Jewish Labour activists in defence of Jackie Walker

jackie-walker-28sept

In Defence of Jackie Walker

We are Jewish Labour activists who were with Jackie Walker at the training session on antisemitism led by Mike Katz, vice chair of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) during the Labour Party conference in Liverpool on Monday September 26. Like her, some of us were heckled when we raised questions unpalatable to others in the audience who share the JLM’s bias towards Israel, its coupling of Jewish identity with Zionism and its insistence on the uniqueness of Jewish suffering.

Jackie had every right to question the JLM’s definition of antisemitism and the tendency of mainstream Jewish organisations to focus entirely on the slaughter of Jews when they commemorate the Nazi Holocaust. We share her determination to build greater awareness of other genocides, which are too often forgotten or minimised. Jackie responded appreciatively when one audience member described Holocaust memorial events involving Armenians and others.  She has since issued a statement on this issue, reproduced below.

We were shocked at the way the level of barracking rose as soon as Jackie began to speak. JLM supporters demonstrated contempt for her as a Jewish woman of African heritage who is a lifelong anti-racist advocate for the rights of minorities and a leading Labour Party activist in her Thanet constituency.

We unreservedly condemn allegations of antisemitism made against Jackie Walker. Calls for her to be disowned by the Momentum movement of which she is vice-chair, and for her to be suspended for a second time from the Labour Party, are reprehensible instances of the witch hunt to which she and other Corbyn supporters have been subjected over recent months.

The way Jackie has been treated demonstrates the unfitness of the JLM to deliver training on antisemitism. It is an organisation committed to one, contested strand of Jewish labour tradition to the exclusion of any other; it relies on a definition of antisemitism that conflates Jewish identity with Zionism; and it exploits its interactions with party members to set the limits of political discourse about the Middle East in accordance with its own partisan ideology.

By promoting the witch hunt, the JLM has helped to relegate the vile prejudice of antisemitism to a tool in the armoury of pro-Israel advocates, backed by Corbyn’s enemies in the political and media establishment.

Signed:

Graham Bash, Hackney North CLP
Rica Bird, Wirral South CLP
Leah Levane, Hastings and Rye CLP
Jonathan Rosenhead, Hackney South and Shoreditch CLP
Glyn Secker, Dulwich and West Norwood CLP
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, Chingford and Woodford Green CLP


A statement from Jackie Walker

“A number of people made comments in a private training session run by the Jewish Labour Movement. As we all know, training sessions are intended to be safe spaces where ideas and questions can be explored. A film of this session was leaked to the press unethically. I did not raise a question on security in Jewish schools. The trainer raised this issue and I asked for clarification, in particular as all London primary schools, to my knowledge, have security and I did not understand the particular point the trainer was making. Having been a victim of racism I would never play down the very real fears the Jewish community have, especially in light of recent attacks in France.

In the session, a number of Jewish people, including me, asked for definitions of antisemitism. This is a subject of much debate in the Jewish community. I support David Schneider’s definition and utterly condemn antisemitism.

I would never play down the significance of the Shoah. Working with many Jewish comrades, I continue to seek to bring greater awareness of other genocides, which are too often forgotten or minimised. If offence has been caused, it is the last thing I would want to do and I apologise.”


Read Jackie Walker’s interview in the New Statesman
Read Asa Winstanley on Labour’s antisemitism training

Polemical intervention – or analytical contribution?

Review of The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism  David Rich, London: Biteback Publishing 2016, £12.99 paperback

This review first appeared in Labour Briefing

The Left's Jewish Problem cover 6.inddThe Left’s Jewish Problem is an ideological tract and an intervention in the current battle in the Labour Party. It is designed to show “a sickness at the heart of left wing British politics… silently spreading, becoming ever more malignant” (cover blurb). That sickness is the sickness of antisemitism.

Of course there are antisemitic ideas around in Britain and it would be nonsense to assume that the left was immune. But Rich is on a mission to show antisemitism as widespread, systematic, hegemonic on the left.
As Rich is aware, there isn’t much Jew-hatred of a traditional kind around on the left, There is, rather, he believes, a different kind of antisemitism, expressed as an anti-Zionism of the left, in which movements and thinkers have come to view Israel and Zionism as “a product of western colonialism rather than a liberation movement against it”.

That large sections of “the left” fell out of love with Israel and came to rally around support for Palestinian rights and a Palestinian state is relatively uncontested. But why the change? For Rich, this shift couldn’t be a response to events, analysis, or improved understanding. It was, rather, an ideological hijacking by the “New Left”.

Rich’s New Left, with Corbyn as its embodiment, is a curious construct. “As New Left superseded Old,” he writes, “so identity politics replaced class politics as its primary mobilising idea… [This New Left represents] a new social class, rooted in intellectual and cultural professions, populated by public sector workers whose political agenda would come to be dominated by identity and iconoclasm.”

So the movement behind Corbyn is somehow viewed as a break with all tradition, rather than a popular, deeply-rooted, left trade-union and social movement, trying to incorporate class and identity issues, in a desire to restore something of older Labour concerns: equality, social ownership, trade-union rights, anti-imperialism and more.

Rich operates with free-floating, unchanging essences. So Zionism is, was and always will be nothing but self-determination/national liberation. Who could possibly criticise that? So by definition describing Israel as a colonial-settler or apartheid society can’t have any truth in it. It can only be an emotional attempt to demonise Israel. For Rich, such concepts are products of a New Left mind set: the apartheid analogy was “hardwired into left wing anti-Israel politics in Britain during its formative [anti-apartheid] years in the 1960s and 1970s.”

But what if these concepts are gaining ground precisely because they make increasing sense of an emergent reality? Events have played crucial role in shifting ideas on the left in relation to Israel-Palestine – from the 1956 Suez invasion to the televised spectacle of phosphorus bombs falling on Gaza and bodies of children in the rubble.

Whatever Zionism might or might not have been originally, what has it become? Israel’s colonisation of the West Bank continues unabated. Green-line Israel’s discrimination against its increasingly second-class Palestinian citizens, and their physical displacement in the Negev, rolls on. What Israel is now needs to be judged by what it is doing, not by its ideological self-image. Israel’s actions are what are delegitimising it, not any antisemitism of the left.

