Category Archives: Free Speech on Israel

The Orwellian defenestration of David Ward

The moral panic about antisemitism rumbles on, crushing pro-Palestinian voices such as that of Malia Bouattia, former President of the National Union of Students, and taking its first general election scalp with the dumping of prospective parliamentary candidate David Ward by Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron. See below the full story originally published by Free Speech on Israel.

We would like to be able to share with you the refreshing viewpoint of Jewish Bath University politics student Joanna Phillips, but we have not yet managed to obtain her permission to republish her piece in full. Read it here on the Jewish News website.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

The Orwellian defenestration of David Ward

It was inevitable that antisemitism smears would be deployed against supporters of Palestine at some point during #GE17. Even so it was a surprise to hear Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat party leader, cornered by pro-Israel lobbyist Eric Pickles in the House of Commons on Wednesday, appeasing the witch hunters by declaring that one of his own parliamentary candidates would be banned from standing.

The language used to denounce David Ward, former Lib Dem MP for Bradford East, as in so many of the cases we have seen in the Labour Party, the National Union of Students and elsewhere, takes us deep into Orwellian territory.

David Ward

While Ward could probably sue the Jewish News for calling him “the Israel-hating, Jew-baiting former MP David Ward”, other media have been less hysterical but equally dishonest.

The Guardian’s coverage referred back to 2013 when it called Ward the “Liberal Democrat MP suspended by the party after questioning the continuing existence of the state of Israel”.

What had Ward actually written on his Twitter feed in July that year?

“Am I wrong or are am I right? At long last the Zionists are losing the battle – how long can the apartheid State of Israel last?”

It must be clear to all but the most partisan that Ward is talking here about the continuation of apartheid, not of Israel itself. It may be controversial to refer to Israel as an apartheid state, and it makes some people very cross, but it is decidedly not an expression of hatred of Jews.

Further yet, taking into account the legal opinion of Hugh Tomlinson QC on the definition of antisemitism adopted last December by Theresa May’s government, if Ward had in fact questioned the “continuing existence” of the state of Israel, that in itself could not be used to prove his antisemitism, since he has expressed no hostility to Jews as Jews.

This view has received a ringing endorsement in the pages of the London Review of Books from former Lord Justice of Appeal Sir Stephen Sedley (who happens to be Jewish).  Sedley wrote that the inadequacies of the definition so ardently embraced by Pickles and May allow “perceptions of Jews which fall short of expressions of racial hostility to be stigmatised as anti-Semitic.”

Exactly so.

The Lib Dem’s Farron said at a rally in St Albans on Wednesday that he found comments David Ward has made in the past “deeply offensive, wrong and antisemitic.”

So what has Ward said, apart from talking about apartheid Israel, that Farron might think fits this description?

According to LBC, “Mr Ward also caused controversy in 2013 when he wrote on his blog accusing ‘the Jews’ of atrocities against Palestinians. He was condemned by politicians, Jewish groups and Shoah survivors when he equated Jewish suffering in the Holocaust with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.”

This is another example of Orwellian word games. What Ward actually said on his website – and credit is due to the Spectatorfor taking the trouble to quote him in full – was that he was “saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps, be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”

This is not “equating” Jewish suffering with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, it is lamenting the fact that one has followed historically upon the other. It is not “accusing” the Jews of atrocities, it is regretting that those who have suffered injustice in the past are now inflicting it on others.

I have, in discussions about the Middle East where my Jewish heritage comes up, heard countless questions worded almost identically to David Ward’s statement. It is an almost constant refrain – “How is it possible that people who have suffered so much can cause so much suffering to others?”

I recognise these questions for what they are – expressions of sincere concern and bafflement at a seemingly inexplicable state of affairs. They are based on the understandable misapprehension that the Israeli state, which calls itself “the Jewish state”, represents all Jews. They usually lead to productive discussions about the history of Israel and Palestine, offering me the opportunity to explain that – despite the claims made by and on behalf of state of Israel – very many of us do not identify with Israel and resent the erroneous assumption that we all share its ideology.

Ward would have done better to avoid using the problematic pair of words “the” and “Jews”. As Oxford philosopher Brian Klug has explained, a negative stereotype of “the Jew” is at the heart of antisemitism, projecting an illusory malign and mysteriously powerful figure onto individual Jews and Jewish organisations.

Ward apologised as soon as he realised how his words might be misread. After being dumped by Farron, he offered a creditable account of himself on his Facebook page, indicating that he well understands what antisemitism truly is and realises that generalisations about all Jews are unacceptable.

But he is hardly alone in making unwarranted generalisations. They come most often from people claiming to speak for “the Jewish community” as if this was an undifferentiated mass with no individual opinions. Now that is antisemitic!

