Judge tells Government: allow BDS

Mike Cushman

A High Court judge has ruled that the Government was exceeding its power in trying to direct Local Government Pension Funds to ignore calls for BDS and abandon ethical investing. The Government, he said: “has acted for an unauthorised purpose and therefore unlawfully“.

Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has a record of fierce partisanship in favour of Israel. As Culture Secretary he lobbied hard to punish the Tricycle Theatre for declining to accept Israeli Embassy funding. In his current post he attempted to misuse the review of Local Government pension regulations to prohibit funds from taking Israeli Human Rights abuses and other ethical considerations into account when deciding investment priorities. He sought to include

“In formulating and maintaining their policy on social,
environmental and corporate governance factors,
an administering authority…

• Should not pursue policies that are contrary to UK foreign
policy or UK defence policy.”

in the guidance.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign crowdfunded a judicial review of this manifestly politically motivated and partisan restriction.

PSC supporters outside High Court demand judge Judge rules pensions regulations illegal
PSC supporters outside the High Court

Continue reading “Judge tells Government: allow BDS”

PalExpo organisers resist hate campaign

Richard Kuper

Palestine Expo 2017 is the largest social, cultural and entertainment event on Palestine ever to take place in Europe. It runs on 8th and 9th July at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London. Food, live entertainment, academic discussion, shopping, photographic exhibitions and much, much more are on offer.

PalExpo leaflets
PalExpo leaflets

Too much, it seems for some. A hate campaign has been launched on social media maliciously accusing the organisers of having terrorist links in an effort to stop the celebration/exhibition in its tracks. Unjustified legal action, lawfare, has been launched by RHF Solicitors in Manchester representing Jewish Human Rights Watch (JHRW). They are trying to pressure the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre into cancelling the event. They have manufactured accusations against two of the organisers of PalExpo, Friends of Al-Aqsa (FOA) and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), claiming they have clear terrorist links and support

Lawfare letter from RHF solicitors
Lawfare letter from RHF solicitors attacking PalExpo

“Jew Hate across the UK”. The solicitor’s letter alleges that “the recurring anti-Semitic themes promoted by the above groups is deliberately intended to intimidate and discriminate against Jews.” It continues: “Our client is certain that this event is a front for Jew hate and that the main groups (Friends of Alaqsa & Palestine Solidarity Campaign) are organisations promoting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in relation to Israel, a known anti-Semitic movement.”

Both FOA and PSC have robustly rejected these absurd allegations. In an appeal for support, FOA has said in a statement on 2nd June:

“FOA and our Chairman, Ismail Patel, have been slandered and defamed by JHRW who accuse us of spreading  ‘Jew hate’ because we support Boycott Divestment and Sanction of Israel. The promotion of BDS is supporting freedom of Palestinians and has nothing to do with being anti-Semitic!

They have also outrageously claimed that Palestine Expo should not be allowed to take place so close to Westminster, in a disgraceful attempt to exploit the recent horrific Westminster incident for their own gain. The malicious attack is a tactic to deter supporters of Palestine from attending.”

PSC Director Ben Jamal, cited in an article by Yvonne Ridley, called the allegations “false and disturbing” and explained:

“Palestine Expo will be a celebration of the rich Palestinian culture, with traditional dancing, food, artisan goods, art exhibits, and children’s entertainment alongside talks on the current political situation… We are sure that reasonable people have no issue with any national group celebrating their heritage.”

The two organisations are seeking legal redress against these slanders. They urge everyone to show their support for PalExpo by going along on 8th or 9th July! You can book tickets in advance here.

Further reading:

Ben White, “Israel and friends battle the boycott in Britain” Middle East Monitor, 1 March 2016

Yvonne Ridley, “An online hate campaign is trying to get a Palestinian cultural festival cancelled”,  Middle East Monitor, 26 May 2017

Bias, what Bias?

Analysis of the Letter Sent by All 100 US Senators to UN Secretary-General, about ‘eliminating Anti-Israel bias’.

