Selected Cases of Interference with Free Expression, 2017

Free Speech on Israel
Palestine Solidarity Campaign

This dossier records some of the more prominent cases of restriction of freedom of speech or assembly related to criticisms of the state of Israel that occurred during 2017. In some cases the document produced in May 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) as a definition of antisemitism, and adopted by the UK government in December of that year, is explicitly cited in support of the action taken. In all cases the awareness of that government action has provided the pervasive atmosphere, chilling to free speech on Israel/Palestine, in which these decisions were taken.
The IHRA definition has been used to press for and achieve the cancellation of events denouncing Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and violations of human rights. The use of the IHRA definition in such instances is commonly framed around the following narrative: “These events typically apply double standards towards Israel that are not applied to other countries and effectively deny Israel any right to exist by treating it as an inherently racist endeavour. As such, they conflict with the IHRA definition.” (quote from spokesman for UK Lawyers for Israel – UKLFI).
In the UK, student events organised on campuses have been particularly targeted, following a letter sent by the Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson to UK universities in February 2017 to outline the government’s concerns about antisemitism on campuses, especially around Israel Apartheid Week due to take place that month, and asking for the IHRA definition to be disseminated throughout the academic system.

 

Example 1: cancellation of Israel Apartheid Week at the University of Central Lancashire, February 2017

In February 2017, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) cancelled an event planned as part of “Israeli Apartheid Week” on the grounds that it “contravened” the IHRA definition of antisemitism recently endorsed by the UK government and was unlawful. The panel event, “Debunking misconceptions on Palestine and the importance of BDS”, was organised by the UCLan Friends of Palestine society. The administration said:
“[We] determined that the proposed event would not be lawful and therefore it will not proceed as planned.” Speaking to Jewish News, the university said: “We believe the proposed talk contravenes the new definition and furthermore breaches university protocols for such events, where we require assurances of a balanced view or a panel of speakers representing all interests.”
There are three particularly disturbing aspects of this decision by the UCLan authorities:
1. The event organisers only found out about the cancellation by reading about it on the Jewish Chronicle website. The university excluded students in the Friends of Palestine society from the decision-making process concerning the event, and there was no attempt to dialogue with organisers about the event once concerns had been raised.
2. The university quite clearly bowed to pressure from external, pro-Israel advocacy groups. The day before the cancellation was announced StandWithUs, North West Friends of Israel, and Sussex Friends of Israel began urging their supporters to bombard the university with complaints.
3. UCLan’s claimed that the event “contravenes” a government-endorsed definition of antisemitism, referring to a text formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and “formally adopted” by the UK government. That phrase is important – the definition does not constitute legislation, which means it is unclear what the university meant by saying the “proposed event would not be lawful.”
http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/israeli-apartheid-week-1588237419

Example 2: University of Exeter banned students from staging a street theatre performance, February 2017

The university banned students from staging a street theatre performance called Mock Checkpoint, in which some participants were to dress up as Israeli soldiers while others performed the roles of Palestinians. The event, which had been approved by the students’ guild – the university’s student union – as part of an international week of talks and activities on campuses around the world, was banned for “safety and security reasons” less than 48 hours before it was due to take place. An appeal against the decision was refused. Although the IHRA definition was not explicitly mentioned, the cancellation happened only a few days after the letter from the government’s minister to UK universities regarding that matter. Organisers of the Israel Apartheid Week at Exeter claim the university is conflating antisemitism with Palestinian activism. “It doesn’t have anything to do with antisemitism,” said the spokesperson for Exeter’s Friends of Palestine Society. “We feel they were indirectly accusing us of antisemitism and discrimination and harassment through this event.”
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/27/universities-free-speech-row-halting-pro-palestinian-events

Example 3: Talk on the occupation cancelled at UCL, February 2017

In February 2017, UCL cancelled a talk titled “Quad Under Occupation” on Palestine claiming that Friends of Palestine “did not follow procedure”. The talk invited attendees to “explore the practices which sow the seeds of racial tension in Israel”. The cancellation followed a complaint from the Academic Friends of Israel group which stated that the event would not respect the new government approved definition of antisemitism. Only after this complaint did Rex Knight, UCL Vice-Provost, announced that the event would be cancelled for not “go[ing] through the proper process”.
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/27/universities-free-speech-row-halting-pro-palestinian-events

Example 4: University of Leeds threatened to cancel talk by Craig Murray during Israeli Apartheid Week, February 2017

During the last Israel Apartheid Week, one talk and a film show proceeded without problems at Leeds but two other events had more difficulty. 1. Just 24 hours before he was due to speak former ambassador Craig Murray was asked by the trustees of Leeds University Union to provide details of what he was going to say in his talk “Palestine/Israel: A Unitary Secular State or a Bantustan Solution”. With great reluctance Craig provided an outline in order to allow the lecture to proceed, despite seeing this a dispiriting step down a censorship path. 2. The student Palestine Solidarity Group was refused permission to mount a visual demonstration outside the Leeds Student Union Building, although they did put up a fairly inconspicuous banner display. They were also refused permission to have a stall inside the Students Union Building.
https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2017/03/leeds-university-union-threaten-ban-speech-palestine/comment-page-1/

