Is antisemitism different from other forms of racism?

Mike Cushman asks, wherefore is this racism different from all other racisms?

Advocates of the IHRA document on antisemitism often claim that antisemitism is different from all other forms of racism because it attacks a privileged group rather than a disadvantaged group – are they right? Both Jewish and non-Jewish members of the antisemite hunting pack are fond of this claim.

The answer is, of course, no and yes.

Is antisemitism different?
Jews arriving in the East End at the start of the 20th century
Jews arriving in the East End at the start of the 20th century

Historically, at the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century Britain’s Jews were largely a poor immigrant community, sweated labour in the garment factories and living in overcrowded slums. Antisemitism then was no different to the racism suffered now by Bengalis in the East End who have inherited their workplaces and location. Balfour’s 1905 Aliens act was driven by the same visceral racism that characterises all the subsequent migration legislation from the 1962 Commonwealth

East End Bengalis protesting against the racist murder of Altab Ali (source Swadhinata Trust)

Immigrants Act onwards. Jews then faced the same problems in accessing housing, jobs and fair treatment from public agencies that people of colour face now. So, in this respect – no, not different.


Police do not have a routine of apprehending people for DWJ – Driving While Jewish – unlike the all too familiar misdemeanour of DWB [Driving While Black]. Candidates with Jewish sounding names have not had, for some considerable time, problems of getting job interviews or admission to Russell Group universities: Jewish doctors, lawyers and MPs are not rara avis. So, in this respect – yes.

Hasidic Jews and, to a lesser extent, kippa wearers run the risk of violent assault in common with visible ethnic minorities, women and lesbians and gays. Identifiable Jewish buildings are liable to vandalism, like mosques and temples, from a Nazi fringe. So, in this respect – no, not different.

Attacks on Israel may be motivated by hatred of Jews – although this is thankfully rare – just as attacks on, say, the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe or the Saudi regime may be motivated by anti-black or anti-Arab racism. Most often, however, they are motivated by disgust at an oppressive and violent state. Similarly critiques of Israel are driven by oppressive and violent treatment of Palestinians. So, again in this respect – no, not different.

Race is a complex and uncertain concept: socially constructed not biologically determined. Jews are not defined by ‘race’ and only partially by religion. Atheists of Jewish heritage are liable to experience antisemitism, even if less often than those who wear visibly Jewish clothing. The Nazis made no distinction between the most religious and the most secular. This mixture of ‘race’, religion, heritage and culture as markers is particular to Jews. So, in this respect – yes.

Allegations and Israel

Allegations of antisemitism are habitually used to attempt to discredit disclosures of Israel’s record of human rights abuses and breaches of international law. It is claimed that such reporting harms British Jews. No advocates of political support for the regime in another country makes the claim that such criticism represents a hate crime against their community or claim that adherence to a political program, in this case Zionism, is identical to their religious belief and thus a protected characteristic. So, in this respect – yes.

The rise of the fascist right is a threat to Jews just as it is to Muslims, people of colour, Roma, LGBT people. We will all be given tickets for the train to the concentration camps. The obsession of the Jewish community leadership with finding antisemitism among critics of Israel seems to be blinding them to this present danger. Even worse it means them giving a free pass to antisemites in America and Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, providing they support Israel and hate Muslims more than they hate Jews. We keep waiting for the expression of disgust when Israeli flags are waved at fascist demonstrations; when the Conservative Party teams up with antisemitic parties at the European parliament; or leaders of far-right governments are welcomed in Israel. So, again in this respect, should be no, not different, but seems to be yes.




FSOI supports global Jewish initiative against demonising criticism of Israel

Unprecedented initiative by over 30 Jewish groups worldwide opposes equating antisemitism with criticism of Israel

  •  Jewish groups issue joint statement against misleading definition of antisemitism used to stifle criticism of Israel and undermine free speech
  • Coalition of 36 groups from 15 countries defends right to criticise and boycott Israel
  • IHRA definition undermines both Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality and global struggle against antisemitism

New York, London, Berlin, Tel Aviv (July 17, 2018)  –  From South Africa to Sweden, New Zealand to Germany to Brazil, for the first time ever over thirty Jewish organisations across the globe have come together in a statement opposing attempts to use a distorted definition of antisemitism to stifle criticism of Israel. The statement, spearheaded by the US-based Jewish Voice for Peace and supported by six UK Jewish groups, condemns a growing trend of legislative campaigns to target organisations that support Palestinian rights, especially the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

“From our own histories we are all too aware of the dangers of increasingly fascistic and openly racist governments and political parties,” the global letter states. “The rise in antisemitic discourse and attacks worldwide is part of that broader trend. At times like this, it is more important than ever to distinguish between the hostility to or prejudice against Jews on the one hand and legitimate critiques of Israeli policies and system of injustice on the other.”

