The day the Australian newspaper described an attack on free speech as made by the ‘Jewish lobby’

In an article on B’nai B’rith’s attempt to censor a play by Palestinian-Australian-Canadian writer Samah Sabawi about the 2014 war on Gaza, the Murdoch owned Australian refers to the pro-Israel advocacy group as a ‘Jewish lobby’ – exactly the same labelling that has led to many critics of Israel pilloried for alleged antisemitism – with the abuse encouraged by papers also owned by Murdoch. It’s a conflation the paper might come to regret; it is also not difficult to see how it happened. B’nai B’rith describes itself as an organisation that – in this order – has ‘advocated for global Jewry and championed the cause of human rights since 1843.’ It is also ‘recognized as a vital voice in: promoting Jewish unity & continuity; supporting the State of Israel; advocating on behalf of senior citizens; and humanitarian aid & disaster relief.’

Shielding from criticism a state that is indeed – to borrow their hyperbolic yet fairly apt terminology – ‘a bloodythirsty, evil war machine,’ (see screenshot below) contradicts their principal mission to advocate on behalf of all Jews everywhere and to condemn human rights violations. As long as B’nai B’rith uses threats and intimidation – in the name of ‘global Jewry’ – to undermine free speech, antisemitic conspiracy theories will flourish. It is even more of a travesty given support for the play from the Australian Jewish Democratic society and other members of local Jewish communities (see Sabawi’s statement below). B’nai B’rith puts Jewish lives at risk in their aggressive pursuit of a narrow political agenda, without heed for the effects on victims of their witch hunting.


Samah Sabawi’s statement to Fairfax Media in regard to an attack on her play by Dvir Abramovich, Chair of B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission:

Do we need to tell an Israeli love story every time we tell a Palestinian one? Can we write about ordinary lives in Gaza without writing about the Palestinian people’s daily struggle for normalcy in a war zone? How ironic is it that a depoliticised play that puts the focus on the human dimension is being made political by interest groups who fail to see the world outside of their ideological filters. Tales of a City by the Sea builds bridges, celebrates diversity and depoliticises the human story. In fact, one of our 2014 performances was organised by the Australian Jewish Democratic society and was followed by a Q&A in Melbourne for interested members of the Jewish community. Almost 50 people came to that performance and there was not one complaint. The feedback was heartwarming and the review that was published by Israeli writer Ann Fink on the Australian Jewish Democratic Website was truly one of the best we had.


Glenn Greenwald: attempts to criminalize BDS one of greatest threats to free speech

Writing in the Intercept today, Interview With BDS Co-Founder Omar Barghouti: Banned by Israel From Traveling, Threatened With Worse, Greenwald argues that,

the attempts to criminalize BDS activism – not only in Israel but internationally – is one of the greatest threats to free speech and assembly rights in the west. The threat has become particularly acute on U.S. college campuses, where official punishments for pro-Palestinian students are now routine. But obviously, the threats faced by Barghouti inside Israel are far more severe.

Regardless of one’s views on BDS and the Israeli occupation, anyone who purports to believe in basic conceptions of free speech rights should be appalled by Israeli behavior.

The Israeli government’s refusal to allow Omar Barghouti to travel is, Greenwald explains,

obviously intended to suppress his speech and activism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the world leaders who traveled last year to Paris to participate in that city’s “free speech rally.” […] The travel denial came after months of disturbing public threats directed at him by an Israeli government that has grown both more extreme and more fearful of BDS’s growing international popularity.

Read, and listen to the interview here.

New report: The Israel lobby and the European Union

0001Sponsored by the EuroPal Forum and Spinwatch, this new report by David Cronin, Sarah Marusek and David Miller challenges the secrecy surrounding the pro-Israel network in the European Union capital, Brussels.

It identifies where pro-Israel groups receive their funding and how some of their donors have facilitated Israel’s illegal colonisation of the West Bank. It examines how the lobby has persuaded law-makers to refrain from sanctioning Israel over its human rights abuses. And it analyses how Israel’s supporters have been trying to undermine grassroots campaigning for justice in Palestine, including BICOM. Labour Party NEC candidate Luke Akehurst is director of We Believe in Israel, the ‘grassroots’ arm of the UK’s major pro-Israel lobby group BICOM. You can download the full Israel lobby report here.

