Tag Archives: conference

Founding Conference of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods

 

Report of Conference on Jews and Palestine

Saturday, 4 September 2010

From Tony Greensteins Blog http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2010/09/founding-conference-of-jews-4.html

It’s not often that you go to a conference and come away feeling that that was a really worthwhile and positive experience. Too many conferences are waffly and woolly and often set up to benefit primarily the speakers’ egos. Maybe it was because this was the first ever conference of its kind in Britain but I found the conference both beneficial and also moving.

As I said in my contribution from the floor, when I first became an anti-Zionist when I was all of 16, I felt as if I was the only one in the world. I found it difficult to articulate even why I found my socialist views conflicting with Zionism. Having gone to a Jewish school with a rabbi for a father I’d been brought up with the myths that the Arabs ran away in 1948 so that the Arab armies could conquer the territories. All I knew was that socialism recognised no divisions in the working class, it argued for unity across racial and religious lines. Zionism emphasised the Jewish not the universal and for me that was the starting point.

The Conference started with an excellent speakers panel consisting of the veteran co-founder of Matzpen, Professor Moshe Machover, who argued against the idea that the Palestinian conflict can be solved within the ‘box’ of Palestine. For Moshe the only solution is a Palestine or Israel or both as part of a larger socialist confederation of the Arab East.

Haim Bresheeth, a film maker and Professor at the University of East London and who was also a member of Matzpen, clashed with Moshe as to whether Matzpen, the Socialist Organisation in Israel, ever supported, even implicitly, a 2 states position. Haim also disagreed strongly with Moshe’s position, supporting a secular unitary and democratic state of Palestine.

Mike Marqusuee, a noted writer on cricket and Bob Dylan (!) as well as a much praised book on the Journey of an anti-Zionism Jew [see my review] gave an excellent overview of the situation of Jews in the movement and the wider solidarity movement, emphasising in particular the role that India plays in support of Israel, its military links with Israel and how both use ‘anti-terrorist’ rhetoric to demonise of Muslims.

Tony Lerman, ex-Director of the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, who was witch-hunted out of his job in the IJPR, an organisation he helped found, by people like Stanley Kalms, owner of Dixons, because of his refusal to spout Zionist rhetoric and give unflinching support to anything with a Zionist tag on, gave an excellent talk about the background to the European Monitoring Committee’s ‘Working Definition’ of anti-semitism, which in fact came from the American Jewish Congress. This has now been taken over by a group calling itself the Federal Rights Agency, but as was pointed out this semi-legal definition, which the British government hasn’t adopted, paves the way to the criminalisation of anti-Zionism and anti-Israeli actions. He also gave us a very useful history of the background to this ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism and how it fits in with the ‘new anti-Semitism’, although I disagree with his view that anti-Semitism in the West is on the increase.

The EUMC definition is in fact , as I pointed out from the floor, ironically anti-semitic! It holds that denial to the ‘Jewish people’ of the right to national self-determination in the Israeli state, was anti-semitic. In fact the belief in one single Jewish people, wherever they live and whatever language they speak and culture they adopt, is itself anti-semitic and the basis of the anti-Semitic world Jewish conspiracy theory. Likewise its suggestion that comparisons of Nazism and Zionism is anti-semitic is a piece of Zionist nonsense, which fits in with their idea that there are no lessons to learn from the Holocaust because it was unique in every aspect. I also made the point that the reason Zionism talks about ‘new anti-semitism’ is because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the ‘old’ anti-semitism, i.e. pogroms, attacks on Jews as Jews and other manifestations of racial hatred.

Although the Zionists think they are being clever with their new definition and the EUMC definition, which only the National Union of Students has adopted, it is in fact useless. When the Procurator Fiscal tried to adopt it in Scotland to prosecute those who had disrupted the concern of the Jerusalem Quartet, the Sheriff threw it out. No jury will convict on the basis of these weasel words because there is a world of difference between opposition to the Israeli state and hatred of Jews as Jews.

I also made it clear, in supporting Haim Bresheeth and opposing Moshe’s viewpoint, that we have to set an idea of what it is we are working towards. It is the first question that people ask – what do you want? It is not good enough to talk of a socialist federation, given that socialism has not been achieved anywhere in the world. The overthrow of Zionism (or of the Occupation) and Moshe is correct, cannot be conducted within the confines of Palestine. It is a regional struggle against the Arab dictators and the junior allies of US imperialism. But that doesn’t mean that the struggle will take a socialist form or that it will result in socialism.

It was also good to see people like Ghada Karmi at the conference, although she could only stay a short while. Sue Blackwell, with whom I led a workshop, helped prepare the food and was the ‘shabbas goy’ for the meeting! But it was also important that though this is a Jewish group, non-Jews are made to feel welcome. We organise as Jews solely because we can be more effective doing so.

