A plea from British Palestinians

This article appeared in MEMO

British Palestinians want anti-Semitism eradicated and sanctions on Israel
Professor Kamel Hawwash
3 May 2016

Excerpt: ‘…We British Palestinians stand with our Jewish fellow citizens in their fight against anti-Semitism and our joint fight against any form of racism in this country and elsewhere. We ask them equally to understand that we support peaceful means for ending Israel’s occupation, racism and its refusal to implement the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to our country. The BDS movement is a peaceful tool for achieving this. Labelling it and therefore many Palestinians as anti-Semites is inaccurate, wrong and dangerous. Please stop it. It does not help to achieve peace. It is both possible and reasonable to want anti-Semitism eradicated and still campaign for sanctions on Israel until it ends its occupation and oppression.’

Is it antisemitic to ask if Israel has ‘right to exist’?

Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz tackle the question on Mondoweiss, in the context of the current ‘controversy over whether certain criticisms of the state of Israel can be considered anti-Semitic.’

Saying Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state is not anti-Semitic

Excerpt: ‘… This is obviously a battle ground; and we have a clear position: We think it is legitimate and not anti-Semitic for critics to make such an argument. Given the principle of separation of church and state, such an argument has a long pedigree in modern political philosophy. Moreover, Israel’s history shows that creating and maintaining a “Jewish state” has entailed ethnic cleansing of Palestinians on a regular basis, including in East Jerusalem and broad portions of the West Bank to this day, in order to maintain a Jewish majority in certain areas. In practice, the Jewish State in Israel/Palestine has meant an ethnocracy where Jews are given special and exclusive rights over other citizens and non-citizens under the sovereignty of the Israeli government. This is a system that we (Horowitz and Weiss) reject for political, personal and moral reasons that are in no way connected to vilifying or discriminating against Jews, the traditional definition of anti-Semitism.

Of course, many other people oppose these definitions of anti-Semitism as well.

Palestine Legal has an excellent FAQ on the State Department definition that notes that it blurs criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. The FAQ addresses the “right to exist” idea:

Likewise, any criticism of Zionism—which questions Israel’s definition as a state that premises citizenship on race, ethnicity, and religion — is considered anti-Semitic under this redefinition, because such speech can be seen as “denying Israel the right to exist” as a “Jewish state” that privileges its Jewish citizens over others

Palestine Legal points out that blurring Jewishness and Zionism are essential tactics of Israel supporters:

[C]criticism of the Israeli state is not based on the Jewish identity of most Israeli citizens or leaders; it is based on the nation state’s historical and present day actions. Despite these important distinctions, some go to great lengths to lump Jewish people and the Israeli state together, arguing that Jews and Israel are inherently connected, and that any attack on one is an attack on the other.


Yossef Rapoport, who self-defines as a Zionist, asks the same question.

Read the article in full  here.

Excerpt: ‘…does the current State of Israel have a right to exist as a Jewish state? I’m not sure, and it is definitely not anti-Semitic to doubt it. It is not its Jewishness that puts Zionism under this spotlight; for me, there is really nothing inherently wrong with Jews having a state they can call their own. Rather, it is two generations of occupation and the denial of the rights of refugees that put a question mark about Israel’s legitimacy.

[…] The permanency of the occupation goes into the heart of Israel’s legitimacy, because there are as many Palestinians who live between the sea and the river as there are Jews, but Jewish sovereignty is maintained by denying citizenship to most of those Palestinians. To ask for equal rights for all who live on the land cannot be branded anti-Semitic, even if it would end the Jewish state. Continue reading “Is it antisemitic to ask if Israel has ‘right to exist’?”

Finkelstein on Freedland ‘who regularly plays the antisemitism card’

Read Jamie Stern-Weiner’s full interview with Norman Finkelstein here.

The ‘antisemitism’ accusations are being driven by the Conservatives ahead of the local and Mayoral elections. But they’re also being exploited by the Labour Right to undermine Corbyn’s leadership, and by pro-Israel groups to discredit the Palestine solidarity movement.

