How to be right – – – when you are wrong?

Jonathan Coulter writes about James O’Brien who runs a well-known chat show for LBC, and has just published:  ‘How to be right – – – in a world gone wrong’. 

Cover of James O'Brien bookHe takes a progressive position on a range of issues, from the position of Muslims to the fixed-odd gambling terminals, but is what I would call Progressive except on Palestine (PEP).  Moreover, he sometimes treats people deplorably, as I found in two clips where members of the public questioned views he had been propagating about antisemitism in the Labour Party.

In the first clip, he is speaking to an articulate and polite caller called Chloe, whom he repeatedly interrupts, censuring her for using the words mainstream media and Zionist.  He provides a erroneous definition of the latter word, which in reality refers to the political movement that led to the establishment of Israel and continues to inspire its leaders.  He also falsely claims that Chloe has asserted that there was a Zionist collusion to run the world, and when he cannot dominate the conversation, he cuts her off and asks to hear from another caller from Finchley.

O’Brien doesn’t spare holocaust survivors

In the second clip, a listener had texted O’Brien, calling him out for saying that a Jewish man, who criticised Israel at a meeting hosted by Jeremy Corbyn in 2010, had a camouflage of being a Holocaust survivor.  The person in question, Hajo Meyer, was indeed a Holocaust survivor, and had given a talk entitled The Misuse of the Holocaust for Political Purposes.

In both cases, O’Brien behaved very unpleasantly, putting down and smearing his interlocutors.  He badly misrepresented Chloe who had said there was Zionist collusion in the World, not to run the world as O’Brien would have it.  He was moreover deeply offensive about Meyer, a man who had survived the Holocaust and had the audacity to put forward a view which didn’t fit O’Brien’s narrative.  In a response below the second clip, Mark Vincent sums it up saying your rants about Meyer, the listener and Corbyn were bang out of order.  As for myself, watching the clips made me feel positively sick.

On 26th November, O’Brien spoke at a public event organised by the Hacked Off Campaign in London.  I attended, and found I liked most of what he had to say.  I told him this when I met him at the end, but also asked for a chat about the way he had treated the people in the clips.  He immediately closed down the conversation, and our discussion ended in no more than a minute.

He was signing copies of his book, so I decided to buy one to get a better understanding of his thinking.  On the train home, and on the second page, I read words that directly contradicted what I had just experienced:

– – – I’m happy to employ a little bombast in defence of my own positions (- – -), but am always keenest to hear people who disagree with me – – -. 

O’Brien: Progressive except Palestine

O’Brien has dedicated many hours to phone-ins on alleged antisemitism in the Labour Party, ridiculing it for baulking at accepting the full IHRA definition of antisemitism last summer.  He also has a clip in which he spells out his own views.  It is a rambling rant, but his central argument is that Jewish people feel under massive threat in modern Europe, and think Israel is the only place they can go the next time they are persecuted by racist movements.  This, he says, prompts a slavish devotion to Israel that may seem reprehensible, but which he thinks is fully understandable in the light of what they have suffered through history.  He seems to be implying that we have no right to hold Israel or its supporters accountable for their actions – judge for yourself.

If O’Brien actually investigated what was happening in Israel, particularly actions like Israeli soldiers shooting unarmed medics from across the border with Gaza, he would need to change his attitude.  However because he considers the state of Israel a special case, he doesn’t make that investigation.

While one should never play down the magnitude of past Jewish suffering, O’Brien never addresses the fact that their present fears derive in large part from other factors, notably pro-Israeli propaganda telling them they are constantly under threat, and that the best thing they can do is to make Aliyah, i.e. to emigrate to Israel.  O’Brien deplores the way newspaper magnates misuse their power to stir up irrational fears among the British populace about Muslims, the EU and other matters, but he seems blind to the massive propaganda that is brought to bear on the Jewish community.  He also implies, questionably, that Israel only acts as it does to protect Jewish people, never mentioning its expansionist power politics.

He also fails to deal with the fact that so many of those the Labour Party has suspended, due to their statements on Israel, are in fact Jewish.  Many Jews do not see Israel as representing their interests.  O’Brien claims to have thought at great length about the issue, but he has excluded key facts from his radar.

 How can we explain O’Brien’s contradictions?

I have become intrigued with British behaviour on the subject of antisemitism, seeking to understand how people one might otherwise call progressive, adopt hawkish pro-Israel positions, as if they have some sort of cognitive dissonance about public morality.  I discussed the topic in an article entitled: Britain’s acquiescence with the weaponisation of antisemitism; can we really be so daft?

