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”

Selected Cases of Interference with Free Expression, 2017

Free Speech on Israel
Palestine Solidarity Campaign

This dossier records some of the more prominent cases of restriction of freedom of speech or assembly related to criticisms of the state of Israel that occurred during 2017. In some cases the document produced in May 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) as a definition of antisemitism, and adopted by the UK government in December of that year, is explicitly cited in support of the action taken. In all cases the awareness of that government action has provided the pervasive atmosphere, chilling to free speech on Israel/Palestine, in which these decisions were taken.
The IHRA definition has been used to press for and achieve the cancellation of events denouncing Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and violations of human rights. The use of the IHRA definition in such instances is commonly framed around the following narrative: “These events typically apply double standards towards Israel that are not applied to other countries and effectively deny Israel any right to exist by treating it as an inherently racist endeavour. As such, they conflict with the IHRA definition.” (quote from spokesman for UK Lawyers for Israel – UKLFI).
In the UK, student events organised on campuses have been particularly targeted, following a letter sent by the Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson to UK universities in February 2017 to outline the government’s concerns about antisemitism on campuses, especially around Israel Apartheid Week due to take place that month, and asking for the IHRA definition to be disseminated throughout the academic system.

Continue reading “Selected Cases of Interference with Free Expression, 2017”

Who Gets to Speak about Antisemitism?

Who Gets to Speak about Antisemitism? “Antisemitism and the Struggle for Justice” at the New School for Social Research

Reprinted from Tikkun by permission
Note from Rabbi Michael Lerner, Tikkun editor. Shaul Magid answers below a set of criticisms being published in other Jewish publications about a forum on antisemitism sponsored by JVP (Jewish Voice for Peace), the leading Jewish organization supporting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) in the Jewish world. Tikkun has not endorsed BDS, and our readers have a wide variety of different opinions about its wisdom as a strategy to achieve what we do endorse–peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians–but we do support the right of others to support those versions of BDS that do not seek to end the existence of the State of Israel. We plan to have a fuller discussion of BDS in a forthcoming Tikkun focused mostly on its wisdom as a strategy.

On Antisemitism coverOn the evening of November 28th, 2017 the New School for Social Research in Manhattan, an institution long devoted to progressive politics and cultural critique, held an event entitled “Antisemitism and the Struggle for Justice.” It was in part a celebration of the book On Antisemitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice published in 2017 by Haymarket Books sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace. There were four panellists in attendance; Leo Ferguson who works for Jewish for Racial and Economic Justice, Lina Moralis a Chicago-based Latinx-Ashkenazi Jewish activist who identifies as bi-racial and who is openly anti-Zionist, Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of JVP, a progressive Jewish organization that supports BDS against Israel, and Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour. The event received sharp criticism in the Jewish media days before it took place, claiming, among other things, that these panellists have no right, nor are sufficiently equipped, to speak about antisemitism. Outside the New School auditorium stood a crowd of protesters from the wide swath of the Jewish centre-right to far-right, some calling for de-funding the New School for staging such an event. The event went off without a hitch, save two small disruptions during the Q & A period. Continue reading “Who Gets to Speak about Antisemitism?”

Help fund challenge to IPSO over refusal to condemn false accusations of antisemitism

Jonathan Coulter's judicial review application
Jonathan Coulter’s judicial review application

The ‘Independent’ Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has refused to hold The Times and Sunday Times) to account. Both grossly misreported a public meeting to launch the Balfour Apology Campaign. They misrepresented the event as a sort of antisemitic ‘hate-fest’; this set the tone for other media reports. Thirty attendees complained to IPSO but IPSO failed to investigate properly.

Jonathan Coulter is seeking Judicial Review on three grounds:

  • the misreporting of the conduct of Baroness Tonge
  • IPSO made Insufficient inquiry
  • IPSO’s decision making was irrational

The Hacked Off campaign is supporting this challenge.

Judicial review is expensive

Support Jonathan’s crowdsourcing appeal

Continue reading “Help fund challenge to IPSO over refusal to condemn false accusations of antisemitism”

FSOI expresses grave disquiet about the handling of complaint against Tony Greenstein

This letter was sent to Iain McNicol, General Secretary of the Labour Party, on 25 November.

Dear  Iain McNicol

Free Speech on Israel is a Jewish led group of mainly Labour Party members formed to contest restrictions on debate about Palestinian rights and Israeli Government actions and to contest antisemitic speech and actions as well as false allegations of antisemitism.

