A Question of Academic Freedom

Nick Riemer

This article first appeared in Jacobin Magazine and is reproduced by permission of the author

BDS opponents are wrong — boycotts are well within the bounds of academic conduct.

Many academics have objected to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel on the grounds that it violates academic freedom — an accusation that has been remarkably successful in gaining traction.

Zionists denounce those who would disrespect the “free flow of ideas within the international scholarly community,” as Russell A. Berman puts it, but refuse to recognize that, in Palestine, ideas (not to mention people) face severe restrictions. The apparatuses of settler-colonial violence — which BDS’s opponents typically show little interest in dismantling — brutally contain thought in Palestine. This self-evident truth hasn’t yet exposed the academic-freedom argument for the hypocrisy it is.
The claim gets much of its force from the false notion that boycotts represent an exception to the academy’s normal functioning. Opponents don’t just want liberals to see BDS as an attack on a fundamental principle of scholarly exchange — they also want to shock them with the scandalous breach of academic politesse that BDS supposedly represents.But this vision of academic life is a chimera: a closer examination reveals that restricting the flow of ideas constitutes much of the daily conduct of research and teaching, and indeed, of the working life of universities in general. Academic exchange is not intrinsically bound up with the free exchange of ideas, but rather, with their regulation. That’s perhaps why many of the boycott’s fiercest opponents themselves regularly try — illegitimately — to restrict ideas they disagree with.
Continue reading “A Question of Academic Freedom”

How Not to Fight Antisemitism

On Monday 24 June Haringey Council gave a masterclass in how not to fight antisemitism. And indeed how to give local democracy a bad name.

On 15 June the agenda for the Council’s meeting was published. One item was the proposal of a motion, by the Council Leader on behalf of the Labour Group, for Haringey to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) ‘definition’ of antisemitism. (Those blissfully unaware of what is wrong with this sorry document can catch up here.)

Professor Haim Bresheeth addresses the protest outside the Council Meeting, in front of the FSOI banner
Professor Haim Bresheeth addresses the protest outside the Council Meeting, in front of the FSOI banner

A slow-motion car crash in action

Continue reading “How Not to Fight Antisemitism”

Labour’s Right, defending Israel on the pretext of fighting antisemitism

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

Most Labour Party members, even including many MPs previously hostile to Jeremy Corbyn, have responded to the party’s revival during the general election campaign by setting aside divisive talk and looking forward to a more unified future. Not all however.

For Jeremy Newmark, chair of the pro-Israel Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), writing in the Jewish News, “the immediate agenda” is to re-investigate and expel Ken Livingstone, pursue outstanding cases such as Jackie Walker’s, “revisit” those Chakrabarti and Royall report recommendations “that fell short of expectations,” get the NEC to table the JLM’s rule change proposals at Labour Party conference and, “redouble our efforts to massively expand our training and education program at all levels across the party.”

The JLM’s rule change proposals, like their partisan training sessions, are based on the same principles as the “International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition” which attempts to redefine the term “antisemitism” in order to include criticism of the State of Israel. The impact of this goes way beyond the Labour Party. John Mann MP, one of a number of ardent, right-wing non-Jewish Zionists in the Labour Party, has proposed an Early Day Motion in Parliament calling for its adoption by all public bodies in the UK.

Jeremy Corbyn speaking
Jeremy Corbyn – under attack form the Jewish Labour Movement

It is significant that the Jewish Chronicle reacted angrily to Jeremy Corbyn’s race and faith manifesto issued during the election, complaining that “the manifesto only uses the section of the definition which makes reference to hatred of Jews. The rest of the definition – which refers to Israel – has been cut.” In other words, for the JC, the part of the IHRA document that seeks to define antisemitism as what it really is, is unacceptable unless widened to include examples which talk not about Jews but about the state of Israel.

The IHRA document is the subject of a legal opinion by an eminent human rights lawyer, Hugh Tomlinson QC, showing it to be a threat to freedom of speech and not – as its supporters claim – a necessary tool in the fight against antisemitism. Sir Stephen Sedley, a Jewish former appeal court judge, argues strongly in a recent article in the London Review of Books against the way it widens the definition of antisemitism from its essential meaning.

Proponents of the IHRA document claim that it poses no threat to free speech because it permits criticism of the current government of Israel and allows opposition to settlement building in the Palestinian West Bank. It is perfectly acceptable, they say, to subject Israel to criticism similar to that which is made of other states.

They fail to take into account the many ways in which Israel is entirely different from other states. The IHRA document explicitly rules out, as potentially antisemitic, types of criticism that Palestinians and their supporters are entitled to make in order to highlight their specific history of dispossession and racist discrimination. The document is already being used in the UK to censor campaigns which call for an end to injustices Palestinians have faced since Zionist colonisation and settlement of their land began a century ago.

