British university staff are being advised to “risk-assess and manage” events on campus relating to “contentious” issues including Palestine and criticism of western foreign policy in the Middle East in order to demonstrate their compliance with the government’s Prevent counter-extremism strategy.
Critics fear that the guidance, which is contained in an online training presentation, is already stifling free speech and political expression, with one institution, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), on Tuesday cancelling an event organised by a Friends of Palestine society because of concerns that it would not be “balanced”.
Other issues for which higher education institutions are being instructed to put in place measures to ensure that “extremist views” are challenged include opposition to Prevent itself following vigorous campaigning against the strategy by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU), which represents more than 100,000 university staff.
Thirteen Jewish female members of the Labour Party have called for a review of a decision by general secretary Iain McNicol on a complaint brought against former Israeli Embassy employee Ella Rose, who now heads a pro-Israel lobby group affiliated to the Labour Party, the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).
They say Ella Rose’s abusive and threatening behaviour, caught on camera in a documentary film, The Lobby, is intimidating to them as campaigners for Palestinian rights and critics of the state of Israel.
The swift, discrete and sympathetic handling of Rose’s case contrasts markedly with treatment meted out to many party members who have been unjustly charged with antisemitism, suspended from membership and subjected to months’ long investigations, often in the full glare of publicity, through processes with scant regard for principles of natural justice.
McNicol said that in Ella Rose’s case the matter was closed after she “expressed regret” for some of her actions.
In response to your judgement in the case of Ella Rose, we cannot accept the contrast with other disciplinary cases where you have given considerable weight to testimony from complainants stating that they were upset or offended by an individual’s words or actions.
We wish to put on record that we, Labour Jewish women, have been not only offended and upset but also intimidated by the behaviour of Ella Rose. (You will see that this letter is signed by a larger group than the one that made the original complaint.)
The authors of this ‘pamphlet’, are all Labour Party members, all members of the health professions. Over the last year there has been a concerted effort to bully the Party into silence on Israel/Palestine, and we have witnessed the Party leadership buckle under the pressure. This campaign aimed, first, to confuse the struggle for civil rights in Israel/Palestine with racial prejudice; and, second, to demonise the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, a grass roots, human rights-based movement of non-co-operation with institutions complicit in Israel’s Occupation, undertaken in response to a call from the collective voice of Palestinian civil society. Our opportunity to express and act upon the compassion and solidarity we feel for the Palestinian people is at risk of being seriously eroded.
Our points of view and those of others like us have been made to sound controversial in the UK, although there is little here that has not been put forward in the pages of Israel’s own daily newspaper, Haaretz. We expect our efforts to be met with counter-arguments, and not further witch hunting. In this way, we hope that the membership will have the opportunity to appraise the relative merits of different points of view in the light of our shared ideals. Continue reading “Labour’s Relationship to Zionism and the Israeli State”
The first section of these comments concerns the IHRA definition of antisemitism that the report recommends for general adoption and endorsement by the Government, a recommendation that the Government has since accepted. FSOI must challenge this definition which classifies some entirely legitimate and basic criticism of Israel and Zionism as antisemitic. This is followed by comments on other sections of the report.
Sections 16, 17 and 24 on the definition of antisemitism.
The report makes great play of the fact that unlike the Chakrabarti Report, it gives a definition of antisemitism and recommends its general adoption. But its definition adds next to nothing, other than confusion, to understanding what is meant by antisemitism. It adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s definition of May 2016:
Free Speech on Israel, a Jewish-led organisation, condemns the decision of the London Assembly on Feb 8 to adopt a position on antisemitism that is a charter for censors. It threatens to make effective campaigning for justice for Palestinians impossible.
Antisemitism is an age-old visceral hatred of Jews simply because they are Jews. It must be vigorously fought against, along with all forms of bigotry. To confuse it with opposition to a state which calls itself Jewish, or to the founding ideology of that state, Zionism, is to obscure the real meaning of the term antisemitism and make combatting it more difficult. This is exactly what the motion passed by the Assembly does.
Since early in 2016, debate about rights for Palestinians has been under severe threat because criticism of Israel and of its founding ideology, Zionism, has been misrepresented as antisemitic.
Antisemitism is hatred of Jews simply because they are Jews. It must be vigorously combatted, along with all forms of bigotry. Confusing it with opposition to the state of Israel or Zionism is to obscure the real meaning of the term antisemitism and make fighting against it more difficult.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism is about far more than the ever-present necessity to remember the Holocaust: it is about limiting debate about the nature and activity of the Israeli state.
