Tag Archives: Israel

The Orwellian defenestration of David Ward

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

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

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

The Orwellian defenestration of David Ward

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

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

David Ward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exactly so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The CAA continued gleefully:

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

Farron obligingly caved in.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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21 November 2016

Profile image Jeremy CorbynBaseless accusations of anti-Semitism are damaging to more than the British left and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Peter Nicholls/Reuters
From Blairite to far-right, the British political elite is relishing having discovered the ultimate weapon of mass destruction to try and block the growth of a movement of the left around Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

All it needs to do is fire off round after round of unsubstantiated assertions of antisemitism, deploying circular and often contradictory arguments.

The left, so the mantra goes, has always been riddled with antisemitism. To deny this is, by definition, antisemitic.

Corbyn is in denial, according to his critics. The ardent pro-Israel advocate Howard Jacobson has accused him of belonging to the “more un-self-questioning wing of British politics.” Those words are probably more applicable to Tony Blair, the former prime minister and Corbyn’s arch enemy.

Jacobson, a novelist and academic, graciously allows in a recent opinion piece that Israel may be subjected to “fair and honest” criticism but asserts, in the face of reams of historical evidence to the contrary, that the Zionism which created and upholds the state is a “dreamy” and idealistic national liberation movement of the Jewish people that has nothing to do with conquest or colonial expansion.

The clincher is Jacobson’s assertion – denied by a considerable body of Jewish opinion – that anti-Zionism is equivalent to repudiating Israel’s right to exist and is therefore “almost invariably” antisemitic.

Case closed. There really is nothing left to say.

“Open season on minorities”

Where does this leave the UK as a proudly democratic society that values freedom of speech? We value it so highly that just last month, the Independent Press Standards Organisation – the media regulator established by UK newspapers – ruled that Kelvin MacKenzie, a former editor of The Sun, was free to denounce Channel 4 for letting a headscarf-wearing Muslim woman, Fatima Manji, report on the Nice terror attacks.

Manji said this meant that it was now “open season on minorities and Muslims, in particular.”

It leaves us in an unpleasant place, following the vote to exit the European Union, where upsetting Muslims and other non-whites is fine. Upsetting friends of Israel is not allowed, however – especially, but not exclusively, if they are Jewish.

It’s also fine to upset Jews like me who are not Zionists. Wes Streeting, a member of parliament (not a Jew), called me a “massive racist” in a tweet about an interview I did with the radio station LBC during October.

But then I’m a pro-Palestinian activist who supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement. Streeting evidently believes I can be discounted as a self-hating Jew.

Just to be clear, I have no time for conspiracy theorists who see Israel as the root of all evil. I do not tolerate anti-Jewish racism, whether or not it is coupled with claims of supporting justice for Palestine, as it sometimes is.

Nor do my fellow campaigners in Free Speech on Israel. We demand justice and security for both Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs and Jews, and we agree with the Arab-Jewish Forum’s Tony Klug who wrote in The Jewish Chronicle earlier this year: “While antisemitism is monstrous – and, like all forms of racism, should be vigorously dealt with – false accusations of antisemitism are monstrous too.”

Disturbingly, the recent report on antisemitism in the UK from the Home Affairs Committee in the House of Commons gives a free pass to those making false accusations.

Released on 16 October, the report performs a service by highlighting the role of social media – in particular Twitter – in facilitating deplorable abuse and threats to individuals. It also makes the important point, ignored by most media, that the far right is behind 75 percent of all politically motivated antisemitic incidents.

Its main thrust, however, is that antisemitism is rampant and tolerated in the Labour Party, the National Union of Students and elsewhere on the left and that a “new definition” of antisemitism is required so that we can halt this alleged scourge. It is a gift to the pro-Israel, anti-Corbyn brigade who welcomed it ecstatically.

Moral panic

The Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), an intensely Zionist group, tweeted, “We could not have written this report better ourselves.”

caa-tweet-screen-grab

Until the current wave of moral panic, people generally knew what bigotry was and what was specific about the anti-Jewish bigotry usually called antisemitism.

