Balfour 100; Partition 70; Occupation 50; Future ??

Mike Cushman

This article first appeared in the Morning Star

The UK Government at the behest of the Israeli Government is asking us to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. Arthur Balfour is a largely forgotten and failed Conservative leader apart from two events.

The first was the 1905 Aliens Act. This was a racially motivated act to bar the entry of Jews fleeing the pogroms and Cossacks of Tsarist Russia.  Jews, like my grandparents, had successfully sought the sanctuary for which Britain was famous but Balfour indulged the antisemitism of his supporters and slammed the doors closed, condemning countless others to persecution then and to the Holocaust later.

There is no real contradiction between his action in 1905 and his collusion with the nascent Zionist movement only 12 years later.  Balfour, like many of his class and time was steeped in antisemitic attitudes. He was too ‘civilised’ to enact pogroms or worse but he would rather there were fewer or no Jews living near him. So the Aliens Act was to keep them out and the Declaration, to “view with favour the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people”, was to encourage those who had managed to arrive to move elsewhere. That they should go to Palestine accorded with his Christian Zionist beliefs that the second coming would only happen when the Jews were foregathered in Israel to convert or die. Continue reading “Balfour 100; Partition 70; Occupation 50; Future ??”

How I stopped ignoring NGO Monitor and started fighting back

Michael Sfard

This article is republished from +972 Magazine and is reprinted by permission of the author

For years I have remained silent as Gerald Steinberg and NGO Monitor have harassed anti-occupation groups in Israel-Palestine, spreading falsehoods about us in order to shut us down. Now is the time to speak out. 

Around a decade ago, a new Israeli organization appeared out of nowhere. It had a name that sounded like a piece of medical equipment: NGO Monitor. The organization was founded by a Bar Ilan professor named Gerald Steinberg, as part of a right-wing think tank led by Netanyahu confidant Dore Gold. Since its establishment, Steinberg and NGO Monitor have been working tirelessly to dry out the funding of Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights and peace groups.

Professor Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, seen  at a conference organized by NGO Monitor, entitled "15 years of the Durban conference", held at the Israeli parliament, on June 20, 2016. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90
Professor Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, seen at a conference organized by NGO Monitor, entitled “15 years of the Durban conference”, held at the Israeli parliament, on June 20, 2016. (Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Like a pesky fly, the Monitor sticks to anti-occupation civil society organizations, following their activity and their fundraising efforts and exerting great efforts to harm their ability to raise money. In order to realize this goal, NGO Monitor has created an industry of articles, data sheets, and posts which circularly cite one another and slander these organizations. It then systematically repeats and recycles those papers so many times that had they been academic papers, they would have been the hit of Google Scholar. Continue reading “How I stopped ignoring NGO Monitor and started fighting back”

The Israel Lobby vs Democracy

Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s Inquiry into the UK’s policy towards the Middle East Peace Process

Submission from Free Speech on Israel

This evidence, prepared by Jonathan Rosenhead, was submitted to the select committee enquiry which was halted owing to the announcement of the General Election. As it is not clear when or whether the enquiry will resume in the new Parliament we are publishing our evidence now. This evidence was submitted on 30 March 2017.

Who we are

  1. Free Speech on Israel is a Jewish-led group formed in April 2016 out of concerns that the surge in accusations of antisemitism in British public life, and especially within the Labour Party, in no way reflects the reality that we live in. This concern now extends both to the unbalanced media coverage of this issue, and to the Government’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of antisemitism, which we find to be deeply flawed. See in particular the recently released legal Opinion on this subject.
  2. Our submission to your Inquiry focusses entirely on point 7: how UK policy is influenced by other states and interested parties. In particular we will address the extent to which the state of Israel has been exerting undue influence on the UK’s policy in respect of that country’s violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people.  We start from the evidence revealed in the Al-Jazeera series of investigative reports The Lobby, transmitted in January 2017.

Background to our concern

  1. Recent events have demonstrated that some national governments have an appetite to intervene in the political processes of other countries. The ability to do so will depend on the resources they can muster – such as electronic capabilities, finances devoted to that purpose, and well-disposed individuals in the target country.
  2. We further take the view that the formation of foreign policy in the UK (as in other countries) is not conducted only within political parties but involves a wider swathe of think tanks, academic researchers, businesses with spanning interests, influential organisations and individuals, media commentators and so on. Our comments will address that broader matrix.

Continue reading “The Israel Lobby vs Democracy”

Don’t mention Apartheid

Richard Kuper
This article is reprinted from Open Democracy by permission of the author

The attempt to outlaw the use of the term “apartheid” in relation to Israel and its occupation has to be recognised as carrying dangers of effectively stifling debate on an issue of great importance

The checkpoint to exit Hebron Old City
The checkpoint to exit Hebron Old City (photo Mike Cushman)

We are faced with an increasing onslaught on criticism of Israel with attempts being made to drawn the lines ever more narrowly.  There are accusations that any singling out of Israel is antisemitic: so, for example, calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions in Israel’s case but not in others is prima facie evidence of antisemitism, as is using the word apartheid to characterise any aspect of Israeli society.