Example 5: Liverpool – Professor Michael Lavalette, required to agree to the IHRA definition for his talk to go ahead, February 2017

Professor Michael Lavalette of Liverpool Hope University was due to speak at a meeting at Liverpool University. At 3pm the day before his scheduled talk he was contacted by the student organisers to say that the university was requiring him to sign their ‘risk assessment’ for the event. The form of words was to be that he had read the Risk Assessment and specifically the clause within relating to the ‘[IHRA] definition’, and stating that he had read the definition and agreed with it. He emailed his response, to say that he had read the risk assessment; and that he was a life-long anti-racist (and had in fact organised a meeting on Stand Up To Racism the previous weekend). He did not acknowledge the definition. He heard nothing more and the meeting went ahead.
Source: Free Speech on Israel

Example 6: Manchester, March 2017

The University of Manchester allowed a series of talks marking IAW to go ahead, but that approval only came after several meetings and email exchanges and subject to a strict set of conditions.
“The university has heavily scrutinised every single detail of each event … the number of conditions the university has placed on us is unheard of,” reported the organisers, adding: “Other societies and groups do not face the same problems.” The conditions relate to the impartiality of event conveners and scrutiny of speakers.
The university vetoed the students’ choice of academic to chair an IAW event on BDS, citing concerns over her “neutrality”. Speakers also had to acknowledge the IHRA definition of antisemitism. The person ousted from chairing was Dr Lauren Banko, Research Associate in Israel-Palestine Studies in the Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies department of the University. She is author of The Invention of Palestinian Citizenship, 1918-1947.
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/03/british-universities-silencing-critics-israel-170305010803829.html

Example 7: Manchester University censored the title of Holocaust survivor’s speech criticising Israel, March 2017

Manchester University censored the title of a Holocaust survivor’s criticism of Israel and insisted that her campus talk be recorded, after Israeli diplomats said its billing amounted to antisemitic hate speech. Marika Sherwood, a Jewish survivor of the Budapest ghetto, was due to give a talk in March 2017 about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, headlined: “You’re doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to me.” The Israeli diplomats visited Manchester on 22 February and met the university’s head of student experience, Tim Westlake. Later that day Michael Freeman, the embassy’s counsellor for civil society affairs, emailed Westlake and thanked him for discussing the “difficult issues that we face”, including the “offensively titled” Israeli Apartheid Week. Freeman claimed that the title of Sherwood’s talk breached the IHRA definition of antisemitism. The Sherwood event went ahead under a revised billing with the subtitle removed. She herself denied that the title of her talk could be characterised as antisemitic. “I was just speaking of my experience of what the Nazis were doing to me as a Jewish child,” she said. “I had to move away from where I was living, because Jews couldn’t live there. I couldn’t go to school”. “I can’t say I’m a Palestinian, but my experiences as a child are not dissimilar to what Palestinian children are experiencing now.” (The evidence of Israeli embassy involvement was not revealed until September 2017, through a Freedom of Information request.)
https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/sep/29/manchester-university-censors-title-holocaust-survivor-speech-criticising-israel

Example 8: expulsion of Moshe Machover from the Labour Party, October 2017

Retired Israeli philosophy professor Moshe Machover was expelled from the Labour party in October 2017. The official reason for his expulsion was not an accusation of antisemitism (this would have taken longer to prove), but rather for alleged association with organisations newly deemed undesirable (which he has denied). The letter from the Labour’s Head of Disputes informed Machover that an article he had written “appears to meet the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.” The article, “Anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism,” was published in a bulletin by the group Labour Party Marxists and handed out at the party’s conference in September 2017. Sam Matthews, the Labour official who wrote expelling Machover, did not specify which part of the article he claimed was antisemitic. The letter to Machover marks the first known time Labour Party officials have cited the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s document containing a “working definition” of antisemitism as a justification for “formal notice of investigation.” The controversial document has been promoted by Israel lobby groups, because it alleges that, for example, “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” is an example of “antisemitism.” However Labour’s leadership has only endorsed a two-sentence definition of antisemitism, contained in the controversial document, which does not mention Israel. This letter appears to contradict that distinction.
http://mondoweiss.net/2017/10/continues-asserting-semitism/
https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/israeli-anti-zionist-expelled-labour-amid-anti-semitism-smear

Expanding the Definition of Antisemitism Hurts Jews

Testimony of Professor Barry Trachtenberg to the United States House Judiciary Committee about proposed speech codes on November 7, 2017

Barry Trachtenberg is the Rubin Presidential Chair of Jewish History and the Director of the Jewish Studies Program at Wake Forest University.