As the Free Speech On Israel website says, language or behavior is anti-Semitic if it expresses hatred of Jews, or inflicts or incites violence against them, because they are Jews; if it stereotypes Jews on the basis of alleged negative personal characteristics such as being mean, sly and avaricious; if it links Jews to conspiracy theories about world domination of media, financial or governmental institutions; if it suggests Jews were responsible for, or fabricated, the Holocaust.

Most people would also agree that it is antisemitic to implicate all Jews in the actions of the Israeli state or to accuse all Jews of embracing a single ideology – Zionism, for example.

Yet no one is more determined to suggest that all Jews owe loyalty to the State of Israel, and that Zionism is part and parcel of being Jewish, than Zionists like Jacobson and the CAA. It isn’t so long ago that Ephraim Mirvis, Britain’s chief rabbi, declared that Zionism was a “noble and integral part of Judaism.”

A long list of Jews including well-known figures such as the filmmaker Mike Leigh, actor Miriam Margolyes and writer Michael Rosen put their names to a letter repudiating the chief rabbi’s version of their identity. Gideon Falter, the CAA’s chair, dismissed them as “a fringe assortment of British Jews” who had committed an “anti-Semitic slur” against his group.

Is it any wonder that some people outraged by Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians may take the chief rabbi at his word and hold all Jews responsible for what is done in their name?

If only the report from the Home Affairs Committee had tackled this contradiction and affirmed that there are different forms of Jewish identity, different traditions to which Jews adhere, including radical traditions that have no connection with Zionism.

Instead the committee promotes a “new definition” of antisemitism that does everything Falter, Streeting and company desire. If imposed on all areas of public life, as the committee proposes, opposition to their partisan approach is at risk of being criminalized.

To start with, the committee exalts its definition of antisemitism as being “based broadly on the working definition of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).” That falsely gives the impression that the definition favored has already been approved by the European Union.

The so-called working definition appeared on the EUMC website as a discussion document that was found wanting and dropped. It was originally drafted more than a decade ago by Zionist lobby groups, which have pushed it relentlessly since then.

The home affairs committee report lists some of the obvious characteristics of antisemitism but muddies the waters by introducing Israel into the equation.

We already have extensive evidence of how this will be used to censor debate – an academic conference canceled, a theater director pilloried, school children denied involvement in a literary festival.

It is not only Jewish Zionists who are guilty of this kind of censorship. In the three cases mentioned, non-Jewish Conservative cabinet ministers were actively involved.

The Home Affairs Committee’s “new definition” offers myriad opportunities for conflating criticism of Israel with antisemitism. As I write, Israel’s CAA friends are filing a complaint against the School of Oriental and African Studies in London for allowing writer Tom Suarez to lecture about the violent origins of the Israeli state.

These are some of the more problematic examples given in the “new definition”:

Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

If this is antisemitic, then Jewish organizations that uphold loyalty to Israel – as most do – will be immune from criticism for doing so. Dissenting Jews, or anyone else who wonders aloud why the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which claims to represent all Jews in the country, persists in supporting Israel right or wrong, will be silenced.

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

This clause is particularly pernicious. Rights attach to human beings, not states. Asserting the right to self-determination does not give any group a right to suppress others in its name. Palestinians also have rights, including the right to protest at the injustices inflicted upon them in the name of Jewish self-determination. It is not antisemitic for them to do so, nor for anyone else to support them.

Nor is it antisemitic to identify the racism present in the origins of the Israeli state. Jacobson may call its creation an act of “dreamy” idealism – but it was almost by definition a racist endeavor since the intention was to conquer and occupy the maximum amount of land while ensuring that the fewest possible non-Jewish inhabitants remained on it.

Modern Israel offers multiple examples of racism, some of it extreme.

Applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

In practice, what Israel’s defenders complain of is Israel being expected to abide by internationally accepted norms while other states behave as badly or worse. Israel’s critics point out that Israel is exceptionally favored on the international scene by being allowed to get away with breaches of international law and human rights conventions without facing any sanction. It is not antisemitic to call Israel to account for those breaches.

Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

The blood libel is a horrifying medieval superstition that led to the slaughter of innocent Jews accused of using the blood of Christian children in religious rites. Today’s pro-Israel censors frequently allege “blood libel” when anyone comments on the shedding of Palestinian blood.

Veteran cartoonist Gerald Scarfe found himself in the center of a diplomatic storm when he dared to portray Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, cementing bleeding bodies between the slabs of a wall. To call this a blood libel distorts Jewish history and, as one Israeli commentator argued at the time, is “not antisemitic by any standard.”

It is certainly antisemitic to allege, as used to happen to my mother when she was a young girl, that Jews bear the guilt of Christ’s death, or to suggest that Jews have a propensity to slaughter children. But it is not antisemitic to hold the State of Israel or its leaders responsible for the real deaths of real children caused by their forces.

Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

The study of history and politics requires us to make comparisons between different societies in different times. Nazi Germany has become the benchmark for a particularly horrifying form of racist totalitarianism. Sometimes people appalled at Israel’s behavior towards Palestinians, including Jewish Israelis, reach for the worst comparison they can muster and draw Nazi parallels.

It can be hurtful and may make productive debate difficult. But it is not antisemitic.

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

It is indeed bigoted to hold Jews – or any ethnic or religious group – collectively responsible for anything. But people can hardly be blamed for believing that Jews and Israel are indivisible when most mainstream Jewish organizations are solidly aligned with Israel and Zionism.

It would be far more beneficial for people who are confused about this to learn about non-Zionist Jewish traditions than to drum them out of the Labour Party for crossing a line laid down by pro-Israel partisans.

The Home Affairs Committee report calls for its seriously flawed pseudo-definition to be “formally adopted by the UK government, law enforcement agencies and all political parties, to assist them in determining whether or not an incident or discourse can be regarded as antisemitic.”

There is considerable danger in this.

Not only is the committee’s definition a threat to the possibility of holding intelligent, informed discussion about one of the great moral and political issues of our time, it is also a potential spur to anti-Jewish sentiment because it gives the impression that debate is to be censored at the behest of a Jewish collective acting on behalf of the State of Israel.

Unquestioning media bear much of the blame for obscuring the fact that many Jews are not Zionists and a great many Zionists are not Jews.

While many of us Jewish dissenters have been at the forefront of defending Jeremy Corbyn in his attempts to build a grassroots socialist movement, his enemies have united to undermine him, regardless of their faith backgrounds.

It is not too late to avert the threat to freedom of speech posed by the cynical political games afoot. We should start by rejecting the Home Affairs Committee’s phony definition of antisemitism.

Antisemitism smear campaign – our fightback begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Cushman
Convenor, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

GUARDIAN LETTERS ASK – Antisemitic? Or just against the Israeli government’s oppressive actions?

Among several letters challenging allegations of antisemitism at the Oxford University Labour Club, published by the Guardian online, is this one from Jewish supporters of justice for Palestine.

Antisemitism is conspicuous by its absence in your article on “antisemitism” at Oxford University Labour Club.

Antisemitism is abuse, discrimination and hatred of Jews as Jews. Examples of such abuse might be the description of the US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, as “a little Jew boy” by former Netanyahu aide Aviv Bushinsky.

If someone had suggested that people should follow the suggestion of the chief rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, that Jews should not rent rooms to Arabs but instead applied an equivalent policy to Oxford’s Jewish students, we could understand and would share the concern.

Perhaps MPs John Mann and Louise Ellman prefer another description for the situation on the West Bank whereby two systems of law operate – one for Palestinians and the other for Jewish settlers? Or why half of Israel’s Arab villages are “unrecognised” and liable to instant demolition, whereas Jewish villages and towns are always recognised?

Whether Israel is an apartheid state or not is a perfectly legitimate political debate. Jewish students can be found on both sides of this debate. It is not, however, antisemitic.