FSOI wishes to express its grave disquiet about the current operation of the Party’s disciplinary machinery and in particular in relation to the mishandling of the case against Tony Greenstein who has a long record of both challenging antisemitism and racism and campaigning for human rights.  The dossier presented to Tony Greenstein contains many robust statements and vociferous criticism of Israel’s actins but nothing that can remotely be judged as being antisemitic or uttered with antisemitic intent. Continue reading “FSOI expresses grave disquiet about the handling of complaint against Tony Greenstein”

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”

Expanding the Definition of Antisemitism Hurts Jews

Testimony of Professor Barry Trachtenberg to the United States House Judiciary Committee about proposed speech codes on November 7, 2017

Barry Trachtenberg is the Rubin Presidential Chair of Jewish History and the Director of the Jewish Studies Program at Wake Forest University.

First published in the Forward and reprinted by permission of the author

It is increasingly common to hear reports that a “new antisemitism” threatens to endanger Jews on a scale not seen since the second World War and the Holocaust. Studies from several major Jewish organizations have sounded the alarm that antisemitism is a “clear and present danger,” while a number of commentators have argued that yet another “war against the Jews” is upon us.

House Judiciary Committee
As much as these sort of statements try to call our attention to a looming catastrophe, they are motivated less by an actual threat facing American or world Jewry than they are part of a persistent campaign to thwart debates, conversations, scholarly research, and political activism (all of which often occur within the Jewish community itself) that is critical of the State of Israel.

 The truth is that the “old antisemitism” — such as we saw in Charlottesville this summer, where torch-bearing marchers carried Nazi and Confederate flags, chanted “You/Jews will not replace us,” and murdered a protester — is still alive in the United States and in many places around the world and requires vigilance and persistent resistance. It is a poor use of our time to distract ourselves by crafting legislation that dictates what can and cannot be said on college campuses regarding the State of Israel.

Continue reading “Expanding the Definition of Antisemitism Hurts Jews”

Labour List uses fear of offence to censor debate

When Gary Spedding sent his riposte to Emily Thornberry’s remarks on Israel’s ‘Right to Exist’ he got a surprising response. Labour List preferred censorship to debate.

Labour List rejectionof Gary Spedding's article on te gorunds 'it may give offence' Fortunately, Jewish News, the UK publication of the Times of Israel had more faith in its readers ability to survive encountering something they may disagree with and published it online.

It is the outlawing of reasonable criticism of Israel that was the reason for the setting up of FSOI. The attacks on free speech come in many form:, denial of spaces for meetings; disciplining of people who defend Palestinian rights; and, as in this case, straight censorship. We are pleased to republish Gary’s article which repeats the simple point that states are human creations that are not, unlike their citizens, endowed with rights. They come, like South Sudan, and disappear, like Yugoslavia. Israel is no different.

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary is wrong on Israel’s ‘right to exist’

Gary Spedding

Last week, in a high profile speech marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, the Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry stated that there is “no place in the Labour Party” for anyone who holds the “abhorrent view” that Israel has no right to exist.

Such a notion is extremely controversial. And one that has been peddled by the Israeli establishment for decades. This piece of political rhetoric is actually designed to shut down any hope of a fruitful peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli figures have been pushing for foreign politicians, in countries that have highly regarded parliamentary democracy, to adopt this problematic soundbite when discussing Israel as it gives it a veneer of legitimacy.

Emily Thornberry
Emily Thornberry

Let me be clear from the outset that I firmly believe that all people, including Jewish people, have the right to both individual and collective self-determination. To quote President Woodrow Wilson, who was a strong proponent of the principle; “people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent.” However, there are conflicting definitions and legal criteria surrounding self-determination itself and the plain truth is that no state or political entity has an inherent “right to exist”, and as such this term is legally meaningless. One of the reasons the ‘right to exist’ won’t be found codified in contemporary international law that it is near impossible to fulfil for the thousands of unique nations on the planet today.

Emily’s highly toxic statement is dangerous to both Labour Party members and the wider community engaged on the Israel-Palestine conflict. She has, like so many before her, confused a people’s inalienable right to self-determination with a non-existent ‘right to exist’ that is associated more with nation-states than people – in particular, ethnocratic states like Israel.

