Selected Cases of Interference with Free Expression, 2017

Free Speech on Israel
Palestine Solidarity Campaign

This dossier records some of the more prominent cases of restriction of freedom of speech or assembly related to criticisms of the state of Israel that occurred during 2017. In some cases the document produced in May 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) as a definition of antisemitism, and adopted by the UK government in December of that year, is explicitly cited in support of the action taken. In all cases the awareness of that government action has provided the pervasive atmosphere, chilling to free speech on Israel/Palestine, in which these decisions were taken.
The IHRA definition has been used to press for and achieve the cancellation of events denouncing Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and violations of human rights. The use of the IHRA definition in such instances is commonly framed around the following narrative: “These events typically apply double standards towards Israel that are not applied to other countries and effectively deny Israel any right to exist by treating it as an inherently racist endeavour. As such, they conflict with the IHRA definition.” (quote from spokesman for UK Lawyers for Israel – UKLFI).
In the UK, student events organised on campuses have been particularly targeted, following a letter sent by the Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson to UK universities in February 2017 to outline the government’s concerns about antisemitism on campuses, especially around Israel Apartheid Week due to take place that month, and asking for the IHRA definition to be disseminated throughout the academic system.

 

Example 1: cancellation of Israel Apartheid Week at the University of Central Lancashire, February 2017

In February 2017, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) cancelled an event planned as part of “Israeli Apartheid Week” on the grounds that it “contravened” the IHRA definition of antisemitism recently endorsed by the UK government and was unlawful. The panel event, “Debunking misconceptions on Palestine and the importance of BDS”, was organised by the UCLan Friends of Palestine society. The administration said:
“[We] determined that the proposed event would not be lawful and therefore it will not proceed as planned.” Speaking to Jewish News, the university said: “We believe the proposed talk contravenes the new definition and furthermore breaches university protocols for such events, where we require assurances of a balanced view or a panel of speakers representing all interests.”
There are three particularly disturbing aspects of this decision by the UCLan authorities:
1. The event organisers only found out about the cancellation by reading about it on the Jewish Chronicle website. The university excluded students in the Friends of Palestine society from the decision-making process concerning the event, and there was no attempt to dialogue with organisers about the event once concerns had been raised.
2. The university quite clearly bowed to pressure from external, pro-Israel advocacy groups. The day before the cancellation was announced StandWithUs, North West Friends of Israel, and Sussex Friends of Israel began urging their supporters to bombard the university with complaints.
3. UCLan’s claimed that the event “contravenes” a government-endorsed definition of antisemitism, referring to a text formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and “formally adopted” by the UK government. That phrase is important – the definition does not constitute legislation, which means it is unclear what the university meant by saying the “proposed event would not be lawful.”
http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/israeli-apartheid-week-1588237419

Example 2: University of Exeter banned students from staging a street theatre performance, February 2017

The university banned students from staging a street theatre performance called Mock Checkpoint, in which some participants were to dress up as Israeli soldiers while others performed the roles of Palestinians. The event, which had been approved by the students’ guild – the university’s student union – as part of an international week of talks and activities on campuses around the world, was banned for “safety and security reasons” less than 48 hours before it was due to take place. An appeal against the decision was refused. Although the IHRA definition was not explicitly mentioned, the cancellation happened only a few days after the letter from the government’s minister to UK universities regarding that matter. Organisers of the Israel Apartheid Week at Exeter claim the university is conflating antisemitism with Palestinian activism. “It doesn’t have anything to do with antisemitism,” said the spokesperson for Exeter’s Friends of Palestine Society. “We feel they were indirectly accusing us of antisemitism and discrimination and harassment through this event.”
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/27/universities-free-speech-row-halting-pro-palestinian-events

Example 3: Talk on the occupation cancelled at UCL, February 2017

In February 2017, UCL cancelled a talk titled “Quad Under Occupation” on Palestine claiming that Friends of Palestine “did not follow procedure”. The talk invited attendees to “explore the practices which sow the seeds of racial tension in Israel”. The cancellation followed a complaint from the Academic Friends of Israel group which stated that the event would not respect the new government approved definition of antisemitism. Only after this complaint did Rex Knight, UCL Vice-Provost, announced that the event would be cancelled for not “go[ing] through the proper process”.
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/27/universities-free-speech-row-halting-pro-palestinian-events

