Labour’s anti-Semitism controversy protecting Israel from criticism

First published by the New Arab on 7/9/2018

Labour's anti-Semitism controversy protecting Israel from criticism

Protesters lobbied Labour’s NEC members as they arrived to decide on the new definition [Getty]

The UK’s Labour party has been embroiled in a controversy over anti-Semitism, which broke soon after the socialist candidate for the party’s leadership, Jeremy Corbyn, won the contest.

There was no immediate accusation that he had ever harboured any dislike, let alone hatred for Jews. Corbyn is acknowledged to be a lifelong campaigner for human rights, who has defied his party on several occasions and voted against Tony Blair’s decision to sanction the war on Iraq in early 2003.

Corbyn has supported the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom, justice and equality for decades, leading many marches and speaking at numerous rallies, with passion, but never blaming British Jews for the actions of modern-day Israel. He also hosted many meetings in parliament, helping raise the Palestinian issue at the heart of Britain’s democracy.

He saw the comparisons between Israeli discriminatory policies and those of the Apartheid system which operated in South Africa. There too was a campaign of which he was a part until Apartheid fell, being arrested in the process in 1984. He was a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign prior to his election and has notably maintained that role.

At the heart of the current row in the party are accusations against Corbyn of not taking the issue of anti-Semitism seriously, an issue which was never raised as a major problem in the party before his election to the leadership.

The question of whether anti-Semitism was a real problem in the party or had been exaggerated for political purposes was clouded by the demand… to adopt a new definition of anti-Semitism

The accusations have been led by UK organisations which claim to represent the Jewish community, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), but which also have a record of unwavering support for Israel. In addition, two pro-Israel organisations within the Labour Party – namely Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) – have also taken up the fight against Corbyn.

The LFI was the subject of an undercover Al Jazeera investigation which showed it worked closely with the Israeli embassy in London.

The question of whether anti-Semitism was a real problem in the party or had been exaggerated for political purposes was clouded by the demand by pro-Israel organisations for public bodies, including political parties, governments and city councils to adopt a new definition of anti-Semitism, produced by the 31-member International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which launched in 2016 as a non-legally bindingworking definition of anti-Semitism:

“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.”

While experts argued over those 38 words, it was the next part of the document that caused heated arguments among both supporters of Israel and supporters of the Palestinian people.

“To guide IHRA in its work, the following examples may serve as illustrations:
 
Manifestations [of anti-Semitism] might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

This was followed by 11 illustrative examples, seven of which made reference to Israel. Two in particular raised major concerns about their impact on freedom of expression and the freedom for Palestinians to impart facts about their continuing injustice and how they and their supporters might act to deliver justice 71 years after Israel’s creation in their homeland through violent ethnic cleansing and terror.

Palestinians identified grave dangers in the example which claimed,“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” would be anti-Semitic.

For Palestinians it is clear that Israel was created as a homeland for Jews from any part of the world to move to, while 750,000 were violently expelled to neighbouring Arab countries in 1948 and have not been allowed to return to their homes despite the UN passing resolution 194 in 1948 recognising their right to return peacefully.

They see the creation of this Israel as a racist endeavour but the application of the definition appears to be designed to label any Palestinian or supporter who wishes to impart this information to fellow citizens as an anti-Semite.

This danger was illustrated clearly by Joan Ryan, Chair of LFI, who wrote to Jeremy Corbyn in June asking him to clarify a tweet in which he said: “We must work for a real two state settlement to the Israel Palestine conflict, which ends the occupation and siege of Gaza and makes the Palestinian right to return a reality.”

Her argument was that the realisation of the Palestinian right of return “…would effectively turn Israel into a Palestinian state and destroy the Jewish people’s right to self-determination”. Palestinians claiming their legitimate right to return to their homes becomes an anti-Semitic demand, according to Ryan, based on the IHRA code.