ExcerptEurope Israel Press Association
Another recent addition to the Israel lobby in Brussels is the Europe Israel Press Association (EIPA). It was formed in mid-2012 as a kind of public relations consultancy that puts journalists in contact with spokespersons for the Israeli state. EIPA is similar to the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) in London. Both organisations strive to ensure that the mainstream media treats Israel in a sympathetic manner. Continue reading “New report: The Israel lobby and the European Union”

How will the Jewish Labour Movement bear its shame?

JLM_HavodaHaaretz’s Ravit Hecht has called on the Israeli Labour Party to ‘Bear Its Shame,’ asking: wouldn’t it be better for them to ‘simply join the Netanyahu government and end their sad pretense of opposition?’ The ’embarrassing attempts to crawl into a unity government’ by the Party leader, Herzog, is reflecting badly on JLM. In Hebrew, the Israeli Labour Party is Mifleget Havoda HaYisrelit. It receives official support from the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), here in the UK. And Hecht is right: shouldn’t the Party that JLM supports ‘stop deceiving the public,’ both at home and abroad?

What benefits do those who fear the growing racism against Arabs and the violent incitement against leftists receive from an opposition including Labor MK Eitan Cabel, who denounced his party colleague Zouheir Bahloul and rushed to join in the verbal assault on Breaking the Silence following an “investigative report” against it by a right-wing group?

And what has Labor MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin done to end the occupation? And how has Labor MK Eitan Broshi, who is hungrily eyeing the Agriculture Ministry or the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division, helped resist the onslaught of delegitimization that the government is leading against the left?

Continue reading “How will the Jewish Labour Movement bear its shame?”

JLM realises that calling non-Zionist Jews imposters & ‘contrary’ is unacceptable

Yesterday, Young members of the Jewish Labour Movement, posted on the JLM website a letter that – much to their vexation – the Guardian had declined to publish. It isn’t hard to see why: it repeats the mainstream media’s default position that Labour under Corbyn is a ‘haven’ for anti-Semites. JLM’s complaint that they are a ‘group of Jews’ whose views are not being heard is the complete inverse of reality.

The Zionist contention that groups like JLM and JSocs/UJS are the victims not the aggressors is becoming increasingly risible: they have been in the forefront of the smear campaign against the Labour Left; one of their targets, Malia Bouattia, was fortunate enough to have a strong, wide base of support and nerves of steel to withstand their onslaught. The JSoc presidents published TWO – not one – open letters in their attempt to destroy Bouattia’s reputation prior to her election as NUS president, demanding she prove she wasn’t an anti-Semite: an action that was picked up with glee by every media outlet as evidence that all British Jewish Students lived in fear of her racist reign. This intimidation was only a continuation of the harassment she and others experienced as Palestine solidarity activists on campus, leading Bouattia in 2011 to call Birmingham with its large, pro-Israel JSoc ‘something of a Zionist outpost.’

In the preamble to their unpublished Guardian letter, Young JLM members referred contemptuously to a letter signed by 88 British Jews (one of many critical responses to the Chief Rabbi’s article that Zionism=Judaism), by writing,

It appears that some of those signatories only identify as Jews for purposes of taking such contrary positions.

Perhaps in response to protests that it was offensive, demeaning – even racist – to portray non-Zionist Jews as imposters and ‘contrary,’ JLM removed that sentence. Liron Velleman who posted the letter on the JLM website is both Youth and Students Officer at JLM, and incoming UJS Campaigns Officer. Here is a screengrab of the original, and the updated website post below it. As Jews Sans Frontieres has written: ‘I had a feeling they’d excise the offensive suggestion that Jewish critics of Israel aren’t quite the real thing,’ quipping, ‘spot the difference’:

JLM Continue reading “JLM realises that calling non-Zionist Jews imposters & ‘contrary’ is unacceptable”

Whose ‘Jewish community’?

Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, Jeremy Newmark, whose evidence of alleged institutional antisemitism at UCU was described as false and preposterous by the tribunal judge, has questioned the remit and independence of the Chakrabarti inquiry into antisemitism within Labour.

Writing in the Times of Israel blog today, Newmark argues that,

It would have been better for this to have been addressed in consultation with our community before it was announced.

Having said that the inquiry and a new ‘code of conduct’ has the ‘potential to enable the party to embark on a long and complicated road to regaining the confidence of the Jewish community,’ he appears, however, to be pre-empting it by implying it is already failing in its obligations to certain Jewish groups he represents. Newmark was formerly Chief Executive of the UK’s Jewish Leadership Council – ‘the umbrella body for the major institutions of the UK Jewish community.’

JLC Chairman Sir Mick Davis wrote an article, published in the Telegraph on 1 May, asserting he is ‘a proud Zionist’ and ‘a passionate supporter of the state of Israel,’

and I am not alone. More than 90 per cent of British Jews see Israel as part of their Jewish identity. Attacks on her legitimacy are an affront to our consciousness, an assault on our religious, cultural and moral heritage.

Davis also referred to what he called ‘the brazen nature of anti-Zionist anti-Semitism.’ Adding that ‘Israel’s legitimacy is unassailable and its democracy vibrant,’ despite all evidence to the contrary.

Groups such as JLM and JLC have been at the forefront of attempts to re-define anti-Zionism as antisemitism. (See JLM’s Labour Party membership rule change proposal).

Other British Jewish voices, which struggle to be heard beyond the letters pages of liberal newspapers, have repeatedly rejected the premise that the Party has lost the confidence of its Jewish members. Since March, Labour members have sought to convey a very different experience. This letter in the Guardian by Sue Lukes is just one example of several in the same vein:

As the daughter of a Holocaust survivor I never stop worrying about how we can make “never again!” meaningful. But as an active member of both the Labour party and my Jewish community, I can say that the assertion that “Labour has become a cold house for the Jews” is simply not borne out by the facts. The party has become a much warmer place for everyone, including Jews, since Jeremy Corbyn was elected. However, some people, inside and outside the party, appear to use allegations of antisemitism to pursue other, political ends.

Continue reading “Whose ‘Jewish community’?”

Paul Kelemen: Antisemitism and the left

Kelemen, author of The British Left and Zionism: History of a Divorce, looks at the roots of the recent controversies in the Labour Party
Please read the article in full on Red Pepper, May 2016. 

Excerpt: ‘…For creating this perfect storm, elements in and outside the party, wanting for a range of rightwing reasons to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, latched on to a controversy initiated by pro-Israeli activists seeking to pre-empt Labour moving away from its traditional pro-Israeli stance. Several of the newspapers that have eagerly joined the hunt to root out Labour’s antisemites are unlikely champions for this cause. Not so long ago, they had been insinuating that the previous Labour leader’s Jewish origins – highlighted by such apparently telltale signs as his foreign-born Marxist father and alleged ineptness in eating a bacon sandwich – made him unsuitable material to be a British prime minister. But their newfound outrage over antisemitism has a wider agenda than undermining the current Labour leader. Continue reading “Paul Kelemen: Antisemitism and the left”

Is Progress behind suspension of Secretary, Croydon Central Labour Party?

Via Inside Croydon
10 May

The Labour Party has suspended David White, the secretary of the Croydon Central constituency party, following complaints over a single tweet sent a fortnight ago in defence of Ken Livingstone, after the former London Mayor’s Hitler and Zionism brain belch.

Lawyer David White: has doubts about the undertakings given to the council

Suspended: David White

Tonight, White said, “I shall fight my suspension and work to be reinstated in the Labour Party.”

There is more than a whiff of the involvement of Progress around the suspension of a socialist who has been a Labour Party member all his adult life.

Last week, Lambeth South MP Steve Reed OBE, a deputy chair of Progress, , the Blairite party-within-a-party, seemed to suggest that something was underway when he referred to “internal disciplinary matters” in a tweet regarding White’s situation. This was long before the Croydon party official had received any notification that he was subject to such a procedure.