The definition, and its earlier appearance as the EUMC draft working definition, has been used to try to prevent the description of Israel as an Apartheid state. Anyone is entitled to attack this description as mistaken or as malicious but to assert that it must not be used is a punitive restriction on free speech. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the meaning of Apartheid in Afrikaans is separateness. What critics of Israel call the apartheid wall, the Israelis call the separation barrier; hardly an example of lost in translation.
All across the United Kingdom at the end of February there will be events to mark 2017 Israel Apartheid Week. IAW has long been a high spot of the calendar of Palestine support – each year it is denounced as antisemitic on account of its name not because of some supposed outrage. The current
this was deemed by the Zionist claque to be indisputable evidence of antisemitism with any supporting facts. May’s adoption of the IHRA definition will empower the self-appointed Witchfinders General to harass defenders of human rights and international law.
Every day the Israelis are attempting to separate out the Palestinians from East Jerusalem through home demolitions and through revocation of residents’ rights to live in the city – who cannot see the replication of the practices of Apartheid South Africa in these practices? Only Zionist true believers and their acolytes in western governments, ready to apologise for and excuse almost every Israeli brutality. Every crocodile in every zoo in Europe and North America has been ruthlessly stripped of their tears to wet the handkerchiefs of May and Merkel and Hollande when they limply distance themselves from a particularly inexcusable excess. Trump, however, has not bothered any passing reptile: refusing to shed any tear, human or otherwise, for the plight of a single Palestinian. These politicians will turn round in ten years’ time to tell us they never supported Israeli apartheid and excoriated Netanyahu and his gang just as their predecessors told us with straight faces that they always supported Mandela.
Central to apartheid in Israel as in South Africa is differential rights to own and occupy property and land. Expulsion of Black Africans from Sophiatown is remembered for its brutality. The gradual expulsions from Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah is slower but no less traumatic. South Africa had its Group Areas Act; Israel has its Absentee Property Law with its Orwellian creation of present absentees. These are the inescapable equivalences that the IHRA definition seeks to proscribe.
A key signifier of antisemitism according to the IHRA is questioning the right of Israel to exist by claiming it is a racist endeavour. It is not some capricious act to raise these questions; they are demanded by any simple observation of the facts. The Absentee Property Law is central to land holding in Israel and it is an explicitly racist piece of legislation. The desire to expel Arabs (sic) has been a recurrent theme from Ben Gurion’s regime onwards. Even before the state was founded, the slogan “Jewish Labour only” was common in Mandate Palestine.
The fact that Israel, uniquely, is a state without a singular nationality is racist. The Law of Return allowing Jews with no connection to Israel beyond a self-claimed mythical biblical one are allowed to immigrate, while Palestinians remain to sojourn in refugee camps, can only be regarded as racist. Israel proudly claims to be a Zionist entity. Central to Zionism is the claim to a special status for Jews and a lesser status for others – this is as explicitly racist as anything in the Nurnberg laws (naturally, making this comparison is another sign of antisemitism).
The question of self-determination, although the substance of that right is never explained, is commonly translated into ‘questioning the right of Israel to exist’. This is a strange formulation. States do not have rights, people do. States are contingent and rise and fall. Scots contest the right of the United Kingdom to exist. The right of the USA to exist was challenged in a bloody civil war. Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia lost their rights to exist, one peacefully the other far less so. The right of Jews living in Israel not to be slaughtered is absolute; their right to live as they please regardless of their impact on Palestinians is not. If self-determination means they can dictate the conditions of life of others who are denied any engagement in a democratic process, then that is selfish not self.
In writing this I have consciously transgressed the strictures of the IHRA. I do that unapologetically; not because I am antisemitic or ‘self-hating’ but because my Jewish heritage instructs me to stand against injustice and oppression. Zionism is more harmful for Jews than anything since the holocaust because it frames Judaism as unjust. While I am not religious I require religions, maybe vainly, to be enablers of the transmission of virtue, generosity and justice: I demand no less of humanism and atheism. Israel is a living proof of the ludicrous optimism of my expectations.
“By falling so far short of the standards required (it) does disservice to the honourable cause of combating antisemitism in the united Kingdom: and fuels the fires of misunderstanding and ill feeling which dog its discussion…”; and that “If I was inclined to borrow an expression from the Committee’s Interim Chair” (when describing the Shami Chakrabarti Report), “I would say the Committee’s Report is not worth the paper it is written on.” [Paragraphs 9.4 & 9.5]
This is confirmed after seeing the astounding and undeniable revelations broadcast on 11 – 14 January in four half hour programmes on “Al Jazeera Investigates: The Lobby”.
