Hadley Freeman has waded into the Labour antisemitism debate with a particularly fatuous opinion piece in the Guardian, today. Freeman has previously protested that her Twitter followers never let her forget her unique contribution to the Israel/Palestine issue, in August 2014. At the height of the Israeli military’s 2014 massacre of largely civilians in the besieged Gaza strip, Freeman added her support to the campaign of intimidation against the Tricycle theatre.
London’s Tricycle theatre had exercised their right to reject Israeli embassy funding of the UK Jewish Film Festival (read more on the controversy here). Freeman’s piece entitled ‘Please don’t tell me what I should think about Israel,’ informed her readers she thinks the Tricycle ‘demonstrated thinking so nervy and so potentially hypocritical that at least one legal expert said it “may well count as unlawful discrimination”.’ Case closed. Except it isn’t: the faux-‘legal opinion’ she linked to was a blog post by Adam Wagner who is not an expert on the Equality Act. Wagner later wrote that he ‘received some interesting emails from senior lawyers suggesting issues which I hadn’t considered such as standing under the Act as well as problems in finding an appropriate comparator.’
Hadley Freeman’s latest piece is her sarcastic take on the Left’s defence of suspended politicians, Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone (click on the links for responses to each case). Freeman does manage one decent joke at the expense of George Galloway, observing that, in insisting ‘this was “an entirely synthetic crisis”’, he was ‘perhaps confusing the crisis with his hat.’
A far less harmless joke is her snide remark that NUS president Malia Bouattia’s historic comment that the mainstream media is ‘Zionist-led’ is ‘about as political as a joke about hooked noses.’ Freeman must have been left unmoved by Bouattia’s piece in the same paper, last month, in which she exposed a racist, misogynistic campaign of intimidation against her and her family, and defended her political position, adding that she would ensure in future her words could not be misinterpreted:
Over the last two years I have received untold vitriol online – rape and death threats in abundance. I had to involve the police for my parents’ protection. But I stood strong, I persevered and, after serving as the NUS black students’ officer, student representatives across the country have shown faith by electing me.
[…] I want to be clear, again, that for me to take issue with Zionist politics is in no way me taking issue with being Jewish. In fact, Zionist politics are held by people from a variety of different backgrounds and faiths. For me it has been, and will always be, a political argument, not one of faith or ethnic identity. Zionism, religion and ethnicity must not be seen as one and the same. If the language I have used in the past has been interpreted any other way then let me make this clear – it was never my intention, although my political ideologies and beliefs remain unchanged.
Few public figures have been so thoroughly vindicated in their controversial views as Malia Bouattia: in the wake of her election as the first black, Muslim female NUS president last month, she came under a sustained and vicious attack by every mainstream media outlet, from the Telegraph and The Times, to the BBC, Independent and Guardian. In the Telegraph Simon Heffer referred libellously to Bouattia’s ‘long record of vilifying Jews,’ and Aaron Simons to the ‘dark message‘ she was sending to Jewish students. In the liberal press, the response was no less vicious, prompting a number of letters of support from British Jews, which pointed out that the ‘false equation ‘Jewish = Zionist’ comes from Israel’s supporters, not from the Palestine solidarity movement.’
An especially moving example was the letter of support in the Guardian by veteran anti-racist, anti-fascist campaigner, Tony Greenstein (who has also been suspended from the Labour Party for alleged antisemitism), in which he wrote:
The election of the first black woman as president of the NUS should be a matter for celebration, not recrimination. The fact that she is a secular, anti-racist Muslim should be an extra cause for joy.
It is a matter of regret that some Jewish students have put themselves alongside the tabloid press in their attacks on Malia Bouattia. I say some Jewish students, because those who are not Zionists or supporters of the Israeli state will not have signed their open letter.
Newspapers like the Mail and Express, which campaigned against the admittance of Jewish refugees in the 1930s, are now to the fore in attacking Malia. Their reasons are just as specious as when they were attacking the Jewish radicals of the East End in the last century. Malia stands, though she may not realise it, in the tradition of Rudolph Rocker, Aron Lieberman and the Jewish anarchists.
Malia has nothing to apologise for. Zionism is a political not a racial or ethnic category. That is why Jews have always been in the forefront of opposing this racist ideology. Her reference to Birmingham University being a “Zionist outpost” is no different than if someone was to refer to Sussex University as a radical or socialist outpost.
Let us hope that the Guardian can find it in it to welcome her election rather than joining in with the tabloid hue and cry.
To their credit, the Guardian did publish her impassioned piece under the heading ‘I’m the new NUS president – and no, I’m not an antisemitic Isis sympathiser.’ The very fact that she had to state this is a shocking indictment of our media. The pro-Israel bias of much of the British press is not an ‘antisemitic trope,’ it is an outrageous reality. It contributes to a political climate in which Israel can enjoy total impunity for its serial atrocities.
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.
Even a cursory glance at the source of the remarks, 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:
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. This is hardly surprising or even a secret, given that 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)
What emerges is a different picture to that we have been offered by the mainstream media, regarding who the bullies and the bullied are. The political position of UJS regarding non-violent opposition to Israel is not a beleaguered one; it is shared by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, who boasted that he had ‘made clear that local authorities and public bodies cannot adopt BDS policies aimed at Israel’.
Gove was alluding to a public procurement note that – in a highly unusual departure from parliamentary protocol – was announced at a press conference with the Prime Minister of Israel on 17 February by Matthew Hancock the Minister for the Cabinet, disregarding due democratic process. (See also Ben White on the procurement note, ‘UK government lines up with Israeli bullying from UN to the town hall‘).
Hadley Freeman is either unaware of the power asymmetry, or believes it is as it should be. Her further contemptuous and inaccurate Twitter comments on Bouattia’s ‘garbage about the “Zionist media”,’ suggests she has picked a side: that of the bully.