‘BDS is a terrorist movement’ – exposing David Collier

Jonathan Ofir
Reprinted from Mondoweiss by permission of the author

British blogger David Collier recently boasted in an op-ed posted on the religious-nationalist outlet Israel National News:

“I have just concluded an in-depth investigation into anti-Semitism inside the [UK, ed.] Palestine Solidarity Campaign that has spanned months but drew on several years of underlying research.”

Sounds quite ominous. The Times of Israel also picked up the news immediately.

Collier set out to quantify the presence of anti-Semitism in the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign by covering a UK demonstration at Whitehall against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit last month. He matched faces with Facebook posts and filtered out 15 activists, concluding the level of anti-Semitism to be at 42%. He relates this to BDS, saying at the end of his document:

“what does this message say about BDS activists? We have seen on several occasions, people who apparently subscribe to dark antisemitic ideology shouting out in public about boycotting Jewish goods. This is not 1930’s Germany; there is no reason to accept such behaviour, regardless of the cause it attempts to hide behind.”

This dovetails with his claims which he wrote already a year ago in The Tower (an outlet founded by The Israel Project) where he claimed that

“BDS is nothing less than a terrorist movement, an arm of terror that has been designed to operate in an atmosphere of left-wing activism throughout the West.”

and that

“the fight against BDS is a fight for truth itself.”

David Collier

David Collier, from Times of Israel

Collier hardly seemed interested in hiding his bias. He writes at the start of that article that 

“as someone who understands the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, supporting Israel seems to be the natural position to take.”

It appears he does not even regard this as bias. Ironically, Collier  also claimed that

“BDS is a movement that has reached its verdict beforehand. It does not ask if Israel is guilty. Instead, it seeks to determine the correct punishment for a “criminal” that is already condemned. So when you respond to a potential BDS supporter with facts, you are simply irrelevant to them. It is like bringing evidence to a sentencing hearing that should have been presented during the trial itself. You are simply too late”.

– but this appears to be an actual projection of his own vein in his current ‘investigation’.

Collier is always certain

His conclusion is absolute, as he writes in his Israel National News op-ed:

“All venues that host these groups and all Patrons of the PSC should surely sever their links. Jeremy Corbyn is a Patron. How is an association with a group that accommodates Holocaust revisionists and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists acceptable to The Leader of the Opposition?”

Let us therefore look with scrutiny into Collier’s ‘investigation’.

The ‘investigation’

Collier claims that when referring to anti-Semitism within his study, he avoided “*all references to the conflict*” [sic].

“We all know the trick is to deflect accusations of anti-Semitism with a false cry about criticism of Israeli policy. I set out to avoid this. I was only interested in those pushing conspiracy theory, holocaust denial or classic anti-Semitic tropes. The argument that anti-Semitism is about legitimate criticism of Israel simply has no weight against this research. The bar for anti-Semitism that was used is unnaturally high. As an example, if the worst I found was an activist suggesting Israel should be destroyed, is committing genocide and Zionists are all Nazis, that activist *would not* have made the grade for this research. Let that fact sink in”, Collier writes…

“Download the report. Read it. Digest it. Act on it”, he urges.

That is indeed what I have done. I have downloaded the 79 page report, read it in detail over many hours, all 79 pages. I’ve digested it, and now I am acting on it – to expose what I have found to be the disingenuous nature of David Collier.

Collier’s blog-site under which he posts the document is called ‘beyond the great divide’, subtitled ‘the truth matters’. Its logo features two hands shaking each other, one with features of the Israeli flag, the other with features of the Palestinian flag, with a background of Al-Aqsa mosque compound. So Collier is presenting himself as a ‘peace activist’, and a fighter for truth no less. The op-ed mentioned ends with a brief description of Collier:

“Born in the UK, he spent 19 years in Israel between 1987 and 2006, that is between the first ‘Intifada’ and the 2006 Lebanon war. While in Israel, he started his own business, working on tourism related projects with both Israelis and Palestinians as well as providing services to NGO’s. He writes: “As someone who fought Pan- Arabists, pro-Palestinians, staunch Zionists, antisemites and anti-Zionists alike, I found myself a man without many friends.”

So Collier is really what you could call a ‘liberal-Zionist’.

His research is titled “Beyond the Great Divide Investigates…Antisemitism in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign”. Next page – another title: “THE PALESTINE SOLIDARITY CAMPAIGN DELEGATING HATE”.

So already here, Collier conditions us to believe, that this is not just about some activists – it’s a sweeping characterization.

From his first actual sentence in his summary (p. 4), his first words which are not a title or slogan as such, Collier reveals in no uncertain terms his bias, of which he once again appears unaware:

“Although it claims to be concerned with human rights, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign is not a movement of peace, but rather a group that seeks to push Palestinian political ambitions.”

