The launch on Monday of Hugh Tomlinson QC’s devastating legal opinion on the so-called IHRA definition of antisemitism marks a watershed moment in resisting Israeli-backed attempts to gag pro-Palestinian advocacy.
The definition, deliberately equating criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews, was adopted in December 2016 by the UK government and has since been vigorously promoted by pro-Israel lobbyists to local authorities, universities, Labour movement organisations and other public bodies. Its rollout has coincided with an increase in bannings and restrictions imposed on pro-Palestinian activities, especially on campus.
As explained by eminent legal figures speaking at the launch, the Opinion drives a coach and horses through the definition, exposing it as:
badly drafted, confusing and not legally binding, i.e. public bodies are under no legal obligation to adopt or apply it
putting public bodies that use it at risk of “unlawfully restricting legitimate expressions of political opinion”
making public bodies liable to being sued if they curtail criticism of Israel that does not express hatred towards Jews.
Therefore pro-Palestinian campaigners who, for example, describe Israel as a settler-colonialist state enacting a policy of apartheid, or call for policies of boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel, cannot properly be characterised as antisemitic.
GOVERNMENT MUST NOT COVER UP ISRAELI INTERFERENCE IN UK POLITICS
Israeli Embassy collusion with pro-Israeli lobbyists must be fully investigated
All antisemitism charges against Labour Party members must now be reviewed
London, 18 January – Film evidence that Labour and Conservative pro-Israel lobbyists worked with the Israeli Embassy to undermine political opponents has implications for democratic processes in the UK that must be fully investigated, campaigners say.
“There must be no cover-up of what appears to have been a concerted campaign to discredit supporters of Palestine, Conservative as well as Labour, and to use concocted allegations of antisemitism to undermine Jeremy Corbyn and his support base,” said Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, speaking for Free Speech on Israel (FSOI).
Theresa May has rejected a call from Corbyn for a government inquiry into the Embassy’s “improper interference in this country’s democratic process.” But a number of Jewish groups that work for Palestinian human rights are supporting the Labour leader’s call and urging Labour to set up its own inquiry into the activities of politicians and lobbyists implicated by Al-Jazeera’s four-part documentary The Lobby.
The documentary showed an Israeli Embassy staffer discussing with a Conservative ministerial aide how to “take down” deputy foreign secretary Alan Duncan. It also revealed extensive collaboration between the embassy, Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) and Labour Party affiliate the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM). Both organisations have consistently alleged antisemitism against supporters of Palestinian rights who criticise Israel. Many of these have been suspended and subjected to disciplinary procedures that lack transparency and take no account of natural justice.
FSOI calls upon Labour’s National Executive Committee to institute a full review of all outstanding disciplinary proceedings and to investigate the activities of both JLM and LFI.
Notes for Editors
Al Jazeera Investigative Unit’s series “The Lobby” was screened between Wednesday Jan 11 and Saturday Jan 15. It can be viewed online
2. Jeremy Corbyn’s letter to Prime Minister Theresa May called for an inquiry into “attempts to undermine the integrity of our democracy.”
3. Here is the full text of the statement from Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP), Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG) and Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG):
We note with concern the very serious allegations of Israeli Embassy interference in the United Kingdom’s democratic processes revealed in the Al Jazeera series “The Lobby”. We support Jeremy Corbyn’s call on the Government to hold an enquiry into this attempt to subvert both the government itself and the Opposition. It is imperative that the Foreign Affairs Select Committee should summon those Israelis and British politicians and lobbyists shown to have been implicated. We also call on the Labour party to conduct an immediate investigation into the involvement of its own members in the activities documented by Al-Jazeera.
4. Free Speech on Israel (FSOI) was founded as a predominantly Jewish campaign group in Spring 2016 to counter the manufactured moral panic over a supposed epidemic of antisemitism in the UK. Its earlier statement on the Al-Jazeera investigation can be read here.
5. Avi Shlaim, emeritus professor of international relations at Oxford University, analyses the relevance of the Al-Jazeera revelations, examining how anti-Zionism is deliberately conflated with antisemitism to suppress legitimate criticisms of Israeli policies.
a) Black Jewish activist Jackie Walker, former vice-chair of Momentum, is currently fighting her second bout of suspension from the party. She intends to make a formal complaint against Jewish Labour Movement director Ella Rose, seen threatening and abusing Walker in the second episode of the film.
b) The films show Labour Friends of Israel chair Joan Ryan MP discussing at length with fellow lobbyists how to frame a complaint of antisemitism against a Labour Party member, a woman who was suspended as a result and later reinstated on appeal.
c) Separately, activists in a party branch in the Liverpool constituency of former LFI chair, Louise Ellman MP, are fighting baseless allegations of antisemitism which have been used as an excuse to investigate the entire branch.