Now some might argue that the right to self-determination automatically grants people the right to a state. I can certainly understand how one might reach this viewpoint given the fact people should be able to freely choose how to express their self-determination. And yet there are limitations and certain responsibilities accompanying self-determination – coupled with certain vagueness around how a national group can achieve it without infringing upon the same rights held by others within the same territory. This is one of the issues at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict; two people within the same territory with conflicting national movements.

In addition, the demand by Israel’s establishment that their state’s “right to exist” be recognised is, in fact, a major obstacle to securing a political settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. It was never a demand in the peace processes with Egypt or Jordan that Israel, as a Jewish State, should be recognised as having a ‘right to exist’ – although later the leaders of both Egypt and Jordan agreed that in signing peace treaties they had implicitly accepted Israel’s existence. By including this demand when it comes to the Palestinians it effectively shuts down any hope of a peace process, but also has the added bonus of defining terms of debate elsewhere in the world. This has meant the labelling of anyone who deviates from the status quo as being motivated by evil ideology, of wanting the ‘destruction of Israel’, and by default wanting the wholesale slaughter of the Jewish people – something which, outside of a tiny minority of extreme fringes, is actually ludicrous.

For Palestinians, recognising Israel’s ‘right to exist’ exclusively as a Jewish state would mean accepting the legitimacy of their own dispossession and expulsion, something they will never do, which is why the Israeli government insist on this as an early prerequisite for negotiations – because it is the Israeli government that has all the cards when it comes to building peace in a conflict mired by power asymmetries.

For people like me, who believe in the importance of allowing different visions for the future in Israel-Palestine, and as long as it’s within a non-violent political process, the words of the Shadow Foreign Secretary are alarming. I do not accept that I have no place in the Labour Party simply for holding the reasonable view that no states have an inherent right to exist. Those who share Emily Thornberry’s view are saying that there is no place in Labour for those who support a shared future for Israelis and Palestinians within a bi-national state, or any kind of solution where equal rights are enshrined and basic democratic freedoms codified and guaranteed.

Emily Thornberry appears to have inadvertently bolstered the language of the Israeli right, thus helping to sow anxiety and fear among Labour Party members who might wish to discuss alternative yet still sustainable, realistic and durable resolutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict. By telling people they have to accept that Israel, uniquely among all other states, has the right to exist and that the only solution to the conflict is that of a two-state solution, alternative visions for the future are pushed aside. Palestinian voices in particular are being stripped of agency, spelling disaster for any push for peace. We get nowhere by shutting out other parties to the conflict. Failure to bind them into a process ensures peace shall remain elusive.

I imagine a substantive majority of Labour Party members fall outside the terms defined in Emily Thornberry’s statement yesterday. We have seen a number of party members suspended for voicing entirely reasonable criticisms of Israeli government policy and the conduct of the Israeli state. I am deeply concerned that Emily seems to have a fairly weak grasp of the intricate and complex issues surrounding Israel-Palestine, and as a result she is prone to making statements imbued with toxic political sentiments, offering concessions aimed at pleasing too many audiences, without perhaps even realising the full extent of the consequences afterwards.

Her latest statement contributes to a growing push to have perfectly reasonable debate shut down and where pro-Palestine party members are targeted, marginalised, demonised and delegitimised by those who wish to see them silenced, or worse, expelled.

As a Labour Party member, I will continue to hold the consistent view that no political entity or state has a ‘right to exist’ and shall defend my right to a nuanced set of positions on Israel-Palestine as someone who very much desires to see a genuine and just solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

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 ??”

Engaged in Anger about Antisemitism

Deborah Maccoby

Review of Contemporary Left Antisemitism, David Hirsh, Routledge 2017

David Hirsh, besides running the Engage website, which campaigns against the academic boycott of Israel, is a lecturer at Goldsmith’s College, University of London; and his book claims to be a work of objective academic scholarship. In the penultimate chapter — entitled “Sociological method and antisemitism” — which is an odd mixture of autobiography and methodology, he writes of undertaking sociological investigations “employing methodological rigour from the traditions of ethnomethodology and discourse analysis”. Yet underlying this very thin veneer of scholarly objectivity is a passionate rage which makes the book more readable than many other academic tomes and even gives it a certain entertainment value (hence the two stars on Amazon rather than the one that it really deserves). Contemporary Left Antisemitism is essentially a temper tantrum couched in sociological jargon. Continue reading “Engaged in Anger about Antisemitism”