It is clearly wrong to argue that all claims of antisemitism are simply made in order to silence criticism of Israel. Allegations of antisemitism should be taken seriously and investigated swiftly. But making an allegation is not the same thing as establishing a fact. Rich is entirely oblivious to (or simply ignores) the context in which recent accusations emerged – why, for example, emotionally charged posts and tweets from the 2014 Gaza war should only be dredged up in 2016, under Corbyn’s leadership. It does not take much to see the timing as contrived, rather than an innocent desire to unmask antisemitism.

Clearly, insofar as some remarks are antisemitic they need to be confronted. Conspiracy theories, e.g. that Israel founded Isis or that Jews escaped 9/11, should be dismissed out of hand. Individuals who make them should be dealt with appropriately. But appropriately means appropriately. It doesn’t mean suspensions without charge, condemnation without a hearing, or leaking stories to the Jewish Chronicle or Daily Telegraph – in short, the weaponisation of antisemitism and the complete absence of due process we have witnessed in recent months. On all this Rich has nothing to say.

If Rich’s book encourages us to be more precise in our language, to temper how we express our emotional outrage at the things Israel does with impunity, to be more strategic in how we build support for Palestinian rights, it may (inadvertently!) achieve something useful. But in its own terms, it must be treated as a polemical intervention rather than a serious analytical contribution to our understanding of antisemitism (or the left) today.

Richard Kuper

Richard Kuper is a co-founder and past Chair of Jews for Justice for Palestinians and a member of Holborn & St Pancras Constituency Labour Party

Miriam David’s review

Jewish pro-Corbyn activists respond to Kafkaesque “antisemitism” attacks

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Jewish pro-Corbyn activists retaliate against Kafkaesque “antisemitism” attacks

  • Jewish activists denounce “Kafkaesque” attacks on Corbyn
  • Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker confronts her abusers
  • Conference fringe meeting will expose “exaggerated and downright false claims of antisemitism”

Jewish activists have denounced as “Kafkaesque” attacks on Jeremy Corbyn by a extreme Zionist organisation, the self-styled “Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA),” which on Friday ratcheted up its campaign to brand pro-Palestinian campaigners as Jew-haters by filing a disciplinary complaint against the Labour leader.

“The CAA has managed to combine Catch-22, a McCarthyite witchhunt, a Kafkaesque nightmare and a surreal trip down Alice’s rabbit hole by alleging that anyone who questions allegations of antisemitism must be an antisemite,” said Jackie Walker, vice-chair of the grassroots Momentum movement.

Walker, a lifelong anti-racist campaigner of both African and Jewish heritage, has been subjected to an unrelenting campaign of vilification for discussing links between her Jewish ancestors and the slave trade.

She will confront her abusers when she speaks at two meetings about allegations of antisemitism on the first evening of the party conference in Liverpool on Sunday September 25.

Walker will join a panel discussion titled Jewish socialists against the anti-Corbyn witchhuntorganised by Free Speech on Israel (FSOI), a network of mainly Jewish activists opposed to the deployment of antisemitism allegations to silence Corbyn supporters who campaign for justice for Palestine.

The organisers call it “the only chance during the four days of conference to uncover the truth behind the devastation wreaked upon Labour by exaggerated and downright false claims of antisemitism.”

A meeting at Momentum’s conference fringe hub earlier the same evening will bring Jeremy Newmark of the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) face to face with Walker to debate “Does Labour have an Antisemitism Problem?”

New Jewish Labour Movement director was Israeli embassy officer

Please read article in full on Electronic Intifada

Asa Winstanley Lobby Watch 21 September 2016

The new director of the Jewish Labour Movement was an officer at the Israeli embassy in London for the past year, The Electronic Intifada can reveal.

Ella Rose worked at the embassy as public affairs officer between September 2015 and August 2016, when she joined JLM as its first director.

JLM chair Jeremy Newmark has hit out at the group’s Jewish critics, telling The Electronic Intifada that the embassy had been “a good career move” for Rose.

The Israeli embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

Press reports in July announcing Rose’s appointment did not disclose the Israeli embassy link, mentioning only her previous position as president of the Union of Jewish Students.

Jewish critics of the JLM have told The Electronic Intifada that JLM’s link to the Israeli embassy should disqualify it from leading Labour Party trainings on anti-Semitism.

The Israeli government and its allied organizations around the world have a long-standing policy of deliberately conflating criticisms of Israel with anti-Semitism.

The JLM has drawn criticism from non-Zionist Jewish members of Labour for its pro-Israel tendencies. Jews who do not follow Zionism, Israel’s state ideology, have told The Electronic Intifada that JLM excludes them.

Continue reading here.

Petition: Calling for the withdrawal of John McDonnell from the JLM rally against ‘anti-Semitism

Please add your name, and share on social media.

JLM want to punish thought crime

The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) has been a leading actor in the campaign to demonise Jeremy Corbyn and all other critics of Israel as antisemites. As part of their campaign they are trying to amend the Labour Party’s rules to make it easier to suspend or expel advocates of Palestinian Rights and are submitting proposed rule changes to this year’s conference. If their proposals went through the words ‘except in instances involving antisemitism, Islamophobia or racism’ will be added to the end of the section on actions detrimental to the Labour Party. So a crucial sentence will read ‘The NCC shall not have regard to the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions except in instances involving antisemitism, Islamophobia or racism’.

It is a principle of British law that it is actions that lead to sanctions, not thoughts. Thoughts are only of interest to tribunals when manifested in words or actions. Only totalitarian regimes seek to control our thoughts – a situation ridiculed as thought crime by George Orwell. As Wikipedia describes it “The term was popularized in the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, wherein thought crime is the criminal act of holding unspoken beliefs or doubts that oppose or question the ruling party.” Suppressing the crime was the province of the Thought Police.

We do not know where the NCC – the National Constitutional Committee, the body responsible for Labour Party discipline – will recruit their thoughtpol and how they will collect evidence on the nature of our thoughts. The thoughtpol will presumably be part of the Compliance Unit (now that’s an Orwellian term) which has been running the purges of ‘unsuitable’ voters during the Leadership election. Orwell was explicit in how Thought Crime was to be investigated. Will the Labour Party be building its own Room 101?

