Category Archives: palestine

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

 

HUNDREDS OF UK ARTISTS PLEDGE: ‘We won’t work with Israeli institutions’

Print  

700 UK artist announced on Friday (Feb 13) their pledge not to accept professional invitations to Israel as long as the state continues to deny basic Palestinian rights.

 

Among those who have signed the Artists’ Pledge for Palestine, from diverse artistic and cultural backgrounds including many Jews, are:

 

– Writers Tariq Ali, William Dalrymple, Aminatta Forna, Bonnie Greer, Mark Haddon, Hari Kunzru, Liz Lochhead, Jimmy McGovern, China Mieville, Andrew O’Hagan, Laurie Penny, Michael Rosen, Gillian Slovo, Ahdaf Soueif, Marina Warner, Benjamin Zephaniah

– Film directors Mike Hodges, Asif Kapadia, Peter Kosminsky, Mike Leigh, Phyllida Lloyd, Ken Loach, Roger Michell, Michael Radford, Julien Temple

– Comedians Jeremy Hardy, Alexei Sayle, Mark Thomas

– Musicians Richard Ashcroft, Jarvis Cocker, Brian Eno, Kate Tempest, Roger Waters, Robert Wyatt

– Actors Rizwan Ahmed, Anna Carteret, David Calder, Simon McBurney, Miriam Margolyes

– Theatre writers/directors Caryl Churchill, David Edgar, Dominic Cooke CBE, Sir Jonathan Miller, Mark Ravenhill

– Visual Arts Phyllida Barlow, John Berger, Jeremy Deller, Mona Hatoum

– Architects Peter Ahrends, Will Alsop.

 

The full text of the pledge reads:

 

We support the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality. In response to the call from Palestinian artists and cultural workers for a cultural boycott of Israel, we pledge to accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.

 

Former English PEN president, writer Gillian Slovo, said in a statement on the Artists for Palestine UK website, ‘As a South African I witnessed the way the cultural boycott of South Africa helped apply pressure on the apartheid government and its supporters. This Artists’ Pledge for Palestine has drawn lessons from that boycott to produce an even more nuanced, non-violent way for us to call for change and for justice for all.’

 

More than one hundred of the pledge signers gave their reasons for signing in an open letter to British artists published in the Guardian. It said Palestinians remained under relentless attack since the war on Gaza last summer. The letter continued:

 

‘Israel’s wars are fought on the cultural front too. Its army targets Palestinian cultural institutions for attack, and prevents the free movement of cultural workers. Its own theatre companies perform to settler audiences on the West Bank – and those same companies tour the globe as cultural diplomats, in support of “Brand Israel”.’

 

It recalled that musicians opposing apartheid in South Africa pledged not to ‘play Sun City’ – Johannesburg’s playground for the rich. In that tradition, today’s pledge signers are undertaking not to collaborate with Israeli state-funded institutions to ‘play music, accept awards, attend exhibitions, festivals or conferences, run master-classes or workshops,’ until Israel ends its apartheid policies towards the Palestinians.

 

The letter invited all those working in the arts in Britain to add their names to the pledge. There is a sign-up form  here.

 

Artists for Palestine UK (APUK), which organised the pledge, said artists were incensed that speaking out for Palestine regularly attracted smear campaigns by pro-Israel lobbyists.

Theatre director Hilary Westlake, a member of the organising collective, said APUK’s message to British artists is: ‘You are not alone. Together we can defend our right to decide whose patronage we accept, despite groundless accusations of antisemitism and threats of financial and reputational ruin.’

 

http://artistsforpalestine.org.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ArtistsforPalestineUK

Twitter: @Art4PalestineUK

Dozens of signatories have written statements which can be found here). Here is a small selection.

 

  • Nobody questions [Israel’s] right to exist, but, sadly, to support Israel’s cultural institutions now is to support hypocrisy, film director Mike Leigh (honoured with a BAFTA Fellowship award last week).

 

  • I have signed up for a cultural boycott of Israel … Signing in support of the Israeli Cultural Boycott is more of a signing of support for Palestinian Artists … a positive rather than a negative.Phyllida Barlow, visual artist

 

  • I signed because I am a human being. All forms of art change people by opening their eyes to humanity in all its suffering and its beauty. I feel it is incumbent on Israel to treat Palestine and its people justly before it can seek to be a patron of the arts overseas. Hanan Al-Shaykh, writer

 

  • As an artist I wish to pursue a moral journey through life and the right and wrongs here are very clear to me. A suffering group has asked for my support; it cannot be withheld. Miriam Margolyes, actor

 

  • So what does it achieve? It sends a message: ‘We will not perform in Israel since we believe that by performing there we will be endorsing the status quo. We don’t support it and we won’t be part of it.’ Brian Eno, composer

Artists for Palestine UK (APUK) exposes Israel’s use of culture as a smokescreen for its violence against Palestinians and its simultaneous attempts to shut down criticism with accusations of antisemitism.