It is now my firm conclusion that the vilification of the Labour Party by the Home Affairs Committee and others is without foundation. The Shami Chakrabarti Report got it right about the level of antisemitism in the Labour Party; the Home Affairs Committee got it very wrong.
It is also clear that there has been an organized campaign against the Labour Party and its Leader, in which the government of Israel, through the Israeli Embassy in London, has played a central and proactive part. A part described by the Al Jazeera programme presenter, Clayton Swisher, as “covert action that penetrates the heart of Britain’s democracy”; and which Peter Oborne calls “… outrageous interference in British politics … (which) shouldn’t be permitted … (and) … should be investigated by our intelligence services.” [Peter Oborne is associate editor of The Spectator and former chief political commentator of the Daily Telegraph.]
It appears from the programmes that parts of the Labour Party are involved in this “outrageous interference”, including the upper echelons of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) represented by Jeremy Newmark and the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) through its Parliamentary Officer, Michael Rubin.
The four Al Jazeera programmes provide substantial and convincing evidence of Israeli Embassy initiatives through Shai Masot, its Senior Political Officer, and in other ways, to undermine the Leader of the Labour Party and his supporters in the Party who are seen to be sympathetic to the Palestinian people. This involves the active support and influencing of groups within the Labour Party including the Jewish Labour Movement, Labour Friends of Israel, Young Fabians, and We Believe in Israel / Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre (BICOM) – and the creation of other groups.
Amongst other things, Shai Masot, who first met the Al Jazeera undercover reporter at an LFI meeting, is recorded initiating a Young Labour Friends of Israel group through the reporter who is to be “chairman of it”, including getting him a job at the Israeli Embassy to support this activity. At a subsequent private meeting at a London hotel at which Ella Rose, Director of JLM was also present, the investigator meets Michael Freeman, Head of Civil Society Affairs at the Israeli Embassy, who explains that the Embassy is looking for someone to work on BDS (the world-wide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel’s actions towards the Palestinian people). The Guest of Honour at this private meeting is Gilad Erdan MK, Israel’s Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy. Mr Erdan is recorded as saying: “I grew up with the ideology that the land of Israel (by which he means the historic land of Canaan or Palestine) totally belongs to the Jewish people … It (BDS) is a strategic threat to the future of Israel because if we will allow them to continue with all the lies they are spreading against Israel we will lose this fantastic young generation …”
The evidence presented in the Al Jazeera programmes makes clear that it is in this context that the vilification of the labour Party and its Leader should be seen – as should the vilification of others including Malia Bouattia, President of the National Union of Students, and of Jackie Walker, Labour Party member and former Vice Chair of Momentum’s National Committee. All of whom are also vilified in the Home Affairs Committee’s report on antisemitism.
The Israeli Embassy’s interference in UK politics is not confined to the Labour Party. According to the programmes, other groups are also influenced including the Conservative Friends of Israel, the Young Conservatives and Conservative Future. The need to do this with the Conservative Party is seen to be less by the Embassy because, as Shai Masot says, new Conservative MPs are joining the CFI “automatically”, whereas Labour MPs are not joining Labour Friends of Israel and “… you need to get more people on board.” Nevertheless Shai Masot is recorded as noting that an initiative was taken to set up the Young Conservative Friends of Israel, “CFI yeah … CFI started with it one year ago because of my idea.”
A private meeting of “sympathetic Labour activists” at the Labour Party Annual Conference last September, was addressed by Mark Regev, the Israeli Ambassador, at which Shai Masot was also on the platform alongside the Ambassador, as was Jeremy Newmark of JLM. Jeremy Newmark is recorded as saying: “Just to get Clive Lewis, as one of Corbyn’s key lieutenants, onto an openly Zionist JLM platform took a lot of heavy lifting”, “Everything is wheels within wheels, it has created a bit of division within Momentum … We already have actual intelligence, that from Momentum political directors’ meeting last night they passed a vote of censure on Clive Lewis just for coming to our meetings and speaking.”
Michael Rubin is recorded in the same programme as saying: “We work with the Embassy quite a lot. When bad news stories come out about Israel, the Embassy sends us information so we can still counter it. We work really closely together. But a lot of it’s behind the scenes … but they (young Labour people) wouldn’t be happy if it (LFI) was seen as an Embassy thing… Being LFI allows us to reach out to people who wouldn’t want get involved with the Embassy … we obviously want the same end goal of getting more people to be more pro-Israel and understand the conflict. It’s just how you do it.” Other remarks from Shai Masot on purportedly independent groups he has been instrumental in setting up in Britain, including nudge, nudge, wink, wink type body language, indicate his clear view that LFI is not a body independent of the Israeli Embassy.