You can see this overlap between the Labour Right and pro-Israel groups personified in individuals like Jonathan Freedland, a Blairite hack who also regularly plays the antisemitism card. He’s combined these two hobbies to attack Corbyn. Incidentally, when my book, The Holocaust Industry, came out in 2000, Freedland compared it to Mein Kampf. Although he appears to be, oh, so politically correct now, he didn’t find it inappropriate to compare a book by the son of Nazi holocaust survivors to Mein Kampf. We appeared on a television program together. Before the program, he approached me to shake my hand. When I refused, he reacted in stunned silence. Why wouldn’t I shake his hand? He couldn’t comprehend it. It tells you something about these dull-witted creeps. The smears, the slanders – for them, it’s all in a day’s work. Why should anyone get agitated? Later, on the program, it was pointed out that the Guardian, where he worked, had serialised The Holocaust Industry across two issues. He was asked by the presenter, if my book was the equivalent of Mein Kampf, would he resign from the paper? Of course not. Didn’t the presenter get that it’s all a game?…

Norman Finkelstein on Labour’s ‘antisemitism’ scandal

You can read the article in full here

The American Jewish scholar behind Labour’s ‘antisemitism’ scandal breaks his silence
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN and JAMIE STERN-WEINER
3 May 2016

Excerpt:

[…] What about when people who aren’t Jewish invoke the [Nazi] analogy?

Once the Nazi holocaust became the cultural referent, then, if you wanted to touch a nerve regarding Palestinian suffering, you had to make the analogy with the Nazis, because that was the only thing that resonated for Jews. If you compared the Palestinians to Native Americans, nobody would give a darn. In 1982, when I and a handful of other Jews took to the streets of New York to protest Israel’s invasion of Lebanon (up to 18,000 Lebanese and Palestinians were killed, overwhelmingly civilians), I held a sign saying, ‘This son of survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Auschwitz, Maijdenek will not be silent: Israeli Nazis – Stop the Holocaust in Lebanon!’. (After my mother died, I found a picture of me holding that sign in a drawer among her keepsakes). I remember, as the cars drove past, one of the guys protesting with me kept saying, ‘hold the sign higher!’ (And I kept replying, ‘easy for you to say!’).

If you invoked that analogy, it shook Jews, it jolted them enough, that at least you got their attention. I don’t think it’s necessary anymore, because Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians now have an integrity of their own. They no longer have to be juxtaposed to, or against, the Nazi holocaust. Today, the Nazi analogy is gratuitous and a distraction.

Is it antisemitic?

No, it’s just a weak historical analogy – but, if coming from a Jew, a generous moral one.

Last week, Ken Livingstone took to the airwaves to defend Naz Shah, but what he said wound up getting him suspended from the Labour party. His most incendiary remark contended that Hitler at one point supported Zionism. This was condemned as antisemitic, and Labour MP John Mann accused Livingstone of being a ‘Nazi apologist’. What do you make of these accusations?

Livingstone maybe wasn’t precise enough, and lacked nuance. But he does know something about that dark chapter in history. It has been speculated that Hitler’s thinking on how to solve the ‘Jewish Question’ (as it was called back then) evolved, as circumstances changed and new possibilities opened up. Hitler wasn’t wholly hostile to the Zionist project at the outset. That’s why so many German Jews managed to survive after Hitler came to power by emigrating to Palestine. But, then, Hitler came to fear that a Jewish state might strengthen the hand of ‘international Jewry’, so he suspended contact with the Zionists. Later, Hitler perhaps contemplated a ‘territorial solution’ for the Jews. The Nazis considered many ‘resettlement’ schemes – the Jews wouldn’t have physically survived most of them in the long run – before they embarked on an outright exterminatory process. Livingstone is more or less accurate about this – or, as accurate as might be expected from a politician speaking off the cuff. Continue reading “Norman Finkelstein on Labour’s ‘antisemitism’ scandal”

Israeli impunity is the real outrage

It has become increasingly clear this week that the Tory and Labour rightwing, Guido Fawkes-enabled, witch-hunt of Labour Cllrs and MPs, is targeting Muslims. This is based on two assumptions – one of them racist, the other classist: the witch-hunters reason that as Muslims their sympathy must be with the largely Muslim Palestinians, and it is no more than an expression of tribalism, of blind loyalty to the Muslim ummah. They also reason that the fact many hail from northern towns and were attracted to the Labour party, they will lack a cosmopolitan finesse and circumspection, and will be poorly educated; in short, they will be ignorant and irrational. They, therefore, conclude that during Israel’s devastating war on Gaza in summer 2014, Labour Muslim MPs and Cllrs will have felt sympathy for the Palestinians being brutally slaughtered in their hundreds, and having no control of their emotions, will have uniquely expressed an outrage that crossed a line.

The majority of the Facebook posts and tweets Guido Fawkes has unearthed in the course of trawling social media accounts, were shared in July and August 2014.