Jonathan Ofir

Last week, all 100 US senators signed a letter to UN Secretary General, demanding ‘equal treatment’ for Israel.
The letter was an ostensible display of bipartisan unanimity about UN ‘anti-Israel bias’. While bias should definitely be examined, the blind cannot lead the blind.

This letter is thus an exhibition of bipartisan bias – on behalf of Israel.

The text of the letter, which in itself only fills 1.5 pages, ostensibly seeks ‘balance’:

“Through words and actions, we urge you to ensure that Israel is treated neither better nor worse than any other U.N. member in good standing.”

This is a paraphrase of a clause in the anti-Semitism definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) recently adopted also by UK: “Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
Continue reading “Bias, what Bias?”

Statement by Palestinian Students in the UK Demanding the Resignation of NUS VP Richard Brooks

Reprinted from Medium by permission

In light of the revelations made by the Al Jazeera investigative documentary The Lobby, Palestinian students in the UK have published a letter calling for an apology and the resignation of the National Union of Students VP Richard Brooks. In the footage Brooks implicates himself in helping to organise a group that is trying to oust Malia Bouattia for her strong stance on Palestine. The attacks being levelled against Bouattia are based on her politics and principled opposition to Israel’s regime of apartheid and settler colonialism. As an elected official of the NUS, Brooks is betraying the trust placed in him by students and has demonstrated seriously misplaced and misguided priorities, which lead him to collude with the Israeli Embassy.

Statement

Following the revelations made as part of the first episode of the Al Jazeera documentary, The Lobby, we as Palestinian students, many of whom are members of the student movement in the UK, are issuing this statement to express solidarity with NUS President Malia Bouattia and to demand an apology from NUS Vice President (Union Development) Richard Brooks, as well as his resignation. These revelations contain evidence that Brooks has been implicated in soliciting help from the Israeli Embassy to bring down the NUS President and to destabilise the Union as a whole. In a climate where student activists, NUS, and the NUS President in particular, have been undermined, attacked, and harassed for their pro-Palestine politics, such activities and communications are outrageous, must be condemned outright, and cannot go without severe consequences.

We believe that Brooks’ activities constitute a flagrant violation of the guidelines of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign (BDS), which was endorsed and adopted by the NUS in 2014 as part of a democratic and transparent process amid widespread concern over the deteriorating situation in Palestine after Israel’s devastating attacks on Gaza that summer. The BDS Campaign calls for freedom, justice, and equality for Palestinians and the provision of their full human rights. Palestinian students in the UK are an important part of the national student movement, and it is due to this that both the Palestinian students and the wider student movement feel disturbed at what has been shown to transpire between Brooks and the Israeli Embassy.

As an elected full time official within the National Union of Students, Richard Brooks bears a great deal of responsibility towards the student movement, as well as to the Palestinian students who come under attack by public figures on an increasingly regular basis due to our nationality. It is unacceptable for a somebody in Brooks’ position to conspire with a foreign government to undermine and damage one of the largest democratic institutions in the country, which represents over 7 million students. This constitutes a massive betrayal of the trust placed within Richard Brooks by the students who elected him, in addition to demonstrating his misplaced and misguided priorities, none of which should include colluding with the Israeli Embassy, as is evidently the case. Furthermore, it is important to affirm that the attacks levelled at Bouattia since her electoral victory were based on her politics and principled opposition to Israel’s regime of apartheid and settler colonialism. As Palestinian students, we see these attacks as part of a broader attempt to dehumanise Palestinians and silence our narratives.

In light of these appalling and outrageous revelations, we the undersigned Palestinian students in the UK and supporters of the Palestinian cause feel that the position of NUS Vice President Richard Brooks has become untenable and unworkable. In light of this, we demand the following:
– An unequivocal public apology for the actions taken by Richard Brooks.
– Richard Brooks’ resignation from his position as Vice President (Union Development) of the National Union of Students with immediate effect.