The other example given by the IHRA which supporters of Israel will use to close down debate is one which states that “Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

Israel often claims that it is singled out for criticism and that this is done essentially because it is the only Jewish state in the world. This essentially relates to support for the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against it until meets legal and moral demands for an end to the occupation, equal treatment for all of its citizens and the promotion and implementation of the right of return.

It is of course difficult to find another state which has been in continuous occupation of another people for more than 51 years, which denies the refugees it expelled the right of return, which builds illegally on another people’s land and has just passed a law (the Nation State Law) which gives one part of its population a right to self-determination but denies this to any others.

While the Labour Party considered adopting the 38-word IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, it also developed a code for dealing with any accusations that might come against members, which attempted to contextualise the examples in the definition and to protect free speech.

The pro-Israel community organisations in the UK were outraged that Labour had not simply adopted the IHRA definition with all 11 illustrative examples, arguing that the definition still made it possible to criticise Israel. They exerted severe pressure on the party and led what many of Corbyn’s supporters have described as a campaign to discredit him, which moved from accusing him from failing to deal with anti-Semitism to being an anti-Semite and racist himself.

Under mounting pressure and despite consulting with both Jewish and non-Jewish organisations including Palestinian organisations, and despite an opinion given by leading barrister Geoffrey Robinson QC – in which he claimed the IHRA definition was “not fit for purpose” – the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee adopted the full definition with the illustrative examples. A party spokesperson said: “The NEC has today adopted all of the IHRA examples of antisemitism, in addition to the IHRA definition which Labour adopted in 2016, alongside a statement which ensures this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians.”

Corbyn had argued, “It cannot be considered racist to treat Israel like any other state or assess its conduct against the standards of international law. Nor should it be regarded as anti-Semitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact, or to support another settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

However, there was insufficient support for this part of his longer statement and it was not put to a vote.

While this was a matter for the Labour Party, other public bodies will now be under pressure to adopt the IHRA definition under pressure from Britain’s Israel lobby. Protecting Israel from criticism and silencing Palestinian voices is at the heart of the campaign by the lobby for the adoption of the problematic definition.

In a letter to The Guardian published before the vote, Palestinians had argued that, “The fundamental right to free expression, guaranteed by article 10 of the Human Rights Act, is first and foremost the right to ‘receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority’.”

They warned “any use by public bodies of the IHRA examples on anti-Semitism that either inhibits discussion relating to our dispossession by ethnic cleansing, when Israel was established, or attempts to silence public discussions on current or past practices of settler colonialism, apartheid, racism and discrimination, and the ongoing violent military occupation, directly contravenes core rights. First, the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, who remain protected by international laws and conventions; and second, the rights of all those British citizens who stand by our side, in the solidarity of a common humanity.”

That warning still stands, as it is inevitable that the pro-Israel lobby will now move to bring accusations of anti-Semitism against Labour members, citing the IHRA definition while working to pressure all public bodies to adopt it. However, what is important for Palestinians is that their supporters, who have been deflected from their campaigning work to try and influence Labour’s NEC, now refocus the effort on campaigning for the cause, particularly as US President Donald Trump’s administration works to impose a “deal of the century” that negates their rights.

 

Blair enters the fray to help Israel fight BDS via ‘anti Semitism’

  

Just what is Tony Blair up to? He only resigned as the Quartet Peace Envoy last month, but not known for hanging around, he has a new role, which allegedly does not pay. As David Cronin characterised it “Tony Blair recruited by cheerleader for Israel’s crimes“. 

  
He is to work for the the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation (ECTR). Again, David Cronin gives us the low down on this pro Israel Lobby Group. Cronin argues that “While its name might give the impression that it is a dispassionate intergovernmental body, the ECTR is an initiative of the Zionist zealot and fertilizer tycoon Moshe Kantor”.

It seems that this body is only interested in one particular aspect of discrimination, which it perceives to be criticism of Israel. There is no mention of anti Muslim hatred or Islamophobia.

My contention is that Zionists have a key objective, to produce a definition of anti Semitism that conflates hatred of Jews with criticism of Israel, that is then adopted by Western Governments. They want any criticism of Israel to be classed as hatred of Jews and therefore the ‘new form of anti Semitism’.