Those who deliberately confuse antisemitism and anti-Zionism give comfort and aid to the real antisemites in our society. Like the boy who cried wolf, they ensure that if antisemitism does rear its ugly head, people will assume that this is just another false accusation.
Tony Greenstein
Professor Haim Bresheeth
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead
Professor Steven Rose
Miriam Margolyes
Tamar Steinitz
Merav Pinchassoff
Amanda Sebestyen
Deborah Fink
Craig Berman
Susanne Levin
Leah Levane
Ben Young
Richard Kuper
Miriam Yagud
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
Beryl Maizels
Brian Robinson
Mike Cushman
Les Levidow

PRO-ISRAEL TORIES AIM TO BAN ETHICAL DIVESTMENT BY LOCAL AUTHORITIES

This analysis first appeared on the website of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP). It is a response to a blatant attack by the Conservative government on local councils, trade unions and pension funds which attempt to implement an ethical procurement or divestment policy in solidarity with the Palestinian people.  

The full text of the email outlining the Conservative attack appears at the bottom of this post.

TORY ATTACK ON LOCAL AUTHORITY INDEPENDENCE

Britain’s Conservative government has announced a new policy to block local councils from choosing to boycott or divest from companies complicit in the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine. A statement on October 3 said the government would change procurement guidelines affecting local authorities in England and pension regulations in England and Wales in order to “stop the growing spread of militant divestment campaigns against UK defence and Israeli firms.”

It says that “foreign nations” may only be targeted for boycott if the government has imposed “formal legal sanctions”.

The announcement brands Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, a number of local authorities in England, “Labour-affiliated” unions UNISON and GMB, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign as part of a “hard left”, “politically motivated” “radical fringe” guilty of “poisoning community relations” by supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement called for by Palestinians.

The government statement retails baseless allegations that the boycott movement targets Kosher products and Jewish films. It suggests that British Jews depend for their identity on supporting the state of Israel – a wrongheaded idea far more poisonous to community relations than a justice-based BDS campaign for human rights and respect for international law.

The Conservatives have, to all intents and purposes, adopted wholesale the agenda of “politically motivated radical fringe” Zionist groups intent on outlawing boycott actions which they define as antisemitic.

Whatever one’s attitude to BDS, the new government policy is alarming for all those concerned about the wider government agenda of curtailing freedoms in other areas of society, from trade union rights, to lobbying by charities, to imposing a surveillance role on teachers and lecturers under the Prevent strategy. The latter, with its focus on identifying individuals “vulnerable to radicalisation,” primarily among Muslims, is genuinely damaging to community relations.

Although Scotland is not covered by the threatened restrictions on democratically elected local authorities, the Scottish National Party also comes under attack in the government statement for “strongly discouraging trade and investment from illegal settlements.”

PSC has noted that this contradicts warnings to business from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) about the financial, legal and reputational risks of working with or in Israel’s illegal settlements.

The government statement is at least honest in expressing fears about the “threat” that human rights campaigners can cause to the UK military and defence industry, and its close relationship with Israel through the arms trade and military and security cooperation.

This is the Tory response to growing support for campaigns uniting ethically concerned citizens who are opposed to both the international trade in instruments of mass killing and the Israeli state which buys them, sells them and uses them against Palestinians with impunity.

BRICUP will be working with other concerned organisations to defend the right of dissent from the policies of an increasingly repressive Westminster government.

CONSERVATIVE PRESS RELEASE ON PLAN TO BAN “TOWN HALL BOYCOTTS AND SANCTIONS”

From: “Jackson, Richard N.” <Richard.N.Jackson@Conservatives.com>

To: “Jackson, Richard N.” <Richard.N.Jackson@Conservatives.com>

Subject: Government to stop ‘divisive’ town hall boycotts & sanctions

 

Press Release

(Press) 020 7984 8121

(Broadcast) 020 7984 8180

020 7222 1135

3 October 2015

 

Government to stop ‘divisive’ town hall boycotts & sanctions

 

Action to curtail ‘municipal foreign and defence policies’

  • Growing spread of militant divestment campaigns against UK defence and Israeli firms.
  • Conservatives warn economic and national security from municipal militancy.
  • Government to change pension and procurement rules to protect taxpayers’ interests.