If people making comments like David Ward’s express any hostility to Jewish people or give any hint of harbouring hateful feelings against us, I have no hesitation in chastising them for their antisemitism. But there is nothing in Ward’s comments of themselves that even hints at hatred of Jews – and this, as Sir Stephen Sedley reminds us, is what antisemitism is.

I have written to Tim Farron asking him to explain why he has departed from Nick Clegg’s view in 2013 that what David Ward said then was neither racist or antisemitic.

Maybe part of the answer lies with the extreme Zionist Campaign Against Antisemitism, which claimed that it had “worked with outraged Liberal Democrats to raise the issue with Mr Farron when news of Mr Ward’s selection broke.”

The CAA continued gleefully:

“The knockout blow was delivered by Sir Eric Pickles and the Prime Minister during Prime Minister’s Questions. Sir Eric praised the Prime Minister for adopting the International Definition of Antisemitism on behalf of the government, and asked whether she felt that all parties should “not just pay lip service to it, but to actually do something about it”, before attacking Mr Ward’s views.”

Farron obligingly caved in.

I will await with interest the Lib Dem leader’s response to my personal letter, which concluded:

“We are on dangerous ground when we allow proponents of a partisan political (in this case pro-Israeli) stance to determine what may and may not be spoken about. Freedom of expression is seriously at risk here and you, as a Liberal Democrat, should be defending it, not conniving in its demise.”

 

 

 

 

 

A useful new briefing: What antisemitism is, and what it is not

Free Speech on Israel Briefing

What antisemitism is, and what it is not

Since early in 2016, debate about rights for Palestinians has been under severe threat because criticism of Israel and of its founding ideology, Zionism, has been misrepresented as antisemitic.

Antisemitism is hatred of Jews simply because they are Jews.  It must be vigorously combatted, along with all forms of bigotry. Confusing it with opposition to the state of Israel or Zionism is to obscure the real meaning of the term antisemitism and make fighting against it more difficult.

We say that behaviour is antisemitic if:

  • it inflicts or incites violence against Jews because they are Jews
  • it expresses hatred of Jews because they are Jews
  • it stereotypes Jews on the basis of alleged negative personal characteristics such as being mean, sly and avaricious
  • it links Jews to conspiracy theories about world domination of media, financial or governmental institutions
  • it accuses all Jews of embracing a single ideology, whether communism, capitalism, Zionism or any other
  • it holds all Jews responsible for the actions of the Israeli state
  • it suggests Jews were responsible for, or fabricated, the Holocaust.

 

Zionism is the political ideology which underpins the Israeli state: it is not Judaism

A recent survey of Jewish opinion (City University/Yachad 2015) found over 40 percent of British Jews did not identify as Zionist. Zionism is not an essential part of Jewish identity. It is a political ideology which can be debated like any other. Opposing it is not antisemitic.

However in December 2016, a so-called “new definition” of antisemitism was adopted by the Conservative government. It is being widely promoted by “We Believe in Israel” and similar propagandist groups, to local government, universities and other institutions. It threatens to convert legitimate political debate into a taboo.

The document being circulated begins with an innocuous-seeming definition which contributes nothing useful to the understanding of antisemitism. It says: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

This is followed by 11 examples of behaviours that it calls antisemitic, seven of them referring not to Jews, but to the state of Israel. We examine some of them below.

A House of Commons Home Affairs Committee report in October 2016, while winning praise from pro-Israel lobbyists for promoting the definition previously adopted by a non-government body, the IHRA, nonetheless made sure to issue caveats about using these examples. The Committee stated (Defining Antisemitism, paragraph 24) that it was not antisemitic to criticise the Government of Israel, or to hold the Israeli Government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli Government’s policies or actions, “without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.”

Such reservations are absent from the version adopted by the UK government and circulated to local councils by pro-Israel propagandists early in 2017. A motion voted through by the London Assembly in February stated bluntly that the examples given were “manifestations of anti-Semitism”.

Here we discuss some of the more problematic examples.

  1. Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.

There is no clear link between the two parts of this sentence.

  • Rights attach to human beings, not states. Asserting the right to self-determination does not give any group a right to suppress others in its name. Palestinians also have rights, including the same right to self-determination and the right to protest at the injustices inflicted upon them in the name of Jewish self-determination. It is not antisemitic for them to do so, nor for anyone else to support them.
  • Jewish people exercise their right to self-determination in many different ways, in a multitude of countries, generally with little restraint. Most Jews in the world already have one homeland and don’t see the need for another. Is it antisemitic if you don’t tie Jewish self-determination to Israel? Are the over forty percent of British Jews who don’t see themselves as Zionist antisemites?
  • You don’t have to believe that those who founded Israel were inspired by racism to recognise that racism has been an indisputable outcome of its creation, given the expulsion of around 750,000 Palestinians who were not allowed to return, and much institutionalised discrimination against those who remain.
  • It’s not antisemitic to recognise that international law sees Israel as in “belligerent occupation” of all Palestinian territory occupied in 1967 including all of East Jerusalem, sees all settlements as illegal, and all Palestinians under occupation as severely discriminated against.