Signatories

Malaka Mohammed, University of Exeter
Samar Ahmed, Kings College London
Yara Hawari, University of Exeter
Toqa Zait, Leeds University
Kareem Bseiso, SOAS, University of London
Yahya Abu Seido, University College London
Ayat Hamdan, University of Exeter
Shahd Abusalama, SOAS, University of London
Laura Al-Tahrawy, Lincoln University
Afnan Jabr Alqadri, St. Mary University
Sahar S, Kings College London
Omar Jouda, Oxford Brookes University
Abdulla Saad, SOAS, University of London
Eyad Hamid, SOAS, University of London
Motaz Ayyad, Imperial College
Razan Masri, SOAS, University of London
Gabriel Polly, University of Exeter
Rawand Safi, University College London
Razan Shamallakh, Kings College London
Yousef Anis, University College London
Hani Awwad, Oxford University
Beth Jamal, Cambridge University
Layla D., University of Nottingham
Emily M., Surrey University
Dana El Ghadban, University of Leeds
Mahmoud Zwahre, Coventry University
Miriam Abu Samra, Oxford University
Doa Althalathini, Plymouth University
Rama Sahtout, University of Exeter
Mostafa Afana, Belfast University
Haya Natsheh, London School of Economics
Ashraf Hamad, University of Leeds
Rama Sabanekh, SOAS, University of London
Basel Sourani, SOAS, University of London
Layla Al-Khatib, University College London
Hussam Al-Kurd, London School of Economics
Ramsey El-Dabbagh, University College London
Ala Sawalha, SOAS, University of London
Marwan Hanbali, Cardiff University
Jamal Abdulfattah, Exeter University
Mjriam Abu Samra, University of Oxford
Rawan Yaghi, Oxford University
Ibtehal H., Kings College London
Sari Sati, University of Kent
Abdulrahman Arasoghli, University of Manchester
Saba I., Kings College London
Syeda Tahmina Khatun, Brunel University London
Dena Qaddumi, Palestinian PhD student, University of Cambridge
Khalil al-Wazir at the University of East Anglia
Haya Naji, Southampton University
Dina Tahboub, University of Cambridge
Abdelrahman Murad, University of the Arts London
Alessia Cancemi, Goldsmiths University of London
Tamer EL-Nakhal , Medicine, Cambridge University Hospital
Hamss Hassan Dawood, University College London
Salim Habash, Loughborough University
Huda Ammori, University of Manchester
Laila al-Khatib, University College London
Samir al-Khatib, University College London
Zeena Jojo, London School of Economics
Ahmed A., University of Leeds
Haneen Shubib, University of Leeds
Hana Elias, University of Exeter

If you wish to add your name, please email Malaka933@gmail.com

EU High Representative affirms the right to BDS

Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, condemns attacks on human rights defenders and affirms the rights of European citizens to freedom of expression and association, including through participation in the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

FSOI says, this is a firm rebuke to all those, such as the Home Affairs Select Committee, who attempt to use the discredited EUMC working definition on antisemitism to outlaw criticism of Israel

Federica Mogherini
Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs

In response to a question on whether the EU commission will commit to defending BDS activists’ right to exercise their democratic freedom of expression, put forward by MEP Martina Anderson, the EU High Representative stated:

The EU stands firm in protecting freedom of expression and freedom of association in line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which is applicable on EU Member States’ territory, including with regard to BDS actions carried out on this territory.

Mogherini also affirmed that “Freedom of expression, as underlined by the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, is also applicable to information or ideas ‘that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population.”

Having failed to hinder the growing support and impact of the BDS movement in the mainstream, Israel has launched an unprecedented anti-democratic campaign to silence Palestine rights activism and outlaw BDS.

The Israeli-induced attacks on the BDS movement include pressure on governments, legislators and officials to fight BDS activity through implementation of repressive measures that pose a threat to civil and political liberties at large.

