Tag Archives: Palestine

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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LABOUR JEWS ASSERT – THE PARTY DOES NOT HAVE A “PROBLEM WITH JEWS”

Jewish labour and trade union activists, members of a range of groups campaigning in solidarity with the people of Palestine, have produced a statement intended for use in the fightback against the witch hunt targeting the pro-Palestinian Left in the Labour Party. 

Labour movement and human rights organisations, including PSC branches, can use it to generate informed debate and send a message to the political establishment that we will not allow campaigners for justice for Palestine to be smeared with allegations of antisemitism.

As the Jewish Socialist Group has stated on its website:

“A very small number of such cases seem to be real instances of antisemitism. Others represent genuine criticism of Israeli policy and support for Palestinian rights, but expressed in clumsy and ambiguous language, which may unknowingly cross a line into antisemitism. Further cases are simply forthright expressions of support for Palestinian rights, which condemn Israeli government policy and aspects of Zionist ideology, and have nothing whatsoever to do with antisemitism. “                            

LABOUR DOES NOT HAVE A “PROBLEM WITH JEWS”

We are witnessing a wave of hysteria over claims that the Labour Party is rife with antisemitism and has a “problem with Jews.” We know this is not true. But there is indeed a problem.  It is a problem with people – Jewish and otherwise, inside and outside the party –  who wield antisemitism allegations as a stick to beat the Corbyn leadership, regardless of the damage caused.

Jeremy Corbyn and others have done their best to respond, rightly asserting their impeccable anti-racist credentials, treating specific allegations of antisemitism seriously, investigating them and taking appropriate measures. This is no more and no less than should happen with allegations of racism or discrimination of any kind.

But this has not satisfied those sections of the pro-Israel lobby orchestrating the attacks.

They have targeted Malia Bouattia, the first Muslim woman to be elected president of the National Union of Students, on the thinnest of pretexts and despite her consistently principled stance. Another victim has been Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) founder member and lifelong anti-racist Tony Greenstein, suspended from the Labour Party without even being informed of the charges against him. Now Naz Shah MP has been suspended on the basis of a few inappropriate social media posts which she evidently regrets – swiftly followed by Ken Livingstone because of his ill-chosen remarks in defending her.

Make no mistake – this campaign of vilification is intended to undermine Labour’s new leaders, because of their commendable record of supporting justice for Palestine. The wider aim is to crush support for the solidarity movement which is working to achieve for Palestinians basic rights that are endorsed by international legal bodies.

As Labour and Trade Union activists, we need to resist this witch hunt and assert the right to campaign in solidarity with all oppressed people, including Palestinians.

We urge labour movement organisations to:

 – Reiterate our strong commitment to combating all forms of racism and to defending those who are subjected to it. We actively oppose Islamophobia, prejudice against migrants and racism against ethnic and religious minorities, including anti-Jewish racism.

 – Reject the suggestion that questioning the Zionist ideology of the Israeli state and its supporters – both Jews and non-Jews – entails antisemitic prejudice. On the contrary, campaigning to end the injustices inflicted by Israel on the Palestinian people is in the very best traditions of the British Labour movement.

– Urge the Labour Party establishment to

  • listen to the many Jews who are outraged by the lie that Jews are not safe in the Labour Party;
  • cease victimising those who work for justice for Palestine;
  • adhere to fair practice and transparency when investigating charges against members;
  • call to order Labour Party members who bring the party into disrepute by spreading calumnies about widespread antisemitism in the party.

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

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

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

Tony G

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

 

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

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

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

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

cityam.com sadiq khan

Credit: cityam.com

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Oxford JSoc antisemitism

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

There is substantial opposition among Jews to this cynical campaign. 

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

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

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

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

Zionist beliefs are not the preserve of Jews alone.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Jewish groups 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).

 

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