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.
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.
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 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.’
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.
It was difficult to ascertain on the basis of media reports whether Brighton played host this month to a Labour Party conference or a Nuremberg rally. This article investigates claims of antisemitism at the Labour conference and finds them to be without factual basis.
The 2017 Labour Party conference was a success for supporters of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.
Party leader Jeremy Corbyn snubbed a reception held by Labour Friends of Israel, a group which lobbies for close UK-Israel relations, and put enjoyably little effort into his excuse. According to the Telegraph, this ‘was the first time in over two decades that a Labour leader has not attended the annual event’.
Delegates cheered as Corbyn’s keynote speech pledged ‘real support to end the oppression of the Palestinian people, the 50-year occupation and illegal settlement expansion and move to a genuine two-state solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict’.
There are two radically different rule changes on the agenda for Labour Party Conference later in September dealing with alleged antisemitism in the Party. One from the Jewish Labour Movement and one from Hastings and Rye Labour Party.
In early 2016 the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) tabled an amendment to Labour’s rulebook to make an undefined antisemitism, as perceived by an accuser and including unspoken “thought crime”, a matter for expulsion. That summer also saw dozens of people, and whole CLPs, suspended in a wholesale purge that included many unsubstantiated allegations of antisemitism.
In early 2016, an intense media offensive was launched claiming that the Labour Party was rife with antisemitism. Since then, after a wave of summary suspensions, costly investigations and many successful appeals, it is clear that the vast majority of the members disciplined were on the Left of the Party and were opponents of Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights who had no hostility to Jews as Jews.
Even after Corbyn’s transformatory 2017 general election campaign the offensive, led by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), Labour Friends of Israel and other pro-Israel lobby groups has not abated. Some of the groups receive direct finance from Israel, as revealed in the Al Jazeera investigation The Lobby, televised in January 2017. It made clear the hostility of Labour’s pro-Israel Right to the left-wing leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, a known supporter of Palestinian rights.
Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) is a new group that aims to reinvigorate the Jewish socialist tradition inside the Labour Party.
FSOI has, from its establishment in 2016, been active in combatting the Labour Party’s acquiescence in the Zionist campaign to demonise criticism of Israel. The Party bureaucracy and many leading figures on the right of the Party have uncritically adopted the views of the so-called Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) that Israel, even under its extreme right-wing leadership, is a natural bedfellow of Labour. Opposition to Netanyahu’s regime is assumed to be antisemitic unless shown otherwise – and that judgement is to be made by sceptical, if not actively hostile, adjudicator.
On Monday 24 June Haringey Council gave a masterclass in how not to fight antisemitism. And indeed how to give local democracy a bad name.
On 15 June the agenda for the Council’s meeting was published. One item was the proposal of a motion, by the Council Leader on behalf of the Labour Group, for Haringey to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) ‘definition’ of antisemitism. (Those blissfully unaware of what is wrong with this sorry document can catch up here.)
Most Labour Party members, even including many MPs previously hostile to Jeremy Corbyn, have responded to the party’s revival during the general election campaign by setting aside divisive talk and looking forward to a more unified future. Not all however.
For Jeremy Newmark, chair of the pro-Israel Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), writing in the Jewish News, “the immediate agenda” is to re-investigate and expel Ken Livingstone, pursue outstanding cases such as Jackie Walker’s, “revisit” those Chakrabarti and Royall report recommendations “that fell short of expectations,” get the NEC to table the JLM’s rule change proposals at Labour Party conference and, “redouble our efforts to massively expand our training and education program at all levels across the party.”
The JLM’s rule change proposals, like their partisan training sessions, are based on the same principles as the “International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition” which attempts to redefine the term “antisemitism” in order to include criticism of the State of Israel. The impact of this goes way beyond the Labour Party. John Mann MP, one of a number of ardent, right-wing non-Jewish Zionists in the Labour Party, has proposed an Early Day Motion in Parliament calling for its adoption by all public bodies in the UK.