July 8 – August 26 were seven distressing weeks of war on a besieged, overcrowded Gaza strip, and only the ideologically-blinkered were left unmoved at the sight of the preventable deaths of hundreds of children. For the rest of us, the total impunity Israel enjoyed was intolerable: it was a period of intense emotions. Many wanted to do something to halt the massacre: tens of thousands mobilised to march on the streets of our cities, and hundreds organised acts of civil disobedience and direct action outside government buildings.

In a protest that was not covered by the national press, on August 5, ‘Jews in Britain against Genocide’ demonstrated outside the offices of the Board of Deputies of British Jews in London. They stated: ‘We are Jews in Britain outraged at the Board of Deputies’ uncritical support for Israel as it commits genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza. The Board of Deputies claims to speak in our name when it lobbies in defence of Israeli violence. It organises rallies with the Zionist Federation in support of Israel’s slaughter.’

boddemo3

Read further & see more pictures here.

But many more felt increasingly angry and helpless, and inevitably some took the Board of Deputies at their cynical word: that this unelected body represented the views of all British Jews.

All of those with a keen sense of injustice could see the hypocritical stance of our government that, given the right political foe, could galvanise in a matter of days or weeks to impose sanctions or debate commencing a bombing campaign.

Outrage, frustration and anger against impunity is difficult to contain, and some have crossed a line, sharing memes that in calmer times appear offensive, even racist. A lot has already been written about Naz Shah (please see ‘In Defence of Naz Shah MP‘). Let’s look instead at what this allegedly irrational, northern, Muslim woman MP said to parliament in January 2016, when more mundane war crimes that are a daily reality for Palestinians, were largely going unreported. It was during a debate on ‘Child Prisoners and Detainees: Occupied Palestinian Territories’:

Naz Shah (Bradford West) (Lab)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) on securing this very important debate, and it is a great honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope.

I will keep my speech very brief. The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) referred to a doll. I would argue that people do not need dolls to promote hate and violence. What we have before us in Israel and Palestine is children between the ages of nine and 12 experiencing discrimination. I have children of my own who are aged eight and 11, but I cannot begin to imagine the trauma and the stamp on Palestinian children’s brains and hearts of hatred towards the Israeli military as they grow up and face discrimination, as well as the way they are treated in custody. So I would argue that we do not need props.

Only recently, Shin Bet told the Israeli Government that Abbas was not encouraging terror and was actually promoting peace. So, I disagree with my hon. Friends when they say that the Palestinians are promoting this kind of propaganda.

Guto Bebb

Will the hon. Member give way

Naz Shah

No, I will not, because I will not speak for long.

As a former chair of a mental health charity and having my own children, I really struggle to understand why the Israeli Government and the world are silent on dealing with the trauma that these Palestinian children are growing up with. Surely we know that hate breeds hate; laws aside, that is just common sense. There are children who are blindfolded and tortured. We have got evidence before us. How can my hon. Friends ignore that? How can anyone even present a counter-argument to it? We are talking about the basic humanitarian right of children, which we in this House have signed up to, and we must support these children with conviction. There should be no excuse for taking children aged nine away from their homes, detaining them and sending them to prison. That is absolutely unacceptable.

Naz Shah’s intervention asks that common sense prevail and international laws and human rights conventions we have ratified be respected – it is an articulate plea that we stop ignoring what is an outrage to our shared values. She was joined in her condemnation of Israel by a number of non-Muslim colleagues. Continue reading “Israeli impunity is the real outrage”

Guardian letters: A Palestinian view on the antisemitism row

Read the letter in full here.

Professor Kamel Hawwash
Birmingham
2 May 2016

Excerpt: Jonathan Freedland (My plea to the left, 30 April) asks us to imagine if a country far away was created for black people and asks if the left would treat it as it does Israel. As a Palestinian I want to tell him that if, instead of a country for Jews, a country for black people or any other group had been created in our homeland without our consent, we would have objected and resisted as Palestinians with the same vigour.

If it continued to defy international law and occupy, colonise and murder and make our lives so miserable that we would leave, we would call for its boycott as we do in the case of the real occupier, Israel. And if that occupation had continued for as long as Israel’s has, we would have called supporters of human rights to help us end this occupation, treat Palestinian citizens of that state equally and allow Palestinian refugees to return. As it happens, those are the legitimate demands of the BDS movement called by Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005.