For years now, Zionists and apologists for Israel have claimed that the EU has a definition of anti Semitism which achieves their goal. This is what is termed the “EUMC working a definition of anti Semitism“. But in fact this formulation has not been adopted by the EU. It was dropped as a potential definition.

I believe that the ECTR will use Tony Blair (and he will be willing) to produce a definition of anti Semitism that includes defining any form of boycott of Israel, even illegal settlements, as anti Semitic. The BDS movement is their real target. 

Israel is starting to publically express fear from BDS. It is seen as a ‘strategic threat‘ and a Government Minister, Gilad Erdan, has been appointed to specifically fight it. But because they know they are fighting a losing battle to persuade the general public that it is anything but moral and peaceful, they resort to the anti Semitism accusation.

If Blair, working with other supporters of Israel in the ECTR, can somehow come up with an ‘authoritative’ definition that is adopted by Israel’s friends then legal challenges on the basis of hate, racism and specifically anti Senitism would follow. I imagine they believe this would end the BDS movement. 

It isn’t only Europe that considering ways of counters the escalating BDS movement. A ‘secret’ meeting is taking place this weekend, funded by wealthy friends if Israel is considering ‘pitches’ or ideas for combatting BDS

But the entry of Tony Blair into the fray confirms that he has never been impartial or pro Palestinian in his previous role. He has always been pro Israeli and will now be like a dog on heat fighting, not all forms of racism but only one, what he will define as anti Semitism, to help his friend, Benjamin Netanyahu fight BDS. 

  
I really do wish, for the sake of peace in historic Palestine, that Tony Blair would just disappear from the scene and focus on making more millions from his consultancy work. 

But it seems he feels he has not done enough damage to the Palestinian cause. His focus now turns to its most peaceful and potentially game changing weapon, the global BDS movement. Time to label it and those that pursue it, anti Semitic.

What would Miliband or Cameron do if Britain was occupied?

  
Gaza devastation, 2014

In interviews with the Jewish Chronicle, Conservative  leader David Cameron and Labour Leader Ed Miliband tried to outdo each other in the depth of their friendship with Israel. They both understood Israel had a ‘duty’ to protect its citizens, and while Miliband questioned the proportionality of Israel’s response to last summer’s right cites from Gaza, Cameron had no criticism to offer.

In his Jewish Chronicle interview, Miliband defended his criticism of Israel during last summer’s Gaza conflict, saying he was right to describe the military action as “wrong and unjustifiable”. But that he was “committed to obtaining security for Israel and a viable and secure Palestinian state”.

  

In his interview with the JC on 30/4/2015 Cameron says “As PM, putting yourself in the shoes of the Israeli people, who want peace but have to put up with these indiscriminate attacks – that reinforces to me the importance of standing by Israel and Israel’s right to defend itself. 

  

He regards Israel’s actions as purely defensive as opposed to the offensive nature of Palestinian actions. He says “I feel very strongly that this equivalence that sometimes people try to draw when these attacks take place is so completely wrong and unfair. Because Israel is trying defend against indiscriminate attacks, while trying to stop the attackers – and there’s such a difference between that and the nature of the indiscriminate attacks that Israel receives. I feel that very clearly. I’ve seen it very clearly as Prime Minister and I think it’s important to speak out about it.

He “regrets the loss of life wherever it takes place, but thinks there’s an important difference” and then quotes  Prime Minister Netanyahu who said “Israel uses its weapons to defend its people and Hamas uses its people to defend its weapons.”

But both leaders spoke within a week of the British elections and chose their words carefully so as not to antagonise ‘the Jeeish Community’. But in avoiding any mention of Israel’s continuing violations of International Law and International Humanitarian Law, they were pandering to the pro Israel Lobby.

Both leaders are wary of losing funding from the pro Israel Lobby. Miliband has already felt this simply for criticising Israel albiet mildly over the Gaza war last summer. See here. Both leaders also made nauseating speeches at their party’s respective ‘Friends of Israel’ receptions.