First published in the Forward and reprinted by permission of the author

It is increasingly common to hear reports that a “new antisemitism” threatens to endanger Jews on a scale not seen since the second World War and the Holocaust. Studies from several major Jewish organizations have sounded the alarm that antisemitism is a “clear and present danger,” while a number of commentators have argued that yet another “war against the Jews” is upon us.

House Judiciary Committee
As much as these sort of statements try to call our attention to a looming catastrophe, they are motivated less by an actual threat facing American or world Jewry than they are part of a persistent campaign to thwart debates, conversations, scholarly research, and political activism (all of which often occur within the Jewish community itself) that is critical of the State of Israel.

 The truth is that the “old antisemitism” — such as we saw in Charlottesville this summer, where torch-bearing marchers carried Nazi and Confederate flags, chanted “You/Jews will not replace us,” and murdered a protester — is still alive in the United States and in many places around the world and requires vigilance and persistent resistance. It is a poor use of our time to distract ourselves by crafting legislation that dictates what can and cannot be said on college campuses regarding the State of Israel.
Barry Trachtenberg

Legislation such as such as H.R.6421-Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016 is not a genuine attempt to contend with actual antisemitism, but rather is more correctly understood as a means to quell what are in fact protected acts of speech that are vital and necessary both to the scholarly missions of educational institutions and to the functioning of democratic societies.

 It is a factual distortion to characterize campuses in the United States as hotbeds of new antisemitism. A recent study by researchers at Stanford University reported that while depictions of rampant antisemitism are reported widely in the press, they do not represent the actual experiences of Jewish students at the campus level. They discovered that campus life is neither threatening nor alarmist, and this corresponds to my own experiences with Jewish students.
In general, students reported feeling comfortable on their campuses, and, more specifically, feeling comfortable as Jews on their campuses. Based on interviews with sixty-six undergraduate students at five California universities previously described as strongly antisemitic, researchers did not find a single interviewee who characterized their campus in that way. The Stanford study concludes:

Much of the testimony you will hear today is likely to describe alleged incidents of antisemitism, and it may cite studies purporting to prove that antisemitism is at crisis levels. I urge you to be sceptical of such claims.

First, many of the stories that get wide circulation contain factual distortions and are misrepresented in the media. Second, many studies are based on a definition of antisemitism that de facto defines criticism of Israel as antisemitic, and which limit their interviews to a specific set of Jewish students who are highly identified with the state of Israel. Yet as within American Jewry as a whole, Jewish students hold a wide range of views concerning Israel, from unilaterally supportive to sharply critical.

Motivated by concern for human rights

Students who engage in speech critical of Israeli policy are largely motivated by their concern for Palestinian human rights. They are not motivated by antisemitic hate, but its opposite—a desire to end racial and religious discrimination of all kinds.

Legislation designed to curtail activity that is critical of Israel — be it political, scholarly, or simply conversational — most often rests upon a distortion of the State Department’s definition of antisemitism, which is appropriated from the “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism of the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia,” a definition that was created for the purpose of research and not government policy. As well-intentioned as the State Department’s concern for antisemitism may be, its understanding of antisemitism is both flawed and overly expansive, and should not serve as the basis for speech codes.

Indeed, so expansive is the State Department’s definition that some of the founding premises of Zionism would themselves be considered antisemitic. For example, the State Department insists that an example of antisemitism is “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations.”

Of course, history tells us that quite often Jews’ citizenship in any particular country cannot so easily be taken for granted; this has been one of the factors behind the widespread belief among Jews that wherever they are in the world, they bear a responsibility to one another. The founders of Zionism consequently concluded that, regardless of where in the world they live, Jews have more in common with one another than they do with non-Jews.

Such arguments can be traced back at least to Theodor Herzl, who argued in his seminal 1896 book, The Jewish State, that antisemitism is an inescapable fact of modern existence and therefore Jews “…are a people—One people” and for that reason, “it is useless for us to be loyal patriots.”

Elsewhere, the State Department’s definition is far too broad and encompasses what in other contexts would easily be classified as protected political speech against a foreign government. While I agree that using “classic” antisemitic symbols and images is inappropriate (although not illegal), there is nothing necessarily wrong in comparing the actions of Israel to those of Nazi Germany.

In fact, comparisons of foreign leaders and countries to Nazism are made regularly. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush famously compared Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler (a comparison also made by President George W. Bush). Given that comparisons of foreign leaders and governments to Nazism occur regularly, creating a “special status” for speech concerning Jews and Israel would only reaffirm otherwise antisemitic claims that Jews are exceptional and therefore need to have a special category of laws that apply only to them.

Even among Jews, one hears such comparisons levelled with great frequency, coming from both the political left and right. In December 1948 (three and a half years after the end of World War II and seven months after the founding of Israel), Albert Einstein famously co-signed a letter published in the New York Times comparing the political party of the Israeli leader Menachem Begin (a precursor to today’s Likud) to Nazism. More recently, United States Ambassador to Israel David Friedman had to apologize during his nomination process for having once called liberal Zionists, “worse than kapos.”

