Church of Scotland must be Fearless against the Bullying Board of Deputies

Robert Cohen
Republished from Patheos by permission of the author

Once again, the Board of Deputies of British Jews has shown itself to be a bully when it comes to interfaith dialogue on Israel/Palestine. This time its victim is the Church of Scotland. It’s all depressingly predictable and immensely tiresome for anyone who cares about justice in the Holy Land and indeed the future of Jewish-Christian relations in the U.K.

Balfour centenary

Later this month (20-26 May) the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly will consider a new report advising the Church on how to mark this year’s Balfour Declaration centenary. Balfour was a member of the Church of Scotland and the Church has a long association with the Holy Land through schools, projects supporting Christian Palestinians and partnerships with organisations promoting justice and reconciliation. So it has plenty of reasons for taking an active interest in the anniversary. Continue reading “Church of Scotland must be Fearless against the Bullying Board of Deputies”

Don’t mention Apartheid

Richard Kuper
This article is reprinted from Open Democracy by permission of the author

The attempt to outlaw the use of the term “apartheid” in relation to Israel and its occupation has to be recognised as carrying dangers of effectively stifling debate on an issue of great importance

The checkpoint to exit Hebron Old City
The checkpoint to exit Hebron Old City (photo Mike Cushman)

We are faced with an increasing onslaught on criticism of Israel with attempts being made to drawn the lines ever more narrowly.  There are accusations that any singling out of Israel is antisemitic: so, for example, calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions in Israel’s case but not in others is prima facie evidence of antisemitism, as is using the word apartheid to characterise any aspect of Israeli society.

What I would like to address here is the use of the concept of ‘apartheid’ to compare South African and Israeli society, and the dangerous suppression involved in outlawing its use. Critics say the analogy is plain wrong and therefore its use can only be malign: an attempt to delegitimate, demonise and apply double standards (to use Sharansky’s 3-D test of criticism of Israel – see the discussion Is criticism of Israel antisemitic?) about what it is that goes beyond what is acceptable. Ultimately, for many of these critics, the use of the term “apartheid” is antisemitic.
Continue reading “Don’t mention Apartheid”

A Socialist Approach to Free Speech

Samuel Farmer, reprinted from Jacobin by permission of the author

Following the Obama administration’s historic suppression of government whistleblowers, Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on the media, and controversies on college campuses nationwide, Timothy Garton Ash’s Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World is well-timed.

Timothy Garton ash: Fre Speech - coverGarton Ash offers a wide-ranging exposition on the right to self-expression and a coherent defence of free speech from an explicitly liberal point of view. Socialist theory and practice has never satisfactorily established the place of free speech in the struggle for social transformation and in a future socialist society — all the more reason to seriously grapple with the challenge posed by Garton Ash’s new book.

Free Speech’s Foundations

Garton Ash’s analysis of free speech has two primary sources: Isaiah Berlin, who proposed that free expression is founded on empathy with and tolerance for multiple and conflicting values, and John Stuart Mill, whose defence of free speech primarily stressed its beneficial consequences instead of its intrinsic value as a right. Neither of these perspectives constitute a solid foundation for a defense of free speech. Continue reading “A Socialist Approach to Free Speech”

The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s dark side – censored

Michael Lesher
Reprinted by permission of the author

This article was originally published in the Times of Israel but was pulled from their site within 24 hours

April 18 would have been the 115th birthday of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe. Schneerson, who took over a struggling Brooklyn-based Hasidic sect in 1951, was by his death in 1994 arguably “the most influential Jew since Maimonides” and it is about that influence I wish to write — particularly because, in the 20-odd years since his death, recollections of the Rebbe’s personal charisma have largely eclipsed the record of his actual teaching.

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson
The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson

I note at once that I have neither the expertise nor the desire to try to analyze the whole range of the Rebbe’s religious doctrine. Of his role as clergyman and community leader I have little to say, never having lived in a predominantly Lubavitch enclave. Moreover, since I had no contact with him, I am clearly unequipped to write about the Rebbe’s personal qualities; I am prepared to grant that these were impressive.