The programmes show regular interaction of this kind between JLM, LFI and Israeli Embassy personnel including the Deputy Ambassador as well as the Ambassador at the Labour Party’s Annual Conference and elsewhere. This includes contact at informal events such as the JLM summer barbecue where another attendee said to the undercover investigator, “Oh, you know Shai? How interesting, I work with Shai. I work for the Ambassador.” It was at this event that Jeremy Newmark welcomed Ella Rose to her new post as JLM Director and made clear that, “Ella was by no means the person … that had the most Labour Party and political experience. But there was something … as trustees (of JLM) we felt mattered much more, which is that she is one of you” – referring to her experience as President of the Union of Jewish Students where “she … fought the campus battles alongside you …” and why trustees appointed her “… to go on to play an incredibly critical role at the lead of the struggle against antisemitism in the Labour Party.”
At the private meeting with Labour Party activists at the Party’s Annual Conference referred to above, the Israeli Ambassador, Mark Regev, is recorded as saying: “The fashion is, if you are on the left today, you are probably very hostile to Israel, if not antisemitic.” Mr Regev also describes Hamas and Hezbollah in wholly derogatory terms as “These people are misogynistic, they are homophobic, they are racist, they are antisemitic, they are reactionary. I think that’s what we need to say”. Mr Regev made no reference to the origins of these bodies in the establishment of the state of Israel in Palestine by which they were forcibly dispossessed, as they see it, or to their current status within the Palestinian diaspora in the government of Lebanon and Palestine Authority.
Some Labour MPs also appear caught up in these events, though it is not clear whether a wholly conscious part is being played or not. The vividly painful filming of Joan Ryan MP, Chair of the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), when asked questions by the admirably persistent Jean Fitzpatrick at the LFI’s stand at the Labour Party’s Annual Conference last September, shows shameful resort by the MP to an allegation of antisemitism without any foundation in fact. Joan Ryan’s painfully embarrassing inability to answer Jean’s informed questions about the two-state solution, led her to make an official complaint of antisemitic conduct against her fellow Party member backed up by Alex Richardson, her Parliamentary Assistant, who witnessed the encounter. It is appalling to see how perfectly fair and polite, if persistent and clearly uncomfortable questioning, was first not addressed because Joan Ryan did not have an answer, and then “twisted” to use the Prime minister’s word, to conjure out of the air things which had not been said or implied to make them antisemitic. This is unintentionally acknowledged in Alex Richardson’s recorded remarks shortly after the encounter when he said: “… and although nothing antisemitic was said, I’m sure there were undertones of it and it was brought upon by that context.”
Yet both he and Joan Ryan had no compunction in making an official complaint to the Labour Party about a fellow Labour Party member on this non-existent basis. Not only that, but Joan Ryan went on that same evening to announce at a rally to combat antisemitism organized by the JLM, “We have also had three incidents of antisemitic harassment on our stand to the people who are staffing that stall today” – of which she makes clear subsequently that the one involving Jean Fitzpatrick was in her view the worst. Is this the stuff on which the internal assault on Jeremy Corbyn using allegations of endemic antisemitism as hammer blows with which to strike him, is based? Judging by this and other recorded episodes such as that of Ruth Smeeth MP described in my Critique, I share the view of Ilan Pappe, Israeli historian, expressed on the Al Jazeera programmes that as evidence they are “pathetic”. They are also illustrative of a disturbing mind-set, apparently all too willing to perceive inconvenient or uncomfortable behaviour as antisemitic, including justified criticism of Israel’s indefensible and unlawful conduct in the occupied West Bank. Despite being informed of the results of Al Jazeera Investigates, Joan Ryan asserted that her actions were “entirely appropriate”. This beggars belief.
The Al Jazeera programmes show that the LFI’s parliamentary officer, Michael Rubin, is not the only LFI officer to have regular contact with Shai Masot and the Israeli Embassy. Michael Rubin confirmed this in respect of LFI’s Chair, Joan Ryan MP, saying “So she’ll speak to Shai most days.”
The programmes also revealed the insensitive subsequent handling by the Labour Party of the complaint made by Joan Ryan, which caused Jean Fitzpatrick great and wholly unjustified anxiety. The Party’s letter to Jean Fitzpatrick does not make clear who the complainant was, referring inaccurately to her allegedly having spoken “… to a member of party staff”, not to the complainant. The complaint was eventually not upheld.