The western world has witnessed increasing legislative efforts to quash the growing global movement in solidarity with Palestinians. Central to the pro-Israel effort has been use of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, worded in a way that equates legitimate criticisms of Israel and advocacy for Palestinian rights with antisemitism, as a means to suppress the former.

In the United States, two bills currently under discussion in US Congress seek to criminalise the boycott of illegal Israeli settlements and repress advocacy for Palestinian human rights by defining such acts as antisemitic.

In the UK the government and pro-Israel groups have sought to prevent local councils from boycotting goods from Israeli settlements. Pro-Israel groups are also demanding legislation to outlaw “Israeli apartheid week” events on UK campuses, citing the IHRA definition as justification.

The IHRA document has never had unanimous support from British Jews. Its adoption by the Conservative Government in December 2016 was swiftly followed by the publication of a Legal Opinion which made clear that pro-Palestinian campaigners who accuse Israel of enacting a policy of apartheid and call for BDS in response, cannot properly be characterised as antisemitic.

“It is vital that Jewish organizations across the globe stand united against harmful definitions of antisemitism and together for human rights and the freedom to protest. We at JVP are proud to have initiated this historic effort,” stated Rebecca Vilkomerson, Jewish Voice for Peace Executive Director.

Jewish Palestine solidarity activist Leah Levane, from the UK’s Antisemitism Consortium, said: “We are supporting this global Jewish statement because we understand the need for clarity about what antisemitism is and what it is not. There is no room for hate speech, but equally there must be no suppression of legitimate political protest, nor chilling of critical discussion, as is happening to pro-Palestinian activists in the UK and elsewhere.” 

Notes for editors

  1. The full text of the Global Jewish Statement

As social justice organizations from around the world, we write this letter with growing alarm regarding the targeting of organizations that support Palestinian rights in general and the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, in particular. These attacks too often take the form of cynical and false accusations of antisemitism that dangerously conflate anti-Jewish racism with opposition to Israel’s policies and system of occupation and apartheid.

We live in a frightening era, with growing numbers of authoritarian and xenophobic regimes worldwide, foremost among them the Trump administration, allying themselves with Israel’s far right government while making common cause with deeply antisemitic and racist white supremacist groups and parties.

From our own histories we are all too aware of the dangers of increasingly fascistic and openly racist governments and political parties. The rise in antisemitic discourse and attacks worldwide is part of that broader trend.

At times like this, it is more important than ever to distinguish between the hostility to or prejudice against Jews on the one hand and legitimate critiques of Israeli policies and system of injustice on the other.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which is increasingly being adopted or considered by western governments, is worded in such a way as to be easily adopted or considered by western governments to intentionally equate legitimate criticisms of Israel and advocacy for Palestinian rights with antisemitism, as a means to suppress the former.

This conflation undermines both the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality and the global struggle against antisemitism. It also serves to shield Israel from being held accountable to universal standards of human rights and international law.

We urge our governments, municipalities, universities and other institutions to reject the IHRA definition and instead take effective measures to defeat white supremacist nationalist hate and violence and to end complicity in Israel’s human rights violations. Israel does not represent us and cannot speak for us when committing crimes against Palestinians and denying their UN-stipulated rights.

The Nobel Peace Prize-nominated, Palestinian civil society-led BDS movement for Palestinian rights has demonstrated an ongoing proven commitment to fighting antisemitism and all forms of racism and bigotry, consistent with its dedication to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Some of the undersigned organizations support BDS in full, others in part, and others have no formal position on BDS.  We all affirm the current call for BDS as a set of tools and tactics that should not be defined as antisemitic.

  1. List of endorsing Jewish organisations:
Academia4equality (Israel)
Boycott from Within (Israeli citizens for BDS)
Coalition of Women for Peace (Israel)
Collectif Judéo Arabe et Citoyen pour la Palestine (Strasbourg, France)
Dayenu: New Zealand Jews Against Occupation (New Zealand)
Een Ander Joods Geluid (A Different Jewish Voice) (The Netherlands)
Een Andere Joodse Stem – Another Jewish Voice (Flanders, Belgium)
European Jews for a Just Peace
Free Speech on Israel (UK)
Gate48 – critical Israelis in the Netherlands
Independent Jewish Voices (Canada)
Independent Jewish Voices (UK)
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network
Italian Network of Jews Against the Occupation
Jewish Anti-Fascist Action Berlin (Germany)
Jewish Voice For Labour (UK)
Jewish Voice for Peace (USA)
Jewish Voice for Peace members in London (UK)
Jews Against Fascism (Melbourne, Australia)
Jews for Justice for Palestinians (UK)
Jews for Palestinian Right of Return (USA)
Jews of Color & Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews in Solidarity w/ Palestine (USA)
Jews Say No! (USA)
JIPF – Judar för Israelisk Palestinsk Fred (Sweden)
Jüdische Stimme für gerechten Frieden im Nahost e.V. (Germany)
Junts, Associació Catalana de Jueus i Palestins (Catalonia, Spain)
Los Otros Judíos (Argentina)
Manchester Jewish Action for Palestine (UK)
Quebrando Muros – Judeus Brasileiros Pela Descolonização da Palestina (Brazil)
SEDQ Network- A Global Jewish Network for Justice
South African Jewish Voices for a Just Peace (South Africa)
South African Jews for a Free Palestine (South Africa)
Union des progressistes juifs de Belgique (Saint-Gilles, Belgium)
United Jewish People’s Order (UJPO)-Canada
Union Juive Française pour la Paix (France)
Workman’s Circle, Boston (USA)
  1. About JVP