It is significant that the Jewish Chronicle reacted angrily to Jeremy Corbyn’s race and faith manifesto issued during the election, complaining that “the manifesto only uses the section of the definition which makes reference to hatred of Jews. The rest of the definition – which refers to Israel – has been cut.” In other words, for the JC, the part of the IHRA document that seeks to define antisemitism as what it really is, is unacceptable unless widened to include examples which talk not about Jews but about the state of Israel.
Proponents of the IHRA document claim that it poses no threat to free speech because it permits criticism of the current government of Israel and allows opposition to settlement building in the Palestinian West Bank. It is perfectly acceptable, they say, to subject Israel to criticism similar to that which is made of other states.
They fail to take into account the many ways in which Israel is entirely different from other states. The IHRA document explicitly rules out, as potentially antisemitic, types of criticism that Palestinians and their supporters are entitled to make in order to highlight their specific history of dispossession and racist discrimination. The document is already being used in the UK to censor campaigns which call for an end to injustices Palestinians have faced since Zionist colonisation and settlement of their land began a century ago.
The recent European Parliament debate on this subject starkly demonstrated the point. Social Democrats argued that the IHRA document was nothing more than a harmless contribution to opposing racism against Jews. But they found themselves in the same camp as far-right Islamophobes who saw it as a weapon to be used in Israel’s defence and against its critics, particularly Muslims.
This is not the way to unite our diverse and fractured society. Nor is it conducive to unity within the Labour Party.
Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s Inquiry into the UK’s policy towards the Middle East Peace Process
Submission from Free Speech on Israel
This evidence, prepared by Jonathan Rosenhead, was submitted to the select committee enquiry which was halted owing to the announcement of the General Election. As it is not clear when or whether the enquiry will resume in the new Parliament we are publishing our evidence now. This evidence was submitted on 30 March 2017.
Who we are
Free Speech on Israel is a Jewish-led group formed in April 2016 out of concerns that the surge in accusations of antisemitism in British public life, and especially within the Labour Party, in no way reflects the reality that we live in. This concern now extends both to the unbalanced media coverage of this issue, and to the Government’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of antisemitism, which we find to be deeply flawed. See in particular the recently released legal Opinion on this subject.
Our submission to your Inquiry focusses entirely on point 7: how UK policy is influenced by other states and interested parties. In particular we will address the extent to which the state of Israel has been exerting undue influence on the UK’s policy in respect of that country’s violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people. We start from the evidence revealed in the Al-Jazeera series of investigative reports The Lobby, transmitted in January 2017.
Background to our concern
Recent events have demonstrated that some national governments have an appetite to intervene in the political processes of other countries. The ability to do so will depend on the resources they can muster – such as electronic capabilities, finances devoted to that purpose, and well-disposed individuals in the target country.
We further take the view that the formation of foreign policy in the UK (as in other countries) is not conducted only within political parties but involves a wider swathe of think tanks, academic researchers, businesses with spanning interests, influential organisations and individuals, media commentators and so on. Our comments will address that broader matrix.
This article is reprinted from Open Democracy by permission of the author
The attempt to outlaw the use of the term “apartheid” in relation to Israel and its occupation has to be recognised as carrying dangers of effectively stifling debate on an issue of great importance
We are faced with an increasing onslaught on criticism of Israel with attempts being made to drawn the lines ever more narrowly. There are accusations that any singling out of Israel is antisemitic: so, for example, calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions in Israel’s case but not in others is prima facie evidence of antisemitism, as is using the word apartheid to characterise any aspect of Israeli society.
What I would like to address here is the use of the concept of ‘apartheid’ to compare South African and Israeli society, and the dangerous suppression involved in outlawing its use. Critics say the analogy is plain wrong and therefore its use can only be malign: an attempt to delegitimate, demonise and apply double standards (to use Sharansky’s 3-D test of criticism of Israel – see the discussion Is criticism of Israel antisemitic?) about what it is that goes beyond what is acceptable. Ultimately, for many of these critics, the use of the term “apartheid” is antisemitic. Continue reading “Don’t mention Apartheid”