Category Archives: JBIG

Antisemitism – The weapon of choice in the war on Labour’s Left

The last few months have seen the British establishment waging an hysterical witch hunt against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership and the pro-Palestinian movement. Their weapon of choice has been the charge that antisemitism – and support for terrorism – are rife on the Left, that Labour “has a problem with Jews,” that Jewish LP members are  frequently subjected to racist abuse and that the new Labour leadership has allowed intolerant Jew-haters to flood into the party.

The response from Corbyn’s team has been defensive and apologetic. They rightly assert their own anti-racist credentials, insist that antisemitism is a vile prejudice that is not permitted in the Labour Party and pledge to expel anyone found guilty of it. So far so good. But they have not hit back at the pro-Zionist lobby – Jewish and non-Jewish – which deliberately and maliciously seeks to associate Jew-hatred with criticism of Israel in the public mind. This feeble approach has to change.

Tony G

 J-BIG stalwart Tony Greenstein, Brighton-based socialist, anti-racist and anti-Zionist, has won an apology (they call it a “clarification”) from the Daily Telegraph for “implying” that he was an antisemite. Labour’s Compliance Unit has suspended him from membership without giving any reason, but apparently shared the information with the Telegraph. Tony explores the charges against him on his blog.

 

Jewish pro-Palestinian groups in London are currently working on a strategy to help stem the tide. Both at grass roots level and within the Labour hierarchy, there is a huge need for political education to communicate the following key points.

Genuine antisemitism exists and must be condemned, as we would any form of racism.

Zionists have worked so hard to damn any criticism of Israel as antisemitic, it’s tempting to reject such charges out of hand. But amidst the crazed pillorying of Corbyn’s team in the Mail Online, for example, there are some instances of actual expressions of racism against Jews by Labour supporters. These must be tackled with as much vigour as hatred of Blacks, migrants or Muslims – so comprehensively ignored by the pro-Israel lobby.

When the complainant is committed Zionist Louise Ellman MP, one can sympathise with Piers Corbyn (brother of Jeremy) who reportedly tweeted: “#Zionists cant cope with any-one supporting rights for #Palestine.” Never a truer word! But it gave ammunition for the Evening Standard to use in publicising charges from Labour’s conflicted candidate for Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. From a Muslim family, with a record of supporting causes such as the campaign to release Shaker Amer from detention in Guantanamo, and having been supported by Corbyn and leftwing former Mayor Ken Livingstone in his campaign for the candidacy, Khan now says he wears “a badge of shame” about antisemitism in the party and the leadership needs to be “trained on what antisemitism is.”

cityam.com sadiq khan

Credit: cityam.com

Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate in next month’s vote for Mayor of London, has publicly taken the side of pro-Israel Tories in alleging antisemitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party.

 

 

 

The Palestine solidarity movement has learned to its cost that it must be vigilant against antisemitism among its members. In a recent story in Haaretz about a defender of Holocaust deniers who has been  rejected by her local Labour Party, the paper referred to her as “the former secretary of the Camden branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.” Haaretz neglected to say that the person in question was dismissed from that position precisely because her views were incompatible with PSC’s anti-racist ethos.

Charges of antisemitism are very often designed to protect Israel from criticism, harm legitimate campaigns for Palestinian rights, especially Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), and undermine Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party under his leadership

Jonathan Arkush of the Board of Deputies (BoD) of British Jews has been vocal in accusing Corbyn of tolerating antisemitism, referring to “a stream of clear cut cases of antisemitism in the Labour party, which can’t just be fobbed off as differences over Israel.”

The stream is actually more of a trickle of cases, many referring to events in the distant past and many being far from clear cut. Most cases have attitudes to Israel and Zionism at their heart.

The Mail Online piece mixes some apparently nasty instances of genuine antisemitism with the staging in York of Caryl Churchill’s play Seven Jewish Children (“horrifically anti-Israel” according to the BoD), a Facebook post complaining that ‘leading Zionists’ were trying to take over a student Union and links with the website of Friends of Al-Aqsa – a respected part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

 

The increasingly high-profile, non-violent BDS campaign is a major priority for antisemitic branding by those determined to defend Israel. Jonathan Neumann of the so-called Jewish Human Rights Watch, writing in the Daily Telegraph in February, alleged that BDS is just a precursor to ISIS-style beheadings: “The anti-Semitic campaign to shun Israeli goods embodies the radicalism that threatens everyone .”

