, I remember there was this huge – it’s a month ago now, this huge outpouring of, you know, instant reaction from I think a lot of well-meaning people saying, you know, Ukraine is, is being treated like Palestine, it’s being invaded. Its people are resisting. You know, this is an illegal invasion, occupation, just like what Israel is doing to the Palestinians and there’s certainly some merit in those arguments. I, for one, think anyone whose country is being invaded, no matter what the reason, has the right to resist that invasion.

You know, Ukrainians have that right. You’ll get no argument about that for me, even if we, you know, we want to talk about the causes and background to this war. But what’s been consistent all along, and we see this in Zelensky’s speech, is Ukraine’s insistence that Ukraine not be identified with the Palestinians, but that Ukraine be identified with Israel. And Zelensky makes this very clear in the Knesset speech that, you know, we, Ukraine, like you, Israel, and our enemies are like your enemies, therefore, you know, on the Israeli side, it would be the Palestinians and on the Ukrainian side, it would be the Russians, therefore, you know, the Palestinians are the Russians as far as Zelensky is concerned.

And Zelensky is not the first one to say this. This has been consistent from Ukrainian officials since even before the Russian invasion. But during the invasion, we saw similar statements from Vitaly Klitschko, the mayor of Kiev, who said how much he admires the Israeli army and how the Israeli army is his model for how to defend Kiev. And we’ve constantly been seeing Ukrainian officials pleading for Israeli weapons and praising Israeli weapons, without, of course, ever mentioning that those Israeli weapons are tested on Palestinians, against defenseless Palestinian civilians.

And Zelensky, of course, alluded to the historic role of Ukrainian Jews in Israel, in Palestine, and I knew a little bit about that, but I learned a lot more reading a recent piece by Joseph Massad that was published in Middle East Eye that I think we can link to. And he points out that really the first Zionist colonists to go to Palestine as early as the 1880s were Ukrainian Jews, and the first Palestinian peasant revolt against colonization of their land was against Ukrainian Jewish colonists. So really, the historic role of Ukraine in the dispossession of the Palestinian people goes back more than a century. Massad also points out how Odessa, which is now part of Ukraine, but was an Ottoman town called Hacibey, on the shores of the Black Sea, was conquered by Russia in the 17th, in the late 18th century, I think, the 1790s, it was conquered by Catherine the Great the Russian Tsar, or Tsarina, and was then renamed as Odessa after, you know, she was inspired by Greek mythology to rename Hacibey as Odessa.

And Odessa then became a major center, the preeminent and earliest center of Zionist thought and agitation. So, for example, Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of the so-called Zionist revisionist movement and the sort of key idealogue that inspires today’s Israeli settler movement in the Likud party of Benjamin Netanyahu. Jabotinsky came from Odessa. And, of course, Hovevei Zion, the early Zionist settler movement was founded in Odessa and founded the first Zionist colonies in Palestine in the 1880s and 90s.

So all that’s to say that, you know, these kinds of simplistic equations of “Ukraine is Palestine and Ukrainian resistance is the same as Palestinian resistance” are ones that are explicitly rejected by Ukrainian leaders from Zelensky on down. And very complicated when you look at the actual history, you know, Ukraine’s intertwined history with the colonization of Palestine and the dispossession of the Palestinian people. And, of course, not to forget, of course, the role more recently that Ukraine played in American imperialism. Ukraine sent the third-largest military contingent as part of the US illegal invasion of Iraq. So I think all of this points to there being just such a lack of context and knowledge and so much of the discussion, we see this sort of flag-waving discussion, we see that just eliminates all of this history and context. And I think hampers us from really understanding how we got to this point. And then what may happen as a consequence of it both, you know, in Ukraine and globally.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Yeah, I mean, just, you know, here in the so-called progressive Bay Area of California, you can’t go 100 meters without seeing, you know, Ukrainian flags outside people’s houses. There’s, you know, on one of the overpasses on the nearby freeway, there’s this huge giant banner that says “we stand with Ukraine” and “Slava Ukraini,” which as Asa has pointed out, is actually a slogan that has fascist history and undertones.

People have this very knee-jerk reaction, you know, of supporting Ukraine, because the corporate mainstream media has told them that this is the correct position without any questioning, any context, any historical analysis at all. You know, what can you say about the way that this narrative has been pushed from this context of knowing what we know about how the media has historically treated Palestinians and the connection between Ukraine and Palestine?

Ali Abunimah: Yeah, I think that, you know, someone on Twitter said this, and I can’t remember who it was, but the phrase they used stuck with me that, you know, the liberal response is that they’re born outraged yesterday. And that’s the approach to every single issue that’s put in front of people that like, you know, people who couldn’t point to Ukraine on a map a few weeks ago, are suddenly, well, the only important thing is that Russia invaded and that has to shape our entire understanding and response without having any understanding of what has happened in Ukraine in the last eight years, the role of the United States in fomenting the coup in 2014 that brought neo-Nazis to power in Ukraine, neo-Nazis who dominate the Ukrainian state. They may be, you know, it’s a point that I’ve heard you make Asa in other podcasts, that Nazis don’t need to be a majority to control the state because they control the state through fear and terror, and even Zelensky, the president, cannot defy the Nazis without, you know, risking his own life. They’ve openly threatened his life.

But these Nazis like the Azov battalion, the Aidar battalion, C14 and other Nazi groups that were instrumentalized and supported and used by the United States to foment the coup so that Ukraine would abandon its neutrality and move into the NATO camp. And I think many people have seen and if they haven’t, they really should see the lecture by John Mearsheimer from 2015. I talked about it in an interview I did with Rania Khalek a few weeks ago that I wrote up for EI – I’m sure we can link that too.

