Freedom of Speech in Universities

FSOI presented evidence to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights enquiry on Freedom of Speech in Universities about the threat posed by far right and Zionist disruption of events supportive of Palestinian rights. This evidence was presented in January 2018 but not published here through an administrative oversight.

Submission by Free Speech on Israel to the Inquiry by the Joint Committee on Human Rights

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Antisemitism in the UK is not epidemic, and is low by comparative standards.

Externally generated pressures based on an enlarged definition of antisemitism are encroaching on the freedom to hold campus events supportive of Palestine and therefore critical of Israel.

The UK government has adopted a contentious definition of antisemitism (now found not to have been agreed by its supposed promoting body), and has promoted it to all UK universities, as well as to local authorities.

The dissemination of this definition was followed by an upsurge, still ongoing, in university managements’ obstructions of campus meetings thought likely to adopt a critical stance on Israel.

Such action has frequently been triggered by complaints from external groups supportive of Israel.

There is a growing campaign of aggressive disruption of such meetings by far-right and Zionist activists.

We make recommendations for Government, universities and Universities UK to defend legally entrenched free speech. Continue reading “Freedom of Speech in Universities”

Tell us what you mean when you say antisemitism

Brian Robinson describes how much discourse about antisemitism is unhelpful because issues around Israel keep intruding and even Jews find themselves silenced. We must confront an epidemic of hysteria if we are to have a sensible conversation

The problem with almost all discussions on television, radio, print media, and also recent street demonstrations, with respect to antisemitism is that the participants never seem to define the word, but everyone assumes, and leaves the reader, listener, viewer, observer to assume that we’re all talking about the same thing. Antisemitism was classically always about discrimination against, or hatred of, or exclusion of Jews as Jews, simply for being Jews, regardless of anything they did or didn’t do. Various refinements of that definition include adding phrases to include the notion of stereotypical projections, where Jews are perceived in prejudicial ways to be something they are not. The Oxford philosopher Brian Klug, for instance, uses scare quotes, as in for example, ‘Hatred of Jews as “Jews”’. Continue reading “Tell us what you mean when you say antisemitism”

Labour smears Israel’s critics as antisemites

Free Speech on Israel is supporting the Labour against the Witch-hunt’s

Lobby of the Labour Party NEC

Tuesday 23 January
11.00 a.m.-1.00 p.m.

Southside, 105 Victoria Street London SW1E 6QT

1. A moratorium on any new NCC witch-hunt cases
2. The withdrawal of all outstanding NCC witch-hunt cases
3. The immediate implementation of the Chakrabarti report recommendations on Labour’s disciplinary procedures in respect of natural justice and due process

Labour activist and co-founder of Britain’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign Tony Greenstein will shortly undergo a Labour Party disciplinary hearing over accusations of alleged antisemitic comments made online. Greenstein was suspended from Labour back in 2016 when the remarks first came to light. Greenstein has maintained the content was legitimate criticism of Israeli policy, and not derogatory statements about Jews. 

Moshé Machover, a British-Israeli activist and member of the UK’s Labour Party, has prepared the following testimony in defence of Greenstein. Machover was also the founder of the Israeli socialist political party Matzpen.  Continue reading “Labour smears Israel’s critics as antisemites”

If the Office for Students is all about freedom of speech, the policy must be consistent

Jo Johnson’s support for free expression unravels when it comes to Palestine, says Jonathan Rosenhead

This article first appeared in the Times Higher on  11 January 2018

Jo Johnson MP, former Minister for Universities

In a tangle of mixed messages, Jo Johnson – who until last week was the UK’s universities minister – has launched a sadly misshapen new body, the Office for Students (OfS), into a turbulent sea. This was supposed to be, in the minister’s own words, a “classic marketing regulator”. So: ensuring quality standards, promoting a balance between supply and demand, value for money – like the water companies’ regulator Ofwat maybe? Well, no. In his 26 December speech heralding the OfS’ opening for business, all this was as good as forgotten. Now, it seems, it is all about freedom of speech. What is going on? Continue reading “If the Office for Students is all about freedom of speech, the policy must be consistent”

Theresa May’s antisemitism fraud

Mike Cushman

Theresa May misled the British public by pretending that the IHRA definition of antisemitism included the examples linking antisemitism to criticism of Israel and urging all public bodies to collude in this chilling of free speech.