 The Global Jewish Statement is an initiative of Jewish Voice for Peace,  a national, grassroots US organization inspired by Jewish tradition to work for a just and lasting peace according to principles of human rights, equality, and international law for all the people of Israel and Palestine. JVP has over 200,000 online supporters, over 70 chapters, a youth wing, a Rabbinic Council, an Artist Council, an Academic Advisory Council, and an Advisory Board made up of leading U.S. intellectuals and artists.





The Guardian censors criticism of May and Netanyahu

Mike Cushman condemns the suppression of Steve Bell’s cartoon of Netanyahu’s meeting with May as only the latest censoring of drawings of the Israeli PM in a bonfire of morality.

The Guardian, which regards itself as Britain’s leading progressive newspaper, has censored a cartoon drawing attention to the sycophantic nature of Theresa May’s relationship to Benjamin Netanyahu.

The cartoon drawn by Steve Bell, widely regarded as Britain’s outstanding political cartoonist, is based on a press agency photo of May’s meeting with Netanyahu at 10 Downing Street.

Theresa May and Benjamin Netanyahu at Downing Street on June 6, 2018
Theresa May and Benjamin Netanyahu at Downing Street on June 6, 2018 (Photo: Getty Images)

Bell replaced the fireplace with a drawing of murdered Palestinian medic Razan al-Najjar.

The Steve Bell cartoon censored for 'antisemitism'
The Steve Bell cartoon censored for ‘antisemitism’

There has been no clear statement from the Guardian as to why this sharp but fair condemnation of the insouciance of the two prime ministers is antisemitic. This has resulted in speculation that placing Razan in the fireplace (the focal centre of the press photo) has been interpreted as an insensitive allusion to the Nazi crematoria.

Scarfe's 2013 cartoon
Scarfe’s 2013 cartoon

This action by Guardian editor Katherine Viner has been treated with widespread derision and anger on social media. It is reminiscent of the manufactured outrage over Gerald Scarfe’s cartoon of Netanyahu building the Apartheid wall on the bodies of Palestinians.

Cartoon published on May 15, 2018, by German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung after Israel's Eurovision win
Cartoon published on May 15, 2018, by German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung after Israel’s Eurovision win






Representations of Netanyahu provoke trouble for cartoonists in other countries as well. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung sacked its long-standing cartoonist Dieter Hanitzsc after he contrasted Israel’s Eurovision victory with Netanyahu’s bellicose record.

It appears that all criticism of Israel’s leaders is to be regarded as antisemitic when scrutinised by cartoonists no more ruthlessly than any domestic politician. This is not combatting antisemitism it is rampant censorship to conceal any reference to Israeli criminal actions. The decision to spike Bell’s fireplace is truly a bonfire of morality.

It is painful to remember that before she became editor Viner showed much more courage. She co-edited Rachel Corrie’s diaries with Alan Rickman for the powerful stage production My Name is Rachel Corrie. It seems, sadly, that in this case great power comes with the shirking of great responsibility.

Steve Bell’s message to Guardian staff

Steve Bell coped this message to Katherine Viner to all Guardian staff:

Dear Kath

I thought I’d write to you after I’d cooled down a bit, and in time for today’s morning conference (which I regret I won’t be able to attend). I took the liberty of sending the cartoon out on a global yesterday evening. I didn’t want to tweet it as this should still be an internal matter. However I do think that an unfortunate precedent has been set here.

I cannot for the life of me begin to understand criticism of the cartoon that begins by dragging in ‘wood-burning stoves’, ‘ovens’, ‘holocaust’, or any other nazi-related nonsense. That was the last thing on my mind when I drew it, I had no intention of conflating the issues of the mass murder of European Jews and Gaza. It’s a fireplace, in front of which VIP visitors to Downing Street are always pictured (see page 12 of today’s Times), and the figure of Razan al-Najjar is burning in the grate. It’s a widely known photograph of her, becoming iconic across the Arab world and the burning is of course symbolic. She’s dead, she was shot and killed by the IDF while doing her job as a medic.

