Zionist attack on free speech
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign must oppose bogus definitions of ‘anti-Semitism’, argues Tony Greenstein
In the past two weeks Palestine societies on university campuses in Britain have been organising activities around the annual Israel Apartheid Week. This year, however, the right to organise such events has come under systematic attack from university authorities.
Two weeks ago Jo Johnson, the universities minister, wrote to Universities UK demanding the suppression of Israel Apartheid Week as a way of combating “anti-Semitism”.1 Apparently holocaust denial leaflets had been distributed at Cambridge University and swastikas found at Exeter University. Ipso facto this meant that the responsibility lay with supporters of the Palestinians! A classic example of the McCarthyite guilt-by-association technique, combined with the big lie.
At least three universities have reacted by either proscribing Israel Apartheid Week or severely limiting its activities. At the University of Central Lancashire it was banned outright. The university spokesperson justified this by saying that, because the government “has formally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s new definition of what constitutes anti-Semitism”, a talk which the organisers intended to arrange “contravenes the new definition and furthermore breaches university protocols for such events, where we require assurances of a balanced view or a panel of speakers representing all interests”.2 In the best style of Orwellian newspeak the university spokesperson went on to explain that “our procedures determined that the proposed event would not be lawful”. Quite how procedures can determine anything was not explained.
At Exeter University a proposed mock-up of one of the hundreds of checkpoints that the Israeli government use to control and hinder Palestinian movement in the West Bank was banned. Presumably reconstructing reality was also deemed ‘anti-Semitic’. At Sussex University IAW was not banned, but the vice-chancellor wrote to students warning them that the proposed activities could be construed as anti-Semitic. Meanwhile at Kingston University the Prevent programme was used to place security guards inside a Stand Up To Racism meeting featuring former Guantanamo prisoner Moazzam Begg (Sussex University had also tried to do the same thing) and to insist that people speak only in English!
This attack on freedom of speech began at Oxford University Labour Club in January 2016, when the chair, Alex Chalmers, resigned after the club had narrowly voted to support Israel Apartheid Week. Apparently this meant that members of the OULC were anti-Semitic. Chalmers was later shown to have been an intern with the Israeli propaganda organisation, BICOM (Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre).
However, a subsequent report for the Labour Party by Baroness Janet Royall found that there had been no anti-Semitism at the club. Even the Jewish Chronicle reported that “The two members of the Oxford University Labour Club who were accused of engaging in anti-Semitic acts in front of Jewish students have been cleared by party officials.”3
In the succeeding year we have had a continuing campaign by the apostles of Zionism to equate opposition to Zionism and the Israeli state with anti-Semitism. And, of course, anti-Semitism was weaponised inside the Labour Party as a stick with which to beat the left leadership. Unfortunately Jeremy Corbyn, despite his long record of support for the Palestinians, collapsed in the face of the attacks. Instead of differentiating between genuine anti-Semitism and the weaponisation of ‘anti-Semitism’, Corbyn simply retreated, mouthing that he wasn’t an anti-Semite. The anti-Semitism he was talking about and the Zionist version are not one and the same thing.
If you repeat a lie long enough, then people will come to believe it, regardless of the truth. So it is the case with ‘anti-Semitism’ in the Labour Party. There has been a media broadside aided by organisations such as the fake ‘charity’, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. Jackie Walker, the vice-chair of Momentum, was suspended twice by Labour and has just had her investigative hearing. Jon Lansman, aided by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, removed Jackie as vice-chair in October last year - a move which encouraged the Labour Party bureaucracy to suspend her. The AWL, whose own members have been targeted in the Labour Party, has managed, thanks to its pro-imperialist and Zionist politics, to find itself on both sides of the witch-hunt.
In October 2016 the House of Commons home affairs committee published a report entitled ‘Anti-Semitism in the UK’,4 in which it supported what was termed the International Holocaust Remembrance Authority definition of anti-Semitism. This was the old European Union Monitoring Committee Working Definition on Anti-Semitism (WDA), which the EUMC’s successor body, the Fundamental Rights Agency, had junked in 2013, removing it from its website.
When the WDA was first introduced, it led to massive opposition by organisations such as the University and College Union and the National Union of Students. This controversy was what led to the WDA being dropped. However, the Zionists have continued to push this definition and it has now resurfaced. Like Dracula’s undead, it has been reborn as the IHRA definition.
It is very easy to define anti-Semitism. It is, as we wrote in a letter to The Guardian in December 2016, hostility to Jews as Jews.5 Dr Brian Klug of Oxford University, an acknowledged expert on anti-Semitism, explained in a lecture to the Berlin Jewish Museum that it would be more accurate to define anti-Semitism as
a form of hostility towards Jews as Jews, in which Jews are perceived as something other than what they are. Or, more succinctly, ‘hostility towards Jews as not Jews’. For the ‘Jew’ towards whom the anti-Semite feels hostile is not a real Jew at all. Thinking that Jews are really ‘Jews’ is precisely the core of anti-Semitism.6
The problem for the government and the Zionists with the above definition - which is six words, as opposed to the IHRA’s nearly 450 words - is simple: it does not mention Israel! The IHRA definition is what is called “new anti-Semitism”: ie, hostility to the ‘Jewish’ state or what used to be called the ‘Jew among the nations’.
