Freedland in Fairyland

Mike Cushman
May 2016

I regret having to spend my weekend rebutting Jonathan Freedland. He is, I think, a humane man; one who earnestly supposes that if we all went down to the end of the garden, held hands, closed our eyes and chanted in unison ‘we believe, we believe,’ the peaceful social democratic Zionism, that he imagines lies concealed below the carapace of actually existing Zionism, would spring forth and dazzle us with its immanent benevolence. Since he has more influence than my 3 year old granddaughter I cannot indulge him as I do her. I must decline fairyland and instead enter the pit of political dispute.

Freedland argued in the Guardian on 30 April:

As for the notion that Israel’s right to exist is voided by the fact that it was born in what Palestinians mourn as the Naqba – their dispossession in 1948 – one does not have to be in denial of that fact to point out that the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile and countless others were hardly born through acts of immaculate conception. Those nations were forged in great bloodshed. Yet Israel alone is deemed to have its right to exist nullified by the circumstances of its birth.

There is some truth and a far greater omission in this argument. Israel continued into the 20th century the crimes of European settler occupations of earlier centuries. It would not be unreasonable to argue that the Nakba, terrible as it was—and as it continues with daily demolitions and exclusions—pales compared with the genocide of Native Americans, Australian First People or the Caribs and Arawaks.

However, timing—as is so often true of historical events—cannot be ignored. 1948 saw not only the foundation of the state of Israel, but the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In setting up their state, the Israelis breached numerous rights of the Palestinians. For instance the Present Absentee Law, by which Palestinians who fled their homes found them confiscated, even if they returned only a few days later. The law breaches Articles 13 and 17 of the UDHR. The various forms of detention without trial that have been applied from 1948 to the present day breach Article 9, and so on.

There were no such international codifications of rights during earlier settler colonisations, and so there were no standards by which to judge them, except the right, assumed by Europeans, to occupy the land of anybody not able to resist their industrialised military power. Had the UDHR been written earlier, the founding of the United States and Australia and the rest would have been judged far more rigorously. Continue reading “Freedland in Fairyland”

If we take the Chief Rabbi at his word, Judaism is to blame for the Nakba

Published on Writing from the Edge

Thank you Chief Rabbi. Now I know. Judaism is to blame for the Palestinian Nakba
May 15, 2016, by Robert A. H. Cohen

Dear Rabbi Mirvis

When it comes to defining Zionism, you have brought crystal clarity. You have been emphatic and categorical. You have left no room for doubt.

And why am I writing to you today? Well it’s Nakba Day. And thanks to you, I can now join a perfect straight line between Judaism and the Palestinian ‘Catastrophe’. However, I imagine you and I will disagree strongly on the implications of that straight line. Here’s how you explained Zionism in your recent article for the Daily Telegraph:

“…a noble and integral part of Judaism”.
“…one of the axioms of Jewish belief”.
“…one can no more separate it from Judaism than separate the City of London from Great Britain.”

Well, who am I to disagree? After all, you are the Chief Rabbi and your Jewish education far exceeds mine. Judaism, Zionism, the modern State of Israel – it’s all one thing, all one natural continuum. This is our heritage. This is the faith of our people as it has been handed down to us. In the past, I’d mistakenly tried to separate Judaism from the consequences of Zionism. I wanted Judaism to be pure, untainted by atrocity. But how can that be if you are right?

So now let us talk about the Nakba.

The displacement of 750,000 Palestinians from their land. The 400 Palestinian towns and villages destroyed. The four million acres of Palestinian land expropriated. The many massacres of men women and children. I used to think the moral responsibility for all of this should go to Zionism alone. After all, the last quarter century of Israeli scholarship has confirmed where the blame rests for this tragedy. I wanted the 19th century secular project of Zionism to take the rap for the destruction of Palestinian culture, commerce and life. And so I had attempted to place an ethical firewall around Judaism itself.  Continue reading “If we take the Chief Rabbi at his word, Judaism is to blame for the Nakba”

A view of the Labour Party’s inquiry into antisemitism

Professor Jonathan Rosenhead:

The inquiry into antisemitism and other forms of racism within the Labour Party is the best hope of pulling the Labour Party back out of the quagmire, the McCarthyite nightmare, into which it is in danger of being pulled. We need to make sure that the distortions of this remarkable, and so far remarkably successful, campaign of disinformation are thoroughly and powerfully exposed.