The recent European Parliament debate on this subject starkly demonstrated the point. Social Democrats argued that the IHRA document was nothing more than a harmless contribution to opposing racism against Jews. But they found themselves in the same camp as far-right Islamophobes who saw it as a weapon to be used in Israel’s defence and against its critics, particularly Muslims.

This is not the way to unite our diverse and fractured society. Nor is it conducive to unity within the Labour Party.

Antisemites endorse call to MPs to support Israel

American Christian Zionist evangelist John Hagee’s organisation, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), was quick to applaud We Believe in Israel’s call to all general election candidates asking them to support Israel and oppose antisemitism. In the event, the call attracted little support from among the 3000 plus candidates.

There are many problems with this initiative which seeks to anathematise defence of Palestinian rights. Many are obvious but the support it has gained from CUFI and not renounced by the pledge organisers is the most egregious. Hagee has a well documented history as an antisemite. His willingness to condemn all Jews to eternal damnation has not prevented Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders warmly welcoming him; nor, it seems, extreme enough for Luke Akehurst to want to distance himself from them. Luke Akehurst, the prime mover behind We Believe in Israel, is not a lone wolf: he is well connected to the Zionist establishment and was appointed by BICOM, which is close to the Israeli Embassy, to lead this project.

CUFI leader John Hagee speaks to Israel supporters at a rally at the Jerusalem convention centre in 2008
CUFI leader John Hagee speaks to Israel supporters at a rally at the Jerusalem convention centre in 2008

Free Speech on Israel has written to Labour candidates who were misled into signing the pledge asking them to reconsider their endorsement. You can see a list of all signatories to the pledge on the CUFI website We encourage you to write to any of your local candidates who signed Continue reading “Antisemites endorse call to MPs to support Israel”

UK government told: reject campaign to ban PalExpo

Free Speech on Israel has written to Sajid Javid, UK Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, calling on him to resist a campaign to shut down Palestine Expo, Europe’s largest ever social, cultural and entertainment event on Palestine, scheduled for July 8/9 in London.
Queen Elizabeth II Centre
Queen Elizabeth II Centre
The letter says:
“We ask you to not merely reject the voices calling for suppression of dissemination of knowledge about Palestinian culture; we hope you will actively welcome this manifestation of the richness and diversity of London’s communities.”

Continue reading “UK government told: reject campaign to ban PalExpo”

Antisemites endorse call to MPs to support Israel

American Christian Zionist evangelist John Hagee’s organisation, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), was quick to applaud We Believe in Israel’s call to all general election candidates asking them to support Israel and oppose antisemitism. In the event, the call attracted little support from among the 3000 plus candidates.

There are many problems with this initiative which seeks to anathematise defence of Palestinian rights. Many are obvious but the support it has gained from CUFI and not renounced by the pledge organisers is the most egregious. Hagee has a well documented history as an antisemite. His willingness to condemn all Jews to eternal damnation has not prevented Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders warmly welcoming him; nor, it seems, extreme enough for Luke Akehurst to want to distance himself from them. Luke Akehurst, the prime mover behind We Believe in Israel, is not a lone wolf: he is well connected to the Zionist establishment and was appointed by BICOM, which is close to the Israeli Embassy, to lead this project.

CUFI leader John Hagee speaks to Israel supporters at a rally at the Jerusalem convention centre in 2008
CUFI leader John Hagee speaks to Israel supporters at a rally at the Jerusalem convention centre in 2008

Free Speech on Israel has written to Labour candidates who were misled into signing the pledge asking them to reconsider their endorsement. You can see a list of all signatories to the pledge on the CUFI website We encourage you to write to any of your local candidates who signed Continue reading “Antisemites endorse call to MPs to support Israel”

Judge tells Government: allow BDS

Mike Cushman

A High Court judge has ruled that the Government was exceeding its power in trying to direct Local Government Pension Funds to ignore calls for BDS and abandon ethical investing. The Government, he said: “has acted for an unauthorised purpose and therefore unlawfully“.

Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has a record of fierce partisanship in favour of Israel. As Culture Secretary he lobbied hard to punish the Tricycle Theatre for declining to accept Israeli Embassy funding. In his current post he attempted to misuse the review of Local Government pension regulations to prohibit funds from taking Israeli Human Rights abuses and other ethical considerations into account when deciding investment priorities. He sought to include

“In formulating and maintaining their policy on social,
environmental and corporate governance factors,
an administering authority…

• Should not pursue policies that are contrary to UK foreign
policy or UK defence policy.”

in the guidance.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign crowdfunded a judicial review of this manifestly politically motivated and partisan restriction.

PSC supporters outside High Court demand judge Judge rules pensions regulations illegal
PSC supporters outside the High Court

Continue reading “Judge tells Government: allow BDS”

I’m a British Jew, and I Don’t Fear a Corbyn Victory I’d Welcome It

Ha’aretz published two articles that totally misrepresented Jeremy Corbyn as an enemy of Jews and a poor choice for Prime Minister. Jonathan Rosenhead, vice-chair of FSOI responds.