But Mearsheimer explained in 2015 how the crisis in Ukraine – and he says this today, he maintains this position, that the war is the fault of the United States. It’s an unpopular position, he says, because, you know, it’s one that casts blame on the US and who wants to do that in this atmosphere if you’re trying to make a career in American media or politics, but he says that, you know, that really, the US push starting in 2008, to say that Ukraine and Georgia were going to become members of NATO. Not Georgia, the southern US state. Georgia, the country, Georgia, the country in the Caucasus. Georgia, the former Soviet republic, let’s remember, Georgia that was part of the Soviet Union.

And the point he makes is that Russia, and this is now I hope well-known, although there are still people who deny this well-established history, that, at the end of the Cold War in 1989, 1990, the explicit condition for German reunification for the Soviet Union, acquiescing to German reunification, was that NATO would not expand one inch eastward. So that was the terminology that was used, that was memorialized in countless diplomatic notes and records and conversations and so on. And despite that Russia absorbed, you know, it acquiesced to two waves of NATO expansion in 2004. And then again, I forget exactly what years those were, but then in 2008 – and those previous waves basically absorbed most of the former Warsaw Pact countries, the countries that were previously allied with the Soviet Union, and the former Soviet republics of the Baltic Republics of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. And then, in 2008, when NATO said that, you know, that Georgia and Ukraine would become NATO members, so the door was open to them. That’s when Russia really drew the red line.

And what Mearsheimer predicted accurately in 2015 was that the US pushing Ukraine to become a NATO member and using Ukraine as, basically, cannon fodder in a proxy war with Russia would lead to Ukraine, in his words, getting wrecked, and it was really pressure. And people are very mad at Mearsheimer for being correct, too. But, I mean, I think we should thank him. And I don’t necessarily like these analogies, because, you know, you could argue, well, Ukraine is a sovereign state, and they’re free to say they want to join NATO or the EU or whatever it is. But NATO is also free to say no, that would not be wise, we think that NATO should be neutral. Sorry, we think that Ukraine should be neutral.

And you can just imagine, others have made this analogy, what would the US response be, if Mexico joined an anti-American military alliance with, say, China, and started stationing, you know, missile systems on, you know, in Tijuana, or in Ciudad Juarez, or just across the border from the United States. We know that the Monroe Doctrine, the American Monroe Doctrine, has led to the United States invading numerous countries in the Western Hemisphere precisely in order to maintain its sphere of influence. And, right now, the Solomon Islands, a country in the Pacific that suffered horribly under British colonialism and, you know, the British rule in the Solomon Islands was as brutal there as anywhere in the world. Now as an independent state [the Solomon Islands] is freely negotiating a security treaty with China. And Australia and New Zealand are complaining and saying, “oh, this would be a threat against us.”

I mean, how far are the Solomon Islands, how far are they from Australia, New Zealand? But Australia, New Zealand, two members of the Five Eyes, so-called Five Eyes, the, you know, Anglo-imperialist alliance of the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand. And who’s the other one? I can’t remember who the other is. But, you know, it’s one of these states, and Australia and New Zealand, saying this is illegitimate, that a deal with China would be a threat to us. So we’re told, on the one hand, you know, Ukraine is completely free as a sovereign state to pursue NATO membership, and Russia doesn’t have a right to say a thing about it. But the poor Solomon Islands isn’t even allowed to negotiate the security arrangement with China without Australia and New Zealand getting in their faces. And Australia saying “now we have to beef up our military spending in order to, you know, to meet a threat from China.”

And, I mean, this thinking is delusional. I mean, the population of Australia is 25 million people. The population of Shanghai is 26 million people. The population of Beijing is almost the same as the population of Australia. So what kind of world do these countries want to live in? And wherever everything is defined by a zero-sum game all the time, and they just can’t seem to get along with anyone else. So I think that’s the bigger context in which I, for one, see the situation in Ukraine, and which I think is going to have tremendous, I mean, many people are talking about this, and obviously, it’s hard to predict, but I do think that there are a sort of, there is tremendous potential geopolitical fallout. This is really going to reshape the world. It’s one of those moments like 9/11. I’ve said this before, that is going to reshape the world in many ways. But I think this is potentially much more profound and serious, even than the fallout from 9/11.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: I mean, these states have nuclear weapons. You know, the US, Israel. I just, I don’t understand how people aren’t more terrified at the, you know, especially the liberals and the Democratic Party, pushing for more and more war. Not diplomacy, not de-escalation. But, you know, but more aggression. And, putting us at the brink.

Ali Abunimah: Yeah and that’s the remarkable thing, Nora, if you think about it, that there is no push from the so-called West for a negotiated political settlement to the problem, the long-standing problem between Russia and Ukraine, this is not new. This started in 2014, before 2014, because, you know, that the history in that part of the world is that these lands were part of Russia, and Ukraine is a country that is divided between a Russian-speaking population, the Ukrainian-speaking population. There are divided loyalties, divided aspirations for the country. And in such a country, you cannot impose one vision on an entire population …

Asa Winstanley: This is the thing that really exasperates me about all these Ukrainian-flag-waving liberals is that, you know, I don’t claim to be an expert in Ukraine. But it’s obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention, who just reads a bit of news about what’s been happening in the country, at least since 2014: There’s been a civil war ongoing in the eastern part of the country, a large minority of the Ukrainian population sees itself as Russian and declared their own independent republics. And this is what Vladimir Putin has now recognized.

And, you know, it’s sort of convenient to view the war as just starting now. Obviously, you know, there’s been an escalation. But you know, this kind of head in the sands moment, it’s very convenient for these liberals who have this – I mean, it’s kind of a Russiagate derangement syndrome, is the way I see it is that they, they’re so obsessed by this narrative about Putin being this uniquely awful dictator. And this sort of, I guess, Rachel Maddow brain syndrome of just the, you know, official enemy that you’re supposed to hate all the time.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Reflexively, without, without any questioning, without any introspection, without any analysis.