Elsewhere on this site we describe the JLM’s affiliations to the Israel Labour Party, responsible for commencing the settlement programme in the West Bank, and to the World Zionist Organisation, responsible for channelling funds to the illegal settlements. Despite their public affiliation to Zionist organisations the JLM wish to see use of the term Zionist as a potential disciplinary offence. It appears from their proposed rule change they wish to see anyone who believes them to be Zionist to be disciplined as well. We are not only in the realms feared by Orwell we are in Kafka’s territory as well.

The JLM’s record of supporting a regime that abuses human rights has long cast a large question mark on their place in the Labour family. This latest initiative, displaying a willingness to introduce human rights abuse into the Labour Party rule book, must call their ethical judgement further into question; it should also pose a problem for all those in the Party who, in the past, have looked to the JLM for advice. We must ensure their advice is ignored by all in the Party in the future.

The proposed rule changes also include a wilful misreading of  Macpherson’s description of a racist incident and seeks to extend this misreading to all hate speech and incidents. The JLM proposes the addition of a section that states:

Where a member is responsible for a hate incident, being defined as something where the victim or anyone else think it was motivated by hostility or prejudice based on disability, race, religion, transgender identity, or sexual orientation, the NEC may have the right to impose the appropriate disciplinary options

Macpherson’s description was relevant to a particular time and place and related to the failure of the Metropolitan Police to take seriously victims’ perceptions of incidents. The intention was to require the police to investigate incidents, taking seriously the perception, not to prejudge the outcome of the investigation.

Professor David Feldman, director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism and vice chair of the Chakrabarti Inquiry was asked by the Parliamentary All-Party Committee on Antisemitism for guidance on interpreting the MacPherson principles

Macpherson wrote that ‘a racist incident’ is ‘any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.’ If we look at the context in which this quotation appears, it is unambiguously clear that Macpherson intended to propose that such racist incidents require investigation. He did not mean to imply that such incidents are necessarily racist. However, Macpherson’s report has been misinterpreted and misapplied in precisely this way. Its authority has been thrown behind the view that such incidents should, by definition, be regarded as racist. In short, a definition of antisemitism which takes Jews’ feelings and perceptions as its starting point and which looks to the Macpherson report for authority is built on weak foundations.

Putting the rule changes together: if any Zionist thinks I am thinking an antisemitic thought, that is enough to get me expelled from the Labour Party.

Mike Cushman

FSOI MEDIA NOTICE – Zionism and antisemitism all the rage at Labour Party conference fringe

www.freespeechonisrael.org.uk          info@freespeechonisrael.org.uk

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Zionism and antisemitism all the rage at Labour Party conference fringe

  • Three fringe meetings in 3 hrs on allegations against Corbyn supporters
  • Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker confronts her abusers
  • Jewish activists will expose “exaggerated and downright false claims of antisemitism”

Defenders and opponents of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will clash over interpretations of Zionism and antisemitism in three separate meetings in the space of as many hours on the first day of the party conference in Liverpool on Sunday September 25.

The spectacle comes about because of an initiative by Free Speech on Israel (FSOI), a network of mainly Jewish activists opposed to the deployment of antisemitism allegations to silence Corbyn supporters who campaign for justice for Palestine.

A meeting originally planned by FSOI at the conference fringe hub of the grassroots Momentum movement has now been taken over by Momentum itself. It will bring Jeremy Newmark of the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) face to face with Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker to debate “Does Labour have an Antisemitism Problem?”

FSOI has organised a separate meeting titled “Jewish Socialists Against the Anti-Corbyn Witchhunt”, also featuring Jackie Walker, at the nearby Novotel later the same evening.

It will pose a direct challenge to the silencing of pro-Palestinian voices, while the JLM – one of the main architects of the silencing – has chosen to hold its own rally at the same time.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi who will chair the FSOI meeting said it would be “the only chance during the four days of conference to uncover the truth behind the devastation wreaked upon Labour by exaggerated and downright false claims of antisemitism.”


NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. Who is Jackie Walker? (From Jews for Justice for Palestinians website)

Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker is a lifelong anti-racist campaigner of both African and Jewish heritage who has been suspended from the Labour Party for alleged antisemitism and then reinstated.

  1. What is FSOI?

Free Speech on Israel rejects the assertion, by die-hard supporters of Israel such as the JLM, that expressions of opposition to the political ideology of Zionism are equivalent to anti-Jewish racism. FSOI says opposition to Zionism is rooted in defence of Palestinian rights, which have been abused by Israel since its creation.

  1. At the Free Speech on Israel (FSOI) meeting at the Novotel, 40 Hanover Street, at 7.30 pm, Jackie Walker will share the platform with British Palestinian lawyer Salma Karmi-Ayyoub and Glyn Secker, who captained the Jewish Boat to Gaza organised by Jews for Justice for Palestinians in 2010. The vessel was seized by Israeli forces as it attempted to breach the siege of Gaza.
  1. The Momentum meeting at 5pm at 1 Great George Street will feature Jackie Walker, Jeremy Newmark (Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement); Rhea Wolfson (recently elected to the Labour NEC) and FSOI speaker Professor Jonathan Rosenhead.
  1. The JLM has devoted all its energies since Jeremy Corbyn took over as leader to denouncing him for failing to root out party members sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. It has been a prime mover behind the idea that Jewish identity is inextricably linked to Israel and Zionism. Its meeting, which coincides with the FSOI event, is advertised as a Rally Against Racism and Antisemitism, although the organisation has no record of anti-racist campaigning.

Open Letter to John McDonnell: Avoid the ‘race baiting’ Jewish Labour Movement

To: John McDonnell MP,
Shadow Chancellor

Dear John,

As a Jewish member of the Labour Party who has been suspended for ‘antisemitism’, I am writing to you to express my disappointment that you should have agreed to speak on September 25th at the Conference fringe meeting of the Jewish Labour Movement [JLM]. I would seriously ask you to reconsider your decision.

As you will know from the current witch hunt of Jeremy’s supporters, ‘antisemitism’ is a weapon that has been wielded against anyone who speaks up in support of the Palestinians or against Zionism, the settler colonial movement which created the Israeli state.