I’m sorry you didn’t think it appropriate to talk to me yesterday, and I fear Katherine Butler bore the brunt of my outrage, for which I apologise to her, but forgive me for suspecting that the reason that you did not get in touch was because you did not really have an argument. The cartoon is sensitive, not tasteless, not disrespectful, and certainly contains no anti-Semitic tropes. It should have been published as it stands, but if you are still obdurate that it should remain unpublished, then I feel a duty to my subject to try and salvage something from this fiasco, and will resubmit it to you later this morning in a form that may get around some of the criticisms (to my mind wholly unjustified) that were made last night.

I do hope you can find your way to publishing it. I don’t believe that I have any divine right to have my worked published come what may, and am always prepared to take heed of substantive criticism.

Liberty AGM warns of dangers of IHRA ‘definition of antisemitism’

Liberty LogoLiberty, Britain’s leading human rights charity, agreed a resolution deploring use of the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism at its AGM on 19 May.

Media Notice from Free Speech on Israel

Liberty Warns against IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Resolution passed by civil liberties body says government-adopted definition risks undermining the fight against antisemitism

  • Liberty reiterates abhorrence of antisemitism as “repellent undercurrent which persists across the social and political spectrum.”
  • Definition conflating antisemitism with criticism of Israel is “threat to freedom of expression.”
  • Public bodies urged not to adopt IHRA definition.

The Annual General Meeting of Liberty, Britain’s leading organisation concerned with civil liberties and human rights, has warned public bodies not to adopt a government-backed definition of antisemitism because it brings confusion to the fight against anti-Jewish prejudice as well as constituting a threat to freedom of expression.

This refers to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance “Working Definition of Antisemitism” adopted by the UK government in December 2016, widely promoted as a tool for opposing hostility towards Jews, including within the Labour Party.

A resolution passed with overwhelming support at Liberty’s Members’ Conference and Annual General Meeting on May 19 said that the IHRA definition blurred “the previously clear understanding of the nature of antisemitism,” risked “undermining the defences against it” and threatened freedom of expression by “conflating antisemitism with criticism of Israel and legitimate defence of the rights of Palestinians.”

The resolution [see note 1 below] reiterated Liberty’s “abhorrence of antisemitism as a repellent undercurrent which persists across the social and political spectrum.”

Moved by Prof Jonathan Rosenhead, [see note 2 below] it cites a legal  opinion from Hugh Tomlinson QC stating that the IHRA definition is “unclear and confusing” and “has no legal status or effect.”

Rosenhead quoted retired Appeal Court judge Sir Stephen Sedley who has called the IHRA document “a protean definition of antisemitism which is open to manipulation and capture”. It has been cited in many cases where public authorities, including universities, have refused to host speakers, cancelled room bookings and called off academic conferences.

Rosenhead noted that whenever Israel assaults Gaza, as in recent weeks, there is a spike in antisemitic incidents in the UK. This happens because people conflate Israel with Jews. “An official definition should not make the same error,” he said.

The Resolution

This AGM reiterates:

its abhorrence of antisemitism as a repellent undercurrent which persists across the social and political spectrum; and Liberty’s support for effective measures to combat antisemitism and all other forms of racism;


the legal Opinion of Hugh Tomlinson QC which states that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance ‘Working Definition of Antisemitism’, adopted by the UK government in December 2016, is “unclear and confusing” and “has no legal status or effect”; and that the overriding legal duty of public authorities is to preserve freedom of expression; that the guidance that is attached to the definition conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism, that the definition is being interpreted as saying that to describe Israel as a state practising apartheid, or to call for Boycott or Sanctions to be applied in defence of Palestinian rights, is an inherently antisemitic act that should be prohibited; that the definition is being cited in attempts to deter, obstruct or prevent events that are critical of Israel, or support the legitimate rights of Palestinians;


that by blurring the previously clear understanding of the nature of antisemitism, the IHRA definition risks undermining the defences against it; and that the definition’s conflation of antisemitism with criticism of Israel and legitimate defence of the rights of Palestinians is a threat to freedom of expression. It regrets that some local authorities have already adopted it, calls on those that have done so to apply it with extreme caution, and calls on other public bodies not to adopt the definition

Continue reading “Liberty AGM warns of dangers of IHRA ‘definition of antisemitism’”

Im Tirtzu claims New Israel Fund supports ‘foreign agents’ who persecute Israeli soldiers

Jonathan Ofir describes how a  fascist group, Im Tirtzu, defames and attempts to intimidate and silence critical voices in “the only democracy in the Middle East”

This article first appeared in Mondoweiss reprinted by permission of the author

The right wing Israeli Jewish group “Im Tirtzu” has published an incitement video, featuring Adi Shosberger, who has recently called soldiers near the Gaza fence ‘terrrorists,’; and an activist from ‘Machsom Watch’ (‘Checkpoint watch’) who tells an Israeli soldier “you are a disgrace”.