Example 4: University of Leeds threatened to cancel talk by Craig Murray during Israeli Apartheid Week, February 2017

During the last Israel Apartheid Week, one talk and a film show proceeded without problems at Leeds but two other events had more difficulty. 1. Just 24 hours before he was due to speak former ambassador Craig Murray was asked by the trustees of Leeds University Union to provide details of what he was going to say in his talk “Palestine/Israel: A Unitary Secular State or a Bantustan Solution”. With great reluctance Craig provided an outline in order to allow the lecture to proceed, despite seeing this a dispiriting step down a censorship path. 2. The student Palestine Solidarity Group was refused permission to mount a visual demonstration outside the Leeds Student Union Building, although they did put up a fairly inconspicuous banner display. They were also refused permission to have a stall inside the Students Union Building.
https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2017/03/leeds-university-union-threaten-ban-speech-palestine/comment-page-1/

Example 5: Liverpool – Professor Michael Lavalette, required to agree to the IHRA definition for his talk to go ahead, February 2017

Professor Michael Lavalette of Liverpool Hope University was due to speak at a meeting at Liverpool University. At 3pm the day before his scheduled talk he was contacted by the student organisers to say that the university was requiring him to sign their ‘risk assessment’ for the event. The form of words was to be that he had read the Risk Assessment and specifically the clause within relating to the ‘[IHRA] definition’, and stating that he had read the definition and agreed with it. He emailed his response, to say that he had read the risk assessment; and that he was a life-long anti-racist (and had in fact organised a meeting on Stand Up To Racism the previous weekend). He did not acknowledge the definition. He heard nothing more and the meeting went ahead.
Source: Free Speech on Israel

Example 6: Manchester, March 2017

The University of Manchester allowed a series of talks marking IAW to go ahead, but that approval only came after several meetings and email exchanges and subject to a strict set of conditions.
“The university has heavily scrutinised every single detail of each event … the number of conditions the university has placed on us is unheard of,” reported the organisers, adding: “Other societies and groups do not face the same problems.” The conditions relate to the impartiality of event conveners and scrutiny of speakers.
The university vetoed the students’ choice of academic to chair an IAW event on BDS, citing concerns over her “neutrality”. Speakers also had to acknowledge the IHRA definition of antisemitism. The person ousted from chairing was Dr Lauren Banko, Research Associate in Israel-Palestine Studies in the Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies department of the University. She is author of The Invention of Palestinian Citizenship, 1918-1947.
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/03/british-universities-silencing-critics-israel-170305010803829.html

Example 7: Manchester University censored the title of Holocaust survivor’s speech criticising Israel, March 2017

Manchester University censored the title of a Holocaust survivor’s criticism of Israel and insisted that her campus talk be recorded, after Israeli diplomats said its billing amounted to antisemitic hate speech. Marika Sherwood, a Jewish survivor of the Budapest ghetto, was due to give a talk in March 2017 about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, headlined: “You’re doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to me.” The Israeli diplomats visited Manchester on 22 February and met the university’s head of student experience, Tim Westlake. Later that day Michael Freeman, the embassy’s counsellor for civil society affairs, emailed Westlake and thanked him for discussing the “difficult issues that we face”, including the “offensively titled” Israeli Apartheid Week. Freeman claimed that the title of Sherwood’s talk breached the IHRA definition of antisemitism. The Sherwood event went ahead under a revised billing with the subtitle removed. She herself denied that the title of her talk could be characterised as antisemitic. “I was just speaking of my experience of what the Nazis were doing to me as a Jewish child,” she said. “I had to move away from where I was living, because Jews couldn’t live there. I couldn’t go to school”. “I can’t say I’m a Palestinian, but my experiences as a child are not dissimilar to what Palestinian children are experiencing now.” (The evidence of Israeli embassy involvement was not revealed until September 2017, through a Freedom of Information request.)
https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/sep/29/manchester-university-censors-title-holocaust-survivor-speech-criticising-israel