I am more concerned with the darker side of what the Rebbe taught. Continue reading “The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s dark side – censored”

The Orwellian defenestration of David Ward

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

The Orwellian defenestration of David Ward

It was inevitable that antisemitism smears would be deployed against supporters of Palestine at some point during #GE17. Even so it was a surprise to hear Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat party leader, cornered by pro-Israel lobbyist Eric Pickles in the House of Commons on Wednesday, appeasing the witch hunters by declaring that one of his own parliamentary candidates would be banned from standing.

The language used to denounce David Ward, former Lib Dem MP for Bradford East, as in so many of the cases we have seen in the Labour Party, the National Union of Students and elsewhere, takes us deep into Orwellian territory.

David Ward
David Ward

While Ward could probably sue the Jewish News for calling him “the Israel-hating, Jew-baiting former MP David Ward”, other media have been less hysterical but equally dishonest. Continue reading “The Orwellian defenestration of David Ward”

Walter Wolfgang speaks about fake accusations against Ken Livingstone

Walter Wolfgang, Former member of Labour NEC, speaks about fake accusations against Ken Livingstone

 

Walter Wolfgang, a 93 year-old survivor of the Holocaust, speaks of his deep regret after the Labour Party National Compliance Committee finds Ken Livingstone guilty of putting the party into disrepute by his comments about specific acts of collaboration between the Nazi regime and Zionist organisations during the 1930s.

see also

 

 

In Defense of Ken Livingstone

By FSOI Vice-Chair Jonathan Rosenhead.

Republished from Haaretz.

Ken Livingstone, enfant terrible of the British political left, was arraigned before a Labour Party tribunal last week for things he said in a radio interview in April last year. (He has been suspended from membership since that time.) The outcome of the hearing has produced a mighty uproar.

The affair has its origins in a surge of accusations of anti-Semitism against prominent Labour Party members in the early months of 2016. One casualty had been Labour MP Naz Shah, who at the time of the 2014 conflict in Gaza had tweeted extensively and not wisely. (She was then not yet an MP.) Livingstone rode in to her defense, and it was an interview with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio that led to the case against him.

One of Shah’s re-tweets had been a quote from Martin Luther King: “Remember that everything that Hitler did in Germany was legal.” Feltz asked Livingstone a question about Hitler, seemingly to pick up this point, but he misunderstood the thrust and responded with some views on Hitler’s interactions with European Zionist leaders in the 1930s, which he had written about decades earlier. This response turned out to be a gratuitous own goal, with escalating demands that he be expelled –which peaked last week when the Labour Party tribunal failed to sack him, but ‘only’ extended his suspension.

It is a shame that Colin Shindler gave such a one-dimensional account of the Jewish community component of this furor. Shindler paints a picture of a British Jewish population all but united behind Israel and against Livingstone, except for a few ”marginal” and “highly unrepresentative” types. Like me.

I need to declare an interest. Although my previous direct contact with Livingstone was limited to a conversation while walking down two flights of stairs after a public meeting some years ago, I was one of five Jewish Labour Party members who gave evidence for the defense at Ken’s hearing a week ago. We testified in particular on the allegation that his remarks had been anti-Semitic. The oldest of us had got out of Germany as a child in 1937, with his parents lucky enough to make it two years later. My own back story is less dramatic. I grew up in a thoroughly Zionist family in Liverpool. I spent the summer of 1956 in Israel on the Jewish Agency’s Summer Institute project. I celebrated without any doubts Israel’s military victories from 1948 through to 1967. Many others have since then, like me, been forced by Israel’s continuing treatment of the Palestinians to rethink and regret our former position.