Ali Abunimah: I mean, just take, you know, take an analogy, you know, many people will know that I have long concluded or advocated that, you know, there should be a single state in historic Palestine in which Israeli Jews and Palestinians and others live in equality, in a democratic decolonized state with, you know, restitution for all. Under no circumstances would I suggest that, you know, Israeli Jews need to be forced to speak Arabic, and that Hebrew should be banned, and that, you know, whatever it is. But that’s the equivalent of what I see as this kind of extreme new Ukrainian nationalism that’s being promoted. I believe, of course, that in the context of an equality of democracy, of decolonization, of course, Hebrew should be a language that people speak and are educated in and are free to use and should have equal status for the population that speaks Hebrew.

Asa Winstanley: The Ukrainian government has passed laws outlawing the use of the Russian language in public, in certain public contexts.

Ali Abunimah: As has Israel as part of its nation-state law. Yeah, so-called nation-state law passed in [2018]. It removed the official status of Arabic. So you know that – so I mean, that, again, supports Zelenksy’s claim – it’s evidence in support of Zelensky’s claim that Ukraine and Israel should be identified with each other. But the point is, I’m not advocating anything that I don’t see as relevant in the context of Palestine, you can’t force a single nationalist idea on a population that is so deeply divided in its view of history, in its cultural and political and national aspirations. You have to find some other way. And then, especially so when the brand of Ukrainian nationalism that has been aggressively promoted since 1991, when Ukraine became independent, when the Soviet Union fell apart, but especially since 2014, has been the most extreme right-wing form of nationalism you can imagine.

And let’s talk about this for a second, because what we have in Ukraine, you know, we’ve all seen these discussions online where, you know, people are saying, the Azov Battalion, this group that was part of, you know, the right-wing coup in 2014, the US-backed coup, but they’re Nazis. That they use SS symbols, that they openly, you know, hero-worship Hitler and all of that stuff. And what you’ll see people say, well, the Azov Battalion is just like a couple of hundred or a couple of thousand people, you know, as if just a few Nazis is okay. But all right, let’s take that for the sake of argument. Well, it’s just a few Nazis. That’s not the point here.

The point is that the nationalist cult that the Ukrainian state has nurtured since 2014 is the cult of Stepan Bandera. And who was Bandera? He was a committed ideological Nazi, Western Ukrainian nationalist Nazi, who openly collaborated with Hitler. And the Bandarite organizations, the organization he founded, the OUN, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, were active participants in the Holocaust and the murder of thousands of Jews, of thousands of Poles. And these were committed Nazis, very committed ideological Nazis, who were tools of the SS. And, in fact, then members of the Banderite group were directly placed under the control of the SS, were attacking Jews, carrying out the pogroms for the Nazis and all of that. And then they went off and formed another group called the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, known by its Ukrainian officials as UPA. And the UPA went off, and they were so brutal and savage to the Jewish population in western Ukraine, that Jews went to the Germans for protection. The Nazis were protecting Jews from the UPA – and today you see the UPA flag in pro-Ukrainian marches everywhere in the West. In Chicago, in Toronto. In fact, Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian deputy foreign minister, was photographed with the UPA flag and then she had – she posted it on Twitter itself and had to take it down.

And we see in Chicago, the Illinois Ukrainian society, because there’s a fairly large Ukrainian diaspora in Chicago and Illinois, they have a day to honor the UPA. They have an annual commemoration to honor the UPA. It’s the Ukrainian American society, whatever the name of the organization is that operates in Ukraine, sorry, in Illinois. And so in order to whitewash it, you know, in order to make this palatable, this present-day cult of Nazis, and to make it compatible with this simplistic liberal media story of, you know, the evil Russians and the good Ukrainians, you have to hide or whitewash the history. And so that’s what I wrote about recently about how literally, you know, Hitler’s accomplices, Stepan Bandera, whose image is all over Ukraine now, huge banners, statues in every major city, Kiev renamed its Moscow Avenue that leads to the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial. They renamed it in 2016 Stepan Bandera Avenue by an overwhelming vote of the Kiev City Council. There are statues, huge monuments, to Stepan Bandera in Turnopil in the west of Ukraine, in Lviv, in other cities.

And in order to normalize this, you have to whitewash Bandera. And the piece I wrote for EI earlier this month was about how the Anti-Defamation League, a premier Israel lobby group that masquerades as an organization fighting anti-Semitism, put out an article whitewashing Bandera and saying “oh well, you know, the Banderites just made a tactical, it was just a tactical alliance with Hitler. They didn’t mean it. They were only murdering Jews because it was tactical.” I mean, as if that would make a difference. But, of course, it wasn’t just tactical. These were ideologically committed Nazis.

And that’s who the West, the so-called West, the democracy-loving West are supporting today – the political heirs of Stepan Bandera and Hitler’s accomplices. And let’s just be clear, I just want to be clear about one thing. We’re not saying, I’m not saying that, you know, all 40 million people in Ukraine are Nazis, of course not. What I’m saying, what is the fact is that the political forces sponsored by the West, who today dominate the Ukrainian state are Nazis, or people who worship or, you know, have this cult of personality of Stepan Bandera. It’s not just a few Azov Battalion people. This is a cult of Hitler accomplice Stepan Bandera that is at the heart of 2022 Ukrainian ultra-nationalism that is being fully supported by the so-called West while they crow about democracy and human rights and apple pie and all of that stuff.

