Chakrabarti inquiry: Labour Friends of Israel intend to force the Party to adhere to their red line

Yesterday, Joan Ryan MP, chair of Labour Friends of Israel, said in a statement that:

It is now obvious that the virulently anti-Israel discourse which exists among a minority within the Labour party cannot be separated from the issue of anti-semitism. I have made this clear in my discussions thus far with Shami Chakrabarti and LFI will be working to ensure this is at the top of her agenda. We will judge the success of this inquiry on its willingness to make the case that while there is nothing illegitimate about criticising the actions of the Israeli government, this must not be allowed to cross the red line into denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and thus the existence of the state of Israel.

Since her appointment to lead LFI in Parliament, in August 2015, Ryan has issued clear statements of intent with little attempt at obfuscation. The new LFI chair urged supporters not to vote for Corbyn, and said Labour must be “steadfast” in its support for Israel. She warned that LFI would,

remain adamantly opposed to boycotts and sanctions, which delegitimise Israel…and have no place in the Labour party.

Continue reading “Chakrabarti inquiry: Labour Friends of Israel intend to force the Party to adhere to their red line”

Palestinian ambassador says leaders won’t stand up to Israel for fear of being labelled anti-semitic

Via Morning Star
17 May, posted by Lamiat Sabin

Labour ‘Too Scared To Speak Out Over Attacks On Palestine’

PALESTINE’S ambassador to Britain tore into politicians yesterday for failing to stand up to Israel for fear of being branded anti-semitic. Manuel Hassassian said that London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn were being “very careful” over what they say amid a row over alleged anti-semitism within the party. Human rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti opened an investigation into the alleged problem yesterday.

“Israeli and zionist lobbyists are monitoring people in public office” and anything they do not like about the way issues concerning Israel are addressed are “immediately labelled as anti-semitism,” he told Russia Today’s Going Underground.

Mr Hassassian rubbished claims that criticising Israel — which a United Nations panel last year accused of war crimes during its 2014 invasion of the Gaza Strip — equates to being “anti-semitic.” He said: “Politicians should make a distinction between Israel, the settler power, and the Abrahamic religion of Judaism, which is respected by Muslims and Christians.

We do not have a problem with Judaism. We have to deal with political zionism, an ideology based on racism and colonialism.

Continue reading “Palestinian ambassador says leaders won’t stand up to Israel for fear of being labelled anti-semitic”

‘The juggernaut of pressure’ that failed to shut down BDS conference as ‘antisemitic’

Published on Mondoweiss: Sabeel BDS conference pits local church against Jewish community leaders

On April 29-30 Friends of Sabeel North America organized a highly successful conference in Santa Cruz CA, titled “Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions at the Crossroads of Campus, Church & Community.”  Local rabbis and other leaders in the Jewish community, including the director of Santa Cruz Hillel, tried hard to shut it down, focusing on the Peace United Church of Christ that hosted the conference.

The juggernaut of pressure, exerted not only on the conference organizers and local Christian clergy, but directly on the lay leaders of the UCC church to prevail on their pastor to block the conference as flagrantly anti-Semitic, included letters and opinion pieces in the local newspaper, The Sentinel. The conference went on, filling the large church with close to 400 attendees.

Having failed to stop the conference, Rabbi Richard Litvak of Temple Beth El and five other Jewish leaders, including two rabbis and the Santa Cruz Hillel Director, published an OpEd that appeared on the Saturday of the conference.

Besides the familiar charges of BDS as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel, Rabbi Litvak’s piece included a direct attack on Sabeel and on Naim Ateek. Sadly familiar to us at Sabeel, this attack made the charge that Sabeel “employs disturbing theological rhetoric that misrepresents and denigrates Judaism… [employing] explicitly anti-Jewish imagery, comparing “crucified Palestinians” to “Jesus on the cross,” the victims of an “Israeli government crucifixion system.” The piece also characterized the conference as unbalanced, promoting “a vision of the future for which only one side is entitled to ‘justice’ and for which only Israel is to blame for decades of conflict.” As an alternative to BDS, Rabbi Litvak hailed programs that emphasize “mutual recognition” and the kind contact between Jews and Palestinians that will “prepare both parties to make the painful sacrifices needed for peace and learn to view ‘the other’ as their partner for a shared future.”
Continue reading “‘The juggernaut of pressure’ that failed to shut down BDS conference as ‘antisemitic’”

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.