Let’s ‘digest that’ for a moment, as Collier suggests. For Collier, seeking to ‘push Palestinian political ambitions’ is simply anathema to peace and human rights. He couldn’t be more clear about that. Pushing for Israeli or Zionist political ambitions is fine, it’s about the ‘Jewish right to self-determination’ as he later refers. But Palestinian political ambitions? No. That’s just belligerence, in itself. This perception should bring us to reflect upon Collier’s logo, and realise that the handshake is not about ‘peace’ – it is about submission to Zionist supremacy.

A biased selection of screenshots

About 70 out of the 79 pages of the document consist of screenshots of various activist posts and photos, spiced with comments by Collier. Given, he catches a whole lot of awful stuff. But Collier is like a man shooting around with an automatic gun. He gets a few hits which are relevant, but he also gets a whole lot of collateral, which he hardly seems aware of. He manages to keep the semblance of being methodical, whilst he breaks his own rules and definitions ever so often, and his claims deserve critical challenge and rebuttal.

In his presentation of his research (p. 6), Collier starts out by claiming that

“the argument over antisemitism and anti-Zionism is in the news almost every day. – accusation and then denial. Currently, Jewish members of the PSC are visiting branches persuading them that criticism of Israel does not equal antisemitism. This of course is an argument built on fallacy as nobody is suggesting that it does..”.

Let’s stop there. Collier starts the sentence by referring to anti-Semitism vs anti-Zionism. But then he quickly turns the focus from anti-Zionism to “criticism of Israel”, to then say that “nobody is suggesting” that criticism of Israel equals anti-Semitism. This opening sentence is a rather typical example of a straw-man argument, but let’s look at this more closely. First, if we were to look at what Collier actually posed to begin with: anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. If this is the case in question (as it should be, were the straw-man not inserted), there are many relevant examples of how the two are conflated:

Last year, UK chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis conflated Judaism with Zionism wholesale, to the great dismay of many Jews, writing in The Guardian that

“one can no more separate [Zionism] from Judaism than separate the City of London from Great Britain”.

This means that those who oppose Zionism, oppose Jews – period.

The UK has recently officially adopted a definition of anti-Semitism that also according to American Jewish Voice for Peace, contains prohibitions that are so vague that they could be, and have been, “construed to silence any criticism of Israeli policies.” 

So here we already arrive at the straw-man that Collier had presented – that “nobody is suggesting”…”that criticism of Israel does not equal antisemitism”. Yes, it is being suggested, and it’s certainly been suggested that anti-Semitism equals anti-Zionism.

But let us continue into Collier’s research. In his summary ‘Antisemitism’ (p. 7), Collier claims that

“this work does not reflect my personal position on antisemitism. I suggest that it even sets the bar unnaturally high, as I sought to avoid the deflective argument over ‘criticism of Israel’.”

Thus, Collier summarizes that

“what has been highlighted in this research consists of three central elements:

– Holocaust denial/revisionism

– The expansion of Israel into a controlling global Jew (conspiracy theory)

– Fixation on Jews, classic antisemitic tropes”

That’s the whole introductory part, then come the 74 pages of the ‘dossier’.

How Collier reaches his ‘conclusions’

We may thus test how Collier applies his claims and standards, to reach his overall conclusions. Now it’s important to note, that Collier qualifies that

“the intent here was to separate the PSC activist from the casual remark, the ‘like’ or occasional share. This was not going to be an investigation into those who randomly comment on a web page, but rather a solid focus on those who wave the PSC flag and drive the PSC ambition.”

I’m not going to go through all of the dozens of posts, some of which I have admitted to be horrible. But that’s not the point. I am testing Collier’s claim.

Let’s start then, with the very first screenshot that Collier provides, by a PSC Bristol activist (p. 9). It is sharing of a Mint Press News article titled “Did you know that the only people to be arrested on September 11th in connection to the attacks were 5 Israeli Mossad agents?”

The post has a video of Amy Goodman from Democracy Now, covering the story of the ‘five dancing Israelis’ from 9-11, citing ABC, The Jewish Forward, Counterpunch etc. and going through this story very factually.

Even Donald Trump had recently, inadvertently, referred to this story from his warped memory, recalling them being ‘Muslim’. On page 20 Collier pastes another Facebook post referring to this, including the Donald Trump issue; it was this article. This article is again featured in page 48.

This is no ‘conspiracy theory’ in itself. The Democracy Now coverage avoided any such claim (of prior Mossad involvement in 9/11). But for Collier, this is “hard core antisemitism” (as he regards it at the bottom of the page). Imagine that. Amy Goodman, ABC, The Jewish Forward – all anti-Semites, we just didn’t know it. Or maybe Collier just hadn’t done his research into the subjects he casually brings up, perhaps in the fear that he would be entering ‘anti-Semitic conspiracy theories’, or perhaps just out of laziness. In any case, this is good enough ammunition for him.