This is not the first time that Progress has conducted a witch-hunt against socialists in Croydon.

It was widely understood that Progress members, possibly including Labour employees, were behind the attempt to have Jeremy Corbyn’s adviser, Croydon resident Andrew Fisher, kicked out of the party over some trumped up charges suggesting disloyalty towards The Hon Emily Benn, who barely lasted two years as a Croydon councillor. The petty factionalists of Progress have also been active in barring from party membership the likes of Mark Steel, the comedian and columnist. Continue reading “Is Progress behind suspension of Secretary, Croydon Central Labour Party?”

Guardian Letters: Response to Chief Rabbi Mirvis: Anti-Zionism does not equate to antisemitism

The list of 88 signatories includes Mike Leigh, Miriam Margolyes, Alexei Sayle, Selma James and Michael Rosen.

Tuesday 10 May, Guardian Letters

In his Daily Telegraph article on which you report (Chief rabbi: Labour has severe problem with antisemitism,, 4 May), Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said the antisemitism crisis engulfing Labour had “lifted the lid” on bigotry.

He joins in the sensationalist allegations of antisemitism in the Labour party, where the headlines’ decibel level is in inverse proportion to the evidence supporting them. Ignoring the more serious anti-Muslim racism in electoral politics, Rabbi Mirvis attacks the Labour party by launching a defence of Zionism which turns it from a political ideology (that can be supported or opposed) into a religion that is beyond question. We British Jews reject this categorically.

Mirvis attacks as “antisemitic” those who separate Judaism from Zionism. Yet most Jews who perished in the Holocaust were indifferent to Zionism and many opposed it. In the last municipal elections in Europe’s largest Jewish community, in Poland, just before the second world war, Poland’s Jews voted overwhelmingly for the secular, anti-Zionist, socialists of the Bund, while Zionist parties got derisory votes. Is Rabbi Mirvis recasting those victims of the Holocaust posthumously as enemies of Judaism and therefore as antisemites?
George Abendstern
Seymour Alexander
Julia Bard
Sue Bard
Graham Bash
Craig Berman
Rica Bird
Haim Bresheeth
Elizabeth Carola
Linda Clair
Jim Cohen
Norman Crane
Wendy Crane
Judith Cravitz
Mike Cushman
Ivor Dembina Continue reading “Guardian Letters: Response to Chief Rabbi Mirvis: Anti-Zionism does not equate to antisemitism”

Haaretz: To Peter Beinart: We pro-BDS Jews Are as Much Part of Jewish People as You Are

Read article in full here.

Excerpt: ‘…when liberal columnist Peter Beinart told me recently in Haaretz that Jews like me have broken ‘the bonds of peoplehood’ by embracing BDS, I heard an assertion that reflects the consensus of the old Jewish world, not the contours of the new. In Beinart’s view, while pro-BDS Jews like me do indeed hold strong Jewish identities and build robust Jewish communities, the fact remains that we have broken sharply with the mainstream Jewish communal consensus.

For embracing a call for solidarity from Palestinians who experience daily violence from the Israeli state, we are denounced from the local synagogue bimah, denied jobs at the local JCRC, and ridiculed around the local mah-jongg table. We have prioritized our ethical values over the commandment, in Beinart’s words, to ‘protect other Jews’. And for making this choice, we have excommunicated ourselves from klal Yisrael (the Jewish collective).

But whose ‘peoplehood’ have we broken, exactly? Who determines the boundaries of what Beinart calls the collective ‘family’? Mainstream synagogues, with their ‘We Stand With Israel’ banners facing the street and Israeli flags adorning the bimah, are struggling to find members under the age of 50. In many places, a growing majority of Jews don’t pass through the doors of their community JCRC or their campus Hillel. For a variety of reasons, institutions like these have for decades been inaccessible not only to pro-BDS Jews, but to queer Jews, Jews of color, Jews from interfaith families, working-class Jews, disabled Jews, and many others. Continue reading “Haaretz: To Peter Beinart: We pro-BDS Jews Are as Much Part of Jewish People as You Are”