At the same LFI stand at the Labour Party Annual Conference, we also heard Chuka Umunna MP, after he had hugged Jennifer Gerber, Director of the LFI, and heard Alex Richardson’s unspecific account of the alleged antisemitic incidents involving Party members, say: It’s disgraceful. We’ll prevail. We’ll prevail in the end”. This was shortly after the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party Leader and shortly before publication of the Home Affairs Committee’s Report. This apparent reference to events inside the Labour Party provides further support for my Critique’s conclusion that the Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry into antisemitism had been hi-jacked by the internal Labour Party dissension following the PLP’s vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, a dissension which was pursued in the Committee’s Report.
The unacceptable treatment of Jackie Walker is also fully revealed in the Al Jazeera programmes. The alleged antisemitism took place at the same Labour Party Annual Conference at a purported training session led by Mike Katz, one of the Vice Chairs of JLM. Someone was secretly recording the trainer’s contribution and the subsequent debate. There is no antisemitism in what Jackie Walker said. Some might take exception to her comment on International Holocaust Day but it is not antisemitic. There was clear misunderstanding of her intent in making that remark, which Jackie Walker attempted to correct, but there was no exploration of her explanation, which is most surprising in a training session. It is clear that Jackie Walker, like Malia Bouattia, is an anti-Zionist, not an antisemite. I agree with Jackie Walker’s reaction of – let’s have a debate about that – Zionism and anti-Zionism – not about this – the false and destructive equation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism.
In practice, the abuse seems to be the other way round; first in the leaking of information to a news outlet, the Jewish Chronicle, from a training session by, it is claimed, a member of the JLM; second in the subsequent statement by the Board of Deputies of British Jews who called Jackie Walker “an unapologetic Jew baiter” – a most outrageous and unfounded remark from a supposedly respectable body towards a Jewish, black woman who is an anti-racism trainer and advocate in relation to the African Holocaust at the hands of the slavers; and third in the recorded conduct of Ella Rose, the then new Director of the JLM and formerly an official at the Israeli Embassy in London. Ella Rose, in addition to expression of a number of expletives, is recorded as saying: “I saw Jackie Walker on Saturday and thought, you know what, I could take her, she’s like 5’ 2” and tiny. That’s why I can take Jackie Walker; Krav Maga training.” [A hand to hand combat technique developed by the Israeli military.] I agree with Jackie Walker’s response when shown this recording that it was “breath-taking” and that it “says it all”.
Unless it has evidence of which I and others are unaware, the Labour Party should drop the allegation against Jackie Walker forthwith. It is not acceptable that the matter has not been concluded to date, which is also the case I understand with the complaint against Ken Livingstone.
These events illustrate the chilling effect on free speech the unjustified vilification of the Labour Party could well have – and appears to be having now. This is to the detriment of our open democracy and to our hard won right to speak up without fear or favour – in this instance for the cruelly oppressed people of Palestine. This is wholly unacceptable as the de facto annexation of the West Bank takes place in plain view through the Israeli state sponsored settler movement and the frequent bulldozing of Palestinian homes, olive groves and business premises – most recently resulting in the deaths of two Palestinians in the dawn raid by Israeli troops on 18 January to demolish the Palestinian Bedouin village of Umm Al-Hiran. In plain view, that is, to those who have open minds and eyes willing to see it – but not to those whose minds are closed and do not wish to see it for what it is.
Here we have, as they see it, a dispossessed people being oppressed and further dispossessed by the strongest military power in the Middle East for whom the accustomed status of victimhood fits increasing ill. And which seems determined upon expansion of its territory way beyond Israel’s internationally recognized 1967 boundaries, not just in respect of the bitterly disputed areas of East Jerusalem. Yet our government seems unwilling to say boo to this goose and, in common with other governments, huffs and puffs to no effect, preferring occasional votes at the UN. Yet Mr Netanyahu asserts that legitimate protest through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign by the Palestinian people and others is “a moral outrage” – with no gainsay from those with the power to make it count. If anyone has the right to feel “moral outrage” it is the people of Palestine; and the people of our own country at a foreign government’s now exposed efforts to interfere in our democratic affairs.
At the same time it is important to get a better understanding of what is driving the forces inside Israel whose actions are seen to be so oppressive by Palestinians – as well as many Israeli and British Jews – and intrusive upon our democratic process – yet which seem from the point of view of those concerned to be appropriate and justified. Notwithstanding the military power referred to above, the fear of attack amongst Israeli civilians referred to in my Critique is not in any way confined to the areas within rocket range of Gaza – indeed it appears to be much more widespread and to play a significant part in the bitter division of views which surrounds the current debate of antisemitism in this country. [Paragraph 5.2]
It is in this bitterly divided context that the Al Jazeera programmes also vividly illustrate the great danger of the government’s proposed definition of antisemitism. They help to make clear the considerable scope for incorrect interpretation of a fair exercise of free speech in the intended examples in that definition, including: “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination …”, which many people unjustifiably equate with informed and persistent questioning of Israel’s behaviour towards the Palestinians, or with anti-Zionism which is inaccurately equated with antisemitism; and “Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity”, which as I point out in my comments on the proposed definition, is precisely how many British and Israeli Jews do see Israel – including, according to his own recorded words, Israel’s Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy (see above).