Then there is the oft-quoted example of the Oxford University Labour Club where co-chairman Alex Chalmers, who is not Jewish, resigned in February claiming that a ‘large proportion’ of the party’s undergraduate members have ‘some kind of problem with Jews’.

The most comprehensive statement of the club’s “problem with Jews” appeared after Chalmers resignation on the Twitter feed of the Oxford Jewish Society (JSoc).

Oxford JSoc antisemitism

If the statement is true, it does indicate there may have been some questionable behaviour and some ham-fisted attempts by pro-Palestine supporters to explain what they thought was, or was not, antisemitic. But the JSoc clearly doesn’t know what antisemitism is either, claiming that the word ‘Zio’ – frequently tossed around between Jewish anti-Zionist activists – belongs on neo-nazi websites and that Jenny Tonge – kicked off the Liberal Democrat front bench for expressing understanding for Palestinian militants – was expelled for antisemitism. This is a circular argument in which people conflating antisemitism with anti-Zionism denounce supporters of Palestine for having been previously denounced for antisemitism! It all goes back to Arkush’s “differences over Israel”.

There is substantial opposition among Jews to this cynical campaign. 

Jews are not an undifferentiated mass of pro-Israel supporters, nor have they ever been. Today they are certainly not united behind the witch-hunt again the pro-Palestinian Labour Left and the BDS movement.

Clear evidence for this appeared on the Guardian letters page after  Jonathan Freedland published a long piece retelling the story of a British Left riddled with anti-Jewish racism.

Leading Jewish pro-Palestine campaigners queued up to refute his allegations.

As one said: “…it is a betrayal of every Jew in history who fought for human rights and against oppression, and every Jew ever persecuted for being a Jew, to sling allegations of antisemitism every time anyone tries to stand up for Palestinian rights.”

Zionist beliefs are not the preserve of Jews alone.

There is a whole other story to tell about the origins of the Jewish Zionist movement in the second half of the 19th century, the attachment of many leading Christian intellectuals and politicians to the idea of Zionism and the relationship of both to antisemitism.

Today’s most vocal British Zionists include Justice Secretary Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles and Business Secretary Sajid Javid. Not a Jew among them.

In the USA the most ardent supporters of Israel are to be found not among the Democrat-voting Jews of the East Coast but among the millions of evangelical Christians in the South who believe all Jews must gather in Zion to usher in the Second Coming of Christ.

See elsewhere on this website for a briefing about Zionism and Antisemitism.

There is treasure trove of valuable background information on the website of Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

 

 

Jewish groups combine to condemn government attack on BDS

Members of five Jewish organisations in the UK worked together to produce a statement condemning  government plans to punish local councils and other bodies if they took procurement or investment decisions in line with the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions call.

The version published by  the Independent online on Wednesday was not the final, agreed wording. J-BIG’s name was missing while that of Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) was erroneously included.

To put the record straight we publish here the statement as intended by the participants, representing JfJfP, J-BIG, Independent Jewish Voices, the International Jewish anti-Zionist Network and the Jewish Socialist Group.

ANTISEMITISM AND BANNING BOYCOTTS

We find it incompatible with democratic freedom, and counterproductive, that the government intends to block ethical investment and procurement decisions by public bodies lest they “poison and polarise debate and fuel antisemitism” [Boycotting of Israeli goods to be criminal offence, February 15]

Opposition to the State of Israel’s continued occupation, crimes against the Palestinian people and violation of international law, has nothing whatever to do with antisemitism. What smacks of antisemitism is to think that all Jews uncritically support Israel’s actions.

The truth is that growing numbers of Jews in this country and abroad see the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for what it is – a weapon of moral persuasion, deploying a tactic frequently used by powerless people in their opposition to racism, slavery and oppression.

History shows us boycotts against slave grown sugar in the West Indies, the movement of Irish tenant farmers against the eponymous Captain Boycott, Gandhi’s Indian boycott of British sales of salt and the global movement which helped end apartheid in South Africa.

In every case the Tories of the day opposed the boycott, siding with the oppressor against the oppressed.

If Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock goes ahead and announces the ban during a visit to Israel, claiming without a shred of evidence that “local foreign policies” are “undermining our national security”, he will demonstrate his government’s continuation of an ignoble tradition.