It’s encouraging that the inquiry is to be led by Shami Chakrabarti, with Professor David Feldman as her deputy. The former is a household name. At the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony she was one of those who carried in the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony alongside, among others, Doreen Lawrence, Daniel Barenboim, Ban Ki-Moon and Muhammed Ali. But she has this prominence and respect because of her achievements as a highly effective long-term leader of the civil rights organisation Liberty, which she left only this March. There, and as a member of the Leveson Enquiry she was a formidable defender of civil liberties.

David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck College in London, is less of a public figure. When the institute was set up, there were those who feared it might become something of a propaganda outfit for Israel. David Feldman, a notably open-minded man, has ensured that this has not happened, and he has earned broad respect among those who know his work. For example, in 2013 he organised and co-chaired a 3-day conference at Birkbeck on Boycotts – Past and Present, at which supporters of the boycott of Israel were among those who gave papers. As the Jewish Chronicle has noticed with distaste, he is a signatory of Independent Jewish Voices, an organisation set up in 2007 as a way of countering the hegemonic power of the ‘official’ institutions of British Jewry.

Millerian tragedy or Orwellian?

What has been going on in the Labour Party these last few months and especially weeks summons up literary ghosts. Which is the closer fit, Arthur Miller’s Witches of Salem – complete with tearful admissions of guilt under pressure? Or Orwell’s 1984, with its thought crimes? Continue reading “A view of the Labour Party’s inquiry into antisemitism”

Firefighters union: criticism of Israel branded anti-semitic to discredit Labour’s leadership

Via Morning Star

Excerpt: Delegates at the Fire Brigades Union’s annual conference said criticism of Israel was being falsely branded anti-semitic in a bid to discredit Labour’s leadership.

logoA motion passed unanimously singled out Bassetlaw MP John Mann for “attempting to engender a position where any discourse relating to the atrocities carried out by the Israeli state upon the peoples of Palestine is somehow anti-semitic.” Proposing the motion, Merseyside brigade secretary Mark Rowe said […] it was “simply untrue” to say that anti-Israel activists were only focused on this issue, and that there was “no other country today premised on ethno-religious discrimination.”

London LGBT rep Lucy Masoud recalled how she was branded “nazi, fascist and anti-semitic” by Israeli settlers while accompanying Palestinian children to school on a recent visit to the region. She said some defenders of Israel levelled accusations of anti-semitism at “anyone who dares to challenge Israel’s behaviour.” Continue reading “Firefighters union: criticism of Israel branded anti-semitic to discredit Labour’s leadership”

Haaretz: Israel (inadvertently) revives Nazi slogan for Independence Day

The theme of this year’s official ceremony to mark Israel’s 68th Independence Day at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem was ‘civic heroism.’ During the festivities on Wednesday, Israeli newspaper Haaretz columnist, Asher Schechter describes that,

as the soldiers transitioned from formations depicting one time-honored symbol to another – a peace dove, a Star of David – they suddenly formed a phrase that should have inspired discomfort in anyone with even the slightest historical knowledge: “one people, one nation.”

It’s a phrase that, if you repeat it in German, in Germany, it is more than likely that you’ll be arrested for incitement. The reason? It is more than a little reminiscent of a leading slogan belonging to a certain German regime from the 1930s. In fact, it’s an almost-complete translation. The difference is that when the Germans originally uttered that phrase, it had the words “one Führer” at the end.

