Sam Semoff

Free Speech on Israel is saddened to learn of the death of Sam Semoff. Sam was a dedicated supporter of FSOI, opponent of Zionist oppression of Palestinians and a leading figure in campaigns against privatisation of the health service

Sam Semoff
Sam Semoff

Sam’s comrades in Liverpool have published this tribute

It was with great sadness that we heard  of the passing of the much loved American Jewish socialist and fighter, Sam Semoff.

Sam was a stalwart of Liverpool Friends of Palestine for many years, but also became the figurehead of the campaign against the PFI funded new Royal Liverpool Hospital. Attacked personally by Liverpool’s mayor in the Liverpool Echo, Sam continued to campaign for the NHS during the last days of his life, and his death a week before the collapse of Carillion cheated him of the satisfaction of public vindication.

His involvement in politics went back to the sixties, something I only learned about recently. He acted as my Silent Friend when I was interviewed by the Labour Party’s Compliance Unit last year, and it was during this interview that I caught a glimpse of this history. Sam wasn’t a very good silent friend, in that he wasn’t at all silent. We recorded the interview, so I can quote him here, word for word. When the Labour Party interviewer recklessly invited Sam to ask a question at the end of the interview, Sam asked him for his definition of antisemitism. I quote:

I moved to Britain in the seventies. Ahm. I was brought up in an orthodox Jewish household, in New Jersey.… the majority of the community was Jewish but there was a small segment of Polish Catholics who used to beat me up as a kid coming home from school because I killed Christ. I lost an aunt in the holocaust. So I’m a bit sensitive, ahm, when I keep hearing the word, which you used frequently, anti-Semitism. I would just like to ask, plain and simple, what’s your definition of anti-Semitism?

When he received the answer that the Compliance Unit was using the Zionist definition used by the Community Security Trust (a pro-Israel lobby group, which incorporates anti-Zionism within the definition of antisemitism) Sam gave the young man a lecture on the difference between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. Again, Sam’s words:

By using the CST definition of anti-Semitism, which includes opposition to a Jewish state in its anti-Semitism definition, well, it will completely skew any report that you will do. I’m Jewish, as I say, my definition of anti-Semitism is when someone says to me, ‘I hate you because you’re Jewish’. If someone expresses dislike or animosity toward a group of individuals because they’re Jewish, that’s anti-Semitism. It has nothing, and I mean nothing, to do with a, a Jewish state. I’m a Jewish person and I question its existence and if you’re gonna use the CST definition of anti-Semitism, then that will skew your investigation completely.

The exchange (if you can call it that – the young interviewer was completely out of his depth and didn’t have much to say in reply) was very funny, despite the seriousness of the issues. It ended with Sam adding a parting comment, in which he explained his journey from youthful left Zionist to campaigner on behalf of Palestinian rights, and in which he also encapsulated what he felt was the heart of Jewishness. It chimes with me, and is why I am such an admirer of many Jewish people and their traditions.

No, there’s something else. It’s just… I remember a political gathering at a friend’s house, just after the six day war. 1967. Sorry, but it’s relevant. We were mostly Jewish. I was still clinging by my fingernails to some notion of left Zionism, but there was an old fella there who didn’t say too much, and he changed me. He’d come down from New York, and he was in a wheelchair. He was in a wheelchair cos of the Freedom Summer. 1964. He’d gone down on a voter registration drive in Mississippi and he’d taken a bullet in the spine. Right? This old guy personified to me what being Jewish was about. Being Jewish, it’s about equality, it’s about the struggle for justice, right? And the whole idea of the only ethnic state on the planet, right, it’s an obscenity. And I’m saying that as a Jewish person.

You were a mensche, comrade. Farewell.

Jon Davies has written this obituary

Sam Semoff was born to an orthodox Jewish mother and a Jewish communist father, who emigrated from Eastern Europe to Pennsylvania to become homesteaders.  An early attachment to left Zionism was dispelled by a meeting in the late sixties with a wheelchair using Jewish activist who’d taken a racist’s bullet whilst on a voter registration drive in the deep south. The germ of his pro-Palestine campaigning was sown by this meeting:  This old guy personified to me what being Jewish was about. Being Jewish, it’s about equality, it’s about the struggle for justice, right? And the whole idea of the only ethnic state on the planet, right, it’s an obscenity. And I’m saying that as a Jewish person.”

Working in the early days of electron microscopy, Sam arrived in Liverpool in the early eighties, having been offered a PhD place, and then a research post at the School of Tropical Medicine. Two lists of student landlords were discovered, one of landlords who accepted non-white tenants and another which didn’t. Sam’s complaint to Senate over this condoning of racial profiling was denied and when he went public, the promised research position went to someone else.

He was active in the Labour Party during the eighties, resigned over the Iraq war, and then rejoined with the election of Corbyn as leader. He was briefly Chair of Liverpool Riverside CLP just before his long-time political adversary Louise Ellman, a committed Zionist, was accepted as candidate. His activism involved him with the Somali community, with which he had close links, pro-Palestine solidarity, and, latterly, with campaigns to save the NHS, against the closure of Liverpool Women’s Hospital and to prevent the building of the new PFI funded (Carillion!) Liverpool Royal Hospital. He was a regular on pickets and demos, latterly lugging his bottle of oxygen.

Zionism grievously damaged the inspiring tradition of Jewish leadership in struggles against injustice and autocracy. Sam Semoff’s life is a shining example of how it has nevertheless survived. His warmth, engaging twinkle and unquenchable battling spirit will be hugely missed.