 

 

 

 

Exposed – Israel lobby’s threat to artistic and academic freedom

Letters in today’s Guardian (April 6) highlight the growing threat to artistic and academic freedom by pro-Israel lobbyists seeking to criminalise criticism of the Zionist state.

Playwright Caryl Churchill, a leading signatory of the UK Artists’ Pledge for Palestine, noted the alarming conjunction of a threat to funding of arts institutions that decline Israeli state links and cancellation of an academic conference planned for April 17-19 at the University of Southampton after Zionist pressure.

The organisers have launched a legal challenge to the decision to cancel. See lower down this post for a message from Southampton Students for Palestine explaining the campaign to raise funds to support the challenge.

“All Charlie Hebdo?” wrote Churchill, alluding to the collective outpouring of official outrage at the murder of cartoonists in France in January. “Except when freedom of expression means freedom to criticise Israel.”

Culture Secretary Sajid Javid’s comments on Israeli sponsorship ‘breached the principle of an arms-length relationship between the government and the arts’, writes playwright Caryl Churchill. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Another letter, from Professors Hilary and Steven Rose, prominent proponents of the academic boycott, said the university had “shamefully capitulated to pressure from the pro-Israel lobby”, as evidenced by the statement issued by the university authorities.

The university had initially listened to the hundreds of academics who rallied in support of the conference despite a barrage of attacks from a roll-call of Tories and Israel lobbyists, among them Communities Minister Eric Pickles, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Zionist Federation.  Pickles & Co alleged that the conference was a one-sided antisemitic rant against Israel’s “right to exist” and threatened demonstrations and disruption if it went ahead. This seems to have been what forced vice-chancellor Prof Don Nutbeam to announce the cancellation on unconvincing “health and safety” grounds.

A letter the Guardian declined to publish,  submitted by Tony Greenstein on behalf of J-BIG (full text at the bottom of this post) contrasted this cowardice with the fate of Danish film director, Finn Noergaard, killed at a cafe in Copenhagen in February while defending the right to debate freedom of speech.

The organisers of the three-day Southampton conference, titled International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism, had assembled an array of expert participants from around Europe, North America and the Middle East, including many Jews.   If the conference programme lacked representation from Israel’s friends, it is because invitations issued by the organisers to defenders of Zionism were rejected by the recipients.

As explained by Prof Haim Bresheeth on the website of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP),  Israel and its apologists are resorting to all possible means to prevent the issues addressed by the conference being aired.

One of the conference organisers,  engineering professor Suleiman Sharkh, a Palestinian from Gaza, explained its importance.

“International law was responsible for our misery. It was used to legalize the theft of our homes and it continues to be used to legalize the ongoing oppression of my people by the State of Israel. The questions asked by the conference are therefore questions that I have been asking all my life. They are important questions that need to be answered.”

 

Information from Southampton Students for Palestine.
Subject: Conference donations: update & important information
Q1: What is the final university decision in relation to the conference? 
The university’s initial decision to withdraw its consent was appealed by the organisers but the internal appeal was rejected by the Vice Chancellor and the withdrawal of consent was confirmed. University’s public statement: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/news/statements.page#.VRxbTkFmtTw.twitter
Q2: Are you collecting donations now or shall we wait further notice?
Donations are being collected now. Please see information on donations below.
Q3: Does this mean that you are proceeding with legal action?
Yes. Legal action has been initiated today. Please see official organisers’ statement attached hereby. Also see: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/17842-academics-pursue-judicial-review-over-cancelled-israel-conference
Q4: Why are we making donations to Student Palestine Solidarity/Students for Palestine? 
You are not making donations to these organisations. They are only carriers of the funds to help facilitate payment since we are not using any personal accounts to collect donations.
* Information on donations*
Many thanks to those who have already sent their donations and sent me a confirmation email in that regard, I can confirm that they have been received.
If you are yet to donate, please find bank/paypal details below. Kindly consider a bank transfer as a first option (if possible) since paypal are deducting a fee on each incoming transaction. If a bank transfer is not possible then please feel free to make your donation via paypal. 
UK bank transfer:
Account name: Students for Palestine Southampton
Account number: 26617360
Sort Code: 30-90-34
 
International bank transfer:
Bank: LLoyds Bank
IBAN (for International Transfers Only): GB84 LOYD 3090 3426 6173 60
BIC (for International Transfers Only): LOYDGB21148
Paypal: 

J-BIG LETTER SUBMITTED TO THE GUARDIAN

The decision of Southampton University to cancel a Conference on Israel and the State of Israel [University event questioning Israel’s right to exist is cancelled, Guardian 31st March] is a disgraceful surrender to powerful bullies.  Zionist groups have a long track record of trying to ban anything they disagree with, given their inability to defend the indefensible.  The normal response is to stand up to them.