This is the first such conference of anti-Zionist Jews and those involved in solidarity that I can remember in Britain. Moshe suggested that J-Big, which officially hosted the conference, should not become an anti-Zionism organisation but I’m not so sure about that. Either way a steering committee of 9 was elected.

It was gratifying to see that the conference was packed without a single spare seat. Over 50 people attended during the day and we focussed, not on Jewish identity or other forms of naval gazing, but seeing how we can, in the words of the first J-Big literature, kosher the Boycott movement. How obviously we can support each other but also how we can deflect the charge that anti-Zionism equals anti-semitism back onto the Zionists, whose movement is anti-semitic in its origins and ideology.

Below is a report which was compiled after the Conference.

Tony Greenstein

Report from Group Combating the Israel lobby and its definition of Anti-Semitism

Sue Blackwell opened this sessioin by drawing our attention to the threat inherent in the present FRA, previously EUMC definition of anti-Semitism. To aid deliberations, this group was provided with a print out of the EUMC working definition of anti-Semitism:

The preamble of this document states that its ‘purpose is to provide a guide for identifying incidents….and support.. the enforcement of legislation dealing with anti-Semitism’.
Although it is a European document, it was completed with the assistance of self confessed Israel lobby groups, both from Europe and from America, together with Kenneth Stern, an American, whose agenda was very definitely to make anti-Zionism and by implication criticism of Israel part of the anti-Semitic agenda. Alternative Jewish perspectives were not canvassed and amendments were not welcomed once the document was published. It has already been used as a definition in the All Party Parliamentary Group’s report on anti-Semitism in this country. It is now the definition used by the State department in the United States. The implication of this document is deeply troubling as it could be an intimidate and silence anti-Zionists. It is therefore imperative that we develop tools to address this issue.

Tony Greenstein explained how Zionism is supported by a motley collection of people, many of whom are not Jews; how Jews are a diverse people who cannot be characterised as one people. He argued against the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and outlined his view that the whole issue is one not about anti-Semitism, but about privileging Israel and silencing her critics.

He explained how Zionists from the time of Herzl to the Ben Gurion and even today express their distaste for diaspora Jews with classical anti-Semitic views, showing how much they despise diaspora Jewish cultures. Pinhas Felix Rosenbliith, who became Israel’s first Minister of
Justice, described Palestine “an institute for the fumigation of Jewish vermin.” [Classic zionism and modern anti-semitism: Parallels and influences (1883-1914 Journal of Israeli History, 4:2, September 1983). If a non-Jew had described Jews as vermin or ‘hideous creatures’ (Jacob Klatzkin) then who would deny that this was deeply anti-Semitic?

Currently far right and fascist/neo-Nazi groups in Europe, with the sole exception of Jobbik in Hungary, support Israel. The EDL, Britain’s home grown hate merchants, will mobilise together with the Israeli flag in support of Israel whenever protests against Israel’s behaviour are called.

Themes:

There was discussion about the racism inherent in the Zionist ideology; how the EUMC/FRA definition lets Zionist racism off the hook; how often extreme Zionists are among the worst anti-Semites; how in fact Zionism itself is seen by many as the other side of the anti-Semitism coin and uses anti-Semitism to advance its cause.

While Israel may try to hold all Jews responsible for its actions, it is vital not to fall into that trap and feel responsible for what a state, to which we owe no allegiance, does. It is in fact anti-Semitic to imagine that all Jews have one view.

There was discussion about the use of Nazi analogies and the consensus was that they undermine arguments.

There was a discussion too about people in the Palestine solidarity movement, who are true anti-Semites and who feel that they can use their place in the movement as cover for their obnoxious views.

Zionism is a political ideology and it is thus reasonably easy to counteract anti-Semitic views held and circulated in public fora, by solidarity activists. Jews in the solidarity movement, who have pointed out anti-Semitic material and highlighted the difference between a political ideology and racial categorising, have usually been well received.

There was discussion about relationship with mainstream Jewish community, many of whom feel an existential anxiety about obliteration, thus creating a need for a safety net, namely Israel; whether these feelings were only found among Ashkenazi Jews, or whether this is a more universal Jewish phenomenon. There were those who did not feel that counteracting extreme Jewish views was worthwhile, but others argued that there is a wide variety of views and with encouragement, people could be slowly detached from unqualified support for Israel and once having left their comfort zone, it could be possible for them to move even further along the path. However it was pointed out that since the Jewish community has become more affluent, they are less attached to unions and workers’ organisations and more attached to synagogues and faith schools, which promote a Zionist agenda. Thus it might be more difficult to reach mainstream. Many secular Jews use Zionist organisations to signal their attachment to a Jewish identity.

There was a debate around developing our own definition of anti-Semitism. While this is contentious, it may be necessary in order to challenge this EUMC/FRA definition, which, in the absence of an alternative, could become a dangerous template.