From the Al Jazeera programmes and from other events such as Ruth Smeeth MP’s conduct at and after the launch of the Shami Chakrabarti Report, my clear impression is that there is an over-propensity on the part of some people involved in these matters to interpret conduct as antisemitic when to the objective ear it is not. It is imperative that the government does not encourage this by adopting its proposed definition. Its adoption would be harmful not helpful to the cause of combating antisemitism – and would risk that honourable cause being brought into disrepute.
It is also most important, as Peter Oborne says in the Al Jazeera programmes about Shai Masot and the Israeli Embassy’s “outrageous interference” in the United Kingdom’s democratic process, that it should not be tolerated in the quiescent manner the government affects. It requires full, fearless and open investigation.
It is imperative that the Labour Party respects the informed and objective conclusion of the Shami Chakrabarti Report that “The Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism…” And that the Party disregards the conclusions of the Home Affairs Committee’s Report in this regard – as not being worth the paper they are written on.
It is time to stand up and speak out against these various outrages and not to be cowed by fear of being falsely accused of antisemitism. An accusation which does as much harm to Israel and its legitimate right to live without fear within its internationally recognized boundaries as to the equally legitimate right of the Palestinian people to be secure in their own homeland. This is what Jean Fitzgerald was asking Joan Ryan MP about: it is to our collective shame that answer was there none, other than hurtful accusation. We must also speak out against the neglect of the true facts by the BBC and the large majority of the privately owned British media. We need to stand up and be counted as true democrats in the honourable tradition of Tom Paine who, I guess, would have a thing or two to say about the current state of affairs. Perhaps “He who dares not offend cannot be honest” might be apposite.
In response to a recommendation of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee in its Report, Antisemitism in the United Kingdom, the Government has agreed to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism “for the criminal justice agencies and other public bodies to use…” [CM 9386]
I am concerned at the lack of clarity in the Prime Minister’s announcement of the Government’s decision and at the party political comment which accompanied it. I am also concerned that the Home Affairs Committee’s recommendation on which that decision relies is not well founded in evidence. My Critique of the Report noted that –
“… the Committee … omits to address the cause of much current and past dispute which concerns the definition of acts which are or are not antisemitic according to different sincerely held views which may or may not be mistaken or antisemitic. In this signal regard the Committee has failed to get to the root of the matter …” [Paragraph 8.13]
The single sentence that forms the IHRA’s working definition may be useful to some as just that – a working definition. The problem arises from the associated examples which the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) has adopted to guide its work, some of which are the subject of the controversy and outright disagreement referred to in my Critique. [Paragraph 7.20]
For instance, the IHRA’s guidance includes as an example of antisemitism in public life “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination …” and gives as an example of this “…, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.” But the first part of this statement is much broader than the instance in the second part. The first part can be read to mean that the assertion by Palestinian people of their comparable right of self-determination is antisemitic because it might be seen to deny or conflict with the Jewish right. And it will be read in this way by many people. The first part also runs the serious risk of suppressing expressions of the great anger felt by many Palestinians at what they see as the annexation of their country and its continuing “colonisation” through the establishment by Israel’s Government of Jewish settlements on land which, according to the United Nations, is unlawfully occupied by Israel. Surely, our basic right to free speech should allow such expressions of indignation without fear of prosecution for an alleged crime of antisemitism – and it should allow us to hear and be influenced by those expressions without fear of reproach or allegation. If the IHRA’s guidance is adopted as well as the single sentence definition, the right to free speech without fear of prosecution is put at risk.
Another example given in the IHRA’s guidance is “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.” Is “Jewish citizens” intended to apply to an individual Jewish citizen or to Jewish citizens as a whole? Clearly, such an accusation against Jewish citizens as a whole is likely to be antisemitic as it appears to be based in a prejudiced stereotype of Jewish people, i.e. “a certain perception of Jews” as the IHRA’s working definition puts it. However, is it not possible that an individual Jewish citizen might be criticized in this way not because he or she is Jewish but because that is what he or she does? In this circumstance, whether or not the criticism was fair or accurate, it would not be racist. Do we want to encourage allegations of antisemitism for such a criticism of an individual? I think not. But this is the probable effect of adopting this example as part of the proposed definition. This could of course be down to poor drafting. If so, it is not the only example as there are a number in the IHRA’s guidance – which in itself makes it unsuitable for wider adoption in its current form, particularly adoption in the law or associated statutory guidance.