The JLM is the British affiliate of the Israeli Labour Party/Zionist Union [ILP]. Far from supporting a just solution in Palestine, the ILP supports segregation and a Palestinian Bantustan. Its leader Isaac Herzog recently explained that:

‘I want to separate from the Palestinians. I want to keep a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. I don’t want 61 Palestinian MKs in Israel’s Knesset. I don’t want a Palestinian prime minister in Israel.’ 

If someone said they didn’t want a Jewish Prime Minister in Britain I am sure you would be the first to denounce this as racist and antisemitic. [Who needs the Right when we have Isaac Herzog?] In an ILP election video Herzog was described as ‘someone who “understands the Arab mentality” and “has seen Arabs in all kinds of situations,” including “in the crosshairs.”  Why did we forget about Herzog’s anti-Arab campaign? If someone in the Labour Party spoke about the ‘Jewish mentality’ they would rightly be called antisemitic, yet this is standard talk for Israeli Labour politicians.

The Israeli Labour Party is the original party of Zionist colonisation. It was the party which was responsible for perpetrating the Nakba (‘Catastrophe’) in 1948 when three-quarters of a million Palestinians were expelled in order to create a Jewish state. This was ‘necessary’ because, even in the 56% of Palestine that was allotted by the UN to the proposed Jewish state, half of the population were Arabs.

The JLM is also affiliated to the World Zionist Organisation [WZO] which openly funds and supports illegal settlement in the West Bank and the Golan Heights. At the present time it is implementing the destruction of Bedouin villages such as al-Araqib in Israel’s Negev and afforestation of the area as part of the official programme of ‘Judaisation’ (as per the Prawer Plan).

The WZO’s Jerusalem Programme, speaks of ‘the centrality of the State of Israel and Jerusalem, its capital, in the life of the [Jewish] nation’. This assertion, that the real homeland of Jews, including British Jews, is Israel rather than the countries where they live, is itself anti-Semitic. It has long been an antisemitic rallying cry that Jews do not belong in the countries where they live.

From its inception the Labour Zionist movement was a racist movement.  As David HaCohen, Managing Director of Solel Boneh, the Histadrut owned building company exclaimed:

I had to fight my friends on the issue of Jewish socialism, to defend the fact that I would not accept Arabs in my Trade Union, the Histadrut; to defend preaching to housewives that they should not buy at Arab stores; to defend the fact that we stood guard at orchards to prevent Arab workers from getting jobs there… to pour kerosene on Arab tomatoes; to attack Jewish housewives in the markets and smash Arab eggs they had bought… to do all that was not easy.[David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch, p.185, Faber, 2003 citing Ha’aretz 15.11.69].

Because the JLM is an openly Zionist organisation, its membership is not open to Jewish members of the Labour Party who are opposed to Zionism.

The JLM purports to support a two state solution in Israel/Palestine but there is no known example of where it has opposed any aspect of military rule in the West Bank such as the detention and torture of Palestinian children as young as 12 or the separate legal systems for Jews and Palestinians. The JLM has never opposed the theft and seizure of Palestinian land for Jewish-only settlements, the building of Jewish only roads or the network of checkpoints in the West Bank, with separate entrances for Jewish settlers and Palestinians. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and leaders of the ANC rightly described Israel as worse than Apartheid in South Africa. [Desmond Tutu: Israel guilty of apartheid in treatment of Palestinians]

It is dispiriting that you will be speaking on the platform of an organisation that has engineered and orchestrated the ‘antisemitic’ witch hunt in the Labour Party. The JLM has consistently confused antisemitism and anti-Zionism. It is led by Jeremy Newmark, who was branded a perjurer by the Employment Tribunal Fraser v University College Union when he tried to portray UCU as ‘antisemitic’.

The JLM represents a minority of Jews, the most right-wing Jews, in the Labour Party. It was no surprise that in its ballot, the JLM voted for Owen Smith by 92-4%.

What is particularly offensive though is the race-baiting campaign that has been carried out by the JLM against Jackie Walker, the Vice-Chair of Momentum. They have repeatedly lied and misrepresented what she said, in a private conversation, about Jewish involvement in the financing of the slave trade. They have refused to accept the fact that she was reinstated very soon after her suspension. Jackie is being subject to a political lynching.

Zionists and JLM supporters have openly stated that being Black, Jackie cannot be Jewish. This is a widespread view in Zionist and Israeli circles. Just this week Jeremy Newmark stated [Anger as Jeremy Corbyn supporters invited to speak at Jewish Labour event] that

“The Shadow Chancellor was invited a while ago before his apparent defence of Jackie Walker and in light of his call for zero tolerance on antisemitism and support for our rule change proposals. He must explain his defence of Walker which is inconsistent with his call for zero tolerance. This raises serious questions. Our members expect him to explain himself.’

Jackie Walker is someone of Black and Jewish parentage. Far from being an antisemite she is a long-standing anti-racist and anti-fascist activist.  John, are you really willing to speak on the platform of this anti-Palestinian, race-baiting organisation? I appeal to you to reconsider your decision to speak at this event. Whatever this rally is about it is not about fighting anti-Semitism.

Yours sincerely,
Tony Greenstein –
Brighton & Hove DLP

Jackie Walker speaking with John McDonnell on far-left
Jackie Walker speaking with John McDonnell on far-left

Continue reading “Open Letter to John McDonnell: Avoid the ‘race baiting’ Jewish Labour Movement”

Is Zionist a rude word?

Jonathan Rosenhead of FSOI responds to Mary Davis’s Open Democracy article Contestation between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism

Reprinted from Open Democracy

Words trail meanings beyond their formal definitions. Raymond Williams in his Key Words leads us through the dizzying journeys that words we thought we knew well have taken over their history. For example, who nowadays brings to mind what ‘Protestants’ were protesting about? Or take ‘fascism’. This theory and practice of authoritarian politics is now so entangled with its delivery of the holocaust that outside academia it is used as a swear word plain and simple.