When asked about the Commission’s assessment of statements made by Israeli Minister of Intelligence Yisrael Katz that ‘targeted civil elimination’ should be carried out against Palestinian and international leaders for the BDS movement, the EU High Representative stated that “The EU firmly condemns threats and violence against human rights defenders under all circumstances.”

Riya Hassan, Europe Campaigns Officer of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society that leads the global BDS movement, commented:

We welcome the EU’s belated defense of the right of European and other citizens to stand in solidarity with Palestinian rights, including through BDS tactics. But Palestinian civil society expects the EU to respect its obligations under international law and its own principles and laws by, at the very least, imposing a military embargo on Israel, banning products of companies that do business in Israel’s illegal colonies, and suspending the EU-Israel Association Agreement until Israel fully complies with the human rights clause of the agreement.

A letter signed by more than 30 MEPs had called on Federica Mogherini, to take measures assuring freedom of expression regarding the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for justice and equality and recognising Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the BDS movement, as a human rights defender.

This letter echoes growing European political and civil society calls for protecting the freedom of expression of activists and organisations involved in BDS activity for Palestinian rights under international law.

More than 350 European human rights organizations, trade unions, church groups and political parties, have called on the European Union to defend citizens and organisations right to boycott Israel in response to its occupation and violations of Palestinian rights.

Representatives of the Swedish, Irish and Dutch governments have publicly defended the right to advocate and campaign for Palestinian rights under international law through BDS.

Republished from: European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP)

Student leaders denounce false, selective & partisan HASC report and the unjust targeting of Malia Bouattia

Open Letter to Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) on report titled ‘Antisemitism in the UK’

We, the undersigned, note with grave concern the findings of the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) on anti-Semitism. The report’s findings on the sharp growth in anti-Semitic incidents in the last year is deeply troubling, and is an urgent call to all those involved in fighting against racism, oppression, and for a better society more generally. We welcome the reports calls to take on anti-Semitism, as well as its focus on greater recognition of under-acknowledged areas of abuse, such as online platforms.

Unfortunately, despite outlining that the large majority of anti-Semitic abuse and crime has historically been, and continues to be, caused by the far right, the report fails to address these groups in any detail. Instead, it focuses virtually all of its attention on the Labour Party and the National Union of Students (NUS), without providing any evidence that these organisations are responsible for the deplorable situation it describes. This undermines the report and casts doubt upon its authors’ intentions. We believe that in order to address the growing reality of anti-Semitism in society effectively, we have to do so without falling prey to partisan selectivity.

We strongly regret the report’s recommendation that would suggest legitimate criticism of Zionism to be considered as hate-crimes by the government, effectively equating them with anti-Semitism. Zionism is a political ideology that continues to express itself through the actions of the State of Israel. It is one that is held or rejected by both Jewish people and non-Jewish people. Zionism and Judaism are not interchangeable and do not go hand in hand. As with all political ideologies, it should be open to discussion, scrutiny and debate. This is the long-held position of many Jewish academics and key figures, and one we are disappointed that the report is unable to reflect.

We are extremely alarmed at the way NUS’ National President, Malia Bouattia, is being singled out for her views on Israel by the HASC in its report, and depicted as the source of anti-Semitism in Higher Education. Bouattia’s repeated assurances, within the union and in the media, that she will address concerns and revise her language, are completely ignored by the HASC report, despite the fact that she has done just that and reiterated her commitments to do this in her submission for the HASC report.

Furthermore, Bouattia has outlined – on numerous occasions and in her written submission to the HASC – the actions she and NUS are taking to fight anti-Semitism which include: supporting NUS’ Anti-Racism and Anti-Fascism Campaign, continued work on interfaith and campus cohesion, interfaith work focused specifically on anti-Semitism, upcoming work on tackling hate crime, an Institutional Racism Review inclusive of anti-Semitism which she demanded, as well as working alongside the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust on Holocaust education. The report fails to acknowledge any of these endeavours.