What I would like to address here is the use of the concept of ‘apartheid’ to compare South African and Israeli society, and the dangerous suppression involved in outlawing its use. Critics say the analogy is plain wrong and therefore its use can only be malign: an attempt to delegitimate, demonise and apply double standards (to use Sharansky’s 3-D test of criticism of Israel – see the discussion Is criticism of Israel antisemitic?) about what it is that goes beyond what is acceptable. Ultimately, for many of these critics, the use of the term “apartheid” is antisemitic.
Continue reading “Don’t mention Apartheid”

The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s dark side – censored

Michael Lesher
Reprinted by permission of the author

This article was originally published in the Times of Israel but was pulled from their site within 24 hours

April 18 would have been the 115th birthday of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe. Schneerson, who took over a struggling Brooklyn-based Hasidic sect in 1951, was by his death in 1994 arguably “the most influential Jew since Maimonides” and it is about that influence I wish to write — particularly because, in the 20-odd years since his death, recollections of the Rebbe’s personal charisma have largely eclipsed the record of his actual teaching.

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson
The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson

I note at once that I have neither the expertise nor the desire to try to analyze the whole range of the Rebbe’s religious doctrine. Of his role as clergyman and community leader I have little to say, never having lived in a predominantly Lubavitch enclave. Moreover, since I had no contact with him, I am clearly unequipped to write about the Rebbe’s personal qualities; I am prepared to grant that these were impressive.

I am more concerned with the darker side of what the Rebbe taught. Continue reading “The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s dark side – censored”

London Labour shamelessly repeats Israeli fictions

Mike Cushman

Tony Greenstein has written an excellent post on his blog demolishing the fictions that Len Duvall repeated in his response to FSOI’s letter to the Assembly Labour Group about the GLA’s adoption of the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism. We reprint the key part of the post below.

We have posted our rebuttal of Duvall’s assertions about the nature of the IHRA definition; Tony destroys the fictions he wrote about the situation in Palestine/Israel. One of Israel’s major exports is Hasbara: the Hebrew word for what we call propaganda. It appears that Duvall is a loyal customer of the Hasbara store and retails Israeli, what we will politely call, fictions with a straight face. He may assume that people with less knowledge of the dire situations of Palestinian people in ’48 Israel, in the occupied territories and in the diaspora might be taken in by these fabrications: an increasingly dubious assumption. It is an insult to our intelligence that he expects FSOI activists and our friends to be so easily misled.

Greater London Assembly
Greater London Assembly

Tony Greenstein’s demolition of Duvall’s fictions

Dear Mr Duvall, Continue reading “London Labour shamelessly repeats Israeli fictions”

On Questioning the Jewish State

Joseph Levine
Reprinted from New York Times by permission of the author

I was raised in a religious Jewish environment, and though we were not strongly Zionist, I always took it to be self-evident that “Israel has a right to exist.” Now anyone who has debated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will have encountered this phrase often. Defenders of Israeli policies routinely accuse Israel’s critics of denying her right to exist, while the critics (outside of a small group on the left, where I now find myself) bend over backward to insist that, despite their criticisms, of course they affirm it. The general mainstream consensus seems to be that to deny Israel’s right to exist is a clear indication of anti-Semitism (a charge Jews like myself are not immune to), and therefore not an option for people of conscience.

Over the years I came to question this consensus and to see that the general fealty to it has seriously constrained open debate on the issue, one of vital importance not just to the people directly involved — Israelis and Palestinians — but to the conduct of our own foreign policy and, more important, to the safety of the world at large. My view is that one really ought to question Israel’s right to exist and that doing so does not manifest anti-Semitism. The first step in questioning the principle, however, is to figure out what it means. Continue reading “On Questioning the Jewish State”

Dear Rabbi Sacks – stop your lies about BDS

by Robert Cohen
Republished from Writing from the Edge by permission of the author

Dear Jonathan Sacks

Stop telling lies about BDS

Your video animation, designed to make the moral and political case against this year’s Israel Apartheid Weeks on campuses around the world, is a skilful piece of deceit that needs urgent challenge from all who support human rights.

I’ve always admired your writing on Judaism and I recommend your books to others. Except where you talk about Israel, at which point you appear to abandon your learning and your ethical values.

You’re hardly the only rabbi who does this. But most of them don’t have your worldwide reputation, status and audience. When you say something on an important topic like boycotts many will be listening and they will take your position to be the authentic, intelligent and trustworthy voice of Judaism.

That’s exactly why it’s so important to challenge the deliberate distortions and misrepresentations you’re making. Continue reading “Dear Rabbi Sacks – stop your lies about BDS”

“Are you kidding, Apartheid has been here for ages. Ages”

Mike Cushman

In the UK the Government wants to outlaw statements like “Are you kidding, Apartheid has been here for ages. Ages” as antisemitic. In Israel they were part of  Assaf Harel’s appeal to his fellow Israelis to wake up and realise the sort of society they are living in and endorse before it is too late.

This was Harel’s desperate final call as his show has now been cancelled.