A year ago, Theresa May urged all UK public bodies to adopt the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) document on antisemitism. The document contained a 39 word definition:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities

It also lists 11 illustrative examples of antisemitism, seven of them relating to Israel.

It has always seemed strange that the IHRA website contained no details of the document’s adoption and the only record of it is a press release from the Romanian chair. ECCP (European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine) has pressed hard to discover what lay behind this strange lack of documentation and has finally obtained confirmation from the IHRA secretariat that, while the 39 word definition was adopted, the examples were not. Continue reading “Theresa May’s antisemitism fraud”

Jo Johnson – Free Speech on everything except Israel

Jonathan Rosenhead

This letter appeared in the Guardian on 29 December 2017

Jo Johnson has decided to grasp the nettle of free speech at universities (Students attack no-platform threat, 27 December). It’s a prickly subject.

The minister seems to have “no-platforming” by student unions in his sights. However, there is a major free-speech failure by the universities themselves that is easier to fix. For some years now universities, not the student unions, have been routinely obstructing campus events that focus on Palestinian rights and their denial by Israel. The government’s own adoption of the discredited IHRA definition of antisemitism a year ago has fuelled this, with play-safe administrations seemingly unclear about the difference between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. It was Jo Johnson himself who instructed Universities UK to send this definition round to all universities – with a pointed suggestion that they adopt it for internal use. No single act in recent years has been less helpful to free speech in universities. Continue reading “Jo Johnson – Free Speech on everything except Israel”

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”

Ofcom dismisses claims of antisemitism against Al Jazeera

Mike Cushman

Predictably, when Al Jazeera broadcast The Lobby in January detailing Israeli subversion of British politics, the Zionist attack machine was fired up. They submitted five separate complaints to the media watchdog, Ofcom, alleging antisemitism, bias and invasion of privacy.

Cover of Ofcom report on 'The Lobby'
Cover of Ofcom report on ‘The Lobby’

Ofcom undertook a detailed examination of the claims and published their 60 page findings on 9 October. On every aspect of each claim they found that Al Jazeera had conducted themselves with professional rigour and had breached neither broadcasting rules nor the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism. Each and every item of the lengthy allegations was rejected.

Broadcast Standards case

For the first time, the IHRA definition has been tested by a British quasi-judicial tribunal: it determined not to classify criticism of Israeli activity as antisemitic.

The guidance published with the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism includes the following as a contemporary example (amongst others) of what could constitute anti- Semitism in public life and the media, taking into account the overall context: “Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions”.

The guidance also suggests that manifestations of anti-Semitism might include the targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collective. There was therefore the possibility that a programme, such as The Lobby, which focused on the actions of the State of Israel and alleged that individuals associated with it were attempting to inappropriately influence British democracy, may be considered by some to be anti-Semitic.

Importantly however, the IHRA guidance makes clear that criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.

We considered that the allegations in the programme were not made on the grounds that any of the particular individuals concerned were Jewish and noted that no claims were made relating to their faith. We did not consider that the programme portrayed any negative stereotypes of Jewish people as controlling or seeking to control the media or governments. Rather, it was our view that these individuals featured in the programme in the context of its investigation into the alleged activities of a foreign state (the State of Israel acting through its UK Embassy) and their association with it. We also noted that a number of the organisations featured in the programme, such as Labour Friends of Israel and Conservative Friends of Israel, are not defined by any adherence to Judaism or having a predominantly Jewish membership.

As per the IHRA guidance, Ofcom did not consider that such a critical analysis of the actions of a foreign state constituted anti-Semitism, particularly as the overall focus of the programme was to examine whether the State of Israel was acting in a manner that would be expected of other democratic nations.

For these reasons, our Decision is that there was no breach of Rule 2.3.  [This requires that material which may cause offence must be justified by the context. Under “meaning of context” the Code lists a number of factors including the editorial content of the programme and the service on which it was broadcast.]