Im Tirtzu video targeting New Israel Fund for allegedly persecuting Israeli soldier
Im Tirtzu video targeting New Israel Fund for allegedly persecuting Israeli soldier

The video frames these actions as a conspiracy of the progressive New Israel Fund. New Israel Fund, a global organization based in the U.S., has supported Machsom Watch, but it has no connection to Shosberger. “I have no connection to the New Israel Fund,” Shosberger writes, in Hebrew.  Continue reading “Im Tirtzu claims New Israel Fund supports ‘foreign agents’ who persecute Israeli soldiers”

Venturing into the lion’s den: the case against IPSO

Jonathan Coulter describes the weaponisation process, the targeting of the Labour Party and his own experience in challenging media distortions.   He seeks to explain why this is happening, and goes on to suggest how pro-Palestinian rights activists can push back, in alliance with other groups.

Britain’s acquiescence with the weaponisation of antisemitism; can we really be so daft?

I recently launched a Judicial Review of the press regulator IPSO (Independent Press Standards Organisation) for failing to heed a group complaint about two Murdoch newspapers which had grossly misreporIPSO logoted a House of Lords meeting to launch the campaign for Britain to apologise for the impact on the native Palestinian people of the Balfour Declaration of 1917.   Between them, the newspapers had smeared a whole meeting of Palestine sympathisers as ‘antisemitic’ and, by implication anybody who spoke at or attended similar meetings.

In this endeavour I worked closely with the Hacked Off Campaign.  Hacked Off has no position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but supported me as it considers IPSO to be a ‘sham regulator’ that the press barons established to protect their own interests, and not those of the public, and because it felt that my specific complaints had merit and were important.

As I explained in my letter to supporters, we achieved much in getting a judge to accept the case ‘on the papers’.  However another judge who heard the case on April 17th took a very different tack, raising a question over the court’s jurisdiction, and ruling against me on the grounds I had raised.   The judge in effect declared that IPSO’s rules, written by the press industry, gave IPSO discretion to do exactly as it wanted within those rules.

Notwithstanding this setback, the issues are very much alive, and another person has made a related complaint to IPSO, this time about scurrilous articles in the Jewish Chronicle.

The context – a battle on British soil

When, about a decade ago, I started researching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I soon concluded that it was being fought out at least as much in Western countries as in the Middle East.   This had been the case from the beginning, because Zionist doctrines originated in 19th Century Europe and it was Britain that issued the famous Balfour Declaration during World War I.  In accordance with the colonial thinking of the time, Europeans (gentiles and Jews alike) tended to see Palestine rather like a blank canvas on which they could carry out their own designs.

Since World War Two, first Zionists and then the state of Israel tirelessly and successfully used spin and PR to bring the western nations behind Israel.   Israel was presented variously as ‘a plucky David facing the Arab Goliath’, ‘a tolerant and democratic country in a tough neighbourhood’, and, as always ‘responding to Arab/Palestinian aggression’ rather than as an aggressor in its own right.  However, as the decades of occupation drew on, western perceptions as to the identity of David and Goliath became confused or often reversed, and so the ‘hasbara’ wore thin.

It is in this context of declining credibility that Israel and its western advocates have truly weaponised the concept of ‘antisemitism’ in Western countries, and particularly in the UK, the country with one of the strongest Palestine Solidarity movements.   There have been two major features of this:

  • Their repeated, and often successful, attempts to get western Governments and public institutions to adopt bogus or dodgy definitions of the term ‘antisemitism’ that conflate it with legitimate criticism of Israel and its supporters, and to force this on public institutions such as universities and local governments.
  • A powerful media campaign smearing as ‘antisemitic’ those who are critical of Israel.

As soon as it became known that Jeremy Corbyn, a known supporter of Palestinian rights, was likely to become leader of the Labour Party (and potentially Prime Minister), the Labour Party, and particularly Corbyn supporters, became leading targets of these denunciations.  The campaign has been unremitting, reaching peaks before the local elections of 2016 and 2018 and at the time of Labour’s Autumn Conference in Blackpool. My case against IPSO was closely related to this, as I along with 29 co-complainants had witnessed the press smearing people involved in the Balfour apology campaign.

The process of weaponisation has been amply exposed on the pages of ‘Free Speech of Israel’ and elsewhere.  Suffice it for me to say that the strategy has been crude and obvious, and the reasoning full of holes.   Hugh Tomlinson’s legal opinion laid bare the inadequacy of the IHRA Definition of antisemitism which the British government had ‘adopted’.   As for antisemitism within the Labour Party, I have seen no body of evidence demonstrating that the party has a special problem that would justify singling it out from other sections of British society and parroting denunciations across the media.  Indeed statistical evidence shows that antipathy towards Jews across UK society is minor compared to that felt towards some other religious and ethnic groups, and that it is strongest on the far right.

Why is this happening?