Plurality of Jewish views

Finally, to say that “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist” is an example of antisemitism ignores the plurality of views that exist within the Jewish community. For one thing, it ignores the fact that for many Jews today and since its founding, the state of Israel is decidedly not an expression of Jewish self- determination, a concept which has often held cultural, religious, or ethical implications distinct from the idea of a Jewish state. For another, the question of Israel’s “right to exist” is not the same thing as that of its “right to exist as a Jewish state,” if that existence is predicated on the displacement and oppression of the non-Jews within its borders.

Given the flaws in the State Department’s definition of antisemitism, it must not form the basis of law or campus speech codes. As Kenneth S. Stern, the author of the “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism,” has stated, “the worst remedy is to prohibit speech deemed offensive, disparaging or bigoted that would otherwise be protected by the First Amendment.” He further stated that the purpose of the definition that he formulated was for scientific study, and is not suitable as the basis of campus anti-speech codes.

“The definition was intended for data collectors writing reports about antisemitism in Europe,” writes Stern. “It was never supposed to curtail speech on campus.” As someone who began teaching at the college level nearly two and a half decades ago, I agree fully with Stern who has [elsewhere] stated, “Anti-Semitism – like all forms of bigotry – has an impact on some campuses. The worst way to address it is to create a de facto hate speech code, which is what this bill proposes to do.” Although discussions around Israel and Zionism may often be uncomfortable for Israel’s supporters and detractors alike (something that I witness in my classes most semesters), it is the responsibility of students and educators to foster dialogue and not limit it, to understand the historical implications of our speech, and to allow for the meaning and definition of fraught terms to develop and change as a consequence of informed deliberation and debate.

It is profoundly difficult to create a definition of antisemitism that can be used for legislative purposes. The root of current debates on antisemitism lies in a seemingly intractable problem of how to critique Jewish collective power in a way that does not immediately resonate with a long history of antisemitism. Throughout the last thousand years of European history, Jews were regularly characterized as an incommensurate and exceptionalist element that sought to undermine the established religious, political, or economic order. They were accused of being killers of Christ and of seeking to repeat this offense through the murder of innocent Christian children. Such accusations led at times to blood libels (the classic antisemitic allegation that Jews used non-Jewish children’s blood to make matza, the ritual flatbread of Passover) and pogroms (violent and often deadly mob attacks on Jewish communities).

In more recent centuries, Jews have been characterized simultaneously as usurpers of national identities, disloyal citizens, capitalist schemers, and revolutionary subversives. Such allegations led to discriminatory legislation, riots, expulsions, and physical violence. In the early 20th century, Jews were branded as a biological and racial threat and entire armies rose up to exterminate them. In each of these moments, Jews were imagined as a united group that possessed power and authority far beyond their actual numbers.

Yet, in 1948, with the founding of Israel as a solution to antisemitism, the situation changed dramatically. For the first time, a significant number of Jews – identifying as a national group – gained actual, not imaginary, power. Today, the state of Israel has borders, police, courts, a military, a nuclear arsenal, political parties, and a (mostly) representative and (somewhat) democratic system of government.

Like all other states, its actions are — and must be permitted to be — a matter of public debate and discourse both within the Jewish community and outside of it. Yet speech that is critical of Israel still strikes many as inherently antisemitic. The problem, quite simply, is that we still are learning how to talk about Israel’s actual political power and repeated claims to represent Jews all over the world in ways that do not immediately echo much older and antisemitic depictions of imaginary Jewish power. This is not only on account of the long history of anti-Jewish hatred in the West. It is also because, as we see in legislative initiatives such as this, to characterize any speech that is critical of Israel as intrinsically antisemitic has been a highly effective tool employed by those who uncritically support every action of Israel and seek to stigmatize all critics.

Considering the multiple — and constantly shifting — forms of antisemitism that have emerged since the term “Antisemitism” first appeared in Germany in the late nineteenth century, it would be ill-advised for Congress to establish legal authority on a definition of antisemitism that is so deeply contested. To insist that Israel cannot be protested or objected to, to mandate that collective Jewish power cannot be analyzed or debated, or to conclude that Jews, because they were once victims of one of humanity’s greatest genocidal crimes, are somehow immune from becoming perpetrators of acts of violence against other peoples, would only reinforce the antisemitic belief that Jews are a fundamentally different people.

Moreover, and perhaps most dangerously of all, attempts to broaden the definition of antisemitism to encompass phenomena that are clearly not anti-Jewish can only make it more difficult to recognize, isolate, and oppose actual antisemitic hatred when it does appear.

 

 

 

 

 

Labour List uses fear of offence to censor debate

When Gary Spedding sent his riposte to Emily Thornberry’s remarks on Israel’s ‘Right to Exist’ he got a surprising response. Labour List preferred censorship to debate.