It was less than three months ago that four million people and world leaders marched in France in support of freedom of speech, in the wake of the murder of the journalists of Charlie Hebdo.  Amongst them was David Cameron.  If Cameron was sincere he would sack Eric Pickles MP from his government for having lent his support to the call to ban an academic conference.

The use of health and safety as the pretext to cancel the conference is absurd and illogical.  Is it really being suggested that Southampton University was incapable of protecting those attending the conference?  The Police were quite confident they could deal with any threats.

Southampton’s charter includes a commitment to secure academic freedom. With this decision it has been shown to be worthless.

It was barely a month ago that Danish film director, Finn Noergaard, was killed [while defending the right to] debate [on] freedom of speech.  The actions of Southampton University’s Vice Chancellor Don Nutbeam and the university administration in failing to uphold the basic norms of a democratic society are an act of abject cowardice.  If they have any integrity left they should collectively resign.

Yours faithfully

Professor Haim Bresheeth

Mike Cushman

Deborah Fink

Tony Greenstein

Professor (Emeritus) Moshe Machover

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

(Dr) Les Levidow

Roland Rance

 

STATEMENT ON THE BANNING OF A CONCERT BY GILAD ATZMON

Israeli-born saxophonist Gilad Atzmon has been targeted for intimidation by the Zionist zealots of the North West Friends of Israel (NWFOI), resulting in the cancellation of a concert at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.
Atzmon’s views have set him at odds with the BDS movement and in particular with its Jewish supporters, but this must not prevent us standing up to acts of censorship by the pro-Israel lobby.
J-BIG founder member Prof Moshe Machover has written the following statement.
Dear Friends,
Regarding this article from the Manchester Evening News:
I know Gilad Atzmon personally and am familiar with the opinions that he spreads, which I find loathsome.
He is not so much anti-Zionist as anti-Jewish. Not so much a holocaust denier as holocaust justifier.*
At the same time I must protest strongly against  banning his appearances, muzzling him, and especially preventing his concerts.
Views, however unacceptable, should be defeated by argument, not by bureaucratic bans.
Moshé Machover

 

FREEDOM TO SPEAK OUT FOR PALESTINE UNDER THREAT IN BRITAIN

Home Secretary Theresa May has seized on bogus statistics alleging that Jews are in fear of their lives in the UK to placate pro-Israel lobbyists with measures which pose a threat to those who speak out for justice for Palestine.  Here we present some of the material available to counter this threat, starting with a letter submitted by Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods and published in the Guardian newspaper on January 23. Check the link to see the names of those who signed and read other letters on the subject.

We are shocked and alarmed that the home secretary has been swept up in the wave of hysteria deliberately whipped up by the so-called Campaign Against Antisemitism (Theresa May pledges extra police patrols to counter antisemitism threat, 19 January), claiming that a quarter of British Jews were considering leaving for Israel and that 45% believed that Jews had no long-term future in Britain. The CAA’s scaremongering report quotes from its own poll which, according to the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, was methodologically flawed and unreliable. Another poll by Survation, from a representative sample of more than 500 of Britain’s Jewish population, found that 88% of Jews had not considered emigrating.

The home secretary must know that the CAA was set up last summer, not to fight antisemitism but to counter rising criticism of Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza. Its first big success was bullying the Tricycle Theatre into withdrawing its objection to Israeli embassy funding of the UK Jewish Film Festival. The CAA and the home secretary conflate anti-Israeli and antisemitic views, convenient cover for her desire to legislate for a snooper’s charter and criminalise opinions she disagrees with.

Accusing critics of Israel and Zionism of antisemitism merely devalues the currency, while claiming the right for Jews to censor what others say about Israel is hardly the way to combat prejudice against them. We do not deny that there are fears abroad among Jews in Britain, ourselves included, but we see far greater racist threats to other minorities in this country, in particular the beleaguered Muslim community.