Useful link: The UK government’s new ‘anti-semitism’ definition conflates racism with valid criticism of Israel

 

  1. Applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • The unstated assumption in this statement is that Israel is a normal democracy, just like any other. Is it antisemitic to question this? Especially when there is extensive evidence of discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel who are notionally full and equal citizens? And of course there are around four millions Palestinians whose fate is determined by Israeli control and occupation who have no vote at all – hardly normal in a democracy.
  • In practice, Israel’s defenders complain of Israel being expected to abide by internationally accepted norms. Israel is in fact exceptionally favoured on the international scene by being granted unprecedented impunity for breaches of international law and human rights conventions without sanction. It is not antisemitic to call Israel to account for those breaches.

 

  1. Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Comparison with the Nazis can be particularly hurtful and should not be bandied about. The system of industrialised murder that Nazism instituted in its extermination camps has had few parallels elsewhere.
  • However, you cannot a priori rule out the possibility that there are valid comparisons to be made between some aspects of what happened under the Nazi regime and some events that take place in Israel (or any other country).
  • The study of history and politics requires us to make comparisons between different societies in different times. Nazi Germany has become the benchmark for a particularly horrifying form of racist totalitarianism. Sometimes people, including Jewish Israelis, appalled at Israel’s behaviour towards Palestinians, reach for the worst comparison they can muster and draw Nazi parallels. It can be hurtful and may make productive debate difficult. But it is generally not made with antisemitic intent.

 

  1. Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel

 

  • We agree that it is bigoted to hold Jews – or any ethnic or religious group – collectively responsible for anything. To identify all Jews with Israel is stereotyping, and therefore antisemitic.

 

  • But ironically, it is the Jewish establishment itself, in Britain and elsewhere, that expends huge amounts of energy claiming that Israel is central to the identity of every Jew. Its leading bodies and publications insist that Jewish communities are monolithic in their support for Israel in its wars on Gaza, for example – despite clear evidence of dissent and disagreement from many tens of thousands of Jews around the world.
  • In this situation, non-Jews can hardly be blamed for gaining the impression that Jews and Israel are indivisible. This confusion may result in unintentional antisemitic statements. Rather than attacking people misled by the rhetoric of Jewish community leaders, those organisations would do better to explain about non-Zionist Jewish traditions and make clear that not all Jews are Zionists, and not all Zionists are Jews.

Supporters of a definition of antisemitism which deliberately equates it with opposition to Zionism have already succeeded in chilling political debate, as people move to avoid what they see as a ‘difficult’ topic. Institutions that traditionally host discussions, such as universities, church halls and other public meeting places, are cancelling events because they are frightened that some transgression might take place. It is simply easier not to talk about Palestine. This situation is likely to get worse if the flawed “new definition” is not resisted.

 

For further information and analyses see www.freespeechonisrael.org.uk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Labour Jews tell Chakrabarti antisemitism inquiry: supporting Palestine is not anti-Jewish

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

www.freespeechonisrael.org.uk

Labour Jews tell Chakrabarti antisemitism inquiry: supporting Palestine is not anti-Jewish

  • Free speech is at risk from the charge that opposition to Zionism is antisemitic
  • Pro-Israel Jewish organisations do not represent all Jews
  • Antisemitism must be confronted alongside Islamophobia and other forms of racism
  • False allegations are being used as a weapon against Corbyn supporters

June 24 – Jewish Labour Party members and supporters have hit back against pro-Israel lobbyists alleging antisemitism in the party, telling an inquiry established by party leader Jeremy Corbyn that free speech is under threat from attempts to make criticism of Israel a “thought crime”.

Free Speech on Israel (FSOI), a Jewish-led network of labour, green and trade union activists, was set up in April to counter attempts by pro-Israel right wingers to brand the campaign for justice for Palestinians as anti-Jewish. 

“It is imperative that criticism of Israel and indeed the Zionist project do not become thought crimes,” said Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, lead author of the FSOI submission to the inquiry, which is due to report at the end of June.

He said the inquiry, headed by former Director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, “is an opportunity to put to rest the moral panic that has been whipped up by some opponents of Corbyn’s Labour Party and to ensure that freedom of speech on an important and contentious issue is not undermined.”

The FSOI submission states that pro-Israel bodies such as the Board of Deputies (BoD) of British Jews, Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) do not represent the entire Jewish community as they claim.