There can now be no doubt: Pro-Israel advocates in the UK have been working with representatives of the Israeli state to undermine their political opponents.
Free Speech on Israel statement on the hidden relationship between the Israeli government and British politicians
News of covert meetings between an Israeli diplomat and Tory and Labour politicians is evidence of a concerted campaign to undermine pro-Palestinian currents in both parties. These latest revelations vindicate the case that Free Speech on Israel has been making for many months. There can now be no doubt: Pro-Israel advocates in the UK have been working with representatives of the Israeli state to undermine their political opponents. The Labour Party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, a strong supporter of Palestinian rights, has been a particular target.
Evidence exposed by Al-Jazeera shows that the Israeli government has ‘infiltrated’ both the Conservative and Labour parties via its embassy in the UK, using secret cash and covert support.
Film footage shows intelligence expert Shai Masot joking with senior Labour MP Joan Ryan about having obtained ‘more than £1 million’ to pay for sympathetic Labour MPs to visit Israel. He was also filmed discussing with Maria Strizzolo, senior aide to Conservative Education Minister Robert Halfon, how to “take down” Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan, a supporter of a Palestinian state.
Halfon and Ryan are leading members of their parties’ respective ‘Friends of Israel’ lobby groups.
Strizzolo has since resigned, Masot is reportedly to be relieved of his Embassy job, Israeli ambassador Mark Regev has apologised and the UK Foreign Office has stated: “The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.”
This is a blatant attempt to close down the affair. But a scandal of this magnitude needs to be exposed to full public scrutiny. The whole story of the dubious relationship between the Israeli government and British politicians must come out into the open. And Ambassador Regev, who has presided over this infiltration policy, needs to be told that he is no longer welcome.
Al Jazeera’s revelations throw new light on Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s extraordinary public contradiction last week of US Secretary of State John Kerry speech criticising expansion of Israel’s settlements; extraordinary because Kerry’s position coincides precisely with that of the British government. This reads like UK policy being distorted in the Israeli interest.
We also note that Shai Masot accompanied ambassador Regev and Jeremy Newmark, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, at meetings during the 2016 Labour Party conference. Newmark’s JLM has been instrumental in promoting allegations of rampant antisemitism on the Labour Left, through which supporters of Palestine have been systematically targeted.
We urge grassroots members of the Labour Party, trade unions, Momentum and other progressive, antiracist organisations to insist that their leaders dissociate themselves from pro-Israel lobbyists and defend those victimised without due cause.
Free Speech on Israel supports the call by Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry for a government inquiry into “improper interference in our democratic politics”.
However certain other actions are needed. FSOI calls upon:
the UK government to withdraw the accreditation of the Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev who has presided over this grave intrusion in the country’s democratic processes
MPs Robert Halfon, Joan Ryan and any others whose names emerge from this Al-Jazeera investigation to give a full public explanation of their relations with Israeli state representatives
Friends of Israel organisations in British political parties, and the Jewish Labour Movement, to account for their relationship with the Israeli Embassy and other state institutions, including all financial transactions
the Labour Party leadership to sever links with groups where evidence emerges that they have placed support for the interests of the state of Israel above democracy in the party
Note (updated 10.2.17): Al Jazeera Investigative Unit’s series “The Lobby” can be viewed in four episodes at 10.30 pm on Wednesday January 11, Thursday January 12, Friday January 13 and Saturday January 14. The series will also be available online . These broadcast times are several days earlier than originally scheduled.
UPDATE: Labour’s Emily Thornberry calls for a government inquiry into “improper interference in our democratic politics”. This is welcome, but attention also needs to focus on the role of Labour’s own “Friends of Israel.”
An undercover Al-Jazeera report has revealed clear evidence of collaboration between both Labour and Tory “Friends of Israel” and the Israeli Embassy in London.
The right-wing Daily Mail – a staunch supporter of Israel – has nonetheless reported at length on the revelations, which vindicate Free Speech on Israel’s case over recent months. There can now be no doubt that supporters of Palestine have been systematically targeted in a campaign to undermine their valid criticisms of the Israeli state and its ideology.