So what is going on with O’Brien?  In his book he writes about his father, also a journalist, his childhood and Catholic education, coming over as someone with a strong sense of morality.  This may explain the title of his book.   But why does this man with profoundly moral impulses end up contradicting himself, using shaky reasoning and behaving so unpleasantly?  And why do so many other public figures show themselves to be Progressive except on Palestine?  There are various possible explanations, but the most plausible one I can find is that they are willing to compromise their morality to survive or progress in their job, and/or to ensure they are not the target of attacks by powerful lobbies and the press.

I am glad that O’Brien is concerned about morality.  We need more of it if we are to deal with the many challenges and mighty vested interests of today, but public figures like O’Brien need to set a decent example.  If they will not put their best foot forward, we should call them out, according to the principles they claim to hold dear.

SA Appeal Court: Condemning Israel is not hate speech

Wilmien Wicomb writes that the South African Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein has ruled that speech that offends people is protected and acquits Bongani Masuku. While this is not directly applicable to the United Kingdom many of the arguments in this case can be applied in our courts.

Reprinted from GroundUp by permission

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) this week delivered a judgment that provided much needed clarity about the meaning of “hate speech” as prohibited in the Equality Act. Understanding what constitutes hate speech is crucial to properly protecting and promoting the right to freedom of expression. Besides being a fundamental human right in section 16 of the Constitution, freedom of expression has been described by the Constitutional Court as “a guarantor of democracy”.

Bongani Masuku
Bongani Masuku

The dispute arose in February and March 2009, but was prompted by the military action against the Gaza Strip by the Israeli government at the end of 2008. The conflict resulted in more than seven hundred deaths. The violence received worldwide attention.

Continue reading “SA Appeal Court: Condemning Israel is not hate speech”

FSOI urges Angela Rayner: ‘Don’t let yourself be censored’

FSOI has just sent this letter to Angela Rayner, Shadow Education Secretary, in response to the Board of Deputies attempt to censor her for citing Norman Finkelstein.

Dear Angela Rayner

I am writing on behalf of Free Speech on Israel, a Jewish led and largely Jewish group concerned that antisemitic incidents are identified accurately and dealt with but that inaccurate accusations are not used to silence needed discussion of events concerning Israel and Palestine.

We read with concern that you had been put under extreme pressure by the Board of Deputies to apologise for citing Norman Finkelstein’s book ‘The Holocaust Industry’. Professor Finkelstein’s book is indeed controversial and there are few who would agree with every point of his argument but his central theme is clear and robust.

Continue reading “FSOI urges Angela Rayner: ‘Don’t let yourself be censored’”

FSOI tells the EU ‘Do not adopt the IHRA definition’

The Austrian Government is pressing the EU to adopt an EU Council Declaration on the fight against antisemitism which includes adopting the flawed IHRA definition. The EU antisemitism Coordinator Katharina Von Schnurbein and Commissioner Vera Jourova have announced their support for this initiative.

Free Speech on Israel has written to the EU Ambassadors who sit on COREPER II, the committee that will consider this proposal.

COREPER II in session
COREPER II in session

FSOI logo


Your Excellency

I am writing to you in connection with the proposal that we believe is to be presented at the forthcoming meeting of COREPER II, to request the European Council to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definitional package.

That document is a source of concern and controversy to many groups which are Jewish or Jewish-led (like Free Speech on Israel). In our view it will set back the efforts to counter antisemitism precisely at the point at which neo-fascist elements are growing in strength across Europe. Continue reading “FSOI tells the EU ‘Do not adopt the IHRA definition’”

FSOI protests against abusive use of IHRA definition by GMB

Free Speech on Israel has sent Peter Gregson, a GMB union shop steward,  a letter of support. Peter is being unfairly disciplined by his union for allegedly antisemitic statements on the basis of an inaccurate interpretation of the IHRA definition.

To whom it may concern

Re GMB complaint against Peter Gregson

We have been forwarded copies of the letters sent by Gary Smith, GMB Scotland Secretary to Peter Gregson on 6 November and 20 November 2018.

Peter Gregson
Peter Gregson

Free Speech on Israel is a Jewish led and largely Jewish group concerned that antisemitic incidents are identified accurately and dealt with but that inaccurate accusations are not used to silence needed discussion of events concerning Israel and Palestine

Free Speech on Israel has explained at length elsewhere how the IHRA definition of antisemitism is unsuitable and does not assist us in identifying antisemitism and challenging it. Leading human rights lawyers have shown how it is poorly worded, ambiguous and use of it could breach an individual’s rights under both UK and European human rights law. Hugh Tomlinson QC, Geoffrey Robertson QC, Sir Stephen Sedley and Sir Geoffrey Bindman have all clearly identified the serious flaws in the document. Continue reading “FSOI protests against abusive use of IHRA definition by GMB”

As British Quakers divest, Jewish leaders seek to smear them

Robert Cohen praises the moral vision that led the Quakers to boycott companies profiting from the Occupation and decries the tunnel vision of the Board of Deputies in denouncing it.