This is the question that really intrigues me.  Why is British society and the political establishment allowing this noxious campaign to proceed?  And how can it happen in a country like the UK, that has a track record in standing up to the threats and abuse of foreign powers?  I get a sense of cognitive dissonance about public morality; on the one hand, I see British people doing a vast amount of more-or-less selfless voluntary work for an array of different causes, while at the same time they seem spineless in the face of political manipulation.  Are we a fickle people, or is something else going on?

I have sounded out a variety of politicians and public figures, and have spoken to others who have made similar soundings, and can identify five explanatory factors:

  • The sheer intensity of campaigning and the extent of the lobby’s reach, from right to left. Other lobbying groups, e.g. militant Brexiteers, manage to get fiercely propagandistic and pejorative lines adopted in certain newspapers, notably The Mail and The Telegraph.  However, Israel appears to have greater reach and as it can get favourable coverage across the board, including outlets such as the Guardian and the BBC.  Here it is worth noting a comment by the journalist Nick Davies in his ground-breaking book, ‘Flat-Earth News’ (p122-125);  he refers to the Israel lobby as an ‘electric fence’ of which journalists seek to steer clear for fear of getting powerful electric shocks, including a phone that never stops ringing.
  • The poor performance of the media. Some of this must be put down to anti-left and pro-Israel biases among the media barons, but at least as much can be attributed to mechanistic failings within the press.   Here Nick Davies shows that the media lack the journalistic resources to research and check most of their stories, for which reason they have increasingly relied on a burgeoning PR industry to deliver stories ‘on a plate with a sprig of parsley on top’.  Israel and its supporters are well equipped to provide this in in timely fashion.  He also points to a range of ‘rules of production’ including ‘avoiding the electric fence’ (see above), selecting ‘safe ideas’, going ‘with the moral panic (see below)’, and the ‘Ninja turtle syndrome’, all of which tend to bias journalists away from arguments that upset powerful lobbies and established ideas (see p109-153).
  • The fear factor: faced with potential media smears, British politicians and public figures prefer to keep their heads below the parapet for self-preservation or so that they can fight other political battles.  This is understandable if, as stated by Jackie Walker, accusations of antisemitism are as damaging to one’s reputation as being called a pedophile or a murderer.   However, legitimate fear can morph into cowardice.  At present in Britain, after all, opposing Israel can’t cost you your life, unlike the situation in my wife’s country in Central America, where standing up for human rights can result in a ‘sicario’ on a motorbike putting a bullet in your head.
  • Political opportunism. The weaponisation of antisemitism against Corbyn has proved useful to his opponents on the Labour right and to other parties.   A host of politicians have jumped on this band-waggon without looking closely at the evidence and forgetting that they have a duty to protect British citizens (whether political allies or foes) against the intrigues of a foreign power.
  • Moral panic. Stan Cohen advanced this concept in his study ‘Folk Devils and Moral Panics’ (1972) to explain a media storm and other events after a clash between ‘mods and rockers’ on a beach in 1964. He described a process whereby: (a) the ‘folk devil’ is symbolised in an oversimplified narrative; (b) facts are exaggerated and distorted, fuelling a ‘moral crusade’, and; (c) further immoral actions on the part of the folk devil are anticipated.   We can see a similar, but much more damaging, pattern in the history of witch-hunts against minorities including: the Roman persecution of Christians, blamed for military reverses; medieval targeting of Jews for dark, murderous practices; 16th and 17th century witch-craft trials in protestant Europe and North America; the McCarthyist anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s, and; the current campaign about Labour antisemites.   Witch-hunts can put public figures under massive pressure to conform to the moral crusade, and can cause doubters or opponents to ‘bend in the wind’ so as to limit the political damage.  I find this in President Eisenhower’s failure to act promptly against Senator Joseph McCarthy, and in Jeremy Corbyn and some other public figures’ unwillingness to call out the role of pro-Israel lobbyists in the campaign against the Labour Party.
It’s time to build a truly national campaign

This problem could be tackled were a group of leading public figures and politicians to join hands and mount a national campaign to expose the reality about antisemitism smears, but fears and opportunism presently combine to prevent this.   So it is up to pro-Palestinian rights activists to develop a strategy that can attract the necessary support.   Here are some ideas.

A high percentage of these activists are on the left, which I find unsurprising; I first noted the left’s tendency to speak up vigorously on international injustices when the Vietnam War was raging.   As we see above, the Labour left needs to defend itself against pro-Israeli smears, but this means reaching out to other parts of the political spectrum, beyond its own echo-chambers.  It takes a little thought to realise that the cause of Free Speech on Israel has enormous unexploited potential in the centre of British politics and even right of centre.