The Independent also carried letters on the subject, including one in similar vein from J-BIG’s Tony Greenstein.

The dubious surveys painting a grim picture of antisemitism in Britain came under scrutiny on BBC Radio 4’s More or Less programme, which examines ways in which statistics on many subjects can be misused and misinterpreted.

Jonathan Boyd from the Institute of Jewish  Policy Research told the programme that the CAA poll on Jewish experience of antisemitism had not met the key, basic requirements for a proper process.

Even the intensely Zionist Jewish Chronicle – always eager to detect hatred of Jews behind any pro-Palestinian utterance – published a piece debunking the CAA’s report. But it gave the group’s chairman Gideon Falter ample column inches to reply.

This all occurred in the wake of the killings in France of journalists at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and Jewish shoppers at a kosher supermarket – immediately pounced upon by the Zionist lobby as evidence of mass hatred of Jews.

UK satirists at Private Eye seemed to have the measure of hypocritical world leaders with their front cover:

private eye charlie cover

BIBI in Private Eye

Columnist Allan C. Brownfeld on Mondoweiss highlighted Israel’s determination “to make European Jews feel unsafe in their native countries.”

Brownfield wrote:

Israeli politicians of both right and left have parroted his (Netanyahu’s) message that European Jews know ‘in their hearts that they have only one country.’ The logical corollary is that Jews cannot be loyal to other states they live in, such as France…In this regard, Netanyahu and the far-right share much common ground. He wants a Europe free of Jews..The far-right wants the same…One Israeli commentator noted pointedly that Israeli politicians like Netanyahu ‘were helping to finish the job started by the Nazis and their Vichy collaborators: making France Judenrein.

And Sarah Irving on Electronic Intifada exposed recent British government report attempting to smear the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions as “anti-Jewish.”

Unfortunately it gets worse. It almost appears that the Zionist lobby has been preparing for this ‘felicitous’ moment for years.

This Guardian piece reports that “a panel of four prestigious international experts on constitutional law backed by the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation (ECTR) have spent three years consulting widely and drafting a 12-page document on “tolerance”. They are lobbying to have it converted into law in the 28 countries of the EU…. “
A major mover in this process is the European Jewish Congress an affiliate of the World Jewish Congress, which has this to say about Muslim/Arab Europeans on their website: “In 2008, the State of Israel celebrated its 60th anniversary. Although it is still the only fully democratic country in the Middle East, Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is not only still questioned but this sentiment has proliferated. This is due to incitement among the large Islamic Diaspora where Muslims greatly outnumber Jewish populations in most Western countries.’

There’s tolerance for you.

This piece from the Institute of Race Relations website may help to restore some sanity.

CHARLIE HEBDO AFTERMATH MUST NOT STIFLE RIGHT TO PURSUE BDS

The murders of journalists at Charlie Hebdo magazine, and of shoppers at a kosher supermarket in Paris, by three young French jihadis who were themselves shot dead by French police, have generated thousands of column inches and endless hours of air time full of confused and confusing rhetoric about the killings and the reaction to them.

The dominant narrative has been one of self-congratulation on the part of the predominantly Christian West. Rallying in thousands, claiming freedom of expression as the marker of democracy and civilisation, “we” cast anyone who dares take offence when targeted with racist lampoonery as  irredeemably at odds with “our values”.

“They” represent  the barbarian intolerance of the Islamic world and this entitles “us” to take a good principle and pervert it, self-righteously insisting on a spurious right to insult millions of powerless people.

We, made fearful of seemingly irrational terror in our midst, will accept growing limitations on our freedoms in the name of security.

Never mind the countries our war-mongering governments have devastated, the dictators we have foisted upon them, the penury and hopelessness imposed upon migrants who try to make better lives for themselves in France, the Netherlands or the UK.

And, it goes without saying, never mind our governments’ support for Israel in its endless persecution of the Palestinians.

Step forward Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu, beaming at the front of the crowd in the huge Paris “Je Suis Charlie” march, determined to milk the criminal killing of four Jews as a political opportunity. His cynicism in exploiting those tragic deaths to call on French Jews to flee to alleged safety in Israel, alongside his attempt to present his racist, far-right government as a defender of free speech, is jaw-droppingly obscene.