Reprinted from Writing from the Edge: Rescuing the Hebrew covenant one blogpost at a time by permission of the Author

Last week Quakers in Britain became the first Christian denomination in the U.K. to adopt a responsible investment policy towards the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian land. It was the first denomination but I doubt it will be the last.

Within hours of the announcement, the Board of Deputies, the body which asserts its right to represent Jewish interests in Britain, had issued a statement of rebuke from its President, Marie van der Zyl. In a few short paragraphs, van de Zyl gathered together all of the usual anti-BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) talking points and fired them in one almighty blast at the Quakers.

The Board’s statement is worth examining in detail since it reveals so much about the Jewish establishment’s mission to set the parameters of acceptable debate on Israel to the detriment of interfaith relations. Continue reading “As British Quakers divest, Jewish leaders seek to smear them”

Tower Hamlets Council must respect right to free speech

Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity Campaign issued this press release about the lobby of and petition to Tower Hamlets Council on 21 November. The lobby, supported by FSOI,  and the petition called on the Council to both challenge antisemitism and respect the right to free speech and safeguard Palestinian solidarity.

Banners at the lobby outside Tower Hamlets Town Hall
Banners at the lobby outside Tower Hamlets Town Hall

On Wednesday 21st November, a group of  residents from Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity Campaign presented a petition to the full council meeting, requesting that the council ‘Safeguard Palestinian Solidarity’ and addressed the Council in support of the petition. This was in response to the recent adoption of the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, without any caveat that would enable Palestinians and their supporters to continue to speak out freely about harmful actions of the Israeli government. Continue reading “Tower Hamlets Council must respect right to free speech”

The criminalization and censorship of Palestinian solidarity on campus

Nada Elia reflects on campus censorship and how voices for Palestine are silenced on Campus while pro-Israel views are allowed an open platform. She compares the behaviour of university administrators with that of cops who mange to take white shooters alive but routinely kill black ones.

Reprinted from Mondoweiss by permission of the author

 Poster for the 2018 National Students for Justice in Palestine conference at UCLA.

Poster for the 2018 National Students for Justice in Palestine conference at UCLA.

Last week, I was asked to speak in a classroom alongside someone from StandWithUs. Apparently, the professor was going by a recommendation to have me as a discussant, to possibly provide the “other side.” Without getting into a discussion of what those two sides are (pro-apartheid and pro-justice, of course), or why I will not be party to normalizing, (setting up the illusion that “both sides” are equal, rather than oppressor and oppressed, occupier and occupied), I sent this response, which I tried to keep short and to the point. Continue reading “The criminalization and censorship of Palestinian solidarity on campus”

The Tree of Life massacre

This statement from FSOI about the Pittsburgh massacre has been issued in the light of Baroness Jenny Tonge’s reaction to the shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue and her resignation as patron of the PSC

Tree of Life Synagogue stained glass windowThe massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday 27 October in Pittsburgh was the worst hate crime against Jews in US history.

The killer, Robert Bowers, was inspired by hatred of Jews as Jews. Bowers’ antisemitic expressions of a Jewish conspiracy and his hatred of Muslims, refugees and migrants, festered in the climate of hate, antisemitism, Islamophobia and racism promoted by President Donald Trump and his administration. Such a recognition was evident in the response of the Jewish community in Pittsburgh.

Antisemitic references to Jews have been a feature of the Trump administration campaign since the presidential primaries in 2016. Only the week before the Pittsburgh massacre, Kevin McCarthy, the second Republican leader in the House of Representatives, tweeted that three wealthy Jews, including George Soros, were attempting to “buy” the mid-term elections. Continue reading “The Tree of Life massacre”

Lambeth Council misled on antisemitism definition; threatening free speech

  • Lambeth Council amends IHRA definition on antisemitism but do not tell anyone
  • Leader Lib Peck insists that definition must be adopted unamended
  • Peck denies that definition threatens free speech but strips out all free speech protection

On Wednesday 10 October Labour led Lambeth Council adopted the IHRA definition on antisemitism without debate. They ignored pleas from a deputation of local Jews who addressed the Council about their concerns that the definition would undermine free speech on Palestine and Israel. They requested the Council to adopt a free speech declaration alongside the definition. Continue reading “Lambeth Council misled on antisemitism definition; threatening free speech”