 

Labour smears Israel’s critics as antisemites

Free Speech on Israel is supporting the Labour against the Witch-hunt’s

Lobby of the Labour Party NEC

Tuesday 23 January
11.00 a.m.-1.00 p.m.

Southside, 105 Victoria Street London SW1E 6QT

1. A moratorium on any new NCC witch-hunt cases
2. The withdrawal of all outstanding NCC witch-hunt cases
3. The immediate implementation of the Chakrabarti report recommendations on Labour’s disciplinary procedures in respect of natural justice and due process

Labour activist and co-founder of Britain’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign Tony Greenstein will shortly undergo a Labour Party disciplinary hearing over accusations of alleged antisemitic comments made online. Greenstein was suspended from Labour back in 2016 when the remarks first came to light. Greenstein has maintained the content was legitimate criticism of Israeli policy, and not derogatory statements about Jews. 

Moshé Machover, a British-Israeli activist and member of the UK’s Labour Party, has prepared the following testimony in defence of Greenstein. Machover was also the founder of the Israeli socialist political party Matzpen.  Continue reading “Labour smears Israel’s critics as antisemites”

Right-Wing “Friends of Israel” disrupt Jewish antisemitism discussions

In London these days, Jews critical of Israel need police protection in order to hold meetings.

“We’re just Jews calling other Jews kapos”.
Disruptors at a Free Speech on Israel meeting at SOAS on November 14. Photo by Sue Blackwell

In November and December this year, individuals claiming to defend the Jewish community against people they view as traitors – that is, Jews who are critical of Israel – have actively organised to disrupt a series of meetings on university and parliamentary premises.

In one instance on November 14, shouting, cat-calling and loud abuse resulted in massive disruption of a meeting to launch a book about antisemitism published by the US organisation Jewish Voice for Peace. The event was organised by the campaign group Free Speech on Israel (FSOI) at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Abuse directed at the Jewish speakers and audience members included, “You’re called traitor Jews, kapos….(“Kapo” is a label applied to Jews who helped the Nazis run the death camps.)… We’re going to challenge you and your foul race hate against Jewish people….You’re a moron and she’s an antisemite.” The last remark was addressed to one of the speakers and her sister. Continue reading “Right-Wing “Friends of Israel” disrupt Jewish antisemitism discussions”

Jacobson and friends confuse by design

Phil Edwards reprinted by permission from his blog, Workers’ Playtime where it was published as the second part of a series ‘Like a Lion’

The Jacobson/Schama/Sebag Montefiore letter [paywall] published in The Times on 6 November about anti-Zionism deserves a proper look. The first thing to say is that, while there is an argument there, there’s also an awful lot of confusion and rhetorical inflation. This may just be because Howard Jacobson – who seems to be the lead author – is a muddled thinker and a windy writer, but I think it also has something to do with the subject.

The trouble starts with the first introduction of anti-Zionism:

constructive criticism of Israeli governments has morphed into something closer to antisemitism under the cloak of so-called anti-Zionism

Either anti-Zionism is a genuine position being used opportunistically as a façade – a ‘cloak’ – for antisemitism (cf the Doctors’ Plot), or the name ‘anti-Zionism’ is a polite label for antisemitism (“so-called anti-Zionism”). Can’t be both; you can’t ‘cloak’ antisemitism in antisemitism-with-another-name. What anti-Zionism is, in the authors’ eyes, remains unclear. Continue reading “Jacobson and friends confuse by design”

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 ??”

Ken Loach on Palestine: “don’t be distracted, just tell the truth”

Film maker Frank Barat interviews Ken Loach about recent allegations in The Guardian and New York Times which claim he gave “spurious legitimacy” to Holocaust denial and the refusal of these same newspapers to give him any opportunity to provide an adequate response

First published in Roar and reproduced by permission of the author

Continue reading “Ken Loach on Palestine: “don’t be distracted, just tell the truth””

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.

I support Palestinian rights, and I’m fed up with the anti-Jewish conspiracy theories

Michael Lesher

First published in Times of Israel blog and reprinted by permission of the author

I’ve had it.

For too long, I’ve tried to rationalize my way around the concatenation of Palestinian advocacy with some of the rankest anti-Jewish stereotyping this side of the Ku Klux Klan.

No more.

I support Palestinian national and civil rights. I deplore Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory as the appalling complex of crimes it is.

But I’ve read one too many — no, dozens too many — social media postings from “advocates” for Palestinians that read like pages torn from an old copy of Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Continue reading “I support Palestinian rights, and I’m fed up with the anti-Jewish conspiracy theories”

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”

Back Hastings & Rye Labour Party rule change

There are two radically different rule changes on the agenda for Labour Party Conference later in September dealing with alleged antisemitism in the Party. One from the Jewish Labour Movement and one from Hastings and Rye Labour Party.

Hastings once stood solid behind a shield wall. Let’s keep solid and ensure we are not defeated this time around

In early 2016 the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) tabled an amendment to Labour’s rulebook to make an undefined antisemitism, as perceived by an accuser and including unspoken “thought crime”, a matter for expulsion. That summer also saw dozens of people, and whole CLPs, suspended in a wholesale purge that included many unsubstantiated allegations of antisemitism.

The JLM last year tried to drum up a moral panic to force a rushed move to fast-forward their Rule Change to be taken in 2016. They failed in their attempt to jump procedure but now it is due for debate in Brighton this year.

Hastings and Rye Labour Party have proposed an alternative rule change which allows sensible consideration of alleged antisemitic and racist activity through due process rather than rush to judgement. Continue reading “Back Hastings & Rye Labour Party rule change”