Example 8: expulsion of Moshe Machover from the Labour Party, October 2017

Retired Israeli philosophy professor Moshe Machover was expelled from the Labour party in October 2017. The official reason for his expulsion was not an accusation of antisemitism (this would have taken longer to prove), but rather for alleged association with organisations newly deemed undesirable (which he has denied). The letter from the Labour’s Head of Disputes informed Machover that an article he had written “appears to meet the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.” The article, “Anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism,” was published in a bulletin by the group Labour Party Marxists and handed out at the party’s conference in September 2017. Sam Matthews, the Labour official who wrote expelling Machover, did not specify which part of the article he claimed was antisemitic. The letter to Machover marks the first known time Labour Party officials have cited the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s document containing a “working definition” of antisemitism as a justification for “formal notice of investigation.” The controversial document has been promoted by Israel lobby groups, because it alleges that, for example, “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” is an example of “antisemitism.” However Labour’s leadership has only endorsed a two-sentence definition of antisemitism, contained in the controversial document, which does not mention Israel. This letter appears to contradict that distinction.
http://mondoweiss.net/2017/10/continues-asserting-semitism/
https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/israeli-anti-zionist-expelled-labour-amid-anti-semitism-smear

Who Gets to Speak about Antisemitism?

Who Gets to Speak about Antisemitism? “Antisemitism and the Struggle for Justice” at the New School for Social Research

Reprinted from Tikkun by permission
Note from Rabbi Michael Lerner, Tikkun editor. Shaul Magid answers below a set of criticisms being published in other Jewish publications about a forum on antisemitism sponsored by JVP (Jewish Voice for Peace), the leading Jewish organization supporting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) in the Jewish world. Tikkun has not endorsed BDS, and our readers have a wide variety of different opinions about its wisdom as a strategy to achieve what we do endorse–peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians–but we do support the right of others to support those versions of BDS that do not seek to end the existence of the State of Israel. We plan to have a fuller discussion of BDS in a forthcoming Tikkun focused mostly on its wisdom as a strategy.

On Antisemitism coverOn the evening of November 28th, 2017 the New School for Social Research in Manhattan, an institution long devoted to progressive politics and cultural critique, held an event entitled “Antisemitism and the Struggle for Justice.” It was in part a celebration of the book On Antisemitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice published in 2017 by Haymarket Books sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace. There were four panellists in attendance; Leo Ferguson who works for Jewish for Racial and Economic Justice, Lina Moralis a Chicago-based Latinx-Ashkenazi Jewish activist who identifies as bi-racial and who is openly anti-Zionist, Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of JVP, a progressive Jewish organization that supports BDS against Israel, and Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour. The event received sharp criticism in the Jewish media days before it took place, claiming, among other things, that these panellists have no right, nor are sufficiently equipped, to speak about antisemitism. Outside the New School auditorium stood a crowd of protesters from the wide swath of the Jewish centre-right to far-right, some calling for de-funding the New School for staging such an event. The event went off without a hitch, save two small disruptions during the Q & A period. Continue reading “Who Gets to Speak about Antisemitism?”

Help fund challenge to IPSO over refusal to condemn false accusations of antisemitism

Jonathan Coulter's judicial review application
Jonathan Coulter’s judicial review application

The ‘Independent’ Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has refused to hold The Times and Sunday Times) to account. Both grossly misreported a public meeting to launch the Balfour Apology Campaign. They misrepresented the event as a sort of antisemitic ‘hate-fest’; this set the tone for other media reports. Thirty attendees complained to IPSO but IPSO failed to investigate properly.

Jonathan Coulter is seeking Judicial Review on three grounds:

  • the misreporting of the conduct of Baroness Tonge
  • IPSO made Insufficient inquiry
  • IPSO’s decision making was irrational

The Hacked Off campaign is supporting this challenge.

Judicial review is expensive

Support Jonathan’s crowdsourcing appeal

Continue reading “Help fund challenge to IPSO over refusal to condemn false accusations of antisemitism”

FSOI expresses grave disquiet about the handling of complaint against Tony Greenstein

This letter was sent to Iain McNicol, General Secretary of the Labour Party, on 25 November.