Asa Winstanley: What do you make of the role of the President Zelensky in all of this, because one of the things I’ve noticed, and I’m sure you both have noticed, as well, when posting on social media, especially about Ukraine, and the role of Nazi groups in the Ukrainian state having influence of power over the Ukrainian state or being able to kind of, I mean, hold them to ransom as it were, and like the Azov Battalion, when you post about those kinds of things I’ve seen quite often the really wearying response of “how can Ukraine be Nazi, the president is Jewish?” What do you make of that?

And there was a comment in Zelensky’s speech to the Knesset, which kind of stood out to me, it was sort of subtle, but he – when he opened his address, he said, the Ukrainian and Jewish communities have always been very intertwined, very close. Now, considering he is both Ukrainian and Jewish, what do you make of that kind of dichotomy that he’s setting out there?

Ali Abunimah: Well, it sort of suggests that somehow Ukrainian Jews aren’t really Ukrainian. Or that they, you know, it reminds me when Donald Trump was saying to American Jews that, you know, “Benjamin Netanyahu is your prime minister,” that somehow Jews’ loyalty is or should be to Israel. So it strikes me as a somewhat anti-Semitic comment. Yeah, but, you know, this, this talking point that “oh, well, you know, how can Ukraine have a Nazi problem when its president is Jewish?” I’ve seen, you know, none other than Katarina Von Schnurbein, the EU’s so-called anti-Semitism coordinator, making that point on Twitter.

In other words, using Zelensky’s Jewish identity to whitewash the Bandera cult, to whitewash the cult of the Hitler accomplice who murdered and whose acolytes and whose supporters murdered so many Jews in Ukraine. And to me that’s Holocaust – it’s Holocaust revisionism by the so-called anti-Semitism coordinator of the European Union, who’s admonishing us day and night, “never again” and “we remember.” Don’t forget that we have to fight Holocaust revisionism of these very same people. You know, April is international Holocaust Remembrance Day. And these same people who are whitewashing Nazis in Ukraine and whitewashing Stepan Bandera and his murderous Hitler accomplice supporters in a couple of weeks are going to be, you know, giving us pious lectures about “never again” and “we have to learn the lessons from history.” The mind boggles, the mind really boggles.

But, you know, the claim that “oh, well, Zelensky is Jewish so how can there be a Nazi problem in Ukraine?” is much like saying, “well, Barack Obama was Black so there’s no racism in the United States. There’s no white supremacists. There’s no neo-Nazis, there’s no police violence, there’s no, you know, systematic inequality. There’s no New Jim Crow, there’s no mass incarceration, because America elected a Black man.” And, in fact, that was the liberal fantasy of Barack Obama. That absolutely was the liberal fantasy of Barack Obama that, you know, we’ve redeemed ourselves. And we’ve overcome a difficult history because we elected a Black man. But it’s no more true in the United States than it is in the context of Ukraine.

Asa Winstanley: Yeah. I mean, I think if the Proud Boys or the KKK were officially appointed to be a unit of the American military, in the same way that the Azov Battalion has been made a unit of the Ukrainian military since 2014, by the way, you know, that would be a next level of concern – I would be, yeah, I would be very concerned about that. And, you know, you have to say, yeah, there’s some, there’s more than, you know, yeah, there’s a Nazi problem in every Western country in a lot of ways. But in terms of, you know, there’s these groups that exist, and yes, sometimes they try and infiltrate police forces and the military and so forth. But the wholesale adoption of an actual Nazi group – you know, when I first started writing about the Azov Battalion in 2018, and we wrote that, we published that article that I did, about the Azov Battalion –

Ali Abunimah: One of our most-read articles, by the way, at least in recent years.

** Asa Winstanley:** Yeah. And it’s, it’s getting a lot, it’s coming back up at the moment quite a lot recently because of what’s happening in Ukraine and how Israel was helping them with Tavor rifles for the Azov Battalion. I put in the headline, and I described them as neo-Nazis, a neo-Nazi group, but I, you know, as our colleague Maureen said, Maureen Murphy said recently, there’s not really anything “neo” about it. They’re just a Nazi group because there’s a continuity there. You know, there’s a continuity between, as you described, as you described at the beginning of this conversation, the history of the Holocaust, and Nazi groups and kind of satellites of and puppet regimes of Hitler’s – Hitler’s regime.

Ali Abunimah: Yeah. And, you know, it’s just it’s so, of course, I mean, we know and it’s something we’ve all written and talked about a lot, the weaponization of the idea of anti-Semitism almost exclusively as a weapon against the Palestine solidarity movement, where even the mildest criticism of Israel will get you branded as an anti-Semite and a Nazi. Whereas, and the same people, like the ADL, the Anti-Defamation League that allegedly exists to defend Jews against anti-Semitism is busy whitewashing Hitler’s accomplices. That’s what’s happening.

Asa Winstanley: It’s infuriating. And I think this is exactly – I think you’re right there Ali. I think this gets to the heart of why we’ve been covering Ukraine at The Electronic Intifada over the past few weeks, because it gets to the heart of the hypocrisy about the weaponization of anti-Semitism. Because, you know, Lowkey, a British rapper who sings “Long Live Palestine” is branded by the Israel lobby as an anti-Semite. But then a literal Nazi group in the Ukraine are branded by those same pro-Israel groups to be freedom fighters defending Mariupol, in eastern Ukraine, supposedly, you know, and it’s like, in order to, in the years I’ve been writing about the Israel lobby, you kind of have to get a crash course in how this works.

And you have to kind of educate yourself about the true history of anti-Semitism. And so we know about all these things that have happened in – these terrible things that have happened to Jewish people in history. And so therefore it’s astonishing, you could say, perhaps not completely surprising, to see the hypocrisy here and how the reality of actual real current-day anti-Semitism and racism is being kind of whitewashed by these very same groups. So it just – to me – it’s kind of pure hypocrisy, I suppose.