The network disputes those organisations’ assertion that Zionism – the political ideology underpinning the Israeli state – is intrinsic to Judaism and Jewish identity.

Other Jewish organisations making similar arguments in submissions to the inquiry include Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP), Jewish Socialists Group (JSG) and the International  Jewish Antizionist Network (IJAN), as well as an ad hoc group of 97 Jewish members of the Labour party who have proposed creation of a new, inclusive Jewish Labour organization.

 

For more information contact:

info@freespeechonisrael.org.uk

 

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

Here are the main points made by Free Speech on Israel in its submission to the Chakrabarti inquiry. We also draw on a submission proposing formation of a new inclusive Jewish Labour organization, as well as submissions from the Jewish Socialist Group, Independent Jewish Voices, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, the International Jewish AntiZionist Network-UK, and many individuals. All can be viewed here.

 

  1. Antisemitism is Hostility towards Jews as Jews, in which they are perceived as something other than what they are,” according to a widely accepted definition from Dr Brian Klug, an authority on the subject. Refs: FSOI submission5 Defining antisemitism; JfJfP submission p.11 Defining Antisemitism

 

  1. Robust criticism of the Israeli state and its founding ideology, even if expressed in ways upsetting to some Zionists, does not amount to antisemitism. Alleging that it does threatens free speech on the Israel-Palestine question. Refs: FSOI submission1 Free Speech; IJV submission p.1-3 Executive Summary

 

  1. Suggesting that all Jews share one ideology – Zionism – and are uniformly loyal to the State of Israel is itself antisemitic. Not all Jews are Zionists, many Zionists are not Jews, pro-Israel organisations do not represent all Jews. Refs: FSOI submission3 Jews in Britain, p.5 Antisemitism and AntiZionism; JSG submission p2 Zionism –contested political ideology, not a religious imperative; p.4 Antisemitism and Antizionism; p.6 Voices and representation within Britain’s Jewish community

 

 

  1. Virtually all of the complaints directed at the Labour Party are about attitudes to Israel, not about Jews. We are seeing a purge of pro-Palestine activists who are supporters of democratically elected leader Jeremy Corbyn. Refs: FSOI submission4 The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party; IJAN-UK submission p.1; JSG submission p.8/9 Evaluating charges of antisemitism; JfJfP submission p.4 Allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party

 

  1. Antisemitism is one among many forms of prejudice that must be fought. It is less virulent today than the Islamophobia and hatred of migrants and Roma people promoted by the Far Right and made respectable by some mainstream politicians. Refs: JSG Submission4 Antisemitism in Britain; IJAN-UK submission p.2

 

  1. The so-called EUMC (European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia) definition of antisemitism, promoted by the BoD, JLM, Zionist Federation, Campaign against Antisemitism and other pro-Israel lobbyists, has never been adopted by any official EU body. Refs: FSOI submission6 Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism; JfJfP submission p.6/7 Related ‘framing’ issues
  2. Zionism is responsible for Palestinian dispossession over several generations. Almost every Palestinian is anti-Zionist for entirely understandable reasons. There is nothing antisemitic about this. Refs: FSOI submission2 Context; JSG submission p.5; IJV submission p.8 The New Antisemitism

 

  1. If expressions of support for Palestine unintentionally stray into antisemitic territory, the answer is education, not expulsion. Refs: JSG submission5 & p.8 Evaluating charges of antisemitism; JfJfP submission p.15/16 Judaism and Zionism; JfJfP submission p.14 Providing Guidelines

 

 

  1. The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) – an openly Zionist organization – is not a fit body to educate others on antisemitism. Its proposed changes to party rules make false charges of antisemitism more likely, disregard victims of real antisemitism, and spread fear of being accused of antisemitism, stifling debate about Israel-Palestine. Refs: FSOI submission10 False allegations of antisemitism; Proposal for a new, inclusive Jewish Labour organisation; JSG submission p.8.

 

  1. It is not sufficient for someone Jewish to say they are offended by a statement for it to be judged antisemitic. This is a distortion of guidance from the Macpherson inquiry into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence. A victim’s perception must be taken into account when investigating an alleged hate crime, but it cannot determine in advance, without reference to objective criteria, that a hate crime was committed. Refs: FSOI submission12 The Macpherson Report; JfJfP submission p.12 The Macpherson Principle

 

  1. Allegations of antisemitism cannot be used to ban certain political arguments about the nature or origins of the state of Israel, or the tactics – such as boycott – that Palestinians choose to campaign for an end to the injustices committed against them. Refs: FSOI submission9 Boycott and ‘singling out’ as hate speech; JfJfP submission p.14 Providing Guidelines