 

Government Ministers announced today new rules to stop politically-motivated boycott and divestment campaigns by town halls against UK defence companies and against Israel. There is growing concern over the militant actions of left-wing councils, spurred on by trade unions and the Labour leadership, which threaten to poison community relations and harm Britain’s economic and international interests.

 

Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, alongside Labour-affiliated trade unions, are urging councils to use their procurement and pension policies to punish both Israel and the UK defence industry. Faith leaders have expressed alarm at such policies fuelling anti-Semitism – and worryingly encouraging further protests such as kosher food being taken from supermarket shelves and Jewish films being banned. Separate hard-left campaigns against British defence companies threaten to harm Britain’s £10 billion export trade, destroying British jobs, and hinder joint working with Israel to protect Britain from foreign cyber-attacks and terrorism.

 

The Government will amend pension legislation to make clear using pensions and procurement policies to pursuit boycotts, divestments and sanctions campaigns against foreign nations and the UK defence industry are inappropriate, other than where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the Government. The Government will similarly issue new Procurement Policy guidance to implement the same approach in procurement law.

 

Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said:

 

“Divisive policies undermine good community relations, and harm the economic security of families by pushing up council tax. We need to challenge and prevent the politics of division. Conservatives will provide the stable, competent and sensible Government that working people want to see.”

 

Matthew Hancock, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said:

 

“Conservatives are on the common ground. We will take steps to stop such outdated policies being pursued through procurement and pension policies. We will safeguard the security of families at home and prevent such playground politics undermining our international security.”

 

ENDS

 

For further information, please contact the press office on 020 7984 8121.

 

Notes to Editors

 

HARD-LEFT FOREIGN AND DEFENCE POLICIES ON THE RISE

 

  • In November 2014, Labour-run Leicester City Council passed a policy to boycott goods produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank (link). Jewish groups have recently launched a judicial review against the council’s decision, warning ‘this amounts to a get-of-out-town order to Leicester Jews’ (Daily Express, 25 August 2015, link).

 

  • In January 2015, Labour councillors on Nottingham City Council debated a boycott against Israel (link) – the council resolved to consider the issue further and ‘work with the Nottingham Palestine Solidarity Campaign’ (link). Jewish faith leaders warned: ‘local authorities need to be guardians of good community relations and not go down the route of setting one community against the other by adopting partisan campaigns’ (Jewish News, 26 January 2015, link).

 

  • Jeremy Corbyn is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign radical fringe group (link). In August 2015, whilst running for Labour leader, he endorsed the boycott of Israeli settlement goods and was receptive of academic boycotts of Israeli universities involved with the arms trade (link). He asserted: ‘I fully support the call to end all trade and investments with the illegal settlements’ (Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle Eastlink) and ‘I think the boycott campaign, divestment campaign, is part and parcel of a legal process that has to be adopted’ (link).

 

  • Corbyn has also called for the removal of Israel’s right to trade with the UK and the EU: ‘It’s time, indeed past time, to demand the immediate suspension of the trade agreements between the EU and Israel’ (Morning Star, 2 June 2010) and cutting all off commercial and diplomatic ties: ‘no arms, no money, no recognition and no support for Israel’ (Haaretz, 13 April 2002, link). Corbyn was even heckled at the Labour Party Conference’s Labour Friends of Israel event for refusing to refer to Israel by name in his speech (Daily Telegraph, 29 September 2015, link).

 

  • Labour MPs such as Shabana Mahmood have personally taken part in supermarkets protests against Israeli goods (Daily Mail, 19 August 2014, link).

 

  • Both Corbyn and John McDonnell have sponsored a Commons motion urging the boycotting of Israeli goods, including demanding that all supermarkets boycott such goods (EDM 57, 14 May 2012). John McDonnell has told shops in his constituency of Hayes ‘to boycott Israeli goods… and find alternative suppliers’ (Get West London, 1 August 2014).