Labour List rejectionof Gary Spedding's article on te gorunds 'it may give offence' Fortunately, Jewish News, the UK publication of the Times of Israel had more faith in its readers ability to survive encountering something they may disagree with and published it online.

It is the outlawing of reasonable criticism of Israel that was the reason for the setting up of FSOI. The attacks on free speech come in many form:, denial of spaces for meetings; disciplining of people who defend Palestinian rights; and, as in this case, straight censorship. We are pleased to republish Gary’s article which repeats the simple point that states are human creations that are not, unlike their citizens, endowed with rights. They come, like South Sudan, and disappear, like Yugoslavia. Israel is no different.

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary is wrong on Israel’s ‘right to exist’

Gary Spedding

Last week, in a high profile speech marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, the Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry stated that there is “no place in the Labour Party” for anyone who holds the “abhorrent view” that Israel has no right to exist.

Such a notion is extremely controversial. And one that has been peddled by the Israeli establishment for decades. This piece of political rhetoric is actually designed to shut down any hope of a fruitful peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli figures have been pushing for foreign politicians, in countries that have highly regarded parliamentary democracy, to adopt this problematic soundbite when discussing Israel as it gives it a veneer of legitimacy.

Emily Thornberry
Emily Thornberry

Let me be clear from the outset that I firmly believe that all people, including Jewish people, have the right to both individual and collective self-determination. To quote President Woodrow Wilson, who was a strong proponent of the principle; “people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent.” However, there are conflicting definitions and legal criteria surrounding self-determination itself and the plain truth is that no state or political entity has an inherent “right to exist”, and as such this term is legally meaningless. One of the reasons the ‘right to exist’ won’t be found codified in contemporary international law that it is near impossible to fulfil for the thousands of unique nations on the planet today.

Emily’s highly toxic statement is dangerous to both Labour Party members and the wider community engaged on the Israel-Palestine conflict. She has, like so many before her, confused a people’s inalienable right to self-determination with a non-existent ‘right to exist’ that is associated more with nation-states than people – in particular, ethnocratic states like Israel.

Now some might argue that the right to self-determination automatically grants people the right to a state. I can certainly understand how one might reach this viewpoint given the fact people should be able to freely choose how to express their self-determination. And yet there are limitations and certain responsibilities accompanying self-determination – coupled with certain vagueness around how a national group can achieve it without infringing upon the same rights held by others within the same territory. This is one of the issues at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict; two people within the same territory with conflicting national movements.

In addition, the demand by Israel’s establishment that their state’s “right to exist” be recognised is, in fact, a major obstacle to securing a political settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. It was never a demand in the peace processes with Egypt or Jordan that Israel, as a Jewish State, should be recognised as having a ‘right to exist’ – although later the leaders of both Egypt and Jordan agreed that in signing peace treaties they had implicitly accepted Israel’s existence. By including this demand when it comes to the Palestinians it effectively shuts down any hope of a peace process, but also has the added bonus of defining terms of debate elsewhere in the world. This has meant the labelling of anyone who deviates from the status quo as being motivated by evil ideology, of wanting the ‘destruction of Israel’, and by default wanting the wholesale slaughter of the Jewish people – something which, outside of a tiny minority of extreme fringes, is actually ludicrous.

For Palestinians, recognising Israel’s ‘right to exist’ exclusively as a Jewish state would mean accepting the legitimacy of their own dispossession and expulsion, something they will never do, which is why the Israeli government insist on this as an early prerequisite for negotiations – because it is the Israeli government that has all the cards when it comes to building peace in a conflict mired by power asymmetries.

For people like me, who believe in the importance of allowing different visions for the future in Israel-Palestine, and as long as it’s within a non-violent political process, the words of the Shadow Foreign Secretary are alarming. I do not accept that I have no place in the Labour Party simply for holding the reasonable view that no states have an inherent right to exist. Those who share Emily Thornberry’s view are saying that there is no place in Labour for those who support a shared future for Israelis and Palestinians within a bi-national state, or any kind of solution where equal rights are enshrined and basic democratic freedoms codified and guaranteed.

Emily Thornberry appears to have inadvertently bolstered the language of the Israeli right, thus helping to sow anxiety and fear among Labour Party members who might wish to discuss alternative yet still sustainable, realistic and durable resolutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict. By telling people they have to accept that Israel, uniquely among all other states, has the right to exist and that the only solution to the conflict is that of a two-state solution, alternative visions for the future are pushed aside. Palestinian voices in particular are being stripped of agency, spelling disaster for any push for peace. We get nowhere by shutting out other parties to the conflict. Failure to bind them into a process ensures peace shall remain elusive.