This attempt to extend antisemitism to cover criticism of the actions of the Israeli Government failed miserably, to the chagrin of the self-described Campaign Against Antisemitism. This failure echoes the failure of the Fraser case against the University and College Union to similarly extend the meaning of antisemitism.

Shai Masot & Jeremy Newmark with Israeli ambassador Mark Regev speaking at an event at Labour party conference in 2016 (Al Jazeera)
Shai Masot and JLC Chair Jeremy Newmark with Israeli ambassador Mark Regev speaking at an event at Labour party conference in 2016 (Al Jazeera)

This second failure does not mean that we can relax about the threat posed by the IHRA definition. Israel’s apologists will continue to try to use it to suppress exposure of Israel’s actions until we can persuade this Government, or a future Labour Government, to accept that the eleven exemplars do not help in any way to identify antisemitic incidents. By sowing confusion, they obscure real antisemitic threats.

Fairness and Privacy cases

  • ‘Ofcom has not upheld this complaint made by Ms Ella Rose of unjust or unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy’.
  • ‘Ofcom has not upheld this complaint of unjust or unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy made by Kingsley Napley LLP (“Kingsley Napley”) on behalf of Mr Russell Langer.’
  • ‘Ofcom has not upheld this complaint of unjust or unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy made by Kingsley Napley LLP (“Kingsley Napley”) on behalf of Mr Luke Akehurst.’
JLM Director Ella Rose boasts how she can 'take' Jackie Walker
JLM Director Ella Rose boasts how she can ‘take’ Jackie Walker

The report goes into considerable detail about Ella Rose’s complaint but it can be summarised as saying she was very upset about being found out. She believes that her abuse of Jackie Walker and her smooth translation from Israeli Embassy employee to Director of the Jewish Labour Movement were of no public interest. The report states, ‘Ms Rose said that her personal religious faith which involves attachment to Israel should not make her “a target for infringement of privacy”’. This claim of impunity on the basis that Israel is part of her religion is radical restatement of the repeated assertion that any critique of Zionism is antisemitic. At no point does Ella Rose claim she was misrepresented, her distress is that she was represented all too accurately. She seems to believe that she has the right to stay in the shadows despite taking on the role of Director of an organisation seeking to influence Labour Party policy and therefore British political life.

Russell Langer is former Campaigns Director at the Union of Jewish Students and the current Public Affairs Manager with the Jewish Leadership Council. As well as working with Israeli Embassy operative Shai Masot, Mr Langer seems to have had an irony bypass. Part of his complaint was that he was surreptitiously filmed preparing to surreptitiously film a meeting of Labour Friends of Palestine.

The report shows considerable scepticism of the veracity of at least parts of Russell Langer’s claim and gives details of the content of some unused footage which shows his involvement with Masot which he tried to deny. The footage showed that:

Mr Langer had complained about the excessive involvement of the Israeli Embassy in events organised by British Jewish organisations. Mr Langer also confirmed that he has relations with the Israeli Government.

Langer’s lawyers claimed that ‘contrary to the impression created in the programme, Mr Langer hardly knew Mr Masot and had only ever been introduced to him, but had never worked with him.’ But Ofcom found, ‘Mr Masot had some sort of relationship with the JLC and that he knew Mr Langer’

Luke Akehurst, a former Labour Councillor and Director of We Believe in Israel, is a well-known and vocal pro-Israel activist. Again, he was upset that his views had been all too accurately reported. He claimed that:

the footage of Mr Masot speaking with the undercover reporter had been “heavily edited” so it would have been unclear to viewers what the undercover reporter should liaise with Mr Akehurst about.

But on the contrary Ofcom found:

From reviewing the unedited footage, it appeared to Ofcom that the conversation between Mr Masot and the undercover reporter had been edited in the programme as broadcast. However, it was our view that the extent of the editing was very limited and the conversation included in the programme was an accurate reflection of what was said about Mr Akehurst and the manner in which it was said in the unedited footage. Further, it was our view that the programme as broadcast would have made clear to viewers that Mr Masot wanted the undercover reporter to set up the youth wing of the LFI and that to do so, he should liaise with heads of other pro-Israel movements, such as Mr Akehurst. Therefore, we considered that the conversation had not been heavily or unfairly edited.