 

  • In August 2014, the SNP-led Scottish Government published a procurement notice to Scottish councils which ‘strongly discourages trade and investment from illegal settlements’, though conceding that ‘decisions need to be taken on a case by case basis’ (Scottish Procurement Policy Note 4/2014,link). Four Scottish councils have resolved to boycott Israeli goods: Clackmannanshire, Midlothian, Stirling, West Dunbartonshire (link).

 

  • In June 2015, Labour-affiliated UNISON launched a campaign to lobby councils to divest their Local Government Pension Schemes from companies linked with Israel (A UNISON guide to pension fund engagement and divestmentlink). In July 2014, Labour-affiliated Unite resolve to campaign for boycott of goods produced by Israeli settlements and divest from any financial holdings in any companies or funds linked to the settlements (Unite press release, 11 July 2014, link). In July 2013, the Labour-affiliated GMB voted to support boycott and divestment initiatives against Israeli settlements, and banned its members from visiting Israel on delegations organised by the Trade Union Friends of Israel (link).

 

  • By contrast, the last Labour leader, Ed Miliband, opposed such ‘BDS’ policies: ‘I think the boycotts of Israel are totally wrong. We should have no tolerance for boycotts. I would say that to any trade union leaders’ (Jewish Chronicle, 7 March 2013, link) and ‘boycotts of Israel will never be a way of advancing the cause of peace. They are the wrong response and I will never support them. Labour will continue to resolutely oppose the isolation of Israel. The answer has to be greater dialogue and greater engagement rather than disengagement and boycotts’ (Jewish News, 1 May 2015, link).

 

  • The hard-left Campaign Against the Arms Trade has been lobbying for Local Government Pension Schemes to divest funds in British manufacturers such as BAe (link). Jeremy Corbyn has endorsed their campaign: ‘The Campaign Against the Arms Trade… has a long and honourable tradition… The scale of British arms sales is truly astounding… we need a clear lead for arms conversion. Let the brilliance and skill of those in the arms industry be converted for peaceful purposes’ (Corbyn website).

 

  • Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has similarly called for ‘the end of the arms trade’ (Guardian, 1 April 2009).

 

DANGEROUS CONSEQUENCES OF HARD-LEFT POLICIES

 

  • Local government pensions are a funded scheme. Councils’ goals should be to ensure that their pension funds investments deliver the best rate of return. Councils receive £3.1 billion a year from their pension investment returns; in addition, town hall pensions cost taxpayers a further £6.0 billion a year in employer contributions – equivalent to over £300 a year on a Band D council tax bill. Twisting investment decisions on political grounds risks reducing investment returns, requiring larger employer contributions to compensate: in turn, such higher costs would force cuts to services and/or hikes in council tax.

 

  • It is not for local government to pursue its own municipal foreign or defence policies – as rightly, that matter is reserved to the UK Government. The Government has to take into account the international implications of such policies, and the broader need to maintain stability and security in international relations. Rather than encouraging legitimate debate, such boycotts are counter-productive – they widen gaps in understanding, poison and polarise debate, and block opportunities for co-operation and collaboration.

 

  • The call for municipal boycotts against Israel threatens to inflame tensions in local communities, undermining integration and fuelling broader anti-Semitism. Such militant boycotts have already led to hard-left groups pressuring supermarkets to take Kosher products off their shelves (link), and Jewish films being banned as part of such boycotts (link).

 

  • The campaign against British defence companies risk harming Britain’s export trade and would destroy British jobs across the country. The UK defence sector has a £22 billion turnover a year and contributes £10 billion to UK exports (ADS fact sheetlink).

 

  • This Government wants to enhance the growing economic ties between the UK and Israel, particular in areas like technology and science, as well as working together to strengthen security against cyber-attacks and tackle Islamist extremism (No10 press release, 10 September 2015).

 

  • The UK Government has put in place formal legal sanctions and restrictions at a national level, when justified as in the national interest (link).