Words are deployed as moves in a strategic battle. This comes out in the titanic struggle between Alice and Humpty Dumpty. Humpty Dumpty says “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean”, but is challenged on this by Alice. ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

To Mary Davis (“Contestation between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism”, openDemocracy, 27 July 2016) words are quite straight forward, Humpty-Dumpty-style. Contested words are deployed in unitary meanings of her choice. The result is of course a coherent story – of Zionism, the stages of development of Jewish settlement, the possible ways forward from the current impasse. However by failing to engage with the other competing versions of this story we get an account remarkable in its lack of nuance. News flash: Mary Davis wrestles with a straw person, and wins!

Antisemitism has in recent months become an active concept in British politics for the first time in most living memories. Many, indeed most, of the allegations of antisemitism that have been made are about statements (not actions), and they are statements about Israel and about Zionism. I will turn to those allegations later, but first need to do some house cleaning around the subject of Zionism.

Zionism in theory

The main thrust of Davis’ argument is that Zionism is not a monolithic movement; historically it has had its internal divisions, its left and right flanks. Back in the day it was Mapai to the right of Mapam (though she gets these the wrong way round). Further to the right still was Herut, the offspring of the arch revisionist Jabotinsky, and the progenitor of Netanyahu’s Likud. She seems to enlist the fact that Yitzhak Rabin, though a Zionist Prime Minister of Israel, was assassinated by Yigal Amir, also a Zionist, in support of this thesis of multi-strand Zionism.

Zionism, she seems to say, was and still is fractured: therefore, by implication, criticism of Zionism as a whole should be off limits. But surely the existence of different tendencies within any significant movement almost doesn’t need saying. This is just politics, the struggle between different interests and interpretations, and it is found pretty well everywhere. It certainly doesn’t constitute a veto against making rather general observations about the movement as a whole. Otherwise it would be illegitimate, for example, to interpret, or even make evaluative comments on, those many non-monolithic movements that continue to shape our world: capitalism, liberalism, racism come to mind. Also nationalism – in which Davis herself roots the late nineteenth century origins of Zionism.

The distinctive difference of Zionism from other manifestations of nationalism is this – that it could realise its ambition of national self-determination in a defined territory only by taking someone else’s. One can appreciate the driving need felt by many (by no means all) Jews for a safe haven from antisemitism, but at the same time see the whole future tragedy in embryo in that crucial contradiction.

What sort of ‘ism’ is Zionism?

Growing up in a committedly Zionist household, I celebrated the 1948 ‘War of Independence’, and all the subsequent triumphs of Israeli arms. I was repeatedly surprised when Israel didn’t then make a favourable peace with its neighbours, but instead grew progressively more bullish and bully-boy as it grew stronger.  At the time I put it down to short-sightedness by politicians of limited vision. But after 50, 100 years a more systemic explanation is surely required. The short-hand version of this is that Zionism in practice is an idiosyncratic late version of colonialism (another ‘ism’) – transposed from the nineteenth century and still attempting to survive in the very different environment of the twenty-first.

The uncommon though not unique feature of this colonial project is that there is and has been almost no desire to exploit the labour power of the indigenous population. On the contrary. When land was bought for settlement the Palestinians on it were evicted. The Hagganah, which became the IDF, was formed to keep Arabs off the land that had been cleared in this way. Aggressive propaganda, intimidation and violence was used to pressure Jewish-owned enterprises to use Jewish rather than Arab workers. This forceful eviction of Arab workers was one of the precipitating causes of the Arab Revolt in 1936. The key figure in this campaign for ‘Jewish Labour’ was David Ben Gurion, later first Prime Minister of Israel.

This identification of Zionism as a form of colonialism is not just post hoc rationalisation, but was quite evident to Zionism’s founders. In 1917 Ber Borochov, the relatively progressive Zionist cited by Davis, wrote about the time “when the waste lands are prepared for colonization”. Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism, wrote in The Iron Wall that “’My readers have a general idea of the history of colonisation in other countries.  I suggest that they consider all the precedents with which they are acquainted, and see whether there is one solitary instance of any colonisation being carried on with the consent of the native population. There is no such precedent.”

Zionism was ‘sold’ as a project of “a land without people for a people without a land”. This was not a statement of fact but of intention. (The late nineteenth century founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, confided to his diary that if Palestine was to be successfully settled the local population would have to be removed.) Zionism sought to get the land, but with as few of the indigenous people as possible. Never letting an opportunity go to waste, in the confusion of the 1948 war out of which Israel was born 80% of the Palestinian population was ejected, by force or the deliberately fostered fear of force. Prime Minister Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and its subsequent sealing off in a still ongoing 10-year siege is a way of ‘containing’ 1.5 million Palestinians on the smallest imaginable patch of ground. Israel’s most intractable problem results from the obverse of this coin. Israel’s 1967 conquest of Jerusalem and the West Bank gave them control of 3 million Palestinians they really don’t want. The Wall is being built to filch as much extra land as possible, and forget the Palestinians on the other side.

This thrust is not seriously contested within the mainstream Israeli political system. Isaac Herzog of the Labour Party (now merged into the Zionist Union) is leader of the Israeli opposition. His policies include maintenance of the occupation, and the completion of a barrier cutting off Jerusalem from the Palestinian villages around it. See Gideon Levy’s recent article in Ha’aretz, (August 31, 2016):

“There is no radical left in Israel. Such a left is anarchist and sometimes even terrorist, as in Europe and Latin America. In Israel, where even Isaac Herzog is seen as “left” and Yair Lapid as “center” – when they’re both moderate right – what counts as radical left is the only left that exists here, and that is moderate left. All the rest are 50 shades of right wing, with an alarming, herd-like consensus and too little real difference of opinion.

Everyone agrees on all the wars, everyone enlists together against all international criticism and meanwhile the occupation arouses no active resistance. And wonder of wonders, in this sticky, unified mess the negligible minority that thinks otherwise, the extinct species, manages to arouse rage and hatred to such an extent that you’d think it was a majority. Such rage can only attest to one thing: the majority’s uncertainty about the rightness of its way.