Equally abhorent is the ongoing campaign by a group in the UK calling itself the Campaign Against Antisemitism and claiming support from all the country’s leading Jewish community organisations. Set up  last summer to counter rising criticism of Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza, its first triumphant success was bullying the Tricycle theatre into withdrawing its objection to Israeli Embassy funding of the UK Jewish Film Festival.

Now this outfit is peddling a scare-mongering report based on its own highly dubious poll, claiming that 77 percent of British Jews “have witnessed antisemitism disguised as a political comment about Israel”, that 82 percent believe antisemitism is fuelled by biased coverage of Israel and 84 percent “find boycotts of Israeli businesses intimidatory.”

The Institute for Jewish Policy Research has questioned the poll’s methodology, but the CAA is urging supporters to use its “statistics” when contacting the press or  local police about planned boycott protests. They are working with the UK government to implement “zero tolerance law enforcement” on what they consider to be hate speech or antisemitic actions. They allege that protesters against Israeli slaughter in Gaza or groups organising supermarket boycotts “regurgitate ancient antisemitic prejudice”.

In other words, anyone wanting to speak or protest on behalf of Palestine will have to defend their right to freedom of expression against coordinated legal and political attacks from Israel’s apologists.

There is a bitter irony here. The pro-Israeli lobby attempts to take up a position within the narrative of countering terror and defending freedom of speech, while claiming an exceptional right for Jews to limit the freedom of others to protest at the violent actions of the state it supports. Claiming the right for Jews to censor what others say about Israel is hardly the way to combat antisemitism.

On the contrary, the lesson we should draw from France is that Jews need to be part of a united struggle against all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Jewish racism when it rears its head.

As Tony Greenstein says on his blog:

“There will always be a few people who are taken in by the proclamation of Jewish communal bodies, such as the British Board of Deputies of Jews, that British Jews stand with Israel in its attacks on Palestinians.  Such people are, wittingly or otherwise, fostering anti-Semitism.  Our  job is to break the connection.”

PROTEST BRAND ISRAEL THEATRE ‘TERROR SPECIAL’

Sign up here by Tuesday 11th November (10:00 GMT) to protest the participation of European theatres in a Brand Israel exercise led by Israel’s national theatre, Habima. The ‘Terror Special conference’ is part of ‘TERRORisms’, a two-year project by the Union of Theatres of Europe, under the leadership of its current president, Habima’s Artistic Director Ilan Ronen. 

Letter in French here

Dear members* of the Union of Theatres of Europe:

We write as citizens of various countries in Europe, as enthusiastic patrons of independent and challenging theatre, and as people who cannot forget the terror visited on the civilian population of Gaza in July and August this year.

We note with some amazement that the Union of Theatres of Europe is about to hold its general assembly in Israel, a country that is not in Europe. We note with equal surprise that the current president of the Union of Theatres of Europe, Ilan Ronen, is Israeli.

Ronen is the artistic director of Habima, the national theatre of Israel. His name became familiar to a wider public in Europe in 2012, when he argued that Habima could not refuse to perform in Israel’s illegal settlements, including Ariel, in the West Bank: ‘Like other theatre companies and dance companies in Israel, we are state-financed, and financially supported to perform all over the country,’ he told theObserver newspaper in the United Kingdom. ‘This is the law. We have no choice. We have to go, otherwise there is no financial support.’ This is the line Ilan Ronen continues to take.

In the spring of 2014, an open letter was sent to Norway’s National Theatre (NT) asking it to withdraw from the partnership with Habima. The National Theatre responded by asking Habima to stop performing in the illegal settlements, as a pre-condition for continuing their collaboration. However Habima’s director explicitly refused to meet this pre-condition. Then in August came the Israeli assault on Gaza that left 2,000 Palestinians dead – 500 of them children – and over 10,000 injured. A further petition against NT’s collaboration was delivered to them, signed by actors from a range of Norwegian theatre companies. Responding to the controversy the Haifa-based Palestinian theatre, ShiberHur, did decide to withdraw from the project. Nevertheless, and despite Habima’s refusal, the National Theatre dropped its principled pre-condition, and decided to continue its partnership with Habima.