And then there is the preamble to the examples given in the IHRA’s guidance which states “Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” But that is how many British and Israeli Jews do see Israel, which is likely to mean that the subsequent sentence in the guidance would in day to day practice be ignored: “However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” This qualification would probably be overlooked or forgotten by some with resultant allegations of antisemitism and reports to the police of an alleged crime. This does not seem likely to assist good community relations.
Another key aspect of the guidance is likely to be overlooked in practice. The “contemporary examples of antisemitism” listed by the IHRA are all prefaced by a key clause that they “… could, taking into account the overall context, include …” The crucial qualification of “taking into account the overall context” is almost certain to sink without trace in the practical application of the proposed definition to alleged criminal offences by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service – and in relation to their responsibilities by local authorities, universities and other public bodies – which are those likely to be obliged to apply the definition according to a BBC report. [Breaking news, 12.12.16] Given the huge difficulty the police and others have had with the guidance that they should “believe” persons alleging child sexual abuse, it seems probable that equal if not greater difficulty would occur with this more complex issue – with the consequent serious risk of oppression by the authorities and persecution by the media of relatively defenceless individuals being seen as guilty until their innocence is proved or proceedings are dropped.
One also has to ask why antisemitism? What is it that singles out antisemitism from other forms of racism which warrants this very specific and high profile attention as to its definition and pursuit over and above what the law already provides? The evidence of recorded antisemitic incidents does not appear wholly to support such special attention. The Home Affairs Committee at the top of its report cites as its first key fact an 11 per cent increase in such incidents over the first six months of 2016 as reported by the Community Security Trust (557 incidents compared with 500 in the first six months of 2015). However, the Committee omits to mention from the same source that 77 per cent of this increase is via social media which, though very real and vile, is a different phenomenon; primarily for the reason of anonymity as addressed in my Critique allowing unaccountable behind the hand and behind the curtain gossip which was not widely broadcast before to take visible public form now. Nor does the Committee reflect in its key fact that, according to the same source, there was a 13 per cent fall in violent antisemitic incidents over the same period. The omission of this very welcome development from the key fact further discredits the Home Affairs Committee’s report and weakens it as a basis for special government action.
Clearly, antisemitism is a significant problem requiring determined action by the authorities within the law. Clearly, the level of recorded antisemitic incidents has increased since the 2014 ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces and is remaining at a higher level unlike previous spikes. However, it remains lower than the spike in the first half of 2009 when 629 incidents were recorded and social media was not as prevalent as it is now. Therefore, it is not clear why antisemitism amongst the various forms of racism is thought to require the special and singular attention it appears to be being given now. Why is not similar attention being given by the Committee and the Government to the equally appalling scar of Islamophobia in our society? Arguably, the case for combating Islamophobia is as great if not greater than that for antisemitism. So, why is the government not devoting similar attention to both? Without a clear answer to these questions I am uneasy about the basis upon which the government is proceeding. [Community Security Trust, Antisemitic incidents, January – June 2016]
This unease becomes concern when account is taken of the highly politicized context of the Prime Minister’s announcement of 12 December. On the same day the BBC in its breaking news issued a report headed “Anti-Semitism: Theresa May attacks “twisted” Labour views”. In this the Prime Minister is quoted as having said at a lunch of the Conservative Friends of Israel in London, “It is disgusting that these twisted views are being found in British politics. Of course, I am talking mainly about the Labour Party and their hard-left allies.” This was clearly timed to coincide with the Prime Minister’s announcement from 10 Downing Street. Given the highly dubious nature of the allegations against the Labour Party in general and Jeremy Corbyn in particular as evidenced in my Critique, this statement by the Conservative Prime Minister, which has not been denied by her office, looks like further evidence of highly regrettable party politicization of this most important, controversial and sensitive issue. The Prime Minister’s statement also reminds me of the Home Affairs Committee’s report’s denigratory tone where it refers to “hard-left” groups. The pejorative connotations of this are spelled out in my Critique. [Paragraphs 3.1 to 3.6]
The accuracy of the Prime Minister’s remarks is brought into question by the same account of antisemitic incidents issued by the Community Security Trust. This report shows that for the first six months of 2016, 24 per cent of all the 557 recorded incidents were “politically motivated” (135). Of these, 98 were classified as “Far Right”, 32 as “Anti-Zionist” and 5 as “Islamist”.