If we look at the centre, one of the leading political causes is currently the reform of press regulation.  This is being led by the Hacked Off Campaign where we see an alliance of Labour figures like Ed Milliband and Tom Watson, Lib Dems, and rebel Tories like Lord Attlee and Kenneth Clark; it also enjoys strong support in the House of Lords.  The present Government has managed to narrowly block proposed amendments to the Data Protection Bill which would have put the second part of the Leveson Inquiry back on track.  However, a change in Government or voter arithmetic will put it straight back on the parliamentary agenda.

I tend to see the cause of ‘Free Speech on Israel’ as a subset of the Hacked Off Campaign.   Both causes seek remedies to media abuse and inaccuracies, while both struggle with politicians’ acute fear of the media, a point that both Ed Milliband and Kenneth Clark hammered home in the 9th May Commons debate on the Data Protection Bill.

Excerpts from the 9th May House of Commons Debate on the Data Protection Bill

Edward Milliband:  Now I will answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Wellingborough. I set out the reasons adduced by the press and, indeed, the Government for the cancellation of this inquiry, but let us be absolutely honest: there is one overriding reason for the Government’s decision to abandon it, and that needs to be discussed. It is quite simple. It is fear: fear about the wrath of the press. That is why the Government have made this decision. The press do not want the inquiry to go ahead, and the Government fear attacks on them by the press. That is why the last Labour Government did not take action against the press: they too feared the consequences. But what did we also say after 2011? We said, ‘Never again will we succumb to fear and make the wrong decisions, which are not in the public interest.’

Kenneth ClarkeIn the present mad climate of political debate, I think that quite a lot of people—for one reason or another, as has always been the case in politics—are currying favour with the proprietors and editors of newspapers, or are fearful of those proprietors and editors. It is difficult to deny that that may have played a part in the sudden decision that we do not want to know any more about matters such as relationships between the police and the press.

Source:  Hansard

To date much of Hacked Off’s campaigning has been about press abuse of individuals and families, both with or without police complicity.  The names of victims such as Dowler, McCann, Hollins and Grant come to mind.  However the Campaign is even larger than this, and is concerned with the press repeatedly smearing large groups of people, like Muslims or immigrants, something that tends to silence dissenting voices and prevent the country from debating topics in a rational manner.   It is therefore hardly surprising that the Campaign worked with me on my complaint against IPSO.

We need to build on this bridge, with a view to achieving two key aims:

  • to make the press answerable for individual abuses, and patterns of abuse (something that will require a regulator with investigative powers), and;
  • to drastically reduce the cost to ordinary people of securing redress from the press (Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 could provide for this through low-cost arbitration).

For those to the ‘right of centre’ of British politics, the most compelling cause of recent years has been Brexit, which is popularly represented as ‘getting our country back’ from an encroaching European Union – in my view deeply erroneous and sometimes disingenuous argument that ignores the voice that the EU has given Britain in international affairs.  Another topic on which we hear every day is the Russian threat to our external and internal security – this time I believe with some justification.

But while the European Union and Russia win the titles of ‘top bogeymen’,  we should simultaneously consider the threats posed by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel, all of them countries that Britain often goes out of its way to please despite their acting against our best interests.   Israel has interfered egregiously and with impunity in our internal affairs on multiple occasions, including the move to ‘take down’ our Deputy Foreign Secretary.  Defending national sovereignty is a legitimate aim, but rather than simply focusing on the bogeymen, we need to search for rational ways to maximise it overall, given threats we face on different sides.

In conclusion

We British should first unambiguously acknowledge we have allowed ourselves to be manipulated in a way that has undermined our freedom of expression in matters that affect Israel.  The aggressive weaponisation of antisemitism follows a series of propaganda initiatives since the 1940s, and has brought out some of our worst characteristics, notably a widespread willingness to constantly appease and hope things will blow over.  But this only whets the Lobby’s appetite and results in further bullying and manipulation.   We only have ourselves to blame for this, so it is time to say enough is enough, and work together to reclaim liberties for which our forebears struggled.

If we can create the necessary space for free speech and rational debate, we can contribute much to the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it will have positive knock-on effects on our relationships with Arabs and Muslims generally.  In order to accomplish this, we should in particular get behind the Hacked-Off Campaign that seeks to hold the media accountable for what it publishes on a wide range of topics, ranging from intrusive reporting into the affairs of vulnerable people to the smearing of entire categories of people.

Jonathan Coulter is 69, retired, and has spent his career in overseas development, in jobs which have involved much travel.  It has made him a passionate advocate for foreign policies that are just and coherent, and for accurate reporting.   He is currently Newsletter Editor for Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (

How talking about Zionism can lose you your job

Mike Cushman reports how Stan Keable has been sacked by Hammersmith and Fulham Council for a private conversation when he attended the Jewish Voice for Labour Parliament Square rally on 26 March.

Stan Keable, a Unison branch officer, has worked for Hammersmith and Fulham Council for 17 years as a Housing Enforcer: his job is to force landlords to keep their property in a safe and habitable condition.