The UK Foreign Office has said that the Embassy, quoted in the Guardian with all the appearance of trying to play the story down, has apologised and the matter is closed. This is clearly not the case.
A full statement from Free Speech on Israel will follow.
See the Daily Mail story below.
Israel plot to ‘take down’ Tory minister: Astonishing undercover video captures diplomat conspiring with rival MP’s aide to smear Deputy Foreign Secretary
PUBLISHED: 22:03, 7 January 2017 | UPDATED: 10:48, 8 January 2017
The Israeli Embassy made a shocking vow to ‘take down’ Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office deputy, a secret film reveals today.
The bombshell footage, covertly filmed in a London restaurant and obtained by The Mail on Sunday, shows a senior diplomat making the astonishing threat to target Sir Alan Duncan.
Extraordinarily, he is egged on by a senior aide to another Conservative Minister, Robert Halfon.
The video comes in a film claiming to expose the way that the Israeli government has ‘infiltrated’ both the Conservative and Labour parties via its embassy in the UK, using secret cash and covert support.
Further footage shows the Israeli diplomat, intelligence expert Shai Masot, telling senior Labour MP Joan Ryan that he has obtained ‘more than £1 million’ to pay for sympathetic Labour MPs to visit Israel.
Mr Masot also mocks ‘crazy’Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his ‘weirdo’ supporters. Footage shows pro-Israel Labour activists discussing the Jerusalem government’s secret role in backing their activities.
PHOTO OPPORTUNITY: LIVERPOOL NOVOTEL, 7.30 PM, SUNDAY SEPT 25
Zionism and antisemitism all the rage at Labour Party conference fringe
Three fringe meetings in 3 hrs on allegations against Corbyn supporters
Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker confronts her abusers
Jewish activists will expose “exaggerated and downright false claims of antisemitism”
Defenders and opponents of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will clash over interpretations of Zionism and antisemitism in three separate meetings in the space of as many hours on the first day of the party conference in Liverpool on Sunday September 25.
The spectacle comes about because of an initiative by Free Speech on Israel (FSOI), a network of mainly Jewish activists opposed to the deployment of antisemitism allegations to silence Corbyn supporters who campaign for justice for Palestine.
A meeting originally planned by FSOI at the conference fringe hub of the grassroots Momentum movement has now been taken over by Momentum itself. It will bring Jeremy Newmark of the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) face to face with Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker to debate “Does Labour have an Antisemitism Problem?”
FSOI has organised a separate meeting titled “Jewish Socialists Against the Anti-Corbyn Witchhunt”, also featuring Jackie Walker, at the nearby Novotel later the same evening.
It will pose a direct challenge to the silencing of pro-Palestinian voices, while the JLM – one of the main architects of the silencing – has chosen to hold its own rally at the same time.
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi who will chair the FSOI meeting said it would be “the only chance during the four days of conference to uncover the truth behind the devastation wreaked upon Labour by exaggerated and downright false claims of antisemitism.”
Free Speech on Israel rejects the assertion, by die-hard supporters of Israel such as the JLM, that expressions of opposition to the political ideology of Zionism are equivalent to anti-Jewish racism. FSOI says opposition to Zionism is rooted in defence of Palestinian rights, which have been abused by Israel since its creation.
At the Free Speech on Israel (FSOI) meeting at the Novotel, 40 Hanover Street, at 7.30 pm, Jackie Walker will share the platform with British Palestinian lawyer Salma Karmi-Ayyoub and Glyn Secker, who captained the Jewish Boat to Gaza organised by Jews for Justice for Palestinians in 2010. The vessel was seized by Israeli forces as it attempted to breach the siege of Gaza.
The Momentum meeting at 5pm at 1 Great George Street will feature Jackie Walker, Jeremy Newmark (Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement); Rhea Wolfson (recently elected to the Labour NEC) and FSOI speaker Professor Jonathan Rosenhead.
The JLM has devoted all its energies since Jeremy Corbyn took over as leader to denouncing him for failing to root out party members sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. It has been a prime mover behind the idea that Jewish identity is inextricably linked to Israel and Zionism. Its meeting, which coincides with the FSOI event, is advertised as a Rally Against Racism and Antisemitism, although the organisation has no record of anti-racist campaigning.