Labour Jews say antisemitism inquiry reporting today must defend freedom to debate Israel-Palestine

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Labour Jews say antisemitism inquiry reporting today must defend freedom to debate Israel-Palestine

  • Free speech is at risk from the charge that opposition to Zionism is antisemitic
  • Pro-Israel Jewish organisations do not represent all Jews
  • Jewish scholars say supporting Palestine is not anti-Jewish
  • Antisemitism must be confronted alongside Islamophobia and other forms of racism
  • False allegations are being used as a weapon against Corbyn supporters

June 30 – Recommendations from an inquiry set up following accusations of antisemitism in the Labour Party are due to be made public today. Jewish party members and supporters have told the inquiry that pro-Israel lobbyists are threatening freedom of speech by making criticism of Israel a “thought crime”.

Free Speech on Israel (FSOI), a Jewish-led network of labour, green and trade union activists, was set up in April to counter attempts by pro-Israel right wingers to brand the campaign for justice for Palestinians as anti-Jewish.

“It is imperative that criticism of Israel and indeed the Zionist project do not become thought crimes,” said Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, lead author of the FSOI submission to the inquiry, which is due to report at the end of June.

He said the inquiry, headed by former Director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, “is an opportunity to put to rest the moral panic that has been whipped up by some opponents of Corbyn’s Labour Party and to ensure that freedom of speech on an important and contentious issue is not undermined.”

The FSOI submission states that pro-Israel bodies such as the Board of Deputies (BoD) of British Jews, Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) do not represent the entire Jewish community as they claim.

The network disputes those organisations’ assertion that Zionism – the political ideology underpinning the Israeli state – is intrinsic to Judaism and Jewish identity.

Other Jewish organisations making similar arguments in submissions to the inquiry include Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP), Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG) and the International  Jewish Antizionist Network (IJAN), as well as an ad hoc group of 97 Jewish members of the Labour party who have proposed creation of a new, inclusive Jewish Labour organization.

For more information contact:
info@freespeechonisrael.org.uk

NOTES FOR EDITORS:
Here are the main points made by Free Speech on Israel in its submission to the Chakrabarti inquiry. We also draw on a submission proposing formation of a new inclusive Jewish Labour organization, as well as submissions from the Jewish Socialists’ Group, Independent Jewish Voices, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, the International Jewish Antizionist Network-UK, and many individuals. All can be viewed here

1.      Antisemitism is Hostility towards Jews as Jews, in which they are perceived as something other than what they are,” according to a widely accepted definition from Dr Brian Klug, an authority on the subject. Refs: FSOI submission p.5 Defining antisemitism; JfJfP submission p.11 Defining Antisemitism
2.      Robust criticism of the Israeli state and its founding ideology, even if expressed in ways upsetting to some Zionists, does not amount to antisemitism. Alleging that it does threatens free speech on the Israel-Palestine question. Refs: FSOI submission p.1 Free Speech; IJV submission p.1-3 Executive Summary
3.      Suggesting that all Jews share one ideology – Zionism – and are uniformly loyal to the State of Israel is itself antisemitic. Not all Jews are Zionists, many Zionists are not Jews, pro-Israel organisations do not represent all Jews. Refs: FSOI submission p.3 Jews in Britain, p.5 Antisemitism and AntiZionism; JSG submission p2 Zionism –contested political ideology, not a religious imperative; p.4 Antisemitism and Antizionism; p.6 Voices and representation within Britain’s Jewish community
4.      Virtually all of the complaints directed at the Labour Party are about attitudes to Israel, not about Jews. We are seeing a purge of pro-Palestine activists who are supporters of democratically elected leader Jeremy Corbyn. Refs: FSOI submission p.4 The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party; IJAN-UK submission p.1; JSG submission p.8/9 Evaluating charges of antisemitism; JfJfP submission p.4 Allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party
5.      Antisemitism is one among many forms of prejudice that must be fought. It is less virulent today than the Islamophobia and hatred of migrants and Roma people promoted by the Far Right and made respectable by some mainstream politicians. Refs: JSG Submission p.4 Antisemitism in Britain; IJAN-UK submission p.2
6.      The so-called EUMC (European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia) definition of antisemitism, promoted by the BoD, JLM, Zionist Federation, Campaign against Antisemitism and other pro-Israel lobbyists, has never been adopted by any official EU body. Refs: FSOI submission p.6 Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism; JfJfP submission p.6/7 Related ‘framing’ issues
7.      Zionism is responsible for Palestinian dispossession over several generations. Almost every Palestinian is anti-Zionist for entirely understandable reasons. There is nothing antisemitic about this. Refs: FSOI submission p.2 Context; JSG submission p.5; IJV submission p.8 The New Antisemitism
8.      If expressions of support for Palestine unintentionally stray into antisemitic territory, the answer is education, not expulsion. Refs: JSG submission p.5 & p.8 Evaluating charges of antisemitism; JfJfP submission p.15/16 Judaism and Zionism; JfJfP submission p.14 Providing Guidelines
9.      The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) – an openly Zionist organization – is not a fit body to educate others on antisemitism. Its proposed changes to party rules make false charges of antisemitism more likely, disregard victims of real antisemitism, and spread fear of being accused of antisemitism, stifling debate about Israel-Palestine. Refs:FSOI submission p.10 False allegations of antisemitism; Proposal for a new, inclusive Jewish Labour organisation; JSG submission p.8.
10.   It is not sufficient for someone Jewish to say they are offended by a statement for it to be judged antisemitic. This is a distortion of guidance from the Macpherson inquiry into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence.  A victim’s perception must be taken into account when investigating an alleged hate crime, but it cannot determine in advance, without reference to objective criteria, that a hate crime was committed. Refs: FSOI submission p.12 The Macpherson Report; JfJfP submission p.12 The Macpherson Principle

11.   Allegations of antisemitism cannot be used to ban certain political arguments about the nature or origins of the state of Israel, or the tactics – such as boycott – that Palestinians choose to campaign for an end to the injustices committed against them. Refs: FSOI submission p.9 Boycott and ‘singling out’ as hate speech; JfJfP submission p.14 Providing Guidelines