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On Israel, Palestine and Antisemitism

As is often, and rightly said, criticism of Israel and its policies does not constitute antisemitism. However, it has become increasingly clear that antisemitism has permeated “Palestinian Solidarity” politics, and that very little has been done either to recognise or to challenge it.

There are two consequences to this state of affairs. Antisemitism has been normalised in a section of Palestinian Solidarity advocacy, which now argues that combating antisemitism is “anti-Palestinian”. As a consequence, the impression has been created that pro-Palestinian activism is part and parcel of the promotion of antisemitism.

The trend towards the merging of pro-Palestinian and antisemitic activism is certainly not unchallenged from within the anti-Zionist movement. For example, following our publication of a series of posts identifying extreme antisemitic and Holocaust denial material on Palestine Solidarity Campaign (“PSC”) websites, the PSC added the following text to their website:

Any expression of racism or intolerance, or attempts to deny or minimise the Holocaust have no place in our movement. Such sentiments are abhorrent in their own right and can only detract from the building of a strong movement in support of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.

Similarly, Andy Newman – a minor trade union rep and blogger - was called upon to pen a denunciation of the antisemitic agitator, Gilad Atzmon, in the Guardian. In both cases, the motivation is dual: genuine horror at the recycling of Nazi defamation of Jews is mixed with concern that support for the Palestinian cause will be undermined if it becomes identified with genocidal racism.

These efforts by some anti-Zionists to oppose antisemtism have met with only limited success. The blogger, Andy Newman was immediately denounced by the  one time Guardian Palestine correspondent and campaigner, Jonathan Cook. Atzmon is supported by Erdogan, and Professors Mearsheimer and Falk. The Chair of the West Midlands PSC, who runs the antisemitic “Shoah” website had previously resigned. But the other officers we identified apparently remain in post.

Antisemitic rhetoric was traditionally quite rare within British Palestinian solidarity politics. Although you can argue that the denial of the right of Jews, uniquely, to self-determine is antisemitic, and conspiracism about “Zionist power” often echoes ancient racist tropes about Jews, explicit and undisguised antisemitism was usually opposed, and entryist Nazis shown the door.

All this is changing. First, a tolerance of antisemitism within Palestinian solidarity politics has arisen as a consequence of the decision to support Hamas, whose founding Covenant is a diatribe of racist invective, and whose officials repeatedly make genocidal threats against Jews. If Hamas is to be supported, it is necessary for Palestinian Solidarity activists to deny antisemitism, and indeed to paint Hamas’ critics as racists and fanatics. Secondly, I believe that a more terrible realisation has dawned on some Palestinian solidarity campaigners. While some fear that the association of the Palestinian cause with antisemitism will harm their movement, others have discovered that tapping into age-old hatreds of the scheming, controlling, corrupting Jew actually helps to attract passionate support.

The Raed Salah case, and its fallout, illustrates these issues well.

It goes without saying that Raed Salah is an outspoken and campaigning antisemite. There is just no other way to describe a man who claims that Jews incorporated the blood of children into their “holy bread“. This is an explicit revival of a millennia-old libel of Jews, which started life in England and has since travelled the world. It is certainly not the only piece of evidence against Salah, nor the most striking. For these reasons, the Government was right to exclude Salah, and if he succeeds in his legal action, a vicious racist agitator will travel this country, whipping up hatred against Jews.

It was therefore perfectly proper for the Government to turn to the Community Security Trust – a respected anti-racist organisation – to assist it in verifying evidence relating to Raed Salah’s conduct.

However, Raed Salah’s defenders found it necessary not only to deny that Salah’s “blood libel” speech meant what it clearly did – they’re arguing implausibly that it was a reference to the Spanish Inquisition – but to attack the Community Security Trust for providing evidence to the Government. This is akin to the English Defence League attacking the supply of information on neo Nazis by Searchlight to the Government.

However, the attack on the CST has been peddled, not by some fringe neo Nazi publication, but by The Guardian newspaper: specifically by David Hearst, its foreign leader writer. The Guardian’s David Hearst, is very much part of the Middle East Monitor (“MEMO”) clique: an organisation run by the pro-Hamas activist, Daud Abdullah, which invited Raed Salah to the United Kingdom and has been his principal supporter and defender. They are joined by Asa Winstanley who now describes the Community Security Trust as an “anti-Palestinian group“: despite the fact that they have never written anything about the Palestinians as a people, their identity or their cause.

At trial, Professor David Miller was also brought in to boost the attack on Salah’s critics. David Miller is a Professor of Sociology at Strathclyde, who runs a series of websites, one of which reproduced the thesis of a notorious neo Nazi, Kevin MacDonald. MacDonald believes that Jews are genetically predisposed to scheme and conspire against non-Jews. The article was eventually removed, after this was pointed out to them. But, as far as we can tell, nobody was “sacked” from Miller’s project for promoting neo Nazi antisemitism.

There’s another good example of this phenomenon on the CST Blog today. It relates to an article by Ibrahim Hewitt, a convert, formerly an inspector of Muslim schools – recently removed by the Tories – who runs the Hamas-supporting charity Interpal and the Hamas-supporting lobby group MEMO. Hewitt denies being a racist:

“I might have been an extremely racist person before my embracing Islam, the religion which taught me tolerance and mutual kindness among people and which took away from me the evils of extremism, hatred and cruelty.”

