Campaign Against Antisemitism? Oh no it doesn’t!

The late Sir Gerald Kaufman MP, vilified by the pro-Israel Campaign Against Antisemitism for his support for Palestine. One of many reasons why the CAA’s charitable status should be revoked.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi.

Campaign Against Antisemitism? Oh no it doesn’t!

The Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) is an intensely Zionist group created at the height of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in the summer of 2014, with the specific goal of demonising Israel’s critics. It poses as a charity protecting Jews against rampant antisemitism. In fact it concentrates on belligerently attacking supporters of justice for Palestine who draw attention to Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people.

This is why Free Speech on Israel supports the petition challenging the CAA’s charitable status launched by activist Tony Greenstein. The CAA’s characteristic response has been to make a failed bid to force the online petition site change.org to take down Greenstein’s petition.

The CAA came into being at a time when some elements on the extreme wing of Britain’s Zionist community became frustrated with what they viewed as the insufficiently vigorous campaigning on behalf of Israel by established Jewish organisations.

Not satisfied with the activities of the mainstream Community Security Trust (CST), which monitors antisemitic incidents in the UK while sometimes making life difficult for those of us in the Jewish community who do not regard support for Palestine as antisemitic, the CAA actively seeks to ramp up fear among British Jews.

They were reprimanded in January 2015 by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research over one of the CAA’s hair-raising reports. The Institute said:

“… unfortunately, the organisation’s survey about antisemitism is littered with flaws, and in the context of a clear need for accurate data on this topic, its work may even be rather irresponsible.”

CAA as Zionist shock troops

Right from the first, CAA has been a shock trooper in the Israeli campaign to define as antisemitic activities which expose the state’s denial of rights to Palestinians, or challenge the nature of the state or its founding ideology, Zionism. Thus armed, it then sets out to shrink the space in which pro-Palestinian advocacy can take place.

In the words of the group’s chairman, Gideon Falter: “We counter antisemitic protests, seek out antisemites online and apply direct pressure to organisations and institutions that enable antisemitism in the UK.(Like many of the CAA’s more problematic statements, the version of the groups About Us page in which it appeared is no longer online. It can be found on the Powerbase information website. See also a review by Jews for Justice for Palestinians.)

CAA’s first triumph, no longer celebrated on its website but on record elsewhere, was to initiate the public evisceration in August 2014 of a small London theatre which had dared to try to distance itself from Israeli embassy support for a Jewish film festival that it had staged successfully for eight years. The Tricycle theatre’s modest attempt to take an ethical funding decision during Israel’s bombardment of Gaza was cynically portrayed as a racist boycott of a Jewish cultural event.

Despite the best efforts of many in the theatrical world to defend Tricycle artistic director Indhu Rubasingham, public humiliation in the pages of national newspapers and online, combined with threats to her theatre’s funding, forced her into retreat.

Empowered by this success, the CAA took their campaign for “zero tolerance of anti-Semitism” to police authorities and to the Home Office, then run by one Theresa May, demanding the right to vet pro-Palestinian demonstrations before they took place and calling for criminalisation of the boycott, divest and sanctions campaign.

That they have been remarkably successful is a matter of grave concern rather than a matter to be celebrated by anyone who values genuine resistance to racism in our society. For Jews to be seen as censors conniving with the authorities to curtail legitimate protest and debate is hardly a way to endear us the wider community.

Since August 2014, the majority of CAA’s activity has been a litany of lies and distortions directed against critics of Israel misrepresented as haters of Jews.

As Greenstein says in the supporting text for the petition: “A cursory search of its [CAA’s] archives reveals almost nothing on fascist groups, who are antisemitic holocaust deniers.  There are however 21 entries for Jewish Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, who supported the Palestinians, 70 entries for Jeremy Corbyn and 29 for Shami Chakrabarti – all of them hostile.”

Attacks on Israeli Apartheid Week

In advance of this year’s Israeli Apartheid Week – an established part of the activist calendar for pro-Palestinian students – the CAA sent out a guide inciting young people to record, film and photograph the activities of their peers.

“Please e-mail your evidence to our Demonstration and Events Monitoring Unit (DEMU) at demu@antisemitism.uk which will investigate and refer actionable cases to our Regulatory Enforcement Unit. If antisemitic comments are made we will help you to take it up with the university, students’ union or even the police. By joining our monitoring team, you will be at the forefront of recording antisemitic behaviour during ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ and helping to drive it off campus.”

This is hardly the behaviour of a registered charity.

When Ephraim Mirvis, Britain’s chief rabbi, declared in August 2016 that Zionism was a “noble and integral part of Judaism,” a long list of Jews including well-known figures such as the filmmaker Mike Leigh, actor Miriam Margolyes and writer Michael Rosen put their names to a letter repudiating the chief rabbi’s version of their identity. CAA chair Falter, dismissed them as “a fringe assortment of British Jews” who had committed an “anti-Semitic slur” against his group.

The CAA’s current obsession is an attack against the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, based on the tried and trusted technique of picking out a tiny minority of unacceptable posts on PSC’s huge social media feed. PSC has issued an appropriate rejoinder, but that is unlikely to stop the CAA calling them “Bigots for Palestine”. The CAA has also waged a war of character assassination against veteran Israeli anti-Zionist Prof Moshe Machover, and marked the passing of Jewish Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman, father of the House of Commons, with an extraordinary outpouring of bile.

The CAA is an organisation that pays only lip service to fighting genuine cases of antisemitism – that is, actual attacks on Jewish people or real abuse of Jews just because they are Jews. Its main work is the vilification of individuals and organisations, Jewish and otherwise, who support the Palestinian campaign for freedom, justice and equality, through the BDS campaign or other legitimate means.

Its charitable status should be revoked without delay.

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