There was also a warning that the use of history to support our views on Zionism can be problematic as historical evidence is nuanced and does not usually support any one particular interpretation.

Proposals

1. Invite those who support the FRA/EUMC definition to a debate so that they can explain their position. We need to show how this position reinforces rather than challenges racism.
2. BDS is an ant-racist endeavour. One way to address the implication of this document is through BDS efforts.
3. Go on the offensive with our own Zionist narrative, showing how Zionism developed and its present function.
4. Reclaim Jewish/humanist values.
5. Demand consultation with the FRA as Jews.
6. Address anti-Semitism when it becomes part of the anti-Zionist discourse.
7. Publicise the use of hate speech by those complaining of anti-Semitism.

Addendum

This document and its implications was discussed at a JFJFP signatories meeting on 25th July, where it was identified, not as an anti-discrimination document, but as a political document and should not be mistaken for one dealing with discrimination. Jfjfp is making further enquiries with lawyers to get a legal opinion on how this FRA formulation conforms to provisions in other anti-Discrimination laws, in particular those enacted in the United Kingdom.

It may be worthwhile to consider making a joint approach to the FRA together with all the alternative Jewish groups to demand that ALL interested Jewish groups be involved in developing a new anti-discrimination framework with respect to anti-Semitism.

Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods – A Spearheading New Initiative

by Ruth Tenne, Media Monitors Network

(Sunday, April 1, 2007)

The latest report [1] of the International Development Select Committee regarding the Occupied Palestinian Territories (31 January 2007) makes for very distressing reading. In its section on trade, it refers to the ongoing restrictions in movements and access faced by the OPT, citing an OXFAM [2] report which points out “that transaction costs for Palestinians wishing to export products are up to 70% higher than for Israelis exporting the same product. This market benefit is also true of products produced by Israeli settlers in the West Bank who can get direct access to markets in or through Israel without the disruptive road blocks and back-to-back transfers faced by the Palestinians. In addition, Palestinians face a range of regulations which do not appear to be linked to security. Moreover, the Palestinians are obliged to rely on Israeli intermediaries to transport their goods and therefore, do not pay purchase taxes and customs to the Palestinian Authority, which creates further losses to the economy of 3% of the GDP a year.” The report concludes that “the viability of a future Palestinian economy depends significantly on its trading opportunities.”

In order to challenge the stronghold Israel has on Palestine and its fledgling economy, a group of Jewish and Israeli residents in Britain was set up as a subsection of the campaign undertaken by Boycott Israeli Goods – BIG. [3] The new group, J-BIG, is an outcome of the deep frustration Jewish peace activists feel towards the inaction displayed by the Jewish community and its liberal wing with regard to Israel’s repressive occupation of Palestinian land. J-BIG members believe that Israel’s policies “constitute a betrayal of the best trends in Jewish ethical tradition” and operate a form of racism which is reminiscent of South African Apartheid – inflaming hatreds that render impossible the achievement of a just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. Like ‘Enough!’ – the new coalition of trade unions, peace, faith and human rights organisations in Britain. J-BIG believes that the British Government fails to stand up for the right of the Palestinian people and thus, calls for a consorted grass roots action. Along with the wider BIG campaign, members take part in direct action aiming to prevent the marketing and selling of goods and produce originating from the illegal settlements in the West Bank and from Israeli companies, especially those which are known to profit from the unlawful occupation. J-BIG’s strength is in the fact that being Jewish we are unlikely to encounter charges of Anti-Semitism made frequently by the Jewish community against those who criticise Israel’s policies. At the same time, we hope that our stance will act as a “wake- up” call for the Jewish community in Britain and offer some symbolic support to the Palestinians who tend to regard the Jewish community as a keen champion of Israel’s policies. We hope that our actions will help attract greater publicity for the BIG campaign. Indeed, a recent picketing of Carmel- Agrexco, an Israeli marketing company, gained much publicity in the Jewish and Israeli press.

Carmel-Agrexco [4] is a 50% Israeli state-owned export company which is responsible for exporting the majority of fruit and vegetables from illegal settlements in the West Bank to the UK. The UK forms a large part of the market for settlement produce, making up 60% of Carmel-Agrexco‘s total exports. Carmel-Agrexco profits from Israel’s illegal occupation and entrenched system of racial apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories. In the Jordan Valley of the West Bank, Carmel-Agrexco set its farms on confiscated Palestinian land offering Palestinian farmers less than a living wage. Carmel-Agrexco can deliver fruits and vegetables to Europe in 24 hours while the produce of Palestinian farmers cannot get through the illegal Israeli military checkpoints and has to be left to rot in the field.