Dear  Iain McNicol

Free Speech on Israel is a Jewish led group of mainly Labour Party members formed to contest restrictions on debate about Palestinian rights and Israeli Government actions and to contest antisemitic speech and actions as well as false allegations of antisemitism.

FSOI wishes to express its grave disquiet about the current operation of the Party’s disciplinary machinery and in particular in relation to the mishandling of the case against Tony Greenstein who has a long record of both challenging antisemitism and racism and campaigning for human rights.  The dossier presented to Tony Greenstein contains many robust statements and vociferous criticism of Israel’s actins but nothing that can remotely be judged as being antisemitic or uttered with antisemitic intent. Continue reading “FSOI expresses grave disquiet about the handling of complaint against Tony Greenstein”

Jacobson and friends confuse by design

Phil Edwards reprinted by permission from his blog, Workers’ Playtime where it was published as the second part of a series ‘Like a Lion’

The Jacobson/Schama/Sebag Montefiore letter [paywall] published in The Times on 6 November about anti-Zionism deserves a proper look. The first thing to say is that, while there is an argument there, there’s also an awful lot of confusion and rhetorical inflation. This may just be because Howard Jacobson – who seems to be the lead author – is a muddled thinker and a windy writer, but I think it also has something to do with the subject.

The trouble starts with the first introduction of anti-Zionism:

constructive criticism of Israeli governments has morphed into something closer to antisemitism under the cloak of so-called anti-Zionism

Either anti-Zionism is a genuine position being used opportunistically as a façade – a ‘cloak’ – for antisemitism (cf the Doctors’ Plot), or the name ‘anti-Zionism’ is a polite label for antisemitism (“so-called anti-Zionism”). Can’t be both; you can’t ‘cloak’ antisemitism in antisemitism-with-another-name. What anti-Zionism is, in the authors’ eyes, remains unclear. Continue reading “Jacobson and friends confuse by design”

Expanding the Definition of Antisemitism Hurts Jews

Testimony of Professor Barry Trachtenberg to the United States House Judiciary Committee about proposed speech codes on November 7, 2017

Barry Trachtenberg is the Rubin Presidential Chair of Jewish History and the Director of the Jewish Studies Program at Wake Forest University.

First published in the Forward and reprinted by permission of the author

It is increasingly common to hear reports that a “new antisemitism” threatens to endanger Jews on a scale not seen since the second World War and the Holocaust. Studies from several major Jewish organizations have sounded the alarm that antisemitism is a “clear and present danger,” while a number of commentators have argued that yet another “war against the Jews” is upon us.

House Judiciary Committee
As much as these sort of statements try to call our attention to a looming catastrophe, they are motivated less by an actual threat facing American or world Jewry than they are part of a persistent campaign to thwart debates, conversations, scholarly research, and political activism (all of which often occur within the Jewish community itself) that is critical of the State of Israel.

 The truth is that the “old antisemitism” — such as we saw in Charlottesville this summer, where torch-bearing marchers carried Nazi and Confederate flags, chanted “You/Jews will not replace us,” and murdered a protester — is still alive in the United States and in many places around the world and requires vigilance and persistent resistance. It is a poor use of our time to distract ourselves by crafting legislation that dictates what can and cannot be said on college campuses regarding the State of Israel.
Barry Trachtenberg

Legislation such as such as H.R.6421-Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016 is not a genuine attempt to contend with actual antisemitism, but rather is more correctly understood as a means to quell what are in fact protected acts of speech that are vital and necessary both to the scholarly missions of educational institutions and to the functioning of democratic societies.

 It is a factual distortion to characterize campuses in the United States as hotbeds of new antisemitism. A recent study by researchers at Stanford University reported that while depictions of rampant antisemitism are reported widely in the press, they do not represent the actual experiences of Jewish students at the campus level. They discovered that campus life is neither threatening nor alarmist, and this corresponds to my own experiences with Jewish students.
In general, students reported feeling comfortable on their campuses, and, more specifically, feeling comfortable as Jews on their campuses. Based on interviews with sixty-six undergraduate students at five California universities previously described as strongly antisemitic, researchers did not find a single interviewee who characterized their campus in that way. The Stanford study concludes:

Much of the testimony you will hear today is likely to describe alleged incidents of antisemitism, and it may cite studies purporting to prove that antisemitism is at crisis levels. I urge you to be sceptical of such claims.