Ali Abunimah: Absolutely. And I mean, all that hypocrisy is blown open now. I mean, you know, we all saw it in the first days and weeks of this war with, you know, the racist description saying, you know, Ukraine is civilized and European, unlike Iraq, unlike Afghanistan, unlike other countries that have been subjected to –

Asa Winstanley: It was a real masks-off moment.

Ali Abunimah: It was a real masks-off moment, and also with respect to, you know, the BDS, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. And you had that excellent podcast, a recent episode with Olivia Katbi from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, talking about just the sheer hypocrisy. Now, everything, you know, Russian, is being boycotted and maligned whereas, you know, all the excuses that we used for so many years to protect Israel against even the mildest consequences for its actions, its crimes against the Palestinians have all blown up. So it’s just – it is a masks-off moment.

And it is a moment, I think, in many ways, you know, for me, trying to look at this in a longer historical context where, in some ways I think that in the minds of many of the warmongers in the West, they see this as a replay of or, let’s say continuation almost of World War Two, that a lot of those people never forgave the Soviet Union for defeating Hitler. I really think that there’s something to that because one of the key ways that the far right in Europe whitewashes the Nazis, whitewashes Hitler’s accomplices like Stepan Bandera, is to say what the ADL said is that oh, well for Ukrainians, you know, that they’re seen as symbols of anti-Soviet resistance and anti-communist resistance. Who was the anti-communist resistance? They were Nazis, they were Hitler’s accomplices.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: They were explicit about it.

Ali Abunimah: They were explicit about it. So it’s, you know, in order to, you know, the hatred of the Soviet Union, the hatred of Russia is so strong, to the point of allying with Nazis tacitly during the war to some extent in some places, but really, explicitly after World War Two, when the attention turned from defeating Hitler to defeating the Soviet Union. And you had that interview with Lowkey on his podcast recently, Asa, where you talked about, really Operation Gladio, which was the – basically NATO’s covert effort to create sort of a stay-behind army. So in the case where the Soviet Union would occupy parts of Western Europe, that these so-called stay-behind armies would, you know, kick into gear and these were Nazis that were was sort of the people behind these stay-behind armies.

I want you to say something about that. Maybe give a little summary. But I just want to say about, you know, I’ve been thinking about why there is this receptivity to Nazism in Western Europe in the 21st century, and to an extent, I think it’s because the extent to which the Nazis were integrated into the so-called West post-World War Two is not well understood by people. The history that we’re taught in, you know, in schools is that, you know, the good guys won, the Nazis were defeated. They were tried at Nuremberg, and they were punished, and everyone lived happily ever after …

Nora Barrows-Friedman: And they completely disappeared.

Ali Abunimah: Completely disappeared. In fact, what happened is that, you know, the West immediately took in, you know, yes, there were trials of top Nazis. And in a way those trials absolved the West that they’re like, provider, I don’t want to say scapegoat because those Nazis were guilty, but it was like, we’ve dealt with all the guilty people. And so, you know, we were free to bring in thousands, the Americans brought in thousands of Nazi scientists, to, you know, everywhere – it’s well-known now that the entire Apollo Moon Program wouldn’t have happened without Nazi scientists. But it’s even deeper than that. In the 1960s, very few people remember this Kurt Kiesinger, the chancellor of West Germany, so the leader of West Germany from 1966 to 1969, had been a member of the Nazi Party. He was a senior official in the propaganda ministry and in the Nazi regime’s foreign broadcasting, who worked with Goebbels and von Ribbentrop. He was the chancellor of West Germany.

Asa Winstanley: I think it might have been Mark Ames who said recently on Twitter that the famous Stanley Kubrick film, the character Dr. Strangelove, in Stanley Kubrick’s film, who is this sort of parody of a war-mad professor who’s trying to sort of warmonger war between the US and the United, in the USSR, it’s said in that film in passing to be a former Nazi scientist. And you know, I remember watching that probably in my teens or early 20s. And, you know, thinking, “oh, this is a bit over the top.” But like, yeah, that’s literally what happened.

Ali Abunimah: Literally true. When the Bundeswehr, the modern German army, was founded in 1955 – remember, the Soviets wanted Germany to be neutral, an understandable position after all the trouble that Germany had caused. The allies, the Americans and their allies refused. And in 1955, the West began to rearm Germany, West Germany, and found that the Bundeswehr was staffed by – there were hundreds if not thousands of former Waffen SS officers brought into the Bundeswehr, into the modern German army. So again, Nazis rehabilitated, Nazis brought back in, and you – I think you see this across the so-called West, certainly in the US. I mean, I think we’re living with the legacy of that today. Asa, why don’t you say a little bit, just give kind of a quick summary of some of the points you made with Lowkey? Because I thought that was just so important, that history.

Asa Winstanley: Yeah, I mean, it’s like you say Ali, this is a really badly understood part of our history. And I include the left in that, and this is something that I’ve only begun to educate myself about recently, you know, the history is there, you can go out and read it, but as you say, like it’s not taught like, same in British schools, you know. I remember, you know, being brought up in schools in South Wales, when I was young, and everything, of course, it has the same educational program as England. And everything we’re taught is the heroic, you know, effort of the British people to defeat the Nazis, and the Blitz and, you know, bomb shelters, and We’ll Meet Again, and all that kind of stuff, you know, which is true.

But there’s another part of the history which is not told, which is that first of all, there’s a – especially in Britain, there’s an overemphasis on Britain’s role in the war, you know, and we weren’t taught about actually it was the Soviets. It was the Red Army who did most of the fighting and most of the dying, and that really defeated Hitler. And but then there’s this more. I mean, to the extent that it was ever mentioned at all, it was mentioned in passing, but then there’s this more seedy side of the history that you’ve started to talk about there. Where, you know, after the defeat of Hitler’s Nazi regime, there were top elements of his regime that were brought in from the cold, so to speak. And it was also the West German intelligence. So the founding chief of the West German Federal Intelligence Service, which is, you know, their equivalent of the CIA, or MI6 for British viewers and listeners, was Reinhard Gehlen, who was the head of the Nazi Wehrmacht’s intelligence services on the Eastern Front.