The litmus test isn’t whether you identify with the left or right, but whether you identify with Zionism, that deceptive, undefined, anachronistic, expired value that distinguishes between legitimate Israelis and the rest. Are you on our side or the enemy’s? Say “Zionist” and you’re not radical. Good, you’re saved. Say “not Zionist” and you’re out. A pity, you’re extinct. When Zionism is a religion, heresy is treason. Anyone who dares to undermine Zionism’s validity, as the majority sees it, is radical left, illegitimate, and lately even criminal….”

Zionism in practice

The consequences of this over-late colonial project have been and remain dire for the Palestinians.

The illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and the repudiation by Israel of the Geneva conventions-attested rights of affected populations has split the Palestinians into 3 components – those living in pre-1967 Israel, those in the occupied territories, and the diaspora of displaced Palestinians in Middle East refugee camps scattered around the world. Their ability to communicate is deliberately restricted by Israeli policies. The ‘matrix of control’[1] over all aspects of Palestinian life has been extended over the years by the most modern technology, drastically restricting not only their daily activities but also the functioning of their culture and community. Palestinian national identity and institutions are under continuous siege by Israel, in what has been described by Kimmerling as ‘politicide’[2]. The Palestinian nation has not died, but many thousands of Palestinians have. I will deny myself the opportunity of providing here a list of inhumanities perpetrated on them – I guess that readers know where to find that information.

The illegal occupation of Palestinian territories is also a running sore for Israel itself. Once it was admired by progressives for its social, even socialist, innovations. But around the world, except in elite circles, its frequent resorts to repression are close to pushing it into pariah status.  The BBC routinely polls respondents in 24 countries on which countries are seen as having positive or negative influence in the world. Since 2007 Israel has been down at the bottom with only Iran, Pakistan and North Korea below them – and sometimes not all of those.

Jews also are by no means exempt from this disenchantment with Israel. A survey carried out for the British liberal Zionist group Yachad in 2015 found that 31% of those surveyed self-identified as ‘No, not a Zionist’. Among the under 30’s the proportion who would support sanctions against Israel if they thought it would encourage the Israeli government to engage in the peace process rose to 41 percent. A report (in Hebrew) published in February found that Jewish American students also have an increasingly negative image of Israel:

  • only 42% believe Israel wants peace.
  • only 38% believe “Israel is civilized and Western”.
  • only 31% believe Israel is a democracy.
  • no less than 21% believe The US should side with the Palestinians.

It is in this environment that the Boycott Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement, including academic boycott, has been going from strength to strength world-wide. This whole BDS movement, according to Davis, is teetering on the edge of antisemitism, and its academic strand “can definitely be construed as anti-semitic”. That’s a claim worth deconstructing, before then moving on to the jackpot question – how are we to understand the amazing increase in rhetoric about antisemitism, quite divorced from any actually discernible increase in antisemitism itself?

Singling out Israel

It was in 2005 that a consortium of 170 Palestinian organisations issued the call to world civil society for a campaign of general boycott divestment and sanctions against Israel. In fact the academic and cultural boycotts had been launched a year earlier, by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). Since Davis regards the academic boycott as her slam dunk case, I will take it on.

She says that academic boycott by not focusing purely on the Israeli state, and instead “boycotting only Jewish academics”, demonstrates its antisemitism. It is remarkable how many people who feel qualified to hold forth on this topic seem not to have carried out their due diligence. Israeli universities have Jewish, Christian and Moslem academics, and no doubt other religions besides. For that matter, they also have academics not only from Israel but from around the world. Jewish academics are not singled out for boycott. Nor are Israeli academics – because none of them are boycotted! The boycott does not target academics, or seek to interfere in any way with their work. Mary Davis only has to go to the PACBI website to find this out.

The academic boycott targets university institutions. As a supporter of this boycott I will not attend conferences held at Israeli universities, or get involved with their appointments or promotion processes. I will not teach on any programme based at the university, and I will not engage in joint research if the support funding is based there. But I have no trouble working with or receiving at my university any Israeli academic; and there is no impediment to their participating in international conferences or publishing in international journals on a level playing field with everyone else.

How should one understand Mary Davis’ statement that the boycott targets Jewish academics? That she hadn’t done her homework before writing her article? Or that she did know that there was no individual component to the boycott, but thought she would use the argument anyway? A tough call.

There is another argument that she might have made, as many people do: that singling out Israel for this treatment when other states have committed far worse crimes is surely evidence of antisemitism. [To grapple with the logic of this claim is a bit more complex. There are two factors in the answer, both to do with the reason why boycott is deployed at all.]

The explanation is that boycott is not a moral imperative, a way of demonstrating ones’ abhorrence of a certain regime (though it may offer that release also). It is, rather, a practical tactic to change the cost-benefit calculation for the actors in the conflict. Boycott enables the individually weak, by combining non-violently, to gain some purchase on an otherwise intractable situation. There is no point in mobilising support for a boycott if powerful state actors (e.g. our own governments) are already on the right side of history. And equally a boycott would be a waste of all the participants’ efforts if there was in effect, no significant trade or interchange with the target country.

Think North Korea. An execrable regime, but neither a commercial nor an academic boycott would find much purchase on the situation. It would be hard to mobilise a boycott campaign to do, effectively, nothing.

Israel, like South Africa before it, is a state built on discrimination. As Desmond Tutu says “this, in my book, is apartheid”. There are other parallels. Israel now, as South Africa previously, is both supported to the hilt by the USA and UK governments and most of Europe, and an integral part of the same economic, intellectual and cultural community as us. Boycott becomes a viable and appropriate policy.

Davis says that Israel is repeatedly “singled out for special treatment”. It is indeed singled out among those countries that systematically violate human rights. Its receives special treatment to the tune of $3bn annually from the US (the highest gained by any country), plus a cast iron diplomatic shield at the United Nations. Other transgressor countries have suffered serious economic sanctions, but Israel is rewarded.

Antisemitism everywhere

While I have been writing there has been an elephant in the room. More and more fidgety it is now positively insisting on getting into my critique. The issue is: just why is Mary Davis writing this piece now? Why is the Chief Rabbi jumping up and down about antisemitism right now? Why did John Mann waylay Ken Livingstone about it? Why was it that Sadiq Khan ‘warned’ (Daily Express)/ ‘accuses’ (Daily Telegraph, Independent)/ ‘savaged’ (Evening Standard, Daily Mail) Jeremy Corbyn over his handling of antisemitism in the Labour Party? That’s the Daily Mail, always so delicate on questions of antisemitism, from the 1930’s through to calling out Ed Miliband’s father Ralph as ‘unpatriotic’.