On page 11 Collier provides a screenshot saying “Settler rabbi publishes ‘The complete guide to killing non- Jews’”, including an update that “Max Blumenthal reports from a conference supporting the Rabbi” (Collier pastes the same screenshot again on page 15).

But doesn’t Collier know about the 2009 book “Torat Hamelech” authored by the rabbis of the Jewish settlement Yitzhar, which advocates “killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us”? Indeed, let those who are not familiar with it read Max Blumenthal’s update . It was, after all, the Hebrew NRG (Maariv) which noted the book as “230 pages on the laws concerning the killing of non-Jews, a kind of guidebook for anyone who ponders the question of if and when it is permissible to take the life of a non-Jew.”

So what’s Collier’s problem there? Did he not update himself on this genocidal book? Is merely noting it an act of ‘anti-Semitism’, ‘conspiracy theory’ or ‘Holocaust denial’?

‘prejudiced’, ‘ignorant’ and ‘hateful’

Page 17 is dedicated to PSC Chester, which contains no usual screenshots of Facebook posts, but rather an announcement of a Gaza stall and protest (9th August 2014). Collier rebuffs the claims by stating:

“This post by Chester PSC…has been reproduced here to highlight the warped logic, ignorance and hypocrisy of the PSC branch behind it. Zionism is “a virulent form of Jewish nationalism” that asserts ‘Greater Israel ideology’. The policies of the Israeli government have ‘elements of Zionism’! This man does not know what Zionism is. This is a visible sign of deep prejudice. It is scary that such ignorance and hate is helping to fuel a movement so laden with antisemites.”

So, Collier does not agree with the descriptions. That’s why they are ‘prejudiced’, ‘ignorant’, and ‘hateful’. But Collier does not illuminate us with his knowledge of the truth. Ostensibly because it is not necessary.

In page 19 the ‘Greater Israel’ issue appears again in a screenshot, where the activist also refers to Oded Yinon’s ‘A Strategy for Israel in the 1980’s’. Indeed, why not read Oded Yinon’s plan, translated and edited by Professor Israel Shahak (Hebrew University)? There’s no shame in that. In fact it was Shahak who noted, that he was 23 when, during Israel’s 1956 war with Egypt, he was shocked to hear his erstwhile hero, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, say Israel had undertaken the campaign (which aimed to draw in Jordan as well) not for “defensive purposes but to establish part of the Kingdom of David and Solomon.” That’s some Greater Israel there, don’t you think? Can it not be discussed?

Collier returns to ‘catch’ PSC Luton (p. 39) on a post in which the group wrote “many Israelis caught dancing and cheering the fall of their best ally two towers, search in YouTube for (9-11 cop who arrested Dancing Israelis speaks)”.

Collier writes that

“If one googles the phrase as instructed (9-11 Cop …..), one can then browse through the material of Americanfreepress, veteranstoday, dailystormer & 911justicehalifax.wordpress.com – whichever of these antisemitic websites the search has found.”

But the post did not suggest to Google the phrase, it suggested to enter the search on Youtube. And if one does that, one gets a 20-minute interview with the policeman who in fact stopped the van with the five Israelis that were celebrating the fall of the Twin Towers. It’s rather ironic, because the officer is a bit annoyed about the fact that so many people contact him about his experience, and in fact tells the interviewer that he agreed to do the interview (his first) in order to get people to stop contacting him. He stays away from any conspiracy theories in the matter, and actually seems to not know what Mossad is. That Collier’s entry on a search not even suggested produces results which are related to other links with conspiracy theories cannot really be relevant.

Sometimes there is a post where the person sharing writes ‘worth a listen’, and it is related to 9-11, as in page 40. Whilst it is a Youtube video with a comment “Ex MI5 agent knows that Israeli Mossad was behind 9-11”, the actual video, which is an interview from RT, suggests no such thing when one actually listens to the agent, who strays clear of any conspiracy theory besides the facts that are rather uncontroversial. Here is the link. Whilst sharing of the link with such a title could in itself be misleading, the suggestion of the person is to actually listen to the interview, which I really doubt Collier did. His points seem to be based on the idea that a person simply takes his screenshots at superficial, face value.

Antisemitic for quoting a Chief Rabbi

On the same page, an activist shares a blog by Tony Greenstein, titled “The belief that Jews were responsible for the Holocaust is common to Jewish Orthodoxy”. In it, Greenstein quotes the late Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who said in one of his sermons (August 2000) that “The six million Holocaust victims were reincarnations of the souls of sinners, people who transgressed and did all sorts of things which should not be done. They had been reincarnated in order to atone”, and Greenstein notes that “the idea that the Jews who died in the Holocaust were being punished for their own sins is a common one amongst the religious Orthodoxy – both Zionist and anti-Zionist.”