 

 

‘Support for the Pledge grew in response to a smear campaign mobilised by supporters of Israel against the Tricycle theatre in northwest London during Israel’s assault on Gaza last summer’ said theatre director Hilary Westlake, a member of the APUK organising collective.

Tricycle had been vilified as ‘antisemitic’ for asking the UK Jewish Film Festival it has hosted for eight consecutive years to forego Israeli embassy funding.

‘For every one of us who has made a stand for justice by signing the pledge, there are many more musicians, actors, writers, directors, visual artists, architects who are fearful of the slander, bullying and threats they may face if they follow suit,’ Westlake said.

‘APUK’s message is: you are not alone. Together we can defend our right to decide whose patronage we accept, even against groundless accusations of antisemitism and threats of financial and reputational ruin.’

A full list of Pledge signatories, alphabetically and by art form, is available here.

 

BDS PROTESTERS VINDICATED AS ELBIT DRONE MAKERS’ CASE COLLAPSES

The prosecution of 9 activists who occupied a UK Elbit factory that makes drone engines has collapsed after Elbit refused to give evidence about the legality of its activities in court.
elbit protest
The story about the collapse of the case from the UK’s Independent newspaper is below and the group’s press release is here: http://londonpalestineaction.tumblr.com/post/109598110614/israeli-arms-company-and-uk-government-running.
Michael Deas, representing the Palestinian BDS National Commmittee  in the UK, said massive support for the protesters had demonstrated how much energy there is for campaigning around Elbit and the demand for a military embargo on Israel.
Outcry as prosecution service drops trial of anti-drone protesters at last minute
 
The prosecution of arms-trade protesters who occupied a British drone engines manufacturer has been dropped at the last minute, after the company refused to hand over evidence about its exports of weaponry to Israel, The Independent can reveal.
The nine demonstrators had been due to go on trial next month for aggravated trespass after they halted production during a sit-in at the Staffordshire factory of UAV Engines Ltd, a subsidiary of the Israeli defence giant Elbit Systems – one of the largest manufacturer of military drones.
The activists were arrested after they targeted the company at the height of last summer’s assault by Israel on Gaza, to highlight claims that British-made weaponry was being used by Israeli forces.
But charges against them were dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service last week, just hours before a deadline expired to provide the defendants with details of arms export licences granted to UEL to send its hi-tech engines to Israel for use in the Hermes 450 – a drone widely deployed by the Israeli military. Although the drone was used in the Gaza campaign, UEL has insisted the version used by Israel’s armed forces is not powered by its engines.
The CPS told The Independent it had been forced to discontinue the case after it was informed that two witnesses from the company were no longer prepared to give evidence, and that documentation – understood to be the arms export data – would not be forthcoming.
“We deemed that there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction,” the CPS said.
Lawyers for the protesters criticised the failure to obtain the export data, saying the information would have cast crucial light on whether weaponry produced in the UK was deployed by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in Operation Protective Edge – the assault on Gaza which cost more than 2,000 Palestinian and 73 Israeli lives.
The protesters from London Palestine Action had been granted permission by a district judge to obtain disclosure from the CPS of “any and all” material held by public bodies, including the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), about export licences granted to UEL and Elbit Systems since 2003. It is understood that the CPS itself made no effort to obtain the data from the Whitehall department.
Mike Schwarz, a partner with law firm Bindmans, said: “The information would have shed light on the links between UK arms companies and Israel’s assault on Gaza. With no court date, there’s no public scrutiny. Indeed, that seems to be what the affected business desperately wants and the Government is more than content to let happen.”
Britain’s lucrative defence trade with Israel has proved controversial for the Coalition. The refusal of the Government to suspend 12 export licences last summer led to the resignation of the Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi.
UEL did not respond to requests to comment. BIS said none of the export licences granted to UEL were for use in Israeli military drones but it confirmed that licences had been granted to an unnamed supplier for engines used in IDF drones as recently as 2010.

 

Reasons to be wary of Holocaust commemoration

“We have become very good at remembering. . . . . It’s acting on the remembrance that defeats us.”