On August 28 the Campaign Against Antisemitism, founded during the attack on Gaza in 2014 to defend Israel from criticism, produced some telling statistics:

Last year the Crown Prosecution Service prosecuted a record 15,442 cases of hate crime, but we are only aware of a dozen prosecutions for hate crime against Jews.

Of course the CAA deduced from this that “British Jews are being denied British justice”.

The statistical rigour is rudimentary. But if it is possible to believe that prosecutions for anti-Semitic behaviour really do amount to something like 1 in 1000 of the total, a more plausible explanation is surely that this issue is dwarfed by other forms of intolerant utterance and behaviour – against gays, immigrants, Poles, Muslims…. There is virtually no evidence that there has been a sharp increase in antisemitism; there is plenty of statistical (for example from the Community Security Trust) and experiential evidence that the level has been low for years, interrupted by bulges when Israel attacks Gaza.

I am a member of Free Speech on Israel, an organisation set up in April by Jewish Labour Party supporters alarmed about antisemitism in the Labour Party. Alarmed, that is, by a moral panic that completely denies our own experience. Those in the room at the foundation meeting had something like 1000 years of lived experience of the Labour Party, and no one could recall a single instance of antisemitism. This is broadly consistent with wider experience. When the ex-Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs was asked on Radio 4 about his own experience, his response was, from memory, “Well….actually I haven’t experienced any antisemitism myself. Which is quite odd, because most people know that the Chief Rabbi is Jewish”.

Nevertheless evidence is being dredged up, of carelessly worded tweets and Facebook postings, and leading to instant suspensions from Party membership. (This policy was excoriated in the report of the Chakrabarti Inquiry into antisemitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party.) Nearly all of the ‘evidence’ predates Corbyn’s leadership is nevertheless being blamed on him. Other evidence was simply fabricated – as in the allegations of engrained racism in the Oxford University Labour Club. Nevertheless the mainstream media continue to serve as an uncritical megaphone for the innuendo, and worse.

In this stunningly successful offensive there is every appearance of coordination between diehard supporters of Israel, and the irreconcilables in the Labour Party who cannot accept Corbyn’s leadership. Appearances can of course be deceptive. (One of history’s sadnesses is that we almost never get substantive evidence about actual conspiracies until it is too late to matter.) But since there is in any case a clear shared interest in the defenestration of Corbyn perhaps no explicit pre-communication was needed. Israel is threatened by the installation of the first major party leader in Europe with a committed record of supporting Palestinian rights. Many Labour MPs feel deeply threatened by a leader (and associated membership) who are almost as far left as Harold Wilson was.  So there is a natural affinity of purpose.

Israel, Zionism and anti-Zionism inhabit the political realm, not a religious or ethnic one. What has been called the ‘weaponisation’ of antisemitism is deeply unprincipled. Antisemitism is an ugly phenomenon, and its spores still lie scattered through all western societies and some others. By deploying the spectre of antisemitism in disreputable campaigns its currency is degraded.

Brian Klug’s influential working definition of antisemitism is that “antisemitism is a form of hostility to Jews as Jews, where Jews are perceived as something other than what they are”. Assuming, often aggressively, that all Jews support Israel and Zionism is, paradoxically, making the same simplifying assumption that anti-Semites do – namely that all Jews are in important respects the same. We are not.


[1] Jeff Halper ‘The 94 percent solution: a matrix of control’, Middle East Report 30:3, Fall 2000

[2] Politicide: The Real Legacy of Ariel Sharon, Verso 2006.

Open Letter to Joan Ryan MP – Chair of Labour Friends of Israel

Dear Ms Ryan,

As the only Jewish member of the Labour Party to have been suspended for ‘anti-Semitism’, I note with interest the open letter which you recently wrote to Richard Burgon MP regarding his comments that Labour MPs should quit Labour Friends of Israel and that Zionism is the enemy of peace.

You suggested that the comments were so far outside the boundaries of what passes for acceptable political debate in the salons and interview rooms of Westminster, that they must have been misreported.  I think we can assume that this is merely a literary device on your part.  If you had any doubts that the above comments were genuine, you would have written a private not public letter.

I shall not indulge in fake politeness on a subject which involves the racial subjugation and immiseration of millions of human beings.  When one and a half million Palestinians in Gaza are forced to live through a decade long siege, when people die because basic medicines cannot be imported and when they are forced to drink polluted water, 95% of Gaza’s water is polluted as a result of Israel’s water theft and bombing of water purification plants, then one should not engage in semantics.  Keeping Palestinians thirsty is no doubt part of Israel’s war on ‘terrorism’.

You profess outrage that anyone could suggest not wanting to associate with LFI.  You must be aware that in 1982 large numbers of MPs, Tony Benn and Eric Heffer among them, resigned from LFI because of its support for Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, when some 20,000 civilians were killed and 100,000 injured.

During the invasion of Lebanon, Israeli soldiers besieged Beirut in alliance with their fascist friends the Phalange (named in honour of Franco’s Falange).  Israel’s army lit up the night sky with flares and sent Phalangist death squads, armed with knives, to perpetrate an ISIS style slaughter of the inhabitants of the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps.  Some 2,000 women, children and old people were slaughtered, women had their breasts cut off and young boys were castrated.

Despite this atrocity, Israel’s then Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon went on to become Israel’s Prime Minister between 2001 and 2006.  Your friends in the Israeli Labour Party formed a coalition with Sharon, the ILP ‘s current leader, Yitzhak Herzog, serving as Minister of Housing and Construction.

You profess to be surprised that Richard described Zionism as an ‘enemy of peace’.  You even advise him to take note of Shami Chakrabarti’s advice to use the term ‘“Zionist” advisedly, carefully and never euphemistically.’  I am happy to follow her advice.  I can assure you I would never use Zionism ‘euphemistically’ given it is one of the most pernicious racial movements in colonial history.