It is true as Shindler says that the great majority of us (around 90 percent, according to a reputable 2015 survey) express some degree of attachment to Israel. Indeed I do myself. However what he glosses over is that more than 40 percent of respondents, when specifically asked, declined to describe themselves as Zionists. Those who self-describe as Zionist have actually decreased from 72 percent to 59 percent in just five years. My own subjective experience is that of those who still do identify as Zionists a substantial proportion express criticisms, some verging on disillusion, with the actual policies of successive Israeli governments.

It gets worse. What the survey calls “dovishness” increases the younger you are, and the more education you have. Among under-30s, the percentage who say they would support sanctions against Israel if they thought it would get Israel to negotiate for real with the Palestinians rises to 41%.

It is not only Shindler who paints a picture of a united Jewish community “up in arms” because the “anti-Semite” Livingstone has not been expelled. On the day of his non-expulsion Haaretz reported the Jewish Leadership Council as blasting the Labour Party. An article by Daniella Peled quoted incandescent condemnation by the Community Security Trust, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and the Holocaust Education Trust. The UK’s Jewish communal organizations have indeed been jumping up and down and making a lot of noise, in unison. But this apparent unanimity is a construct.

These organizations effectively blanket out any coverage of this dissident, alternative Jewish perspective. It is as if the Jewish organizations which take a skeptical or downright critical view of Israel – Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Free Speech on Israel, Independent Jewish Voices, Jewish Socialist Group and others – do not exist.

So what did Livingstone say that makes his expulsion so compulsive? He said, in his now infamous radio interview, that when Hitler became chancellor “his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism…” This Transfer (Ha’avarah) Agreement is, perhaps unfortunately, solidly based in fact –  and many more people probably know that now than did before Livingstone’s gratuitous history lesson. The agreement was based on a unity of purpose (but not of motivation) between the Nazi regime and a range of European Zionist organizations, which lasted through to 1937. The Nazis wanted Jews out of Germany, and Zionists wanted Jews to settle Palestine. As a quid pro quo for the arrangement Zionists called off the economic boycott of Germany and gave other assistance to the faltering German economy.

How could this statement of facts be seen as anti-Semitic? One neat solution found by Livingstone’s enemies was to misquote it, either as “Hitler and the Zionists collaborated”; or even as “Hitler was a Zionist.” The host on a BBC radio program swore blind to me that Livingstone had said just that.

Quoting historical facts can hardly be anti-Semitic, which is presumably why the Labour Party didn’t even charge him with it. The allegation was, rather, of “bringing the Party into disrepute” – a nicely vague and plausible accusation, for which he received a two-year suspension. No penalty was imposed on all those MPs and other Labour worthies from the right of the Party who seemingly thought they might be able to get rid of one of the Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s most effective supporters. They brought the party into disrepute but, of course, were not charged.

There are multiple casualties in all this. Foremost there is the truth, bent and misused for partisan purposes. Second, the Labour Party, brought even lower in popular esteem by the continuing disloyal attempts to unseat a leader with a radical mandate – and one who supports the Palestinian cause. Third, the fight against anti-Semitism. Until recently there was no doubt about what the concept meant, and that it was anathema to all but an unsavory fringe. Individuals and organizations who think that it can be raised into both a shield against criticisms of Israel, and a weapon for taking back control of the Labour Party, are trying to politicize the notion of anti-Semitism. Only the real anti-Semites will benefit from the resulting confusion.

Letter to the Guardian: we reject the call for the expulsion of Ken Livingstone

Letter was published in the Guardian on 13 April

Dear Sir or Madam,

As Jewish and non-Jewish members and supporters of the Labour Party, we reject the call from supporters of Zionism and the Labour Right for the expulsion of Ken Livingstone. [Jewish Labour members say Livingstone must go, April 6th]

Those who call for a new disciplinary hearing simply because they didn’t like the conclusions of the previous one, demonstrate their contempt for democracy and due process.

A year ago Livingstone, responding to a question from Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio London, said: ‘Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism.’

