Jo Johnson – Free Speech on everything except Israel

Jonathan Rosenhead

This letter appeared in the Guardian on 29 December 2017

Jo Johnson has decided to grasp the nettle of free speech at universities (Students attack no-platform threat, 27 December). It’s a prickly subject.

The minister seems to have “no-platforming” by student unions in his sights. However, there is a major free-speech failure by the universities themselves that is easier to fix. For some years now universities, not the student unions, have been routinely obstructing campus events that focus on Palestinian rights and their denial by Israel. The government’s own adoption of the discredited IHRA definition of antisemitism a year ago has fuelled this, with play-safe administrations seemingly unclear about the difference between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. It was Jo Johnson himself who instructed Universities UK to send this definition round to all universities – with a pointed suggestion that they adopt it for internal use. No single act in recent years has been less helpful to free speech in universities. Continue reading “Jo Johnson – Free Speech on everything except Israel”

The ‘New Antisemitism’

Neve Gordon
Text of Neve’s address to FSOI meeting ‘Combatting Antisemitism versus Free Speech’ at the House of Commons on 5 December 2017

Not long after the eruption of the Second Intifada in September 2000, I became active in a Jewish-Palestinian political movement called Ta’ayush, which conducts non-violent direct action against Israel’s military siege of the West Bank and Gaza. Its objective isn’t merely to protest against Israel’s violation of human rights but to join the Palestinian people in their struggle for self-determination. For a number of years, I spent most weekends with Ta’ayush in the West Bank; during the week I would write about our activities for the local and international press. My pieces caught the eye of a professor from Haifa University, who wrote a series of articles accusing me first of being a traitor and a supporter of terrorism, then later a ‘Judenrat wannabe’ and an antisemite. The charges began to circulate on right-wing websites; I received death threats and scores of hate messages by email; administrators at my university received letters, some from big donors, demanding that I be fired.

Ta'ayush volunteer protecting Palestinian shepherd
Ta’ayush volunteer protecting Palestinian shepherd

I mention this personal experience because although people within Israel and abroad have expressed concern for my wellbeing and offered their support, my feeling is that in their genuine alarm about my safety, they have missed something very important about the charge of the ‘new antisemitism’ and whom, ultimately, its target is. Continue reading “The ‘New Antisemitism’”

Right-Wing “Friends of Israel” disrupt Jewish antisemitism discussions

In London these days, Jews critical of Israel need police protection in order to hold meetings.

“We’re just Jews calling other Jews kapos”.
Disruptors at a Free Speech on Israel meeting at SOAS on November 14. Photo by Sue Blackwell

In November and December this year, individuals claiming to defend the Jewish community against people they view as traitors – that is, Jews who are critical of Israel – have actively organised to disrupt a series of meetings on university and parliamentary premises.

In one instance on November 14, shouting, cat-calling and loud abuse resulted in massive disruption of a meeting to launch a book about antisemitism published by the US organisation Jewish Voice for Peace. The event was organised by the campaign group Free Speech on Israel (FSOI) at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Abuse directed at the Jewish speakers and audience members included, “You’re called traitor Jews, kapos….(“Kapo” is a label applied to Jews who helped the Nazis run the death camps.)… We’re going to challenge you and your foul race hate against Jewish people….You’re a moron and she’s an antisemite.” The last remark was addressed to one of the speakers and her sister. Continue reading “Right-Wing “Friends of Israel” disrupt Jewish antisemitism discussions”

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.

Continue reading “Selected Cases of Interference with Free Expression, 2017”

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?”