The HAC also seem to be misinformed about recent developments in NUS’ Anti-Racism Anti-Fascism (ARAF) Committee. Under Bouattia’s leadership, the Jewish representative on NUS’ ARAF Committee is now elected by Jewish members of the union’s National Executive Committee. Previously, representatives were appointed by the NUS president. The report claims the reverse to be true.

Finally, we believe this report’s selective and partisan approach attempts to delegitimise NUS, and discredit Malia Bouattia as its president. An attack on NUS is an attack on the student and union movements. This is completely unacceptable and we cannot allow these claims against us to go unchallenged. We demand a revised report that is impartial and contains factual evidence. We demand that all false statements are retracted, especially in relation to the sections regarding campus anti-Semitism, along with an apology to those who have been vilified by the inaccuracies and partisan biases it contains. Our movement will remain principled in its work defending human rights, freedom of expression, and the fight against anti-Semitism and racism in all its forms.

To add your name to this statement sign here: https://goo.gl/forms/VROOugGVCUtN6MK93

Updated list of over 300 signatories here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1pTqtRyLSTmYTNi_NOBDXvq6A-Z7RjEfxLSPPGCZP8dg/mobilebasic



Free Speech on Israel note:

In the media furore over Malia Bouattia’s historic remark that Birmingham University was ‘something of a Zionist outpost in British Higher Education,’ with ‘the largest JSoc in the country whose leadership is dominated by Zionist activists,’ the context was entirely overlooked.

Bouattia’s 2011 article reveals a campaign of intimidation and harassment, by pro-Israel student groups, of Palestine solidarity activists on campus. Referring to events during Israeli Apartheid Week, that included a mock Israeli checkpoint, Bouattia wrote at the time:

Overall the events were a success and many of the students and visitors on campus witnessed the Zionist attempts of intimidation which contradicted their “peace” initiative. We reinforced that our approaches remain non-violent and that we have no intention of intimidating students as opposed to the continuous harassment and confrontations we experience from Zionists on campus. Our principle aims are to liberate and seek justice for the Palestinian. We therefore also wanted to contribute to raising awareness about Israel in the hope that Zionists may take the first step and admit their state’s inhumane and illegal actions are wrong and then perhaps this would be the first step to discussing genuine peace.

Not all members of JSocs are pro-Israel, identify as Zionists or oppose BDS, but JSocs are arguably ‘Zionist-dominated’, and committed to undermining the Palestinian civil society, non-violent, anti-racist Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS), which represents its membership through Jewish Societies (JSocs), is a member of the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS). Their mission is:

To connect students worldwide with the State of Israel as the central creative factor in Jewish life, and to pursue this through the encouragement of Aliyah, strengthening the State of Israel.

The WUJS, in turn, is an affiliated member of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) with, possibly, voting rights. WZO’s mission is ‘promoting Zionism & the Zionist idea and the Zionist enterprise through Israel Education as vital and positive elements of contemporary Jewish life.’ (See also Jews Sans Frontieres post on Birmingham JSoc)

Council Boycott Ban Slammed

Reprinted from the Morning Star

The government was accused yesterday of “an attack on democracy” over its ban on local authorities and institutions observing an “ethical boycott” of investment in firms and countries deemed to be beyond the pale.

In “new guidance” for councils issued this week, the government claimed that “using pension policies to pursue boycotts, divestment and sanctions against foreign nations and UK defence industries is inappropriate.”

The intervention follows announcements by a number of local authorities, universities and other institutions that they are disvesting from the multibillion-pound arms trade and regimes perceived as being unethical or in breach of international law.

War on Want senior militarism and security campaigner Ryvka Barnard condemned the guidance, accusing the government of seeking to protect countries such as Israel from criticism over their human rights abuses.

She said: “The government’s action is an attack on democracy and an explicit clampdown on the growing strength of the grassroots boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which aims to end government and corporate complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.