But for Collier the screenshot appears to suffice in order to frame this as a subscription to the anti-Semitic trope of ‘the Jews brought it upon themselves’, in order to consider the person a Holocaust denier.

On page 45, an article from Mondoweiss by Philip Weiss is shared, titled “LSE [London School of Economics] chills Palestinian students’ speech on ‘intifada’ under pressure from Israel lobby”. This is a factual article. Could it be that Collier regards the activist’s heading to be problematic? It says: “We no longer have a democracy when the Jewish lobby can tell what we can and cannot discuss. With 80% of the Conservative Party belonging to The Friends of Israel group it is no surprise. Together with corporatocracy, we are doomed unless more of us get on the streets and scream”.

Collier may not agree with the formulation or the focus – but hasn’t Al-Jazeera in its recent investigatory documentary ‘The Lobby’ revealed serious problems of interference in British politics by Israel through Friends of Israel groups? Annie Robbins’ article about it is titled “‘Constructed crisis for political ends’: anti-Semitism claims are prime weapon for UK Israel lobby, Al Jazeera shows”, and it would appear, that Collier is attempting to use the same weapon in his indiscriminate shooting. In October, a report by a British Parliamentary committee had recommended that “for the purposes of criminal or disciplinary investigations, use of the words ‘Zionist’ or ‘Zio’ in an accusatory or abusive context should be considered inflammatory and potentially anti-Semitic.”

This means that if one is critical of Zionism, or even upset with it, it may become ‘anti-Semitic’ to express that, using the Z-word. This may be a way of understanding the activist’s frustration with “what we can and cannot discuss”.

In page 63-64 Collier pauses to present his ‘case study’ (p. 63) on what he calls “The foul gathering” (p. 64), which is also what he notes “the Anti-Netanyahu demonstration, Whitehall. February 6th 2017”.

Collier writes that

“around 200-250 anti-Israel activists were present”, and from them he isolates 36 activists which he deemed to have “social media history that could be fairly and openly checked”.

From these he isolates 15 activists who thus feature as 42% on his graph in page 74, which thus quantifies anti-Semitism amongst PSC at that level.

In his conclusion at page 75 Collier also links this to BDS in general:

“What does this message say about BDS activists? We have seen on several occasions, people who apparently subscribe to dark antisemitic ideology shouting out in public about boycotting Jewish goods. This is not 1930’s Germany; there is no reason to accept such behaviour, regardless of the cause it attempts to hide behind.”

Now, I could say more about this, go into more detail. I could go in depth into why one of the subjects which Collier presents as the worse-of-the-worse – Israeli organ harvesting – is in fact a rather uncontroversial finding. As The Guardian noted in 2009,

“[Israeli, ed.] Channel 2 TV reported that in the 1990s, specialists at Abu Kabir harvested skin, corneas, heart valves and bones from the bodies of Israeli soldiers, Israeli citizens, Palestinians and foreign workers, often without permission from relatives.”

But Collier does not seem to be interested in critical detail, more in splashing the incriminating label of ‘anti-Semitism’ in order to tarnish the Palestinian Solidarity Movement, as well as BDS, in general.

Anti-Semitism should not be allowed or accepted

Now let me make my position very clear: Anti-Semitism, including much of what has been presented by Collier, should not be allowed or accepted in any circumstance. In its official statement the PSC states that

“we believe no one should have their rights denied or be treated differently because of their ethnicity or religion.” 

That is an unequivocal statement against all racism and bigotry.

Collier attempts to prove that this is only a stated position, whilst the reality is supposedly very different. But his parameters are skewed, as I have shown. It is very possible, that such elements should be looked further into and investigated, but this is not what Collier seeks. He seeks to tarnish the whole campaign (including BDS) and calls upon all patrons (including Jeremy Corbyn) to sever their links. His research reeks of a McCarthyite ‘guilt by association’, and is marked by a generalist, populist vein.

The damage that can result from this sort of ‘blacklisting’ is hard to quantify. As most of Collier’s dossier is a collection of screenshots conditioned by his claims, it is doubtful that those who read it superficially (or merely rely upon Collier’s summations) will apply the critical view, under which the whole document doesn’t pass serious muster. It is imperative that this doesn’t become another cheap means of weakening Palestinian Solidarity and those who stand for it, who do so not because of hate for Jews, but for love of humanity, justice and freedom.

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One thought on “‘BDS is a terrorist movement’ – exposing David Collier”

  1. On the blog which he runs and edits there are comments which refer to Palestinians in clearly racially abusive terms – “pigs”, “swine” etc. When I drew this to Mr Collier’s attention and asked if he did not wish to remove such racist hate speech on a site for which he is responsible, he declined to do so and said he believed the comments were “quite funny”,

    So he is obviously not opposed to racism at all, only to that he finds objectionable.

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