Nevertheless, here he is, claiming that Zionists control Obama: a classic appeal to antisemitism:

MEMO’s Senior Editor, Ibrahim Hewitt, has gone right to the top, and accused U.S. President Barack Obama’s government of being “led by the nose by a pro-Israel Lobby” because of Obama’s dependency on “Zionist votes and Zionist money.”

Hewitt then illustrates his thesis, with the following supposed quote which depicts “Ariel Sharon “yelling” at Shimon Peres”:

“Don’t worry about American pressure, we the Jewish people control America”.

The quote has been demonstrated to be a racist fake, as Hewitt clearly knows: yet he still pushes it. That’s because antisemitism is deeply ingrained in his personal politics.

As an aside: the irony here is that Hewitt is peddling a well known racist forgery. At the same time, MEMO and its allies are accusing the CST of faking the evidence against Raed Salah, when they did nothing of the sort.

The defence of antisemites, the denial of antisemitism and the attack on Jewish anti-racist organisations could not be in more stark contrast to the conduct of those Jewish anti-racism organisations themselves. The CST has repeatedly and loudly opposed anti-Muslim groups, such as the English Defence League. It has spoken out against the very small number of Jews attracted to the ranks of anti-Muslim organisations. You certainly wouldn’t find the CST, or any Jewish or pro-Israel organisation of note, supporting Kahanist politics. It really is a startling difference between the two camps.

The sad truth is this. Antisemitism, when dressed up as a “pro Palestinian” politics, is now the norm. It is effectively unchallenged. Anti-racist organisations like Hope not Hate timorously steer clear of this issue, Unite Against Fascism is run by the Socialist Workers Party which promoted the antisemitic Atzmon, and continue to deny his antisemitism. Amongst many Palestinian solidarity campaigners, objecting to antisemitism is presented as a Jewish trick, and in newspapers like The Guardian, is depicted as a conspiracy against Palestinians. Even Andy Newman, who happily condemns Atzmon, won’t say a word against Hamas’ far worse antisemitism.

Antisemitism has been normalised, and is mainstream again, in a corner of British politics. To quote Gilad Atzmon’s  latest album: “The Tide Has Changed“.

So, what does this mean? If opposing antisemitism really is now “anti-Palestinian”, as Asa Winstanley suggests, does that mean that the Palestinian cause is intrinsically antisemitic? That is most certainly not what those of us who have consistently supported the right of Palestinians, as much as Jews, to self determine believe. But when advocates of the Palestinian cause routinely conflate opposition to antisemitism with hatred of Palestinians, while enthusiastically promoting antisemitism and antisemites, the connection between pro-Palestinian activism and antisemitism is reinforced.

Each generation faces its own challenges. This is ours.


Airmail in the comments below says:

I don’t disagree with this post.

But there’s a counterpoint: it has become increasingly clear that vicious anti-Muslim bigotry has permeated what might be called “Israel Solidarity” politics, and that very little has been done either to recognise or to challenge it.

Let’s face facts: Israel’s loudest defenders in the west are the hatemongers of the so-called counter-jihad movement. The Glenn Becks and Pamela Gellers. See also the EDL using the Israeli flag as a badge of convenience. And see, for that matter, the comment threads which routinely disgrace this blog.

Yes, HP bloggers and others occasionally voice their opposition to these hatemongers. But then, Andy Newman stuck his neck out to oppose Atzmon. Are you sure your efforts in that regard are any more successful than his? Are you winning that debate? Because your commenters never seem very convinced.

The foulest anti-Muslim bigotry has been normalised, and is now mainstream in a certain corner of British & American politics. That’s another challenge for this generation.

I replied:

Yes, this is an important point.

We have explicitly and repeatedly laid into Geller and Spencer, and domestically, the EDL and the BNP and SIOE.

A few months back we had a banner which recorded Spencer’s dubbing us a “dhimmi blog”, for example.

This is one of our constant and repeated themes. And also one of the CST’s for that matter.

The permeation of anti-Muslim bigotry into what passes for pro-Israel politics is really only a feature of part of US ‘anti-jihad’ politics. In the United Kingdom, for example, it takes the form of the taunting of Muslims with Muslim flags, and dressing up as Rabbis, and the like. It has manifested itself in some lone nut who calls himself the “Surfing Rabbi” being brought over to the UK, and a Wiccan of Jewish heritage from Brazil briefly heading the so-called “Jewish Division” of the EDL.

That’s some contrast: and it is the point I’m making, so thanks for letting me make this point again.

We have a very clear line on conspiracising about Muslims and the appeal to, or invocation of, bigotry against Muslims. Anti-Muslim rhetoric, at times mirrors antisemitic tropes. We oppose it for precisely the same reason that  our close allies who are Muslims fight against antisemitism: and I can tell you, they’re amongst the fiercest defenders of Jews.

If you are a liberal and a democrat, if you believe in equality before the law and the protection of human rights, you will not tolerate  racism, bigotry or the promotion of hatred towards anybody. It is simple. It is the Golden Rule.