What if Britain was illegally occupied? What would they do?

  

Miliband and Cameron see things very clearly from a British Jewish Comunity point of view but not from a British Palestinian point of view. If they did, they would side with the oppressed and occupied Palestinians.

I say to the potential Prime Ministers, imagine if Britain was occupied. Would you submit to the occupier? Would you say yes, take British land, change its demography, expell Britains, replace them with occupiers? Would you accept the occupier stealing British culture, football as a typical occupier sport, the British pint as a typical occupier drink, fish and chips as typical occupier food? 

Would Cameron or Miliband stand for British children being abducted in the middle of the night or for British women giving birth at checkpoints? Would they accept the arrest of British MPs?

Would they agree to ‘share the land’ with the occupier? Would they resist the occupier, using all possible means?

Would they not call for Boycott, Divestnentand  Sanctions against the occupier? 

I am confident that the answer to all of the questions above would be a resounding no. My confidence comes not from an idealistic stand but from recent history. It comes from a war fought thousands of miles away, when Britain sent a flotilla to endArgentina’s occupation of the Falkland Islands. It did not accept that any historic link between Argentina and the Malvinas justified its takeover by force.

The illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine is not a minor incident. For British Palestinians, it is a catastrophe, which started in 1948. Its continuation to this day is the reason for Pslestinan resistance and for rockets flying out of Gaza. The now infamous Sderot was built on the land of the Palestinuan village, Najd, which was depopulated in 1948. Its residents descendants were under Israeli bombardment, refugees in Gaza last summer.

It is true that the British Palestinian community in Britain is not as organised or as financially capable as the pro Israel Lobby. It is true that while Palestine has support from the British Public which gas not as yet been converted into Sufficuent pressure on Government to change policy. But the tide is turning. Prospective Parliamentary Candudates up and down the country have felt the pressure like no time before this on Palestine. Next time it will be even more intense.

Those MPs elected on the 7th of May and the future Government will feel the heat on this issue until a more moral and just policy on Palestine is adopted. After all Britain bares a moral responsibility to the Palestinian people. The hundredth anniversary of the Balfour  Declaration is likely to take place during the next Parliament. 

It is time the wrong was righted through immediate recognition of Palestine and sanctions on Israel with the first announcement of more illegal settlements, which will surely come.


The UK’s Major Political Parties Failed the Palestinian People and therefore the Israeli People

The UK bears a major historic responsibility for the predicamentd of the Palestinian People. Not only did it occupy historic Palestine between 1920 and 1948, it made the infamous Balfour Declaration in 1917. This promised Palestine to the Zionists without consultation with the Palestinians or even world wide Jewry.

But 67 years after British troops left Palestine and the Palestinians to face Zionist Jewish terror, where do the current major political parties stand on justice for the Palestinians? This is a particularly important question just after Israel’s appalling attack on Gaza which left over 2,000 Palestinians dead, over ten thousand injured and Palestinain homes and infrastructure devastated. It is estimated it will cost over $5 billion to rebuild Gaza but other estimates are as high as. $8 Billion.

Israel is suspected of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly genocide in the 51-day attack on Gaza, which was launched on the for text of Hamas ordering the kidnapping and killing of three young Israeli settlers in the South of Hebron.

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The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted to set up an investigative committee into the potential war crimes. The UK was one of the nations that abstained on the vote together with other EU countries.

That was a bizarre decision. From the outset of the recent Attack on Gaza, the ruling coalition of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats said clearly that Israel was entitled to ‘self defence’ against the rockets fired from Gaza, although the Government failed to note that it was Israel that started the conflict when it started attacking Gaza, after three settlers were abducted in South Hebron. Also, just what borders is Israel entitled to defend?