I imagine a substantive majority of Labour Party members fall outside the terms defined in Emily Thornberry’s statement yesterday. We have seen a number of party members suspended for voicing entirely reasonable criticisms of Israeli government policy and the conduct of the Israeli state. I am deeply concerned that Emily seems to have a fairly weak grasp of the intricate and complex issues surrounding Israel-Palestine, and as a result she is prone to making statements imbued with toxic political sentiments, offering concessions aimed at pleasing too many audiences, without perhaps even realising the full extent of the consequences afterwards.

Her latest statement contributes to a growing push to have perfectly reasonable debate shut down and where pro-Palestine party members are targeted, marginalised, demonised and delegitimised by those who wish to see them silenced, or worse, expelled.

As a Labour Party member, I will continue to hold the consistent view that no political entity or state has a ‘right to exist’ and shall defend my right to a nuanced set of positions on Israel-Palestine as someone who very much desires to see a genuine and just solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Ofcom dismisses claims of antisemitism against Al Jazeera

Mike Cushman

Predictably, when Al Jazeera broadcast The Lobby in January detailing Israeli subversion of British politics, the Zionist attack machine was fired up. They submitted five separate complaints to the media watchdog, Ofcom, alleging antisemitism, bias and invasion of privacy.

Cover of Ofcom report on 'The Lobby'
Cover of Ofcom report on ‘The Lobby’

Ofcom undertook a detailed examination of the claims and published their 60 page findings on 9 October. On every aspect of each claim they found that Al Jazeera had conducted themselves with professional rigour and had breached neither broadcasting rules nor the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism. Each and every item of the lengthy allegations was rejected.

Broadcast Standards case

For the first time, the IHRA definition has been tested by a British quasi-judicial tribunal: it determined not to classify criticism of Israeli activity as antisemitic.

The guidance published with the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism includes the following as a contemporary example (amongst others) of what could constitute anti- Semitism in public life and the media, taking into account the overall context: “Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions”.

The guidance also suggests that manifestations of anti-Semitism might include the targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collective. There was therefore the possibility that a programme, such as The Lobby, which focused on the actions of the State of Israel and alleged that individuals associated with it were attempting to inappropriately influence British democracy, may be considered by some to be anti-Semitic.

Importantly however, the IHRA guidance makes clear that criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.

We considered that the allegations in the programme were not made on the grounds that any of the particular individuals concerned were Jewish and noted that no claims were made relating to their faith. We did not consider that the programme portrayed any negative stereotypes of Jewish people as controlling or seeking to control the media or governments. Rather, it was our view that these individuals featured in the programme in the context of its investigation into the alleged activities of a foreign state (the State of Israel acting through its UK Embassy) and their association with it. We also noted that a number of the organisations featured in the programme, such as Labour Friends of Israel and Conservative Friends of Israel, are not defined by any adherence to Judaism or having a predominantly Jewish membership.

As per the IHRA guidance, Ofcom did not consider that such a critical analysis of the actions of a foreign state constituted anti-Semitism, particularly as the overall focus of the programme was to examine whether the State of Israel was acting in a manner that would be expected of other democratic nations.

For these reasons, our Decision is that there was no breach of Rule 2.3.  [This requires that material which may cause offence must be justified by the context. Under “meaning of context” the Code lists a number of factors including the editorial content of the programme and the service on which it was broadcast.]

This attempt to extend antisemitism to cover criticism of the actions of the Israeli Government failed miserably, to the chagrin of the self-described Campaign Against Antisemitism. This failure echoes the failure of the Fraser case against the University and College Union to similarly extend the meaning of antisemitism.

Shai Masot & Jeremy Newmark with Israeli ambassador Mark Regev speaking at an event at Labour party conference in 2016 (Al Jazeera)
Shai Masot and JLC Chair Jeremy Newmark with Israeli ambassador Mark Regev speaking at an event at Labour party conference in 2016 (Al Jazeera)

This second failure does not mean that we can relax about the threat posed by the IHRA definition. Israel’s apologists will continue to try to use it to suppress exposure of Israel’s actions until we can persuade this Government, or a future Labour Government, to accept that the eleven exemplars do not help in any way to identify antisemitic incidents. By sowing confusion, they obscure real antisemitic threats.

Fairness and Privacy cases

  • ‘Ofcom has not upheld this complaint made by Ms Ella Rose of unjust or unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy’.
  • ‘Ofcom has not upheld this complaint of unjust or unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy made by Kingsley Napley LLP (“Kingsley Napley”) on behalf of Mr Russell Langer.’
  • ‘Ofcom has not upheld this complaint of unjust or unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy made by Kingsley Napley LLP (“Kingsley Napley”) on behalf of Mr Luke Akehurst.’
JLM Director Ella Rose boasts how she can 'take' Jackie Walker
JLM Director Ella Rose boasts how she can ‘take’ Jackie Walker

The report goes into considerable detail about Ella Rose’s complaint but it can be summarised as saying she was very upset about being found out. She believes that her abuse of Jackie Walker and her smooth translation from Israeli Embassy employee to Director of the Jewish Labour Movement were of no public interest. The report states, ‘Ms Rose said that her personal religious faith which involves attachment to Israel should not make her “a target for infringement of privacy”’. This claim of impunity on the basis that Israel is part of her religion is radical restatement of the repeated assertion that any critique of Zionism is antisemitic. At no point does Ella Rose claim she was misrepresented, her distress is that she was represented all too accurately. She seems to believe that she has the right to stay in the shadows despite taking on the role of Director of an organisation seeking to influence Labour Party policy and therefore British political life.