Further, had Israel been created in, say, Uganda and not in Palestine, does Freedland or any other supporter of Israel think that Palestinians would have created Fatah or Hamas and sent them to Uganda to attack the Jewish citizens of this entity in Uganda?

Continue reading

Jewish Chronicle tries to scupper inquiry before it has begun

Update: Professor Feldman responds: see below

Today, the JC has tried to discredit Professor David Feldman who is leading the Labour inquiry into antisemitism as ‘a named supporter of a group which has dismissed allegations of Jew-hatred in the party as “baseless and disingenuous”.’

Professor Feldman is a signatory to Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), which the Jewish Chronicle describes contemptuously as ‘a group of Jewish academics who are critical of British Jewish communal institutions.’

On Sunday, IJV released a statement which expressed concern “at the proliferation in recent weeks of sweeping allegations of pervasive antisemitism within the Labour Party.”

It added: “Some of these allegations against individuals are, in our view, baseless and disingenuous; in other cases, ill-chosen language has been employed.” Read the full statement here.

JC said it had approached Professor Feldman for a comment.

The article goes on: ‘In a “sub report” submitted to last year’s All Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into Antisemitism, Prof Feldman dismissed most regularly used definitions of antisemitism. He wrote: “Definitions of antisemitism based on double standards, the EUMC working definition, perceptions and outcomes have not been adopted in this sub-report.”

The ‘EUMC working definition’ has been widely discredited and has no validity in the UK. As Ben White has written in ‘Shifty antisemitism wars,’

In 2005, a draft, working definition of antisemitism was circulated by the European Union’s Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC). To the dismay of its critics, the document confused genuine antisemitism with criticism of Israel, and was repeatedly, and erroneously, promoted by Israel advocacy groups as the EU definition of antisemitism.

By 2013, the EUMC’s successor body, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), had abandoned the politicised definition as unfit for purpose. Just this week, in response to a motion passed at NUS conference, the FRA explicitly denied having ever adopted the definition. Yet on March 30, Eric Pickles, UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust issues and chair of Conservative Friends of Israel, revived the discredited definition by publishing it on the government’s website.

Feldman told the Jewish Chronicle: ‘“It is my view that all allegations of antisemitism require investigation. My starting point is that the rules and norms applied to identify racism for other minorities in British society should be applied consistently, and that means to Jews.

“My position is to work from an initial assumption that people are speaking and writing in good faith and are engaged in an honest disagreement. Allegations of disingenuousness, which come from many sides of this debate, can rarely be proven.

“The key points of the IJV declaration support human rights, the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to lead secure lives, and international law as a basis for peace and stability. The declaration also states its opposition to all forms of racism and that the battle against antisemitism is vital. It is hard to see what is controversial about these points.

Prof Feldman said he hoped the inquiry would help to ease the turmoil in the party over the issue.’

“There is a great deal of heat at present in statements from all sides,” he said. “There is an urgent need for dispassionate consideration and constructive proposals. I hope that this is what the Labour Party’s independent inquiry into antisemitism and other forms of racism will help to provide.”

Independent Jewish Voices statement

May 1, 2016 by IJV

We are concerned at the proliferation in recent weeks of sweeping allegations of pervasive antisemitism within the Labour Party. Some of these allegations against individuals are, in our view, baseless and disingenuous; in other cases, ill-chosen language has been employed; elsewhere, there have been statements which, deliberately or otherwise, have clearly crossed the line. We welcome the fact that the Labour Party has demonstrated its commitment to rooting out antisemitism with the seriousness of its response, including the setting up of an independent inquiry.

We are equally concerned, however, by the way in which such accusations are deployed politically – whether by the press, the Conservative Party, opponents of Corbyn’s leadership within Labour, or by those seeking to counter criticism of the actions of the Israeli government. The current climate is quickly coming to resemble a witch-hunt, in which statements and associations, some going back years, are being put under the microscope.

We appreciate the concern for anti-Jewish prejudice – a concern which we share. We are committed to our principles of opposition to all forms of racism, including antisemitism, anti-Arab racism or Islamophobia, in any circumstance. We are therefore dismayed by a lack of parallel attention to other forms of racial and religious bigotry, particularly given the current climate of growing Islamophobia across Europe. In the same week that the government refused to admit 3000 unaccompanied minor refugees to Britain, we cannot help but note the highly disproportionate attention paid in the media to errors of speech rather than errors of deed.

