Antisemitism smear campaign – our fightback begins

Jewish groups in solidarity with Palestine are getting together with other activists to fight back against the Zionist-led smear campaign alleging that questioning the state of Israel is antisemitic.

One result has been publication in the Independent Online of a letter with mainly Jewish signatories under the following headline:

First Muslim woman to lead UK’s students welcomed by Jewish community

Why has the new National Union of Students (NUS) President been targeted by “anti-Semitism” accusations, without any evidence? As a consistent opponent of all forms of racism including anti-Semitism, Malia Bouattia opposes Israel’s racist, illegal occupation of Palestine and supports effective campaigns to end it.

Her accusers have cited her negative comment about the University of Birmingham as “a Zionist outpost”, which is a political category like any other – and so irrelevant to religion or anti-Semitism. Indeed, the false equation ‘Jewish = Zionist’ comes from Israel’s supporters, not from the Palestine solidarity movement.

Malia Bouattia’s election as the first Muslim woman to head the NUS should be celebrated for bringing together resistance to class, racial, religious, gender and neocolonial oppression. Instead, she has been subjected to attacks that mirror those made against the Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader.

Israel is no longer believed when denying responsibility for its crimes against Palestinians, so now its supporters resort to silencing opposition to those crimes with blanket allegations of anti-Semitism. In both the NUS and Labour Party, the right wing loses its control over an organisation and then attempts to destabilise it, regardless of the damage done.

As mainly Jewish signatories, we congratulate Malia on her election.

Mike Cushman, Tony Greenstein, Deborah Fink, Les Levidow, Jenny Hardacre, Eleanor Kilroy, Richard Kuper, Leah Levane, Rachel Lever, Helen Marks, Jonathan Rosenhead, Ian Saville, Amanda Sebestyen, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi 

Two further letters from members of J-BIG appeared in the Guardian.

The comment by the president of Birmingham University Jewish Society that “when someone attacks Zionism they’re indirectly attacking Judaism as a religion, because the two go hand in hand” (Jewish students call for apology from head of NUS for ‘past rhetoric’, 22 April) makes a totally invalid equation. Zionism is a political project that indeed has the support of many Jews and some, particularly evangelical, Christians. But it has to be recognised as a political project and therefore must be open to criticism and opposition by both Jews and others. It cannot be regarded as beyond reproach. Such an approach would place it in a position similar to Communism within China: a state shibboleth that you risk prison to criticise.

It is also a mistake to believe that we cannot criticise Judaism as a religion. All religions must be open to scrutiny if they buttress patriarchy, homophobia, gross inequality, child exploitation or racism – as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and all others have been known to do.

Mike Cushman
Convenor, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods

The election of the first black woman as president of the NUS should be a matter for celebration, not recrimination. The fact that she is a secular, anti-racist Muslim should be an extra cause for joy.

It is a matter of regret that some Jewish students have put themselves alongside the tabloid press in their attacks on Malia Bouattia. I say some Jewish students, because those who are not Zionists or supporters of the Israeli state will not have signed their open letter.

Newspapers like the Mail and Express, which campaigned against the admittance of Jewish refugees in the 1930s, are now to the fore in attacking Malia. Their reasons are just as specious as when they were attacking the Jewish radicals of the East End in the last century. Malia stands, though she may not realise it, in the tradition of Rudolph Rocker, Aron Lieberman and the Jewish anarchists.

Malia has nothing to apologise for. Zionism is a political not a racial or ethnic category. That is why Jews have always been in the forefront of opposing this racist ideology. Her reference to Birmingham University being a “Zionist outpost” is no different than if someone was to refer to Sussex University as a radical or socialist outpost.

Let us hope that the Guardian can find it in it to welcome her election rather than joining in with the tabloid hue and cry.
Tony Greenstein

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One response to “Antisemitism smear campaign – our fightback begins

  1. Harvey Henderson

    Thank you for your brave and honest statement.

    The only reasons for my coming to this page is membership of the Labour Party and unhappiness with the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli state.

    It is a shame that those with an agenda against the current leadership of the Labour Party are unable to acknowledge your existence.

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