Continue reading “Haaretz: Israel (inadvertently) revives Nazi slogan for Independence Day”

The day the Australian newspaper described an attack on free speech as made by the ‘Jewish lobby’

In an article on B’nai B’rith’s attempt to censor a play by Palestinian-Australian-Canadian writer Samah Sabawi about the 2014 war on Gaza, the Murdoch owned Australian refers to the pro-Israel advocacy group as a ‘Jewish lobby’ – exactly the same labelling that has led to many critics of Israel pilloried for alleged antisemitism – with the abuse encouraged by papers also owned by Murdoch. It’s a conflation the paper might come to regret; it is also not difficult to see how it happened. B’nai B’rith describes itself as an organisation that – in this order – has ‘advocated for global Jewry and championed the cause of human rights since 1843.’ It is also ‘recognized as a vital voice in: promoting Jewish unity & continuity; supporting the State of Israel; advocating on behalf of senior citizens; and humanitarian aid & disaster relief.’

Shielding from criticism a state that is indeed – to borrow their hyperbolic yet fairly apt terminology – ‘a bloodythirsty, evil war machine,’ (see screenshot below) contradicts their principal mission to advocate on behalf of all Jews everywhere and to condemn human rights violations. As long as B’nai B’rith uses threats and intimidation – in the name of ‘global Jewry’ – to undermine free speech, antisemitic conspiracy theories will flourish. It is even more of a travesty given support for the play from the Australian Jewish Democratic society and other members of local Jewish communities (see Sabawi’s statement below). B’nai B’rith puts Jewish lives at risk in their aggressive pursuit of a narrow political agenda, without heed for the effects on victims of their witch hunting.


Samah Sabawi’s statement to Fairfax Media in regard to an attack on her play by Dvir Abramovich, Chair of B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission:

Do we need to tell an Israeli love story every time we tell a Palestinian one? Can we write about ordinary lives in Gaza without writing about the Palestinian people’s daily struggle for normalcy in a war zone? How ironic is it that a depoliticised play that puts the focus on the human dimension is being made political by interest groups who fail to see the world outside of their ideological filters. Tales of a City by the Sea builds bridges, celebrates diversity and depoliticises the human story. In fact, one of our 2014 performances was organised by the Australian Jewish Democratic society and was followed by a Q&A in Melbourne for interested members of the Jewish community. Almost 50 people came to that performance and there was not one complaint. The feedback was heartwarming and the review that was published by Israeli writer Ann Fink on the Australian Jewish Democratic Website was truly one of the best we had.


Glenn Greenwald: attempts to criminalize BDS one of greatest threats to free speech

Writing in the Intercept today, Interview With BDS Co-Founder Omar Barghouti: Banned by Israel From Traveling, Threatened With Worse, Greenwald argues that,

the attempts to criminalize BDS activism – not only in Israel but internationally – is one of the greatest threats to free speech and assembly rights in the west. The threat has become particularly acute on U.S. college campuses, where official punishments for pro-Palestinian students are now routine. But obviously, the threats faced by Barghouti inside Israel are far more severe.

Regardless of one’s views on BDS and the Israeli occupation, anyone who purports to believe in basic conceptions of free speech rights should be appalled by Israeli behavior.

The Israeli government’s refusal to allow Omar Barghouti to travel is, Greenwald explains,

obviously intended to suppress his speech and activism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the world leaders who traveled last year to Paris to participate in that city’s “free speech rally.” […] The travel denial came after months of disturbing public threats directed at him by an Israeli government that has grown both more extreme and more fearful of BDS’s growing international popularity.

Read, and listen to the interview here.

New report: The Israel lobby and the European Union

0001Sponsored by the EuroPal Forum and Spinwatch, this new report by David Cronin, Sarah Marusek and David Miller challenges the secrecy surrounding the pro-Israel network in the European Union capital, Brussels.

It identifies where pro-Israel groups receive their funding and how some of their donors have facilitated Israel’s illegal colonisation of the West Bank. It examines how the lobby has persuaded law-makers to refrain from sanctioning Israel over its human rights abuses. And it analyses how Israel’s supporters have been trying to undermine grassroots campaigning for justice in Palestine, including BICOM. Labour Party NEC candidate Luke Akehurst is director of We Believe in Israel, the ‘grassroots’ arm of the UK’s major pro-Israel lobby group BICOM. You can download the full Israel lobby report here.