So he had all this information about the Soviets’ intelligence, and he had a whole network, which was initially called the Gehlen Operation, which then went on and did many different operations for the CIA around the world. You know, so this, this was what was, in many ways, we saw the continuation of Hitlerism, really after the Second World War, and we saw these elements integrated into NATO. And a big part of that, as you mentioned, was Operation Gladio. Operation Gladio was essentially a network of secret armies, which were established all over Western Europe, all over Europe really. It went from Britain in the West until Turkey in the East.

And it was established by the OSS, the CIA’s predecessor organization. The CIA and MI6, they did a lot of the training and establishing of this really secret terrorist army. And it was, as you said, it was dominated by Nazis. In West Germany, there was former Nazis, literal Nazis from Hitler’s regime who were involved in setting up these secret cells in Italy, which is where the name Gladio came from, because each secret army had its own name. But the Italian one was called Gladio. And the Italian one was the first to be brought to light in a big way in 1990. It all came out in an investigation with the Italian government, it came out. There was a public inquiry and so forth. It was quite a big story in the European media at the time.

But it was – yeah, I mean, it was essentially a secret Nazi army. In Italy, it was former followers of Mussolini. In Spain, of course, for a long time Spain was a hotspot under Franco, under the Franco regime until 1977, I believe it ended. It was a base, it was actually a base, and they did training there for these secret terrorist armies, and the Portuguese fascist regime as well. And what’s – ostensibly what these armies’ goal was, was, as you said, they were called stay-behind armies. And the idea that was justified internally, these were top secret, you know that this didn’t come out until many years later, but the ostensible justification was that there would be stay-behind armies to stay behind enemy lines in the event of an invasion into Western Europe by the USSR.

But in reality, if you look at the studies of this, the research has been done about it by academics and experts about the Gladio terrorist network, is that that wasn’t the real goal. The real goal was actually to target us, was really to target Western populations, was to stop the alternative from coming to power, was to stop Communist parties from coming to power, essentially. Basically, that’s what it was about, because they wanted to organize fear and they wanted to organize chaos and disorder. And so what happened was these undercover cells, terrorist cells, they began doing things like targeting just mass – mass terror, bombings and basically bombings and shootings and different kinds of things in different countries, especially in Italy.

The places that we know most about, where it came out were in Italy and Belgium, and France to a lesser extent, all over Europe. There were atrocities that were carried out, which were actually, you hesitate to use the term, but they were literally false flags, you know, they were false flags. We’ve heard a lot about false flags in recent weeks where, you know, it was being said constantly in the Western media that Russia was going to carry out a false flag in order to trigger an invasion of Ukraine. Well, that never happened. But sometimes there are some rather bizarre conspiracy theories about false flags. But these things do exist in history. So, essentially, the meaning of it is just basically that an attack is carried out, usually a kind of terrorist-style atrocity is carried out and then is deliberately made to look like it was done by somebody else in order to incriminate them.

So in the case of Italy, for example, the Bologna bombing, 85 people in 1980 were killed. 85 people in the train station in Italy were killed in this bombing that was done by the Gladio organization, which was these, you know, former followers of Mussolini and all these kinds of Italian, various Italian fascists, who were carrying this out, and then it was made to look like, you know, they were – they were organized under the auspices of Italian military intelligence, this went to the top levels, you know, this wasn’t just like a few rogue elements, this went to the very top. And it was organized by NATO. So it was started by the CIA, and MI6, but when then NATO officially came into existence, NATO took on the coordinating role of the Gladio organization. And it – so that meant they had access to things like Italian police who could then cover things up, there were these mysterious investigations that never went anywhere. And it took some things like there were some campaigning judges in Italy, who were then threatened and so forth. But some of them managed to get details out about it. And it’s thanks to things like that, that we even know about it.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: I can’t believe Rachel Maddow forgot to tell us about this.

Asa Winstanley: Yeah, I mean, it was wild, because it sounds like something from some sort of thriller, or conspiracy novel or something, but it’s the details of it. The truth is stranger than fiction, really. And the goal, the goal of what just – one final thing to say, the goal of what they were trying to do was sort of twofold where they were trying to create fear, for one thing, they were trying to create fear in the population, where it was a kind of sense of chaos. You know, in Italy, it was called the strategy of tension, where it made people feel like they had to turn to the government or even, you know, in some cases, in some countries to kind of push for a coup, that there’d be kind of some kind of coup by right-wing elements, as we saw happen in Turkey with the, you know, the military, the military coups that we saw in Turkey, and there were claims of soft coups in other countries as well, like France.

And, secondly, it was also to incriminate the left, the sort of what was called the hard left. So there was a certain element of infiltration of far-left groups like the Red Army Faction in Germany. And I forget the name of the – there was the Italian, I think it was the Red Brigade, something like that, that were infiltrated by Gladio elements. And it was – the idea was that then they were implicated in these atrocities. And then that, by implication, was used to discredit the more mainstream Communist parties in places like Italy and France, and other countries in Western Europe, which don’t forget, were very – unlike in Britain, and, you know, in the US, Communist parties in those countries came very close to power, because especially in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, where they formed the basis of the Italian partisans as the resistance to the fascists, they came close to winning the elections after the Second World War.

Ali Abunimah: They would routinely get like, you know, 25, 30 percent, that kind of thing. These were real contenders for power in, you know, in these countries. So it was about preventing, also the left from gaining power through democratic means.