First, many of the stories that get wide circulation contain factual distortions and are misrepresented in the media. Second, many studies are based on a definition of antisemitism that de facto defines criticism of Israel as antisemitic, and which limit their interviews to a specific set of Jewish students who are highly identified with the state of Israel. Yet as within American Jewry as a whole, Jewish students hold a wide range of views concerning Israel, from unilaterally supportive to sharply critical.

Motivated by concern for human rights

Students who engage in speech critical of Israeli policy are largely motivated by their concern for Palestinian human rights. They are not motivated by antisemitic hate, but its opposite—a desire to end racial and religious discrimination of all kinds.

Legislation designed to curtail activity that is critical of Israel — be it political, scholarly, or simply conversational — most often rests upon a distortion of the State Department’s definition of antisemitism, which is appropriated from the “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism of the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia,” a definition that was created for the purpose of research and not government policy. As well-intentioned as the State Department’s concern for antisemitism may be, its understanding of antisemitism is both flawed and overly expansive, and should not serve as the basis for speech codes.

Indeed, so expansive is the State Department’s definition that some of the founding premises of Zionism would themselves be considered antisemitic. For example, the State Department insists that an example of antisemitism is “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations.”

Of course, history tells us that quite often Jews’ citizenship in any particular country cannot so easily be taken for granted; this has been one of the factors behind the widespread belief among Jews that wherever they are in the world, they bear a responsibility to one another. The founders of Zionism consequently concluded that, regardless of where in the world they live, Jews have more in common with one another than they do with non-Jews.

Such arguments can be traced back at least to Theodor Herzl, who argued in his seminal 1896 book, The Jewish State, that antisemitism is an inescapable fact of modern existence and therefore Jews “…are a people—One people” and for that reason, “it is useless for us to be loyal patriots.”

Elsewhere, the State Department’s definition is far too broad and encompasses what in other contexts would easily be classified as protected political speech against a foreign government. While I agree that using “classic” antisemitic symbols and images is inappropriate (although not illegal), there is nothing necessarily wrong in comparing the actions of Israel to those of Nazi Germany.

In fact, comparisons of foreign leaders and countries to Nazism are made regularly. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush famously compared Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler (a comparison also made by President George W. Bush). Given that comparisons of foreign leaders and governments to Nazism occur regularly, creating a “special status” for speech concerning Jews and Israel would only reaffirm otherwise antisemitic claims that Jews are exceptional and therefore need to have a special category of laws that apply only to them.

Even among Jews, one hears such comparisons levelled with great frequency, coming from both the political left and right. In December 1948 (three and a half years after the end of World War II and seven months after the founding of Israel), Albert Einstein famously co-signed a letter published in the New York Times comparing the political party of the Israeli leader Menachem Begin (a precursor to today’s Likud) to Nazism. More recently, United States Ambassador to Israel David Friedman had to apologize during his nomination process for having once called liberal Zionists, “worse than kapos.”

Plurality of Jewish views

Finally, to say that “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist” is an example of antisemitism ignores the plurality of views that exist within the Jewish community. For one thing, it ignores the fact that for many Jews today and since its founding, the state of Israel is decidedly not an expression of Jewish self- determination, a concept which has often held cultural, religious, or ethical implications distinct from the idea of a Jewish state. For another, the question of Israel’s “right to exist” is not the same thing as that of its “right to exist as a Jewish state,” if that existence is predicated on the displacement and oppression of the non-Jews within its borders.

Given the flaws in the State Department’s definition of antisemitism, it must not form the basis of law or campus speech codes. As Kenneth S. Stern, the author of the “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism,” has stated, “the worst remedy is to prohibit speech deemed offensive, disparaging or bigoted that would otherwise be protected by the First Amendment.” He further stated that the purpose of the definition that he formulated was for scientific study, and is not suitable as the basis of campus anti-speech codes.