Russell Langer is former Campaigns Director at the Union of Jewish Students and the current Public Affairs Manager with the Jewish Leadership Council. As well as working with Israeli Embassy operative Shai Masot, Mr Langer seems to have had an irony bypass. Part of his complaint was that he was surreptitiously filmed preparing to surreptitiously film a meeting of Labour Friends of Palestine.

The report shows considerable scepticism of the veracity of at least parts of Russell Langer’s claim and gives details of the content of some unused footage which shows his involvement with Masot which he tried to deny. The footage showed that:

Mr Langer had complained about the excessive involvement of the Israeli Embassy in events organised by British Jewish organisations. Mr Langer also confirmed that he has relations with the Israeli Government.

Langer’s lawyers claimed that ‘contrary to the impression created in the programme, Mr Langer hardly knew Mr Masot and had only ever been introduced to him, but had never worked with him.’ But Ofcom found, ‘Mr Masot had some sort of relationship with the JLC and that he knew Mr Langer’

Luke Akehurst, a former Labour Councillor and Director of We Believe in Israel, is a well-known and vocal pro-Israel activist. Again, he was upset that his views had been all too accurately reported. He claimed that:

the footage of Mr Masot speaking with the undercover reporter had been “heavily edited” so it would have been unclear to viewers what the undercover reporter should liaise with Mr Akehurst about.

But on the contrary Ofcom found:

From reviewing the unedited footage, it appeared to Ofcom that the conversation between Mr Masot and the undercover reporter had been edited in the programme as broadcast. However, it was our view that the extent of the editing was very limited and the conversation included in the programme was an accurate reflection of what was said about Mr Akehurst and the manner in which it was said in the unedited footage. Further, it was our view that the programme as broadcast would have made clear to viewers that Mr Masot wanted the undercover reporter to set up the youth wing of the LFI and that to do so, he should liaise with heads of other pro-Israel movements, such as Mr Akehurst. Therefore, we considered that the conversation had not been heavily or unfairly edited.

It was Al Jazeera’s scrupulous accuracy that was so upsetting to Israel’s friends in this aspect as in many others.

Claims of bias, unfairness and antisemitism made repeatedly against Israel’s critics are usually bounced around an echo chamber of like-minded groups. They gain a claimed authority with each repetition and endorsement. The lesson from this report is that when these claims are subjected to scrutiny they fall apart. We must insist that judgements of claims are made by panels that are not dominated by people who have already declared they see antisemitism everywhere and in every defence of Palestinian rights. Neither should they be judged by partisans for Palestine, as a finding of innocence would not be convincing to outside observers. They must be judged in impartial forums, when they are, in this case just as in Fraser v UCU, the claims of antisemitism are demonstrated to be protection of Israel not defence of Jews.

Guilt by Association is now Labour Party Practice

Mike Cushman

Moshe Machover's letter of summary expulsion
Moshe Machover’s letter of summary expulsion

Professor Moshé Machover has been expelled from the Labour Party without a hearing because he spoke on the wrong platform and wrote for the wrong newspaper. What was the Labour bating paper he wrote for and incurred the wrath of Party apparatchiks? Was it the Daily Mail, trailing its history of love-in with fascists, no. Was it one of Rupert Murdoch’s papers with their tradition of lies and distortions of the Party, no. It was, according to the letter Moshé received on 3 October, an on-line paper you have likely not heard of, the Weekly Worker, a paper so powerful and so toxic that, like poison ivy, any brush with it is fatal. Moshé also had the effrontery to speak at the 2016 Communist University . Since the mainstream press and think tank symposiums are generally closed to radical thinkers and writers we must all find whatever outlets we can to try to spread our ideas and educate our colleagues. It is the content of what we say and write that should be judged, not its venue. The complaint against Moshé states

Your involvement and support for both LPM [Labour Party Marxists, claimed to be a front for the Communist Party of Great Britain in the letter] and the Communist Party of Great Britain (through your participation in CPGB events and regular contributions to the CPGB’s newspaper, the Weekly Worker) is documented in Section 3 of the attached evidence. Membership or support for another political party, or a political organisation with incompatible aims to the Labour Party, is incompatible with Labour Party membership.

Chapter 2.I.4.B of the Labour Party’s rules states:

“A member of the party who joins and/or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour Group or unit of the Party or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares their intent to stand against a Labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a party member, subject to the provisions of part 6.I.2 of the disciplinary rules”.