So says the ever-thoughtful Robert Cohen in his blog Micah’s Paradigm Shift.  Here follow his meditations on the manner in which horrific events have been “used, abused and politicised”

Auschwitz revisited

In the week we have been commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz I have been trying to understand why I am so weary and wary of the Holocaust. Despite the undoubted emotional pull of the survivors’ testimonies, is there any lasting meaning be found in the ashes at Auschwitz? Should it even be looked for?

I didn’t always feel this way.

We recently moved house and a few weeks ago my older son and I were unpacking boxes of books and finding new homes for them. I noticed just how much reading I had done on the subject of the Holocaust, mostly more than twenty years ago.

I had straight histories like ‘The War Against the Jews’ by Lucy Dawidowicz and ‘Holocaust’ by Martin Gilbert. I’d read ‘Last Waltz in Vienna’ by George Clare, Elie Wiesel’s ‘Night’, ‘Europa, Europa’ by Solomon Perel and Primo Levi’s ‘If This is a Man’, and ‘The Drowned and the Saved’. There were Art Spiegelman’s graphic novels ‘Maus’, where Nazis and Jews become cats and mice. Ghetto accounts such as ‘A Cup of Tears’ by Abraham Lewin and Marek Edelman’s ‘The Ghetto Fights’. I remembered being completely absorbed by Theo Richmond’s detailed account of the destruction of one tiny shtetl village ‘Konin’. I had the complete transcript of Claude Lanzmann’s epic documentary Shoah. Hannah Arendt’s account of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in the 1950s. And of course, Anne Frank’s diary, the fully annotated critical edition.

My reading had been a search for meaning – historical, political and theological. I had been trying to make sense of something I knew was shaping my adult Jewish identity.

Last weekend I visited my 88 year old father and asked him to recall for me the visit he made to Auschwitz in the late 1960s while on a business trip to Poland. Perhaps his account could restore my faith in the possibility of finding a purpose in the week’s commemorations beyond honouring the memory of the dead.

My father’s visit to the death camp took place in a very different world from today. For the first two decades after the war the mood had been for moving on, for forgetting not remembering. The Holocaust was very far from being the defining event of the Second World War it has now become.

While he was on his trip, my father and three work colleagues found themselves with time on their hands when a public holiday was announced to coincide with a Soviet Russian State visit. Their local client, the factory manager of a smelt works in Katowice, suggested they visited Auschwitz, which he explained now ran as a museum.

Although my father was familiar with the name Auschwitz, he told me his knowledge of the how the Nazi’s had implemented their killing was vague and sketchy at the time of his visit to Poland. Two of his colleagues had served in the army during the war but their understanding was even less than my father’s. So the four British businessmen hired a driver and set off for the day with little or no expectation of what they were about to see.

They reached Auschwitz less than an hour after leaving Katowice and found the camp/museum almost deserted despite the public holiday. In fact, my father and his colleagues seemed to be the only visitors there and were rewarded with a personal tour by one of the senior officials.

They were taken to long wooden huts sectioned off into large glass fronted display cases. Inside the first display were bails of material that my father could not identify. “What is this?” He asked. “Human hair” came the reply, “shaved from the heads of those about to be exterminated.” Nothing went to waste, it was explained, “The hair could be weaved into cloth and used for insulation”. Next came a display of walking sticks and crutches neatly stacked in huge piles. Then shoes, all sizes, suitcases still with name and home address labels attached, spectacles and false teeth. Apparently, it all had revenue potential for the Third Reich.

After three hours of the tour my father was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the attitude of their guide. “He was more interested in the Nazis’ attention to detail, administrative diligence and mechanical ingenuity than in the morality of what had taken place there.” Finally, they were taken to see the furnaces that burned day and night, fueled by human corpses.

But what had been new and revelatory to my father nearly fifty years ago has become burdensome and problematic to me. When I look at all the books on my shelves relating to just 12 years out of three thousand years of Jewish history, I have no desire to revisit them or even flick through the pages.

As a student I had thought there were lessons to be learnt and meaning to be divined from what had happened. But now it feels as if the event has been used, abused and politicised, and, from a moral perspective, largely ignored.

As time has passed I have become increasingly pessimistic about our ability to take something meaningful and positive from the horror that is now summed up by the single word ‘Auschwitz’.

Some, especially the remaining survivors, see denial and forgetfulness of the Holocaust as the biggest concern we should have. But I think these are the least of our Holocaust problems.

Holocaust denial will remain a fringe issue. The documentation is secure in its veracity and overwhelming in its volume. If anything, today’s school children are in danger of thinking that Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin went to war against Hitler because of what was happening to the Jews.