“The definition was intended for data collectors writing reports about antisemitism in Europe,” writes Stern. “It was never supposed to curtail speech on campus.” As someone who began teaching at the college level nearly two and a half decades ago, I agree fully with Stern who has [elsewhere] stated, “Anti-Semitism – like all forms of bigotry – has an impact on some campuses. The worst way to address it is to create a de facto hate speech code, which is what this bill proposes to do.” Although discussions around Israel and Zionism may often be uncomfortable for Israel’s supporters and detractors alike (something that I witness in my classes most semesters), it is the responsibility of students and educators to foster dialogue and not limit it, to understand the historical implications of our speech, and to allow for the meaning and definition of fraught terms to develop and change as a consequence of informed deliberation and debate.

It is profoundly difficult to create a definition of antisemitism that can be used for legislative purposes. The root of current debates on antisemitism lies in a seemingly intractable problem of how to critique Jewish collective power in a way that does not immediately resonate with a long history of antisemitism. Throughout the last thousand years of European history, Jews were regularly characterized as an incommensurate and exceptionalist element that sought to undermine the established religious, political, or economic order. They were accused of being killers of Christ and of seeking to repeat this offense through the murder of innocent Christian children. Such accusations led at times to blood libels (the classic antisemitic allegation that Jews used non-Jewish children’s blood to make matza, the ritual flatbread of Passover) and pogroms (violent and often deadly mob attacks on Jewish communities).

In more recent centuries, Jews have been characterized simultaneously as usurpers of national identities, disloyal citizens, capitalist schemers, and revolutionary subversives. Such allegations led to discriminatory legislation, riots, expulsions, and physical violence. In the early 20th century, Jews were branded as a biological and racial threat and entire armies rose up to exterminate them. In each of these moments, Jews were imagined as a united group that possessed power and authority far beyond their actual numbers.

Yet, in 1948, with the founding of Israel as a solution to antisemitism, the situation changed dramatically. For the first time, a significant number of Jews – identifying as a national group – gained actual, not imaginary, power. Today, the state of Israel has borders, police, courts, a military, a nuclear arsenal, political parties, and a (mostly) representative and (somewhat) democratic system of government.

Like all other states, its actions are — and must be permitted to be — a matter of public debate and discourse both within the Jewish community and outside of it. Yet speech that is critical of Israel still strikes many as inherently antisemitic. The problem, quite simply, is that we still are learning how to talk about Israel’s actual political power and repeated claims to represent Jews all over the world in ways that do not immediately echo much older and antisemitic depictions of imaginary Jewish power. This is not only on account of the long history of anti-Jewish hatred in the West. It is also because, as we see in legislative initiatives such as this, to characterize any speech that is critical of Israel as intrinsically antisemitic has been a highly effective tool employed by those who uncritically support every action of Israel and seek to stigmatize all critics.

Considering the multiple — and constantly shifting — forms of antisemitism that have emerged since the term “Antisemitism” first appeared in Germany in the late nineteenth century, it would be ill-advised for Congress to establish legal authority on a definition of antisemitism that is so deeply contested. To insist that Israel cannot be protested or objected to, to mandate that collective Jewish power cannot be analyzed or debated, or to conclude that Jews, because they were once victims of one of humanity’s greatest genocidal crimes, are somehow immune from becoming perpetrators of acts of violence against other peoples, would only reinforce the antisemitic belief that Jews are a fundamentally different people.

Moreover, and perhaps most dangerously of all, attempts to broaden the definition of antisemitism to encompass phenomena that are clearly not anti-Jewish can only make it more difficult to recognize, isolate, and oppose actual antisemitic hatred when it does appear.

 

 

 

 

 

Labour List uses fear of offence to censor debate

When Gary Spedding sent his riposte to Emily Thornberry’s remarks on Israel’s ‘Right to Exist’ he got a surprising response. Labour List preferred censorship to debate.

Labour List rejectionof Gary Spedding's article on te gorunds 'it may give offence' Fortunately, Jewish News, the UK publication of the Times of Israel had more faith in its readers ability to survive encountering something they may disagree with and published it online.