 

GOVERNMENT ACTION

 

The Government will take action to curtail such municipal foreign and defence policies:

 

  • The Local Government Pension Scheme (Management and Investment of Funds) Regulations 2009 requires local authorities to publish and follow a Statement of Investment Principles (link). These statements must also comply with guidance issued by the Secretary of State. The government propose to amend the secondary legislation to make clear that such boycott, divestment and sanctions (‘BDS’) campaigns are inappropriate – other than where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the Government.  There is a statutory requirement to consult on the pension law changes.

 

  • The Cabinet Office will issue a revised Procurement Policy Note to public authorities to make clear that boycotts in procurement policy are inappropriate, outside where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the Government. Indeed, the WTO Government Procurement Agreement – an international market access agreement – requires all those countries that have signed up to the Agreement to treat suppliers equally. This includes the EU and Israel. Any discrimination against Israeli suppliers involving procurements covered by the Agreement would therefore be in breach of these treaty obligations.

 

Procurement guidance relates to England. Local government pension regulations relate to England and Wales.

 

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Jewish groups mobilise to say NO to Board of Deputies’ support for Israeli state violence

END THE KILLING, END THE OCCUPATION

Tomorrow, Tuesday October 13, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and other self-appointment “communal groups” plan to indulge in a shameful display of contempt for Palestinian lives by protesting outside the Palestinian Mission in West London. They display their blatant racism by hijacking the anti-racist hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, using #IsraeliLivesMatter to tout their demands for a Palestinian apology for recent attacks on Israelis. Meanwhile the toll of Palestinians killed and injured mounts, with no apology for the violence of the Israeli state and the settlers it defends. Four Israelis and 25 Palestinians have died over the past 12 days.

Three pro-justice Jewish groups have called an Emergency Counter Protest outside the Mission at 5 Galena Road, W6 0LT

Meet at 4.30pm  outside the Lyric Theatre, King Street, Hammersmith and will we walk in small groups to Galen Road.

Below is the text of a leaflet produced by J-BIG, the Jewish Socialist Group and Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

END THE KILLING, END THE OCCUPATION

We are here today as Jews to say that the Board of Deputies of British Jews does NOT speak for us when they protest outside the Palestinian Mission. The Board has never truly represented the whole Jewish community and it certainly does not do so now, when it defends Israel and its belligerent occupation.

This occupation:

  • Walls Palestinians into ghettos, divides families and destroys family life
  • Denies both Christian and Muslim Palestinians the freedom to worship
  • Expropriates Palestinian land and water
  • Settles Jewish migrants from abroad on Palestinian lands
  • Demolishes Palestinian homes, destroys farms and olive groves
  • Imprisons Palestinian children and their political leaders after trials in kangaroo courts, or no trial at all
  • Kills Palestinians with impunity

The present government of Israel has made it quite clear it has no intention of giving up the lands they illegally occupy. They want territory not peace.

They continue to provoke Palestinians, making the throwing of stones by Palestinian children a lethal offence while protecting stone-throwing settlers and those who burn Palestinians alive in their homes. They protect the rampaging lynch mobs in Jerusalem who flood the streets with cries of ‘Death to the Arabs’.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews acts as Israel’s advocate, shamefully telling Palestinians that #IsraeliLivesMatter, while Palestinian lives are being snuffed out unnoticed by world leaders.

We demand instead that the Board take their protest to their friends in the Israeli Embassy and tell them that it is time to end the occupation.

This is the only option that will end this non-stop violence: violence that the Israeli state perpetrates daily and that only attracts international attention when the Palestinian people can take the oppression no longer and respond.

We believe that Jews are entitled to equality in whichever country we live. Thus we demand that the government of Israel treats all people living in the territories it controls with the same equality and dignity that Jews throughout the world have every right to expect.

Organised by: Jews for Justice for Palestinians (jfjfp.com), Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (jews4big.wordpress.com), Jewish Socialists’ Group (jewishsocialist.org.uk).