Asa Winstanley: Yeah, absolutely.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Sounds familiar.

Asa Winstanley: Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, I think the last thing I want to say about Gladio is that, you know, is a comment my friend, Louis Allday made to me recently, which is that what we’re seeing now, in – not so much in Ukraine, but here in the so-called West, in Britain and in Western Europe, in Britain and in the US and in Western Europe, with the kind of all out media war there has been on the issue of Ukraine, it feels – what Louis said was that it feels like the victory of Gladio. Because the target is us – the target of this kind of war fever against Russia. And the target of this kind of normalization of Nazis that we’re seeing. It feels like we are the target of these kinds of operations as much as Russia.

I mean, a really disturbing example of that was posted last week by a BBC journalist, and it was a BBC video. I’m not sure if it went out on the actual BBC TV, but it went out on his Twitter, and it got 1.6 million views on Twitter. You know, this is not a marginal thing. And it was this bizarre video where the BBC journalist Ross Atkins, high production value, but bizarre because it looked in depth at the Azov Battalion. And it was essentially sort of whitewashing them and saying, “well, yes, they have Nazis in their ranks, but it’s only 10 to 20 percent of them that are Nazis. And actually, they’re the best fighters. So therefore, you can understand why Ukraine is arming and, you know, normalizing them.” So this is the real disturbing thing to me that we’re seeing is this sort of normalization of Nazis in 2022.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Incredible. Incredible.

Ali Abunimah: And I think all this war fever and the flag-waving and all of this, has the effect of just fogging people, people’s vision, to some of the serious geopolitical consequences to some of this, which, you know, will be devastating to people all over the world. Already, there are warnings because Ukraine and Russia are the two – among the biggest, Russia is the single biggest wheat exporter in the world. And that’s, by the way, a recent phenomenon.

You know, in the 80s, the USSR, the Soviet Union, had to import huge amounts of grain from the United States. Now, Russia is the world’s biggest grain exporter, followed by the United States, and then Ukraine and Canada, you know, they’re in the top five. And many countries in the world depend on, you know, many countries in Africa, in Asia, depend on grain from Ukraine, and from these countries. The energy situation in Europe, I mean, this is like, the Americans are so happy with this, because, you know, the natural thing for Europeans to do is to trade with Russia, they’re on the same continent, Russia has massive natural resources. And Europe is, you know, what is it 40 percent of its gas comes from Russia? Well, now they’ve said, we’re going to cut off all Russian gas, you know, within a few years, maybe sooner if they’re not willing to pay in rubles. But you know, and we’re going to start, you know, they’ve signed a deal with the United States to begin importing liquefied natural gas from the United States. First of all, that’s not going to happen overnight, if it happens at all, because the infrastructure isn’t there.

And secondly, it’s a very expensive process, because you have to extract the gas through, you know, fracking, or whatever horrible processes they’re using in the United States, then you have to liquefy it, which is an expensive and energy intensive process, ship it across the Atlantic in container ships and then de-liquefy it on the other end and distribute it. So you have to have all this infrastructure, new distribution networks, terminals, etc. And you know, I’m not an expert in this field, but from some of this stuff I’ve read, the American gas will be at least 20 percent more expensive than Russian gas, which just comes out of the ground and then flows through a pipeline. But this makes the US, makes Europe even more dependent on the United States, even more dependent on NATO and Gladio and all that because Europe is cutting itself off from its natural trading partner which would be Russia.

And then – this is not a bad thing, you know, it’s a good thing or a bad thing, I suppose, depending on your perspective and where you sit, but the freezing of Russian reserves by the West, by so-called sanctions, and by the way, this isn’t the first time because we’ve seen other official enemies have their reserves frozen or stolen, not least Venezuela whose assets were stolen by the United States and handed over to the US-appointed so-called president of Venezuela Juan Guaido, but also the Bank of England, which confiscated Venezuela’s gold reserves.

And the signal that this is sending to countries all over the world is that the dollar and the euro and the British pound are not safe havens that people thought they were because you, you know, you put your reserves or your money in a place you think will be safe and secure. And that when you need it, you can pull it out and use it. And what people – what countries are learning instead is that if you put your reserves in British or American or European banks, and then you have any kind of dispute with those governments, they will just steal it from you.

And so that – it is accelerating, I think, the move towards alternative forms of reserves and currencies, whether it’s, you know, gold, or whether it’s the Chinese currency, or the ruble, or whatever it is to create more independence and to circumvent the global financial and banking systems that – that since World War Two have been completely controlled by the West.Iit will also probably encourage more trade that does not go through or depend on the West. But let’s also be very sanguine, that none of this, you know, there’s no guarantee that any of these global shifts happen smoothly, and people all over the world are likely to suffer. I mean, even Joe Biden said the other day, there’s going to be food shortages, food shortages in the 21st century, global food shortages. What does that mean? What, you know, what will that mean, for people all over the world? What will it mean, in terms of political stability and unrest?

I mean, how innocent or naive we may have been a couple of years ago thinking, oh, the pandemic has a big enough challenge that it’s going to bring the world together, you know, we’re all in the same boat, and we can all see, you know, all of humanity is vulnerable to the same threat. And here we are two years later and this is the situation we’re in. It is – in the 90s, all the talk was about globalization. And now we have really deglobalization happening. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, in many ways, that people are talking about a return to more local economies, more regional economies, more regional and sustainable supply chains and agricultural chains. And all of that may ultimately prove to be a good thing.