It is the outlawing of reasonable criticism of Israel that was the reason for the setting up of FSOI. The attacks on free speech come in many form:, denial of spaces for meetings; disciplining of people who defend Palestinian rights; and, as in this case, straight censorship. We are pleased to republish Gary’s article which repeats the simple point that states are human creations that are not, unlike their citizens, endowed with rights. They come, like South Sudan, and disappear, like Yugoslavia. Israel is no different.

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary is wrong on Israel’s ‘right to exist’

Gary Spedding

Last week, in a high profile speech marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, the Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry stated that there is “no place in the Labour Party” for anyone who holds the “abhorrent view” that Israel has no right to exist.

Such a notion is extremely controversial. And one that has been peddled by the Israeli establishment for decades. This piece of political rhetoric is actually designed to shut down any hope of a fruitful peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli figures have been pushing for foreign politicians, in countries that have highly regarded parliamentary democracy, to adopt this problematic soundbite when discussing Israel as it gives it a veneer of legitimacy.

Emily Thornberry
Emily Thornberry

Let me be clear from the outset that I firmly believe that all people, including Jewish people, have the right to both individual and collective self-determination. To quote President Woodrow Wilson, who was a strong proponent of the principle; “people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent.” However, there are conflicting definitions and legal criteria surrounding self-determination itself and the plain truth is that no state or political entity has an inherent “right to exist”, and as such this term is legally meaningless. One of the reasons the ‘right to exist’ won’t be found codified in contemporary international law that it is near impossible to fulfil for the thousands of unique nations on the planet today.

Emily’s highly toxic statement is dangerous to both Labour Party members and the wider community engaged on the Israel-Palestine conflict. She has, like so many before her, confused a people’s inalienable right to self-determination with a non-existent ‘right to exist’ that is associated more with nation-states than people – in particular, ethnocratic states like Israel.

Now some might argue that the right to self-determination automatically grants people the right to a state. I can certainly understand how one might reach this viewpoint given the fact people should be able to freely choose how to express their self-determination. And yet there are limitations and certain responsibilities accompanying self-determination – coupled with certain vagueness around how a national group can achieve it without infringing upon the same rights held by others within the same territory. This is one of the issues at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict; two people within the same territory with conflicting national movements.

In addition, the demand by Israel’s establishment that their state’s “right to exist” be recognised is, in fact, a major obstacle to securing a political settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. It was never a demand in the peace processes with Egypt or Jordan that Israel, as a Jewish State, should be recognised as having a ‘right to exist’ – although later the leaders of both Egypt and Jordan agreed that in signing peace treaties they had implicitly accepted Israel’s existence. By including this demand when it comes to the Palestinians it effectively shuts down any hope of a peace process, but also has the added bonus of defining terms of debate elsewhere in the world. This has meant the labelling of anyone who deviates from the status quo as being motivated by evil ideology, of wanting the ‘destruction of Israel’, and by default wanting the wholesale slaughter of the Jewish people – something which, outside of a tiny minority of extreme fringes, is actually ludicrous.

For Palestinians, recognising Israel’s ‘right to exist’ exclusively as a Jewish state would mean accepting the legitimacy of their own dispossession and expulsion, something they will never do, which is why the Israeli government insist on this as an early prerequisite for negotiations – because it is the Israeli government that has all the cards when it comes to building peace in a conflict mired by power asymmetries.

For people like me, who believe in the importance of allowing different visions for the future in Israel-Palestine, and as long as it’s within a non-violent political process, the words of the Shadow Foreign Secretary are alarming. I do not accept that I have no place in the Labour Party simply for holding the reasonable view that no states have an inherent right to exist. Those who share Emily Thornberry’s view are saying that there is no place in Labour for those who support a shared future for Israelis and Palestinians within a bi-national state, or any kind of solution where equal rights are enshrined and basic democratic freedoms codified and guaranteed.