In the video Harel demands that his fellow citizens compare their comfortable lifestyle, despite soaring prices and corrupt politicians, with the lives of Palestinians. He points out the daily reality of land thefts; soldiers shooting stone throwing children; administrative detention [without trial] of journalists; and so on. He despairs of Israelis’ collective ability to ignore what is happening a few kilometres away and willingness to dismiss the few brave voices who point this out as ‘left-wing extremists’. Left-wing ‘extremists’ who speak truth to power are equated in the public imagination to right-wing extremists who murder and burn people alive and are praised and protected by ruling politicians.

Read more in Ha’aretz

Why can’t I make these necessary arguments?

Mike Cushman

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism is about far more than the ever-present necessity to remember the Holocaust: it is about limiting debate about the nature and activity of the Israeli state.

The definition, and its earlier appearance as the EUMC draft working definition, has been used to try to prevent the description of Israel as an Apartheid state. Anyone is entitled to attack this description as mistaken or as malicious but to assert that it must not be used is a punitive restriction on free speech. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the meaning of Apartheid in Afrikaans is separateness. What critics of Israel call the apartheid wall, the Israelis call the separation barrier; hardly an example of lost in translation.

The Apartheid Wall next to the Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem
The Apartheid Wall next to the Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem

All across the United Kingdom at the end of February there will be events to mark 2017 Israel Apartheid Week. IAW has long been a high spot of the calendar of Palestine support – each year it is denounced as antisemitic on account of its name not because of some supposed outrage. The current

round of false antisemitism allegations started from the attack on the Oxford University Labour Club for its endorsement of the 2016 IAW –

Israel Apartheid Week 2016 poster
Israel Apartheid Week 2016 poster

this was deemed by the Zionist claque to be indisputable evidence of antisemitism with any supporting facts. May’s adoption of the IHRA definition will empower the self-appointed Witchfinders General to harass defenders of human rights and international law.

Every day the Israelis are attempting to separate out the Palestinians from East Jerusalem through home demolitions and through revocation of residents’ rights to live in the city – who cannot see the replication of the practices of Apartheid South Africa in these practices? Only Zionist true believers and their acolytes in western governments, ready to apologise for and excuse almost every Israeli brutality. Every crocodile in every zoo in Europe and North America has been ruthlessly stripped of their tears to wet the handkerchiefs of May and Merkel and Hollande when they limply distance themselves from a particularly inexcusable excess.  Trump, however, has not bothered any passing reptile: refusing to shed any tear, human or otherwise, for the plight of a single Palestinian. These politicians will turn round in ten years’ time to tell us they never supported Israeli apartheid and excoriated Netanyahu and his gang just as their predecessors told us with straight faces that they always supported Mandela.

Central to apartheid in Israel as in South Africa is differential rights to own and occupy property and land. Expulsion of Black Africans from Sophiatown is remembered for its brutality. The gradual expulsions from Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah is slower but no less traumatic. South Africa had its Group Areas Act; Israel has its Absentee Property Law with its Orwellian creation of present absentees. These are the inescapable equivalences that the IHRA definition seeks to proscribe.

A key signifier of antisemitism according to the IHRA is questioning the right of Israel to exist by claiming it is a racist endeavour. It is not some capricious act to raise these questions; they are demanded by any simple observation of the facts. The Absentee Property Law is central to land holding in Israel and it is an explicitly racist piece of legislation. The desire to expel Arabs (sic) has been a recurrent theme from Ben Gurion’s regime onwards. Even before the state was founded, the slogan “Jewish Labour only” was common in Mandate Palestine.

The fact that Israel, uniquely, is a state without a singular nationality is racist. The Law of Return allowing Jews with no connection to Israel beyond a self-claimed mythical biblical one are allowed to immigrate, while Palestinians remain to sojourn in refugee camps, can only be regarded as racist. Israel proudly claims to be a Zionist entity. Central to Zionism is the claim to a special status for Jews and a lesser status for others – this is as explicitly racist as anything in the Nurnberg laws (naturally, making this comparison is another sign of antisemitism).

The question of self-determination, although the substance of that right is never explained, is commonly translated into ‘questioning the right of Israel to exist’. This is a strange formulation. States do not have rights, people do. States are contingent and rise and fall. Scots contest the right of the United Kingdom to exist. The right of the USA to exist was challenged in a bloody civil war. Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia lost their rights to exist, one peacefully the other far less so. The right of Jews living in Israel not to be slaughtered is absolute; their right to live as they please regardless of their impact on Palestinians is not. If self-determination means they can dictate the conditions of life of others who are denied any engagement in a democratic process, then that is selfish not self.

In writing this I have consciously transgressed the strictures of the IHRA. I do that unapologetically; not because I am antisemitic or ‘self-hating’ but because my Jewish heritage instructs me to stand against injustice and oppression. Zionism is more harmful for Jews than anything since the holocaust because it frames Judaism as unjust. While I am not religious I require religions, maybe vainly, to be enablers of the transmission of virtue, generosity and justice: I demand no less of humanism and atheism. Israel is a living proof of the ludicrous optimism of my expectations.