That the Labour Party is reported to have welcomed the introduction of a new definition does not improve this situation or make it more acceptable. In my view the Party has been scarred by its unjustified vilification and, understandably, may not want to be seen as obstructive at this time. After all, if the Party expressed well founded reservations, it would undoubtedly be portrayed as yet more evidence against it. Also, the Party may not take exception to the IHRA’s one sentence working definition which is consistent with the commonplace explanation of antisemitism Jeremy Corbyn gave in his evidence to the Home Affairs Committee. [Paragraph 11 of the Home Affairs Committee’s Report] But as I have said, it is the guidance which is the real problem not the one sentence. It is possible that the Labour Party will refine its position in due course.
It is regrettable that the Home Affairs Committee and now the Government appear to have overlooked the constructive work done in this very area for the Parliamentary Sub-Committee Against Antisemitism by Professor David Feldman in his January 2015 Sub-Report. This report by the subsequent adviser to the Shami Chakrabarti Enquiry seems to provide a more fertile base for progress in this vexed and contentious area.
For all these reasons I am very concerned at this ill-judged and ill-omened initiative. Proper conduct in government is crucial to a civilized and civilizing society. Such conduct is not evident to me in this policy announcement. In my view this initiative may set back the honourable cause of combating antisemitism not advance it. It is certainly not likely to advance the equally honourable cause of free speech; indeed it is likely to have a chilling effect upon it.
The Israeli Embassy has seventeen Israeli “technical and administrative staff” granted visas by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The normal number for an Embassy that size would be about two. I spoke to two similar size non-EU Embassies this morning, one has two and one zero. I recall I dealt with an angry Foreign Minister during my own FCO career incensed his much larger High Commission had been refused by the FCO an increase from three to four technical and administrative staff.
I queried this with the FCO, and was asked to put my request in writing. A full three weeks later and after dozens of phone calls, they reluctantly revealed that Masot was on the “technical and administrative staff” of the Israeli Embassy.
This is plainly a nonsense. Masot, as an ex-Major in the Israeli Navy and senior officer in the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, is plainly senior to many who are on the Diplomatic List, which includes typists and personal assistants. There are six attaches – support staff – already on the List.
Masot was plainly not carrying out technical and administrative duties. The term is a formal one from the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and it is plain from the convention that technical and administrative staff are in official status lower than the diplomatic staff. The majority of support activities are carried out in all Embassies by locally engaged staff already resident in the host country, but a very small number of technical and administrative staff may be allowed visas for work in particularly secure areas. They may be an IT and communications technician, possibly a cleaner in the most sensitive physical areas, and perhaps property management.
These staff do not interact with politicians of the host state or attend high level meetings beside the Ambassador. The level at which Shai Masot was operating was appropriate to a Counsellor or First Secretary in an Embassy. Masot’s formal rank as an officer in his cover job in the Ministry of Strategic Affairs would entitle him to that rank in the Embassy if this were a normal appointment.
The Al Jazeera documentaries plainly revealed that Masot was working as an intelligence officer, acquiring and financing “agents of influence”. It is simply impossible that the FCO would normally grant seventeen technical and administrative visas to support sixteen diplomats, when six of the sixteen are already support staff. The only possible explanation, confirmed absolutely by Masot’s behaviour, is that the FCO has knowingly connived at settling a large nest of Israeli spies in London. I fairly put this to the FCO and they refused to comment.
I asked my questions on 10 January. On 12 January the FCO asked me to put them in writing. On 2 February they finally replied to the first three questions, but refused to comment on questions 4 or 5 about involvement of the intelligence services in Masot’s appointment.
On 2 February I sent these follow-up questions to the FCO by email:
FCO Media Department have replied that they refuse to give me any further information on the subject, and that I should proceed through a Freedom of Information request so the FCO can assess properly whether the release of any further information is in the national interest.
What is it they are always saying to us: if you have got nothing to fear, you have got nothing to hide?
I am confident I know what they are hiding, and that is FCO complicity in a large nest of Israeli spies seeking to influence policy and opinion in the UK in a pro-Israeli direction. That is why the government reaction to one of those spies being caught on camera plotting a scandal against an FCO minister, and giving £1 million to anti-Corbyn MPs, was so astonishingly muted. It is also worth noting that while the media could not completely ignore the fantastic al Jazeera documentaries that exposed the scandal, it was a matter of a brief article and no follow up digging.
This was not just a curiosity, it reveals a deep-seated problem for our democracy. I intend to continue picking at it.