Stan engaged in a discussion with a Zionist during the Parliament Square rally, a conversation that happened to be recorded by the BBC and broadcast. During the one on one discussion Stan talked about the historically undisputed collaboration between the Nazis and the German Zionist leadership. At no time did Stan make any, even remotely, antisemitic comments.

Hammersmith and Fulham Tory MP Greg Hands circulated the video of the conversation, publicised on Twitter and then referred it to the New Labour Leader of the Council. That letter, which was the first public association of Stan with the Council, was made public. This linking of Stan with the Council was the sole basis of the charge of ‘bringing the council into disrepute’. Hands publicised Stan’s link with the Council and then this publicising was, itself, used as the basis for dismissal. An offence that only existed because the complainant had caused it to exist. Continue reading “How talking about Zionism can lose you your job”

FSOI regrets Ken Livingstone’s resignation from the Labour Party

Free Speech on Israel deeply regrets that Ken Livingstone has been driven out of the Labour Party by a concerted campaign of misrepresentations of what he said. FSOI has always stood beside Ken and his statement on resignation clearly lays out why we have been right to do so. He is demonstrably not an antisemite but his opponents want to use his case to intimidate the rest of us into silence on Israel’s crimes. They will fail.


21 May 2018

After much consideration, I have decided to resign from the Labour Party. Continue reading “FSOI regrets Ken Livingstone’s resignation from the Labour Party”

“Antisemitism” not “anti-semitism”

Throughout this blog we use the spelling antisemitsm and antisemite. The reasons we do this are political and not pedantic as usefully spelled out in the Jewish Voice for Peace book, On Antisemitism

Throughout this book, we have chosen to use the spelling “antisemitism”, following the advice of scholars in Jewish Studies who have made a compelling case for this spelling. While this term is used to refer to anti-Jewish sentiment, the category “Semite” was actually imposed by scientific racism, a pseudo-scientific use of scientific techniques and hypotheses to identify and classify phenotypes, and to sort humans into different races. Scientific racism often supported or justified racial hierarchies. term “antisemitism” was notably popularized by the German writer and politician Wilhelm Marr, who used the term “Semitic” to denote a category of language that included Aramaic, Arabic, and Hebrew. Marr used this term to lend credence to his analysis of what he argued was a life-or-death struggle between Germans and Jews, a struggle that could not be resolved by assimilation.

According to Yehuda Bauer, the use of the hyphen and upper case, as in “anti-Semitism,” legitimises the pseudo-scientific category of Semitism. We have therefore chosen to spell the term as “antisemitism” throughout. There are contributors to this book who argue for reclaiming the term “Semite,” and emphasizing, among other things, the relationship between Hebrew and Arabic that the term implies. Those contributions retain the spelling of “anti-Semitism.” We do not want to minimize this analysis: it is crucial to understanding that the European invention of antisemitism saw European Jews as “others,” more like Arabs than Europeans, in the context of a civilizational and orientalist discourse. As contributions to this book make clear, as we fight antisemitism, it is essential that we fight Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism with equal vigour.

Similarly we give no time to the too often heard statement that ‘Arabs are semites too’, so “anti-semitism” must apply equally to anti-Palestinian attitudes. This is wrong for two reasons. Firstly, there are no “semites” to be anti. It is an invalid use of the name of a language group for a supposed race; it is like calling abuse of the French or Spanish anti-romanticism, since  both French and Spanish are romance languages.

Secondly the meanings of words are defined by their usage not their origins. The etymology of many words would suggest something totally different meaning to their current meanings; neither toilets nor lavatories are where you go to wash despite their derivations. Antisemitism means hatred of Jews, even if Judeophobia might be a better word to describe the phenomenon.

How Equalities Policies are Used to Deny Free Speech and Human Rights

Tony Greenstein describes the tortuous logic used by Hammersmith and Fulham Council to try to dismiss Stan Keable for unexceptional speech about collaboration between Nazis and Zionists in the 1930s. Free speech seems to be a difficult concept for the Council to grasp.

I have just learnt why Steve Terry, the London Regional Organiser (Local Government) is so unwilling to help Stan Keable.  He is also Councillor Steve Terry of Walthamstow Council and a firm supporter of Progress.  I am writing to him to ask him to step aside and have no further dealings with the case as he clearly has a conflict of interest.  I would be interested if anyone else has had dealings with Mr Terry.

On March 26th, as part of the wholly contrived campaign against Jeremy Corbyn, which blew up around a long erased, allegedly antisemitic, mural various Zionist organisations organised their first ‘anti-racist’ demonstration outside Parliament.  It is worth noting that over 2 years ago the Jewish Chronicle was far more tentative, describing the mural as having “anti-Semitic undertones.”  Fast forward to today and the same Jewish Chronicle was clear that ‘its intent was obvious’. Continue reading “How Equalities Policies are Used to Deny Free Speech and Human Rights”