But in the short and medium term, you know, the risks and dangers for the world are immense. And I think it traces back to the unwillingness of the so-called West to let go of its hegemony, you know, that they just want, you know, that it’s like, we have to have it, if we can’t have it we’ll smash everything up. And the view that everyone else is a threat, China is a threat, Russia is a threat, you know, anyone else rising up as a threat, this Manichaean zero-sum view of the world that has been so dominant in the so-called West is just very, very destructive. And, you know, it also comes along with an alarming dose of Nazi whitewashing as well.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Finally, let’s talk about how people, you know, with all of this information, and with this, you know, very American and very European tendency to divide a conflict or a situation into good versus evil, you know, support this guy, condemn this guy. When in fact, of course, as we know, this binary sort of system is destructive and it lets hegemonic powers off the hook, especially when they get to dictate which side you should choose.

What’s your advice to people who, you know, are trying to confidently analyze what’s happening, and, you know, and knowing that, that picking a side because Rachel Maddow, or Joe Biden or Jen Psaki says to, may not be what you, you know, like, what you feel in your gut is necessarily the right thing, but you want to, you know, be confident about what’s going – how do we look at what we’re seeing in the media? And what’s your advice to people?

Ali Abunimah: I mean, what I can say is, you know, as Asa said, I can identify with this, it took me a long time to unlearn a lot of the stuff I thought I knew. I, to a great extent, you know, I was, you know, lived all my life in the so-called West and accepted many of the fairy tales that we were told, and that, you know, I grew up in a period when World War Two was the dominant cultural narrative or phenomenon, and everything was World War Two movies and World War Two stories. And then –

Asa Winstanley: And there was a reason for that as well, you know, because there was a lot of truth in it. And, but – that means that, you know, that’s the reason that these imperialist powers have used these narratives, because they are so powerful, and they sort of twisted them into their interests.

Ali Abunimah: Yeah, absolutely. Of course. You know, of course, it was so easy, because it was good versus evil when you look at it in terms of the European continent and Hitler. But the story we were not told, and we’re never taught was, well, you know, Churchill was Hitler to the people of Iraq and India, Britain was Hitler to the people of Africa, Germany was Hitler to the people of Namibia long before Hitler was even born or when Hitler was in diapers.

Asa Winstanley: Yeah, Belgium carried out a holocaust.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Belgians in the Congo.

Ali Abunimah: Yeah, so you know that – after World War Two, after World War Two, and you know, that the so-called good guys won the, what were the French doing in Algeria? What were the Dutch doing in Indonesia, these these parts of the story, you know, if you only look at Europe, you can tell a simple tale of good versus evil. When you look at it from a more global perspective, it’s not quite such a clean picture. But what I want to say is it took me a long time to unlearn some of this. I, you know, I think back to when I was in university at the time of the 1990, ‘91 Gulf War, when it was the same kind of propaganda, was the same kind of war fever. And we’ve seen that again, and again. We saw it with Yugoslavia in the 1990s, with Iraq, again, with Afghanistan, with Libya, you know, catastrophe after destructive catastrophe with Syria, where the West –

Asa Winstanley: There are a lot of parallels between Ukraine and Syria. Yeah, the moderating proxy war, instead of moderate rebels, we’re now seeing moderate Nazis.

Ali Abunimah: Exactly. So, you know, all that is to say that, you know, I don’t have a magic formula, but I do think that people have to be willing to be skeptical, willing to question, and I acknowledge how difficult it is in this information environment where we are being flooded and bombarded with propaganda. I’ve never seen the media more propagandistic – the BBC, which I grew up listening to, and used to be a, you know, I don’t want to romanticize it, because it was always, you know, it wasn’t ever perfect. But you could rely on it, you could rely on the information, you know, even if it was sometimes filtered through a, you know, a British or a colonial prism or whatever it was. People trusted the information and we listened to it for that reason, particularly the World Service.

I remember listening to the World Service on shortwave, during the 1991 Gulf War, there was no internet at that time. I was a college student in the United States and the American television was just all, you know, basically cheerleading for the war and propaganda. So if you wanted to know what the Iraqis were saying, to know what the rest of the world was saying, you had to listen to the BBC. And the only way to do that was via shortwave, I still have my little shortwave radio and I had a huge antenna strung wires up around my room, so I could get decent – I had all the BBC shortwave frequencies memorized. You know, early in the morning, you had to listen to this frequency, at midday, you had to listen to this frequency, and so on. When the weather – I knew, I knew what weather would give you good shortwave reception.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: The kids don’t understand the struggle today.

Ali Abunimah: These are lost skills. But not nowadays, you know, the BBC is part of the propaganda machine in a way that I’ve never seen.

Asa Winstanley: I think it’s a lot more crude. Now. You’re right.

Ali Abunimah: It’s a lot more, it’s a lot more crude. So where do you turn when we have censorship on social media, we have the governments and their tech oligarchs blocking access to media that they consider disinformation? It’s very difficult. And so, you know, I just think we have to maintain our skepticism, maintain our questioning, continue to be willing to listen to independent media, and hopefully more people come to have a more critical and thorough and in-depth understanding of the world we live in. And, of course, people should read The Electronic Intifada and read some of the articles and resources, I’ve always wanted to do this, that we’re going to link down below.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Like and subscribe.

Asa Winstanley: Like and subscribe.

Ali Abunimah: Don’t forget to like and subscribe. And donate.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Yeah, thank you for that. And yes, we will, obviously have all the links on the blog post that accompanies this episode. Ali Abunimah, Asa Winstanley, thank you for this special episode of The Electronic Intifada Podcast and we will have you back on very soon, Ali.

Ali Abunimah: Thank you.




... is not Canada's deputy foreign minister, as Ali said, but deputy prime minister and finance minister.
In addition, it would seem she still rules her former minstry, 'Global Affairs.' A committed Russophobic cold warrior,
she is the granddaughter of a high-ranking editor of a pro-Nazi Ukrainian paper during the war,
first in Krakow and as Germany was losing the war, continued editing the paper from Vienna.
Far from repudiating her grandfather, Freeland venerates him.

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).