The picket of Carmel-Agrexco took place shortly before Valentine Day when the demand for Agrexco’s flowers are at its highest. Although the number of those picketing was just above 100, the attendance of J-BIG attracted special attention by the Israeli press. Interviewed by the Jerusalem Post, Deborah Fink – the convener of J-BIG, contended: “This is a grass roots action. It is a way the ordinary person can put pressure on Israel… It’s also to tell Jews that what Israel is doing is wrong. What Israel is doing is going against Jewish ethics. Uprooting olive trees is against Jewish law.” Although the representative of Carmel-Agrexco-UK dismissed the disruptive action, there is no doubt that such an action has a cumulative effect which help to turn consumers and the public against Israel, whose 2006 bombardment of Lebanon, “summer rain” shelling of Gaza and continued military incursions into the West Bank are etched in the public consciousness. Indeed, the results of a recent worldwide BBC’s poll of 28,000 people in 27 countries show that Israel is the most negatively viewed county. 56% of interviewees felt that Israel has a mostly negative influence on the world – a rating which is higher than any other country, including Iran and North Korea (Jewish News 8 March 2007).

J-BIG‘s campaign however, is not focused on one-off events. It is in the process of launching an ongoing campaign which will put pressure on supermarkets by informing them and their customers about Israel’s violation of human rights in the Occupied Territories, and of Israel’s use of unethical and exploitative methods in marketing the produce of its illegal settlements in the West Bank – taking advantage of Palestinian labour and produce. In addition, J-BIG members will be requesting supermarkets to clearly label all goods which originate from the West Bank and Israel in order to help consumers make an ethical choice.

An additional aim of J-BIG is to promote Palestinian produce, especially extra virgin, organic, olive oil which is marketed by Zaytoun [5] in accordance with the Fair Trade’s code of practice. The olive oil comes directly from the West Bank and from Israeli-Palestinian farmers who suffer from restrictions on their land ownership and use of water resources in Israel, (for a full account of the restrictions and discrimination suffered by Israeli-Palestinians see Susan Nathan’s book: The Other Side of Israel: My Journey Across the Jewish/Arab Divide [6]). J-BIG members are promoting the sale of Zaytoun oil by giving it greater publicity through the media and by direct contact with potential vendors . They also aim to improve the market penetration of Zaytoun by selling the oil directly to friends, family relatives and members of the public. Palestine is the origin of the olive tree with some of the oldest olive groves in the world dating as far back as 1500 to 2000 years. This fact combined with the Mediterranean climate, rich fertile soil and the use of organic traditional farming methods makes Zaytoun‘s Palestinian olive oil a world beating product, with which Israeli olive oil that is produced mostly from younger olive trees, will find hard to compete.

On a political level, members of J-BIG have joined the wider campaign for abolishing the special trade and economic benefits granted to Israel as part of its trade agreement with the European Union . Indeed a significant number of British MPs appear to support this campaign. In February 2007 an Early Day Motion (EDM) submitted to Parliament by Derek Wyatt notes that Israel “has routinely prevented the free movement of Palestinian goods and people and has withheld Palestinian funds from their people…… These and other grievous human rights abuses represent a clear breach of Article Two of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which calls for adherence to human rights.” The EDM goes on to commend the International Development Select Committee’s recommendation that “the UK should urge the EU to use the Association Agreement with Israel as a lever for change and to consider suspending the Agreement until there are further improvements in access arrangements.”

J-BIG and other activists have been writing to their respective MPs and requesting them to support Wyatt’s EDM. It appears that the number of British MPs who have been signing the EDM is indeed growing, and the campaign for bearing pressure on Israel is taking root .

Being an Israeli-born citizen I hope, like the rest of my colleagues, that our campaign of boycotting Israel’s produce of repression and “fruits of injustice” will successfully spearhead a grass roots action within the Jewish community against a brutal occupation which seeks to stamp out the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations for nationhood.

Notes:

[1]. “Development Assistance and the Occupied Palestinian Territories”
House of Commons – International Development Committee, Published on 31 January 2007 by authority of the House of Commons London: The Stationery Office Limited
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/
cm200607/cmselect/cmintdev/114/114i.pdf
http://tinyurl.com/3cffjgtarget

[2]. Oxfam International
http://www.oxfam.org.uk

[3]. Boycott Israeli Goods – BIG
http://www.bigcampaign.org.uk

[4]. Carmel Agrexco Agricultural
http://www.agrexco.co.il/
http://www.virtualmarket.fruitlogistica.de/index.php5
id=45551&highlight=&fid=436&offset=0&Action=
showCompany&bmp=945ae36cf31a55e
1392cc50c0ebd2f8a&locale=en_GB
http://tinyurl.com/yv53n5

[5]. Zaytoun
http://www.zaytoun.org/

[6]. “The Other Side of Israel : My Journey Across the Jewish/Arab Divide”
by Susan Nathan
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385514565/mmn-20/