And we have become very good at remembering. We do it with great care and respect and afford enormous dignity to the survivors and their testimonies. This week’s marking of the Russian army’s liberation of Auschwitz proved this once again. So, we remember with no difficulty. It’s acting on the remembrance that defeats us.

Since the end of the Second World War we have had Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. All of which suggest that despite the creation of so much international law on human rights and genocide, humankind has not progressed an iota as a result of Auschwitz.

I can now see that my own long-term reaction to the Holocaust has led me not to focus on anti-Semitism and Jewish security (although neither can be ignored) but on the values and teaching that I see as central to Judaism. Justice, Compassion, Humility, individual and collective Responsibility. These are not new lessons but very old ones. As a Jew, I choose to apply these to our relationship with the Palestinian people because this is the issue on which we must judge ourselves. In the 21st century this is ‘the Jewish question’.

While a growing number of Jews both in Israel and around the world share this perspective, it is still a minority opinion.

When it comes to the Palestinian people, the Holocaust has hardened our hearts and closed our minds. The scale of our own suffering has made us blind to their suffering – which we see as all of their own making.

Perhaps this was inevitable. Why should a people abused and broken become saints? The opposite result is more often the outcome. I am asking for too much. Expecting something that no group is capable of.

And so I have become both weary and wary of trying to take meaning or lessons from the Holocaust. Yes we must continue to teach it as an appalling stain on humanity. And an exercise in empathy is never wasted. But we must not expect it to unlock the human heart.

Maybe all we have are the stories of bureaucratised murder, random survival, and unexpected acts of kindness that Primo Levi called ‘Moments of Reprieve’.

My father and his colleagues had planned to eat a meal together that night back at the hotel in Katowice. But after the visit nobody was hungry.

On the return journey my father asked their driver if he had known about the camp during the war. “Oh, yes”, he replied. “We knew something was happening. We could smell it.” My father asked him whether anyone at the time felt they could do anything about it? The driver replied “Yes, we would wind up the windows tight, so we couldn’t smell the stink”.

See also: A Letter to Anne Frank

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.”

RIBA CAPITULATES TO ISRAEL LOBBY ON ARCHITECTS’ BOYCOTT DECISION

Abe Hayeem chairs Architects and Planners for Justice for Palestinians

Abe Hayeem 

Abe Hayeem, chair of Architects and Planners for Justice in  Palestine, has summed up the U-turn performed by the Royal Institute of British Architects, reversing its principled boycott decision earlier this year to urge suspension of the Israeli association from the architects’ international body:

There we have it. It speaks for itself. The RIBA has gone even beyond merely reversing the Council motion. It has obsequiously declared that they got it wrong. This is not only a capitulation to the Israel lobby, it is a spit in the eye for professional ethics and brings the whole institute into disrepute. 

We will not let this stand.

Here is the Jewish Chronicle’s jubilant report of a shameful climb-down.

Riba president Stephen Hodder (Photo: Jamesfranklingresham)

Riba president Stephen Hodder (Photo: Jamesfranklingresham)

Riba u-turn over Israel boycott: ‘We got it wrong’

By Marcus Dysch, December 4, 2014

Riba president Stephen Hodder (Photo: Jamesfranklingresha m)
British architects have reversed their call for Israeli counterparts to be suspended from an international union.
The Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) confirmed the u-turn today when its council adopted a new policy on international affairs.
The move rescinded a motion which had been passed in March calling for Israelis to be barred from the International Union of Architects (UIA) in response to concerns about Palestinian human rights and Israeli settlement building.
Riba changed its stance after lawyers warned that such a policy was outside its charitable remit and could lead to Charity Committee censure.
The boycott is understood to have cost the institute more than £100,000 after Jewish supporters and groups pulled out of bookings to use its prestigious central London headquarters for batmitzvahs and other celebrations.
Riba president Stephen Hodder admitted: “We got it wrong.”
But he declined to apologise formally for the upset caused to British Jews.
Mr Hodder said: “For the Institute to have engaged in this issue in a confrontational way – by seeking suspension of the Israeli Association of United Architects from the UIA – was wrong.”
The institute accepted that the reputational damage caused by the affair would take years to recover from, but said it wanted to take positive steps to engage in foreign affairs.
A Riba delegation travelled to Israel two months ago in an attempt to rebuild bridges with architects in the country. International division chair Peter Oborn said he had been warmly received on the trip.
The boycott motion had proved hugely controversial, with Jewish and pro-Israel architects around the world criticising the decision.

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