This article originally appeared in Ha’aretz and is reprinted by permission of the author

The caricature of Jeremy Corbyn as a tool of Trotskyites, a lover of dictators and a shill of anti-Semites is unhinged and wrong

There is indeed a Jewish angle to Thursday’s UK general election. Come to that, there is a Jewish angle to most things of interest. But it is far from the most interesting feature of the election campaign. In their accounts of the election Colin Shindler (Can British Jews Still Vote Labour?) and Anshel Pfeffer (British Jewish Voters’ Choice: Anti-Semitism Today, or Tomorrow) manage both to mislead and confuse, and also to miss the big picture almost entirely.

Their portrayals are consistent – a caricature of the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn as a lover of dictators, leading a team of ex-communists and fellow travellers, at the head of a party engulfed by hard-left entryists

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn

and infiltrators. His followers have an anti-Semitic reflex, which Corbyn doesn’t ‘get’ as an issue.

All of which raises a big mystery – how is it that the more the British public gets to see Jeremy Corbyn relatively unmediated by the media and its commentators, the more they seem to like him? Continue reading “I’m a British Jew, and I Don’t Fear a Corbyn Victory I’d Welcome It”

PalExpo organisers resist hate campaign

Richard Kuper

Palestine Expo 2017 is the largest social, cultural and entertainment event on Palestine ever to take place in Europe. It runs on 8th and 9th July at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London. Food, live entertainment, academic discussion, shopping, photographic exhibitions and much, much more are on offer.

PalExpo leaflets
PalExpo leaflets

Too much, it seems for some. A hate campaign has been launched on social media maliciously accusing the organisers of having terrorist links in an effort to stop the celebration/exhibition in its tracks. Unjustified legal action, lawfare, has been launched by RHF Solicitors in Manchester representing Jewish Human Rights Watch (JHRW). They are trying to pressure the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre into cancelling the event. They have manufactured accusations against two of the organisers of PalExpo, Friends of Al-Aqsa (FOA) and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), claiming they have clear terrorist links and support

Lawfare letter from RHF solicitors
Lawfare letter from RHF solicitors attacking PalExpo

“Jew Hate across the UK”. The solicitor’s letter alleges that “the recurring anti-Semitic themes promoted by the above groups is deliberately intended to intimidate and discriminate against Jews.” It continues: “Our client is certain that this event is a front for Jew hate and that the main groups (Friends of Alaqsa & Palestine Solidarity Campaign) are organisations promoting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in relation to Israel, a known anti-Semitic movement.”

Both FOA and PSC have robustly rejected these absurd allegations. In an appeal for support, FOA has said in a statement on 2nd June:

“FOA and our Chairman, Ismail Patel, have been slandered and defamed by JHRW who accuse us of spreading  ‘Jew hate’ because we support Boycott Divestment and Sanction of Israel. The promotion of BDS is supporting freedom of Palestinians and has nothing to do with being anti-Semitic!

They have also outrageously claimed that Palestine Expo should not be allowed to take place so close to Westminster, in a disgraceful attempt to exploit the recent horrific Westminster incident for their own gain. The malicious attack is a tactic to deter supporters of Palestine from attending.”

PSC Director Ben Jamal, cited in an article by Yvonne Ridley, called the allegations “false and disturbing” and explained:

“Palestine Expo will be a celebration of the rich Palestinian culture, with traditional dancing, food, artisan goods, art exhibits, and children’s entertainment alongside talks on the current political situation… We are sure that reasonable people have no issue with any national group celebrating their heritage.”

The two organisations are seeking legal redress against these slanders. They urge everyone to show their support for PalExpo by going along on 8th or 9th July! You can book tickets in advance here.

Further reading:

Ben White, “Israel and friends battle the boycott in Britain” Middle East Monitor, 1 March 2016

Yvonne Ridley, “An online hate campaign is trying to get a Palestinian cultural festival cancelled”,  Middle East Monitor, 26 May 2017

Far-right Islamophobes unite with pro-Israel lobbyists in European Parliament antisemitism debate

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

A debate in the European Parliament on Wednesday (May 31) exposed pro-Israel lobbyists as the natural allies of far-right Islamophobes supporting a definition of antisemitism designed to defend the state of Israel.

Ostensibly about a motion on “Combating Antisemitism”, the discussion in fact revolved around one clause calling for institutions of the EU and all member states to adopt the controversial “International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism.”

This document, based on an earlier “working definition” abandoned by the now defunct EU monitoring centre on racism and xenophobia (EUMC), broadens the widely understood concept of antisemitism as hostility towards Jews, to include criticism of Israel.

In Thursday’s vote, 101 MEPs voted against its inclusion in the motion, but 479 voted in favour while 47 abstained. The motion including the contentious clause was passed.

Continue reading “Far-right Islamophobes unite with pro-Israel lobbyists in European Parliament antisemitism debate”