You are therefore ineligible to remain a member of the Labour Party and have been removed from the national membership system. You are no longer entitled to attend local Labour Party meetings.

Some of the motions in support of Moshé passed at Labour Party branches

A one page summary of the expulsion of Moshé Machover for use or distribution at meetings discussing motions on this matter.

Please send details of any motions passed at other branches to info@fsoi.org.uk

Continue reading “Guilt by Association is now Labour Party Practice”

Manchester University caves in to Israeli Embassy pressure

Mike Cushman

University of Manchester logo

Marika Sherwood
Marika Sherwood

Holocaust survivor Marika Sherwood was due to give a talk at the University of Manchester during Israel Apartheid Week 2017 with the title ‘A Holocaust survivor’s story and the Balfour declaration: You’re doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to me’. The University insisted the subtitle be removed and attendance limited to university students and staff only.

The University was reluctant to disclose what led up to this interference with free expression until the Information Commissioner’s Office forced the University to reveal the relevant correspondence. As the Guardian reported on 29 September, the documents revealed that Israeli Embassy pressured the University to insist on the change, alleging that antisemitism lay behind the Holocaust survivor’s choice of title.

I have written to Nancy Rothwell, the University Vice-Chancellor deploring the University’s action and calling for an apology to Ms Sherwood and the students who invited her for disparaging them as antisemites.

I received a totally inadequate standard response from the university and have replied accordingly

The response to my second letter still failed to explain or apologise, so I have tried again

Continue reading “Manchester University caves in to Israeli Embassy pressure”

How to be ‘antisemitic’, on a porcelain plate,…

Mike Cushman

… without mentioning Jew, Israel, Zionism or any accepted or abusive synonym for any of these. Difficult, you might think, but according to Gillian Merron, the chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, leading Palestinian film maker Larissa Sansour has achieved this.

You can view her film until 1 September at https://vimeo.com/222682204 password porcelain.

Still from ‘In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain’
Still from Sansour’s film

Sansour’s film, co-created with Danish author, Søren Lind, In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain is showing in the Barbican season ‘Into the Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction’.

Merron has demanded that the Barbican remove the film from the exhibition. Among Merron’s discomforts is that the dialogue is in Arabic. The film is about the creation of false narratives, a recurring theme in historiography and political theory and one dealt with in a literary form by George Orwell in 1984. In this case it is Merron who is reproducing the character of Winston Smith and trying to excise that which does not fit with her preferred representation. Continue reading “How to be ‘antisemitic’, on a porcelain plate,…”

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”

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”

Don’t Go to the Doctor

Karma Nabulsi writes about Prevent

[Editor’s note. These are extracts from Don’t Go to the Doctor by Karma Nabulsi published in the London Review of Books and reprinted by permission. We are republishing it not just because of its intrinsic interest but because of the link between the IHRA definition of antisemitism and the Prevent programme. We are finding that allegations of IHRA antisemitism, no matter how wild and unfounded, are producing referrals to the Prevent programme; these referrals are being used as a pretext to raise concerns of threats to public order or campus security and justification for cancellation of the event. In this way spurious claims of antisemitism are effective in halting discussion of Israel without any scrutiny of the validity of the allegations. A link is being made between unacceptable and deplorable acts of violence and free expression of of areas of legitimate public concern. The war on ‘terror’ segues into a war on free speech. Mike Cushman]

Karma Nabulsi on the British government’s Prevent programme.
A colleague of mine at Oxford was asked to see an undergraduate who was falling behind in her work. The student – a Muslim – explained that she had been suffering from depression and was being treated for it by her GP. My colleague believed the student’s explanation placed her under an obligation to ask the student whether she was being radicalised.

….

A librarian was asked for a reference by another university: ‘Are you completely satisfied,’ they wanted to know, ‘that the applicant is not involved in “extremism” (being vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs)?’

Out of the blue, a college head refused the usual joint arrangements with a university centre for a lecture by a very distinguished European academic, whose work is on the politics of Islam. Special Branch had informed the college that a great deal of extra security would be required.

….

A student society set up decades ago to represent a well-established immigrant community in the UK wanted to hold welcome drinks for new undergraduates at the beginning of the academic year. The university told them to hand over the guest list 48 hours before the event. They explained that they had no way of knowing who would turn up, as the event was to welcome new members, but offered to check university IDs at the door, take names, or have a senior member in attendance – no, they couldn’t hold the event, it was against the new rules. One of the organisers was sent an explanatory email: ‘The event was impossible without a guest list because of our legal duty to abide by Prevent. All colleges across the university must screen guest lists before they offer an event, for security purposes … our hands are simply tied on this one.’

The British government’s Prevent programme, aimed at keeping people from being ‘drawn into terrorism’, was developed in 2003, after the invasion of Iraq, as part of the overarching counter-terrorism strategy known as Contest. Continue reading “Don’t Go to the Doctor”