Emily Thornberry appears to have inadvertently bolstered the language of the Israeli right, thus helping to sow anxiety and fear among Labour Party members who might wish to discuss alternative yet still sustainable, realistic and durable resolutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict. By telling people they have to accept that Israel, uniquely among all other states, has the right to exist and that the only solution to the conflict is that of a two-state solution, alternative visions for the future are pushed aside. Palestinian voices in particular are being stripped of agency, spelling disaster for any push for peace. We get nowhere by shutting out other parties to the conflict. Failure to bind them into a process ensures peace shall remain elusive.

I imagine a substantive majority of Labour Party members fall outside the terms defined in Emily Thornberry’s statement yesterday. We have seen a number of party members suspended for voicing entirely reasonable criticisms of Israeli government policy and the conduct of the Israeli state. I am deeply concerned that Emily seems to have a fairly weak grasp of the intricate and complex issues surrounding Israel-Palestine, and as a result she is prone to making statements imbued with toxic political sentiments, offering concessions aimed at pleasing too many audiences, without perhaps even realising the full extent of the consequences afterwards.

Her latest statement contributes to a growing push to have perfectly reasonable debate shut down and where pro-Palestine party members are targeted, marginalised, demonised and delegitimised by those who wish to see them silenced, or worse, expelled.

As a Labour Party member, I will continue to hold the consistent view that no political entity or state has a ‘right to exist’ and shall defend my right to a nuanced set of positions on Israel-Palestine as someone who very much desires to see a genuine and just solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Balfour 100; Partition 70; Occupation 50; Future ??

Mike Cushman

This article first appeared in the Morning Star

The UK Government at the behest of the Israeli Government is asking us to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. Arthur Balfour is a largely forgotten and failed Conservative leader apart from two events.

The first was the 1905 Aliens Act. This was a racially motivated act to bar the entry of Jews fleeing the pogroms and Cossacks of Tsarist Russia.  Jews, like my grandparents, had successfully sought the sanctuary for which Britain was famous but Balfour indulged the antisemitism of his supporters and slammed the doors closed, condemning countless others to persecution then and to the Holocaust later.

There is no real contradiction between his action in 1905 and his collusion with the nascent Zionist movement only 12 years later.  Balfour, like many of his class and time was steeped in antisemitic attitudes. He was too ‘civilised’ to enact pogroms or worse but he would rather there were fewer or no Jews living near him. So the Aliens Act was to keep them out and the Declaration, to “view with favour the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people”, was to encourage those who had managed to arrive to move elsewhere. That they should go to Palestine accorded with his Christian Zionist beliefs that the second coming would only happen when the Jews were foregathered in Israel to convert or die. Continue reading “Balfour 100; Partition 70; Occupation 50; Future ??”

Engaged in Anger about Antisemitism

Deborah Maccoby

Review of Contemporary Left Antisemitism, David Hirsh, Routledge 2017

David Hirsh, besides running the Engage website, which campaigns against the academic boycott of Israel, is a lecturer at Goldsmith’s College, University of London; and his book claims to be a work of objective academic scholarship. In the penultimate chapter — entitled “Sociological method and antisemitism” — which is an odd mixture of autobiography and methodology, he writes of undertaking sociological investigations “employing methodological rigour from the traditions of ethnomethodology and discourse analysis”. Yet underlying this very thin veneer of scholarly objectivity is a passionate rage which makes the book more readable than many other academic tomes and even gives it a certain entertainment value (hence the two stars on Amazon rather than the one that it really deserves). Contemporary Left Antisemitism is essentially a temper tantrum couched in sociological jargon. Continue reading “Engaged in Anger about Antisemitism”

Misleading claims continue to be made about antisemitism.

Richard Hutton
reprinted by permission from his blog A New Place of Exile

The claims revolve primarily around the Israel-Palestine conflict. Is there a constructive way forward?

Labour Party Confererence 2017 logo

A number of comment pieces appeared in the media, in the wake of the Labour Party’s conference of September 2017 – alleging that antisemitic incidents had occurred during the event; and that it represented the continuation of a wider problem within the party. It is not the first time that this has happened.

Are these claims supported by any evidence? If so, how can the problem be addressed effectively? If not, why are the accusations being made? Continue reading “Misleading claims continue to be made about antisemitism.”