“The government has given itself the power to veto decisions that it doesn’t like, overruling the democratic process and blocking local councils from making investment decisions in line with community values. This is plain wrong.”

War on Want argues that Britain has an “obligation” not to enable or support countries accused of egregious violations of human rights and international law, “which includes making sure that it is not financially or otherwise supporting Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.”

Local communities in England and Wales must be allowed to make their own decisions as to how they choose to invest their funds without interference from the central government, the campaign group argued.

Israel’s right to exist

By Jonathan Rosenhead

Reprinted from openDemocracy, 23 September 2016

First a mea culpa. Mary Davis accuses me of making an ‘incorrect and snide’ assertion that she wrote her first piece to support the Jewish establishment’s attack on Corbyn. I see how it can be read that way. What I wrote was “The issue is: just why Mary Davis is writing this piece now?” and went on to detail the coordinated, no-holds barred onslaught alleging that antisemitism that has been taking place. What I meant was that antisemitism in the Labour Party was a significant issue only because of this onslaught; and that she was writing her piece only because this misplaced salience had made it an issue. I did not mean that she was part of that campaign.

Before getting down to business I should also mention her rebuttal of my assertion that actual anti-Semitic incidents were relatively insignificant. She cites Community Security Trust figures for anti-Semitic incidents running at a total of 557 in the first 6 months of 2016. For a sense of scale, official figuresshow the total number of hate crimes averaged 222,000 per annum over the years 2012-5. I rest that part of my case.

To business. What ultimately divides our positions on the contentious issue of how anti-Zionism relates to antisemitism? It does not seem, at least directly, to be our views on Zionism itself. Mary says that she does not regard herself as a Zionist, and it is quite a few decades since I did so. And we are both highly critical about what Israel actually does. Yet it is clear that we do have grave differences on what can legitimately be done to end these excesses. These disagreements seem to stem ultimately from what she identifies as “the issue of the right of the state of Israel to exist”.

The right to exist

This is treacherous ground. In the present era of witch-finders general in the Labour Party I could still lose my leadership vote. (I am writing just ahead of the result being announced.) Many have already lost theirs for less. So forgive me if I tread warily. To question this ‘right to exist’ is not to toy with the idea of ejecting the 5 million or so Jewish inhabitants of Israel plus its illegal settlements into some external dumping ground (or worse). All the same, don’t forget that this dumping is exactly what happened to those hundreds of thousands of Palestinians ejected in 1948 who have since been denied their internationally attested right to return.

The reason why the claimed ‘right to exist’ is problematic is a question of definition, not of dematerialisation. States come and go, change their names and their borders, bifurcate and merge. That’s history for you. We don’t think that Mercia, dead these 1100 years, has or even had a ‘right to exist’. Coming more up to date the issue of exactly what is Ireland’s state-ly expression has sparked both bloody and peaceful struggle, and is not yet definitively resolved. Yugoslavia wasn’t a state, then it was, and then it wasn’t again, all in the course of about 70 years. Yugoslavia fractured in bloody fashion, but Czechoslovakia broke up into component parts by agreement.

There is nothing in international law that says that states have a right to exist. They either do or don’t exist, and there are criteria. As you would expect academic lawyers don’t speak with one voice on this, but (very roughly) to be a state you need to have a central government, a permanent population, a defined territory, etc. It helps to have international recognition, but that is probably not essential.

There are certain things that states cannot do in international law – attack others, practice ethnic cleansing or apartheid, things like that. But if a state violates these rules its transgressions don’t licence violent attacks on it by other states, and it doesn’t stop being a state.

Israel, the special case

Israel is of course a special case. As I said in my last piece, Zionism could realise its ambition of national self-determination in a defined territory only by taking someone else’s, and on behalf of people not actually living there. That contradiction between two claims and concepts of legitimacy remains and poisons the politics of the area. Israel’s supposed ‘right to exist’ is inevitably problematic if it excludes another co-located nation’s right to the same recognition. Continue reading “Israel’s right to exist”

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.