In other countries in recent years, people alleged to have broken international law have been referred to the International Criminal Court – but you, theatres of Europe, appear on the face of it to be willing to endorse Habima’s participation in the Israeli colonisation of Palestinian land and the apartheid practices of the settlers (how many Palestinian villagers whose land was stolen by the settlement of Ariel, for instance, do you think are allowed to attend theatre performances by Habima in Ariel?).

To say we’re surprised is an under-statement. To say we wish you were not holding your general assembly in Tel Aviv – and not participating in a four-day colloquium on the theme of TERRORisms (sic) conceived and organised by Habima – is to put it mildly.

We’ve had a look at the synopsis of God Waits at the Station, the Israeli play which will premiere on the first night of your meeting. It’s about a suicide bombing by a Palestinian woman inside Israel. Such things have happened. But we’ve scoured the rest of what’s publicly available of your programme to see where the terror experienced by Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank at the hands of the Israeli army and air force and Israeli settlers might be explored as dramatic material, workshopped for its potential to reach audiences in Norway, Germany, and so on. We can’t find any such thing.

You are using funds from the Culture Programme of the European Union to run a programme that sounds as if it was written by the Israeli foreign ministry: a one-day ‘Terror Special’ conference on the challenge of suicide bombings to democracies; a round-table on cultural boycott that sounds as though it’s already made up its mind: ‘Shouldn’t artists and cultural institutions make every effort to become a “bridge’ in conflict zones’, you say (while you sit in a country whose government uses culture not as a bridge, but as legitimisation for its project of colonisation).

We’re amazed. We think you shouldn’t go. We don’t understand how you’ve got yourselves into this relationship with Habima. Europe had experience of oppressive military occupations not so long ago. Have you forgotten the terror inflicted on those civilian populations?

Signatories (continuously updated until deadline):

Jenny Morgan, film-maker, UK
Miranda Pennell, film-maker, UK
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, UK
Dror Warschawski, researcher, France
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, UK
Eleanor Kilroy, Artists right to say ‘no’, UK
Ofer Neiman, co-editor of The Occupation magazine, Israel
Michel Bühler, singer, writer, Switzerland
Hafid Melhay, bookseller, France
Mohamed Paz, Artistic director of Prana Natyam, France
Caryl Churchill, playwright, UK

* The following theatre companies are listed as participating in the ‘TERRORisms’ project:

Staatsschauspiel Stuttgart, Germany 
National Theatre of Oslo, Norway 
Jugoslovensko Dramsko Pozoriste, Belgrade, Serbia 
Habima – National Theatre of Tel Aviv, Israel 
Young Vic Theatre London, England [an associate member of the project, not attending the Tel Aviv meeting] 
Shiber Hur Company, Palestine [withdrawn] 
Comédie de Reims, France


About the Union of Theatres of Europe (U.T.E.):

U.T.E. was founded by French politician Jack Lang in 1990 and established under the presidency of Giorgio Strehler and the directorship of Israeli director-producer Eli Malka. Jack Lang served as France’s Minister of Culture from 1981 to 1986 and 1988 to 1992. It has been funded by the French Ministry of Culture since its establishment.

Jack Lang continues in the role of U.T.E. ‘member of honour.’ ThisElectronic Intifada article from 2003 offers an important insight into the sympathies of U.T.E’s founder:

…a mere statement by the administrative council of the prestigious University of Paris-VI has caused an uproar in Europe over alleged “boycotts” of Israeli academics. On December 16, the French university’s administrative body approved a motion calling on the European Union to suspend financial support for Israeli universities on the grounds that “The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza renders impossible teaching and research by our Palestinian colleagues.” This decision produced a near hysterical reaction among some of France’s celebrity intellectuals and political figures. Philospher Bernard Henri-Levy declared that “The professors who voted for this motion conducted themselves like the most extremist of extremist Palestinians,” and went on to compare the motion to the 1933 Nazi laws against Jews. The leftist Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, called the resolution a “shocking act and a tragic error,” while former French culture minister, Jack Lang, opined that “Israeli universities are oases of tolerance,” and calls for a boycott “encourage fanaticism.” http://electronicintifada.net/content/israels-academic-freedom-defended-while-palestines-destroyed/4325

See also an article in Aftenposten (Norwegian for ‘The Evening Post’), Norway’s largest newspaper: ‘It is the artist’s right to say no