We also reiterate our view that the battle against antisemitism is undermined whenever opposition to Israeli government policies is automatically branded as antisemitic. Allegations of antisemitism foster an atmosphere increasingly hostile to  those fighting for the rights of Palestinians at a time of growing opposition to Israel’s racist and discriminatory policies towards its Arab citizens and its ongoing occupation in violation of international law. What is clear to those of us who have been engaged in the movement for Palestinian rights, and who believe in the right to dissent of Jews in relation to Israel, is that the more public opinion turns against Israel’s indefensible actions, the more our opponents will resort to name calling in an attempt to discredit us. As Jewish critics of Israel’s policies, we urge people of conscience not to succumb to this campaign of intimidation and to continue the struggle for equal rights and freedom for all people.

A response to Freedland’s defence of ethnic cleansing

JONATHAN FREEDLAND’S PLEA

30 April, Jamie Stern-Weiner
You can read this excellent article in full here

Excerpt: ‘… Let’s imagine that the entire world agreed on how to bring this brutal military occupation to a peaceful close, but that, in defiance of this overwhelming international consensus, the occupying power brazenly refused to withdraw to its legal borders. Let’s imagine that, when a number of individuals finally got together and tried to do something to bring the nightmare to an end, Jonathan Freedland came along and issued to them a heartfelt ‘plea’guys, take it down a notch.

The upshot of Freedland’s wretched article [‘My plea to the left: treat Jews the same way you’d treat any other minority‘] here is this: for a half-century nothing has been done to put a stop to the brutal, immoral and illegal persecution of the Palestinians, and it’s time to do less.

P.S. Naz Shah MP was vilified for posting an image suggesting, tongue-in-cheek, that Israel be relocated to the United States.  Here is what Jonathan Freedland had to say about an ethnic cleansing that actually happened, and whose surviving victims are still struggling for a mite of justice: ‘I have long believed that Israel should be strong enough to admit the reality of 1948 [i.e. the mass expulsion of Palestinian civilians]—and to defend it all the same’. The ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians was ‘a horribly high moral price’ to pay for the establishment of a Jewish state—but it was also ‘a moral necessity’’

LABOUR JEWS ASSERT: The Labour Party does not have a ‘problem with Jews’

We are witnessing a wave of orchestrated hysteria over claims that the Labour Party is rife with antisemitism and has a ‘problem with Jews.’ This is not true. Yes there is indeed a problem. The problem is that some people – Jewish and otherwise, inside and outside the party – use allegations of anti-Semitism as a stick to beat the Corbyn leadership, regardless of the damage caused.

Jeremy Corbyn and others have done their best to respond, rightly asserting their impeccable anti-racist credentials, treating specific allegations of antisemitism seriously, investigating them and taking appropriate measures. This is no more and no less than should happen with allegations of racism or discrimination of any kind.

But this has not satisfied those sections of the pro-Israel lobby orchestrating the attacks. They have targeted Malia Bouattia, the first Muslim woman to be elected president of the National Union of Students, on the thinnest of pretexts and despite her consistently principled stance. Another victim has been Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) founder member and lifelong anti-racist Tony Greenstein, suspended from the Labour Party without even being informed of the charges against him. Now Naz Shah has been suspended on the basis of a few inappropriate social media posts, which she evidently regrets – swiftly followed by Ken Livingstone for having the temerity to defend her. (Regarding Shah’s comments, read more here, and this background to Livingstone’s comments on Zionism & Hitler)

Those who are making allegations of anti-Semitism are talking a different language.  It is not anti-Semitism but anti-Zionism that is their concern.  It is opposition to Israeli racism not anti-Jewish racism that concerns them.

This campaign of vilification is intended to undermine Labour’s new leaders, because of their commendable record of supporting justice for Palestine. The wider aim is to crush support for the solidarity movement, which is working to achieve for Palestinians basic rights that are endorsed by international legal bodies.

As the Jewish Socialist Group has stated on its website: ‘A very small number of such cases seem to be real instances of antisemitism. Others represent genuine criticism of Israeli policy and support for Palestinian rights, but expressed in clumsy and ambiguous language, which may unknowingly cross a line into antisemitism. Further cases are simply forthright expressions of support for Palestinian rights, which condemn Israeli government policy and aspects of Zionist ideology, and have nothing whatsoever to do with antisemitism.’                         

As Labour and Trade Union activists, we condemn this witch hunt and assert the right to campaign in solidarity with all oppressed people, including Palestinians. We: Continue reading “LABOUR JEWS ASSERT: The Labour Party does not have a ‘problem with Jews’”