The Zionist movement was formally established in 1897 by Theodor Herzl, at the first World Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland.  As you probably do not know, it was originally scheduled to be held in Munich, Germany but the local Jewish community objected because Zionism was seen as a form of Jewish anti-Semitism.  Zionism reflected the anti-Semitic belief that Jews did not belong in the countries of their birth.

Zionism’s aim was the formation of a Jewish state in Palestine in alliance with a colonial power.  In 1917 it formed just such an alliance with British imperialism, in what became known as the Balfour Declaration.  Like many colonial movements it campaigned on the slogan of ‘a land without a people for a people without a land.’  The native Palestinians were invisible in the eyes of the Zionists.

You claim that Zionism is ‘the broad ideological movement for Jewish national self-determination in Israel.’  Perhaps you would enlighten me as to when Zionism was first described as a ‘national liberation movement’?  It appears you are attempting to bask in the reflected glory of liberation movements such as the African National Congress.  Incidentally, the notion that Jews form a separate nation is, in itself, deeply anti-Semitic and basis of the world Jewish conspiracy theory.

Zionism was a movement of settler colonialism.  That was why Israel was the best friend of Apartheid South Africa, breaking the arms embargo and supplying it with weaponry including nuclear weapons.  Perhaps you were not told about the visit of John Vorster, South African Prime Minister to Israel in April 1976?  Vorster, who was interned during the war for his support of the Nazis and membership of the Broederband, nonetheless paid homage to the Holocaust dead at Yad Vashem!

Israel is the state that helped train the death squads of Central America, supplied the Argentinian Junta with weaponry (despite murdering up to 3,000 Argentinian Jews) and armed and trained the Guatemalan army which in the 1980’s murdered up to 200,000 Indians.  Your suggestion that Zionism shares anything in common with the ANC is obscene.

The aforementioned Theodor Herzl wrote to Cecil Rhodes, the founder of Rhodesia, asking for his support for Zionism.  Herzl wrote ‘How, then, do I happen to turn to you since this is an out-of-the-way matter for you?  How indeed?  Because it is something colonial.’  This can be found in Herzl’s Diaries, Vol. 4, page 1194.  The founders of Zionism always saw it as a colonising movement.

You are right.  Zionism was indeed a consequence of European anti-Semitism, in the 19th (not 20th) century.  It was unique amongst Jewish movements since it accepted the basic premise of the anti-Semites that Jews were aliens in the lands in which they lived and were born.

You said that it is a great pity that ‘the Labour Party’s relationship with the British Jewish community has been so damaged by the events of the past year.’  I agree.  The deliberate making of false claims of ‘anti-Semitism’ by MPs such as Ruth Smeeth and papers such as the Daily Mail, which in the 30’s opposed the entry of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, has indeed been damaging.  I can only hope that you use your influence to bring these false accusations of anti-Semitism to an end.

You profess to support a two-state solution.  Why then do you support the military dictatorship in the West Bank and the unremitting attacks on Gaza?  Your call for a 2 State solution serves only as a cover for Apartheid.  It enables Jewish settlement to take place whilst providing a pretext for the denial of any political or civil rights to the indigenous Palestinians.

Perhaps you could name even one Israeli government Minister who believes in a 2 state solution?  Deputy Foreign Minister Tsipi Hotoveli is typical when she said that ‘This land is ours. All of it is ours. We expect as a matter of principle of the international community to recognize Israel’s right to build homes for Jews in their homeland, everywhere.”

Even the ILP does not support a 2 state solution.  It supports segregation and a Bantustan.   Herzog explained that ‘I want to separate from the Palestinians. I want to keep a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. I don’t want 61 Palestinian MKs in Israel’s Knesset. I don’t want a Palestinian prime minister in Israel.’  If you don’t understand why this is racist imagine someone saying they didn’t want a Jewish Prime Minister in Britain. [Who needs the Right when we have Isaac Herzog?]

In an ILP election video Herzog was described as ‘someone who “understands the Arab mentality” and “has seen Arabs in all kinds of situations,” including “in the crosshairs.”  Why did we forget about Herzog’s anti-Arab campaign? +972 Magazine 23.3.15.  Again imagine someone describing the ‘Jewish mentality’.  Racist?  Historically the Israeli Labour Party was more racist than Likud.  It was the party of the Nakba, the expulsion of ¾ million Palestinian refugees.

You state that you support a negotiated settlement in Israel/Palestine.  Israel has spent billions of dollars on building its settlements and stealing its land and water.  It’s not going to negotiate them away.  As Martin Luther King famously wrote in Letter From a Birmingham JailLamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.

You say you support peace.  Perhaps you could tell me if you have ever opposed Israeli repression in the Occupied Territories?  You supported the 2014 war in Gaza which killed 550 children.  You have kept silent about the continued destruction of Palestinian homes and European Union funded structures, over 600 of which have been destroyed this year alone, in the West Bank.  Have you nothing to say about Jewish roads and separate entrances for Jews and Palestinians at checkpoints?  What I do know is that Louise Ellman, an LFI officer, supported the imprisonment and torture of Palestinian children as young as 12 in a recent debate in the House of Commons.

Your complaints about Hamas’s Charter, which is a dead letter, would be more impressive if it wasn’t for the fact that Israel played a crucial part in the creation of Hamas as a counterweight to secular Palestinian nationalism.  [see Israel’s Jerusalem Online News Agency for Wikileaks revelations or the Wall Street Journal How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas]

I would be more impressed by your concern about anti-Semitism if you displayed an equal concern about the most recent survey by Pew Research Centre which found that a plurality of Israeli Jews (48%) support the physical expulsion of Israeli Palestinians and 79% believe that Jews should be given preferential treatment. [Israel’s Religiously Divided Society]

You will be pleased to hear that I agree with you that ‘fostering links with, and supporting, progressive forces in Israel is an important task for an internationalist party’.  However the ILP is not such an organisation.  There are such organisations, like the soldiers group Breaking the Silence, which has revealed the truth about Israeli military atrocities but the ILP is hostile to it.

I hope you will now understand why increasing numbers of Jews oppose Zionism and why we join Archbishop Desmond Tutu in supporting a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.  Boycotting Apartheid is never anti-Semitic nor racist.

Yours sincerely,
Tony Greenstein