Those who put forward the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism are saying that hostility to Israel exists not because of what that state does - not because of the Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the apartheid nature of Israeli society, its demolition of Arab homes to make way for Jewish ones or the multiplicity of ways in which Palestinians, inside and outside Israel, are discriminated against - but because Israel is a ‘Jewish’ state. We oppose Israel because it is made up of Jews.
It is as if our calls to boycott South Africa because of apartheid were directed at white South Africans because they were white rather than because of the political system of racial supremacy that apartheid represented. Those who seek to associate Israel, the ‘Jewish’ state, with Jews outside Israel are consciously trying to bring about the very anti-Semitism that they say they deprecate. We oppose Zionism because of what it represents and does, not the racial/religious composition of its adherents. In actual fact the main proponents of Zionism historically have been Christian fundamentalists and dispensationalists, who have combined anti-Semitism and Zionism in equal measure.
We see this replicated today in the United States, where Donald Trump’s open courting of white supremacy with his appointment of Breitbart’s former CEO, Steve Bannon, as his strategic advisor coincided with a wave of attacks on Jews and Jewish cemeteries. The response of the Zionist Organisation of America and the Israeli government was to welcome Trump to power, because he was pro-Israel.7
Anti-Semitism has become the anti-racism of the British and European ruling classes. It is the false anti-racism of the right - a depoliticised form, but an ideological arm of imperialism. It is anti-racism in alliance with reaction and as such has nothing to do with anti-racism as commonly understood. It is no accident that among the 31 states that came together to propose the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism are the regimes of Hungary, Poland and the Baltic countries - all of which are far-right with heavy anti-Semitic tendencies.
That definition was proposed last year by a select committee report that did not even bother to take evidence from those it attacked, such as Malia Bouattia, president of the National Union of Students. The Committee had no terms of reference and it saw an alliance between the Labour right (Chuka Ummuna, David Winnick) and the Tories, all of whom consciously used the report on ‘anti-Semitism’ as a means of engaging in a naked political attack on Jeremy Corbyn and Shami Chakrabarti. The report was savaged by David Plank, a former government advisor to the House of Commons social services committee, for its selective evidence base and skewed analysis.8
Jeremy Corbyn has continued his and Seamus Milne’s brilliant strategy of surrendering to the Zionist lobby as a means of deflecting their attacks. As Ben White put it, “By limiting criticism of Israel, Theresa May’s new definition of anti-Semitism will do more harm than good.”9 The only people who will benefit from the conflation of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are anti-Semites. When everyone is attacked as ‘anti-Semitic’, then genuine anti-Semites are able to slip under the radar by claiming that criticism of them is because of their views on Israel.
The Brighton Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) held a meeting of nearly 80 people two weeks ago with Jackie Walker, Michael Deas (former organiser of the European Boycott National Committee) and myself as speakers. A large number of Labour Party members attended. The message was clear: anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.10 We need to replicate these meetings up and down the country.
However, the national PSC, under the misleadership of Socialist Action, has made it clear that its ‘strategy’ to combat these attacks on the movement is to do nothing. But others are not so reluctant to combat the attack on the movement. The British Committee for Universities of Palestine (Bricup), which campaigns for an academic boycott of Israel, organised a letter from 250 academics to The Guardian, which stated:
… the government has ‘adopted’ the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, which can be and is being read as extending to criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights, an entirely separate issue, as prima facie evidence of anti-Semitism. This definition seeks to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.11
We need to rebuild the campaign that defeated the WDA. First and foremost, this means getting the trade unions to oppose the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. We have to take the argument into Momentum and the Labour Party. What we have in our favour is that most people, outside the ruling class and the establishment, understand very well that criticism of Israel is not anti-Jewish. It is a simple notion, but those who seek to wrap imperialism in an ideological comfort blanket will continue to peddle dishonest definitions of anti-Semitism.
One of the organisations which has been most active in this respect is the fake far-right ‘charity’, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. It has demonised anyone who supports the Palestinians and opposes Zionism as anti-Semitic.
I and others have submitted objections to its registration as a charity and there is a petition up at the moment on the website Change.org,12 which the CAA has tried unsuccessfully to get taken down, calling for the Charity Commission to deregister it. I have no illusions that the Charity Commission, which is led by far-right ideologue William Shawcross, will do anything, but we intend to focus the spotlight on this nasty McCarthyite ‘charity’. But because I have campaigned to have it deregistered I have also been attacked.13
If we do not get rid of this bogus definition of anti-Semitism, then we can look forward to the IHRA version being incorporated into legislation, which would then effectively outlaw the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in this country. In France BDS has been made illegal. That is why the PSC’s refusal to campaign against the definition is criminal.
1. See, for example, ‘Universities urged to crack down on anti-Semitism ahead of Israel Apartheid Week’: www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2017/02/24/universities-warned-anti-semitism-ahead-israel-apartheid-week.
7. See www.haaretz.com/world-news/u-s-election-2016/1.753413.
8. ‘An ex-government adviser just gutted the anti-Semitism report that vilified Jeremy Corbyn’: www.thecanary.co/2016/11/14/ex-government-adviser-just-gutted-antisemitism-report-vilified-jeremy-corbyn.
10. The meeting can be viewed online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5PKI__M14k; and www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsL4MvujITU.
13. See https://antisemitism.uk/tony-greensteins-attempt-to-shut-down-campaign-against-antisemitism-showcases-the-similarities-between-far-left-and-far-right.