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Nevertheless, as the extent of the death of civilians, especially children began to emerge, Britain tempered its support for Israel ever so slightly by saying it must operate within international Law and international humanitarian law. Ok, so Israel was ‘entitled to self defence’ as long as it was operating within the law but when a investigative committee was to be established to check that this was the case, Britain abstained. This was at best illogical but at worst encouraged Israel to commit further atrocities as it felt it could point to the abstentions and try to discredit the Committee as established by the ‘usual suspects’.

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As the death toll in Gaza mounted, calls were made by protestors for Britain to stop its arms trade with Israel. The claim was that Israel was either using or had the potential to use British supplied arms and components against the civilian population it occupies. This did create some tensions in the coalition and eventually the Liberal Democrats ‘won’ a concession to suspend twelve licenses if Israel returned to ‘substantial’ action in Gaza. This never materialised, even though Israel did attack Gaza after that announcement.

I recently read Labour Leader, Ed Miliband’s speech to Labour Friends of Israel, which he delivered in June of this year? It really is worth reading, if you want to handstand the extent of the influence of the pro-Israel Libby on the political elite in the UK. This was delivered before the Israeli onslaught first on the West Bank and the 51-days of El it heaped on Gaza.

This was a speech pandering to the lobby. It reminded me of many sickening speeches made by presidents and other senior Administration officials to AIPAC. A kind of annual report on what they have done for Israel in the previous year to ‘get the lobby off their back’ and to ensure continued funding.

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It is quite telling that Miliband did not use the word ‘occupation’ once or refer to Palestinian rights. He did not even say explicitly that the settlements are illegal. His remarks about his own personal links with Israel as a Jew with family there taken with his clear uncritical support for Israel do not augur well for actions to force Israel to comply with International Law.

Conservative Friends of Israel boast that 80% of Conservative MPs are members. You wonder who the other 20% are as they are hardly and stories critical of Israel or its policies.

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Home Secretary, Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP addressed this year’s reception of CFI in Parliament hitch the CFI website called “staunchly supportive of Israel” and asserting:

“”I – and the whole British Government – will always defend Israel’s right to defend itself.”

It is worth re-stating the threats faced by Israel because they are considerable. There are the familiar but deadly threats from Hamas and Hezbollah. The collapse of Syria that has spawned ISIS and threatens to destabilise Lebanon and Jordan. The instability of the wider region. And the threats issued to Israel by Iran. No democratic government could, in the face of such danger, do anything but maintain a strong defence and security capability and be prepared to deploy it if necessary. That is why I – and the whole British Government – will always defend Israel’s right to defend itself.[…]
When Israel faces the full range of threats I have just listed, when Israel faces enemies that are intent on its very destruction, when Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields for its rockets, when there are thousands of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, it is easy to talk about a two-state solution but almost impossible to know how to move towards one.”

Remember this was after Israel’s terrorist attack on Gaza. Again just like Miliband’s speech to Labour Friends of Israel you could be excused for not realising that Israel occupies Palestine or the extent of carnage that Israel brought to Gaza.

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The Liberal Democrats would appear to have better policies on the conflict but are part of a coalition which changed Jurisdiction to allow suspected Israeli war criminals access to the UK without fear of arrest for their suspected war crimes.

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All in all, the UK’s major political parties have failed the Palestinian people and only a major shift away from allowing Israel impunity to sanctioning it will place them in the peace camp that will end the occupation and lease yo freedom for Palestinians.

On the 13th of October, back bench MPs gave secured a boring debate calling for the recognition of a Palestinian state. It would be logical for their to be unanimous support for it, based on everyone’s (as far as I know) claim a two state solution is the way to achieve peace.

Ar their forthcoming conferences, the message from delegates should be that they must vote in favour of this motion. There should then be a cross party move to declare that the UK recognises Palestine.

This would be the first step on the path the UK must take to correct the historic wrong which started with the 1917 disgraceful Balfour Declaration.

Nothing less than this will convince the British Public that marched on their hundreds of thousands in Kily and August that their Government is listening.

By failing the Palestinian people, I contend the British political parties are failing the Israeli people, for peace will only come to them, when justice comes to the Palestinians.