There is nothing whatsoever anti-Semitic about this.  Francis Nicosia, the Raul Hilberg Professor of Holocaust Studies at Vermont University wrote in his book Zionism and Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany (p. 79) that:

‘Throughout the 1930s, as part of the regime’s determination to force Jews to leave Germany, there was almost unanimous support in German government and Nazi party circles for promoting Zionism among German Jews’   Is telling the truth also anti-Semitic?

Support for Zionism can go hand in hand with anti-Semitism. What the campaign against Livingstone is really about is his long-standing support for the Palestinians and his opposition to Zionism and the policies of the Israeli state.

Those who help to throw Livingstone overboard today are preparing the way for Jeremy Corbyn’s removal tomorrow.

Yours faithfully,

Tony Greenstein  Brighton Kemptown CLP

Jackie Walker  South Thanet CLP

Miriam Margolyes OBE  Lambeth & Vauxhall CLP

Professor Richard Seaford Exeter CLP

Professor (emeritus) Moshé Machover  Hampstead & Kilburn CLP

Professor Bill Bowring  School of Law Birkbeck College

Professor (Emeritus) Jonathan Rosenhead  Hackney South and Shoreditch CLP

Professor Haim Bresheeth School of Oriental and African Studies

Dr Tanzil Chowdhury  School of Law University of Manchester

(Emeritus Professor) Wade Mansell Thanet North CLP

Professor Chris Knight  Streatham CLP

Malcolm Adlington  Derby’s Dales CLP Continue reading “Letter to the Guardian: we reject the call for the expulsion of Ken Livingstone”

145 Labour Party members say ‘I am Jackie Walker’

Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party

We can’t add more names as the letter has been submitted to Corbyn, but do indicate your support in a comment

We may not be Kirk Douglas but we do say 'I am Jackie Walker'
We may not be Kirk Douglas but we do say ‘I am Jackie Walker’

Dear Jeremy,

We are writing to you as members of the Labour Party. We are a predominantly Jewish group and are writing to ask you to review your behaviour on the question of Israel/Palestine. We understand that amongst reasons given by the Labour Party for claiming that Jackie Walker, the ex-Deputy Chair of Momentum, is antisemitic, the following are included:

  1. Regularly posting on Israel
  2. Describing Israel as a racist state
  3. A pattern of behaviour that causes offence to some members
  4. Claiming that there is an antisemitism witch-hunt
  5. Claiming that there is Israeli involvement in British politics
  6. Saying the Right of the party is using this witch-hunt for political purposes
  7. Saying adoption of IHRA definition of antisemitism is an attempt to outlaw criticism of Israel and to silence pro-Palestinian voices

We would therefore like to let you know that we are too are ‘guilty’ of such charges, not because we are antisemitic but because we believe these to be reasonable statements, accurately describing Israel’s policies and actions. Continue reading “145 Labour Party members say ‘I am Jackie Walker’”

When Gags aren’t that Funny – a Christian view

“Those who were behind the [censorship] demands didn’t … care what I was going to say. They just wanted to stop me saying it.”  

After an Edinburgh church cancelled a Palestine solidarity meeting, Sharen Green urges Christians to stand up for their right to speak out for Palestine. 

They wanted to shut me up. I was due to give a talk at a famous public school on my time working as a human rights monitor in Palestine. It was titled “Occupation: up Close and Personal”.

Every school governor got emails – some from as far away as Australia – demanding that my talk was cancelled. The local police took notice after the organiser found a threatening message on her answerphone. Sniffer dogs searched the school grounds on the day and special branch made an appearance.

The head teacher posted a message on the school’s website, standing up to the bullying and the evening passed off without incident: a full hall, a warm and engaged audience and me on top form (though I say so myself).

Those who were behind the demands didn’t even turn up. Because they didn’t really care what I was going to say. They just wanted to stop me saying it and calling me antisemitic was a way to do that – or so they hoped. There was even a report on the front page of the Jerusalem Post. I was fascinated that I was targeted before I’d even opened my mouth. Continue reading “When Gags aren’t that Funny – a Christian view”