It was Al Jazeera’s scrupulous accuracy that was so upsetting to Israel’s friends in this aspect as in many others.

Claims of bias, unfairness and antisemitism made repeatedly against Israel’s critics are usually bounced around an echo chamber of like-minded groups. They gain a claimed authority with each repetition and endorsement. The lesson from this report is that when these claims are subjected to scrutiny they fall apart. We must insist that judgements of claims are made by panels that are not dominated by people who have already declared they see antisemitism everywhere and in every defence of Palestinian rights. Neither should they be judged by partisans for Palestine, as a finding of innocence would not be convincing to outside observers. They must be judged in impartial forums, when they are, in this case just as in Fraser v UCU, the claims of antisemitism are demonstrated to be protection of Israel not defence of Jews.

Guilt by Association is now Labour Party Practice

Mike Cushman

Moshe Machover's letter of summary expulsion
Moshe Machover’s letter of summary expulsion

Professor Moshé Machover has been expelled from the Labour Party without a hearing because he spoke on the wrong platform and wrote for the wrong newspaper. What was the Labour bating paper he wrote for and incurred the wrath of Party apparatchiks? Was it the Daily Mail, trailing its history of love-in with fascists, no. Was it one of Rupert Murdoch’s papers with their tradition of lies and distortions of the Party, no. It was, according to the letter Moshé received on 3 October, an on-line paper you have likely not heard of, the Weekly Worker, a paper so powerful and so toxic that, like poison ivy, any brush with it is fatal. Moshé also had the effrontery to speak at the 2016 Communist University . Since the mainstream press and think tank symposiums are generally closed to radical thinkers and writers we must all find whatever outlets we can to try to spread our ideas and educate our colleagues. It is the content of what we say and write that should be judged, not its venue. The complaint against Moshé states

Your involvement and support for both LPM [Labour Party Marxists, claimed to be a front for the Communist Party of Great Britain in the letter] and the Communist Party of Great Britain (through your participation in CPGB events and regular contributions to the CPGB’s newspaper, the Weekly Worker) is documented in Section 3 of the attached evidence. Membership or support for another political party, or a political organisation with incompatible aims to the Labour Party, is incompatible with Labour Party membership.

Chapter 2.I.4.B of the Labour Party’s rules states:

“A member of the party who joins and/or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour Group or unit of the Party or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares their intent to stand against a Labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a party member, subject to the provisions of part 6.I.2 of the disciplinary rules”.

You are therefore ineligible to remain a member of the Labour Party and have been removed from the national membership system. You are no longer entitled to attend local Labour Party meetings.

Some of the motions in support of Moshé passed at Labour Party branches

A one page summary of the expulsion of Moshé Machover for use or distribution at meetings discussing motions on this matter.

Please send details of any motions passed at other branches to info@fsoi.org.uk

Continue reading “Guilt by Association is now Labour Party Practice”

Manchester University caves in to Israeli Embassy pressure

Mike Cushman

University of Manchester logo

Marika Sherwood
Marika Sherwood

Holocaust survivor Marika Sherwood was due to give a talk at the University of Manchester during Israel Apartheid Week 2017 with the title ‘A Holocaust survivor’s story and the Balfour declaration: You’re doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to me’. The University insisted the subtitle be removed and attendance limited to university students and staff only.

The University was reluctant to disclose what led up to this interference with free expression until the Information Commissioner’s Office forced the University to reveal the relevant correspondence. As the Guardian reported on 29 September, the documents revealed that Israeli Embassy pressured the University to insist on the change, alleging that antisemitism lay behind the Holocaust survivor’s choice of title.

I have written to Nancy Rothwell, the University Vice-Chancellor deploring the University’s action and calling for an apology to Ms Sherwood and the students who invited her for disparaging them as antisemites.

I received a totally inadequate standard response from the university and have replied accordingly

The response to my second letter still failed to explain or apologise, so I have tried again

Continue reading “Manchester University caves in to Israeli Embassy pressure”