ExcerptEurope Israel Press Association
Another recent addition to the Israel lobby in Brussels is the Europe Israel Press Association (EIPA). It was formed in mid-2012 as a kind of public relations consultancy that puts journalists in contact with spokespersons for the Israeli state. EIPA is similar to the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) in London. Both organisations strive to ensure that the mainstream media treats Israel in a sympathetic manner. Continue reading “New report: The Israel lobby and the European Union”

How will the Jewish Labour Movement bear its shame?

JLM_HavodaHaaretz’s Ravit Hecht has called on the Israeli Labour Party to ‘Bear Its Shame,’ asking: wouldn’t it be better for them to ‘simply join the Netanyahu government and end their sad pretense of opposition?’ The ’embarrassing attempts to crawl into a unity government’ by the Party leader, Herzog, is reflecting badly on JLM. In Hebrew, the Israeli Labour Party is Mifleget Havoda HaYisrelit. It receives official support from the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), here in the UK. And Hecht is right: shouldn’t the Party that JLM supports ‘stop deceiving the public,’ both at home and abroad?

What benefits do those who fear the growing racism against Arabs and the violent incitement against leftists receive from an opposition including Labor MK Eitan Cabel, who denounced his party colleague Zouheir Bahloul and rushed to join in the verbal assault on Breaking the Silence following an “investigative report” against it by a right-wing group?

And what has Labor MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin done to end the occupation? And how has Labor MK Eitan Broshi, who is hungrily eyeing the Agriculture Ministry or the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division, helped resist the onslaught of delegitimization that the government is leading against the left?

Continue reading “How will the Jewish Labour Movement bear its shame?”

JLM realises that calling non-Zionist Jews imposters & ‘contrary’ is unacceptable

Yesterday, Young members of the Jewish Labour Movement, posted on the JLM website a letter that – much to their vexation – the Guardian had declined to publish. It isn’t hard to see why: it repeats the mainstream media’s default position that Labour under Corbyn is a ‘haven’ for anti-Semites. JLM’s complaint that they are a ‘group of Jews’ whose views are not being heard is the complete inverse of reality.

The Zionist contention that groups like JLM and JSocs/UJS are the victims not the aggressors is becoming increasingly risible: they have been in the forefront of the smear campaign against the Labour Left; one of their targets, Malia Bouattia, was fortunate enough to have a strong, wide base of support and nerves of steel to withstand their onslaught. The JSoc presidents published TWO – not one – open letters in their attempt to destroy Bouattia’s reputation prior to her election as NUS president, demanding she prove she wasn’t an anti-Semite: an action that was picked up with glee by every media outlet as evidence that all British Jewish Students lived in fear of her racist reign. This intimidation was only a continuation of the harassment she and others experienced as Palestine solidarity activists on campus, leading Bouattia in 2011 to call Birmingham with its large, pro-Israel JSoc ‘something of a Zionist outpost.’

In the preamble to their unpublished Guardian letter, Young JLM members referred contemptuously to a letter signed by 88 British Jews (one of many critical responses to the Chief Rabbi’s article that Zionism=Judaism), by writing,

It appears that some of those signatories only identify as Jews for purposes of taking such contrary positions.

Perhaps in response to protests that it was offensive, demeaning – even racist – to portray non-Zionist Jews as imposters and ‘contrary,’ JLM removed that sentence. Liron Velleman who posted the letter on the JLM website is both Youth and Students Officer at JLM, and incoming UJS Campaigns Officer. Here is a screengrab of the original, and the updated website post below it. As Jews Sans Frontieres has written: ‘I had a feeling they’d excise the offensive suggestion that Jewish critics of Israel aren’t quite the real thing,’ quipping, ‘spot the difference’:

JLM Continue reading “JLM realises that calling non-Zionist Jews imposters & ‘contrary’ is unacceptable”