Pete Gregson, Chair, One Democratic Palestine, writes:
Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust are the weapons of choice for the Friends of Israel in their determination to preserve their favourite racist colony. They will do and say anything to silence criticism of Israel and prevent the exploration of alternatives to the occupation state that they have created in Palestine. But they and their political ideology can be beaten.
I have faced their wrath several times over the past five years. The first was when I promoted a petition on Change.org entitled “Israel is a Racist Endeavour” calling upon Labour Party members to sign and show our disgust at the imposition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism” upon our party. The IHRA document provides eleven examples of possible anti-Semitism, seven of which pertain to criticism of Israel. It is clear that the Zionists want to stifle any free and open discussion of the entity that they have created and sustain; people must not even dare to think about criticising it.
Number one among these is to utter the truism that is central to the principle of Zionism: the creation of a state which favours Jews is a racist concept. That the Zionist state automatically puts Jews above its other citizens, 20 per cent of whom are not Jews. And yet, to declare that “Israel is a racist endeavour” is something likely to get you expelled from any organisation to which you belong.
The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism was cooked up in 2007. Even the lead drafter of the “working” document, Kenneth Stern, has since warned that it has been weaponised in an attempt to silence critics of Zionism. Nevertheless, from 2013 British Zionists have worked to have it adopted by our trade unions, political parties, police, governments, schools and universities. Not to do so, they claim, is to make all Jews vulnerable to verbal and physical abuse. They have been phenomenally successful in this. Public criticism of Israel’s apartheid state is likely to see you expelled from your union, political party or university. The media knows that this is nonsensical — anti-Semitism is a crime, and rightly so, but criticism of the political ideology upon which Israel is built is surely legitimate freedom of thought and speech — but is scared of exposing it. Any major publication taking the risk will face threats of boycotts, public condemnation from organisations such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and calls for defunding through loss of advertising revenue. The Israeli Embassy in London plays a major role in this. It has a network of supporters in Britain who will bombard with emails and abuse any publication or journalist who dares to cross the line. In a land of free speech, media and journalists are self-censoring themselves to appease an alien state.
Anyone sticking their head above the parapet is a target. When I raised my Change.org petition in September 2018, on the day that Labour adopted the IHRA definition, I was immediately in the firing line. I was incensed that my freedom of speech was being taken away from me. My petition attracted 2,700 signatures (sign it at www.tinyurl.com/israelihra ) but led to my getting expelled from my trade union. In the process, I uttered the second most forbidden IHRA phrase to my union bosses: “Israel exaggerates the Holocaust for political ends.” I was always clear that I was using the word “exaggerates” to mean “overemphasises” but this nuance was lost by a media looking for scandal. As far as Zionists were concerned, I had said that, “The Holocaust was exaggerated.” But I didn’t.
I am now described by Zionists as a notorious anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. This is a slander that the Independent Press Standards Office (IPSO) is apparently unwilling to address, despite numerous complaints by me. Even the judiciary is no help; campaigner Tony Greenstein took the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism to court for calling him a “notorious anti-Semite” and lost. The judge, like IPSO, took the view that calling someone anti-Semitic is a matter of opinion, and that organisations are entitled to have opinions.
As a result of the IHRA definition, anti-racist activists all over the world are now defamed as Jew-haters and by inference, as Nazis by Zionists and a complicit media. The latter has no interest in protecting our freedom of expression; attacking those who call out Israel for its violations of international law does the exact opposite; it stifles free thought and free speech.
Once tarred with the anti-Semite brush it is difficult to campaign for justice for the people of occupied Palestine. All actions are attacked by Zionists who paint activists as evil racists, but action is essential if we are to own up to the fact that successive British governments have thrown the Palestinians under the bus. It was a British Foreign Secretary, remember, who boosted the Zionist movement with the notorious 1917 Balfour Declaration promising support for a “national home for the Jewish people in Palestine”. We helped to create a monster that pits Jews against Muslims — the latter are said to be inherently anti-Semitic — and remains the cause of enormous strife in the world. It behoves us to try and reverse this abuse of religion.
But Zionists and Zionism can be beaten. Mindful of the fact that my home city, Edinburgh, spawned Arthur Balfour who gave away Palestine to the Zionists even before the British had taken it from the Ottoman Empire, I set about getting Scotland’s capital city twinned with Gaza, the part of Palestine that has arguably suffered the greatest isolation and demonisation due to Balfour’s folly. Gaza is a potent symbol of the Palestinian refusal to bow down to Zionist power. I started by using our City Council’s petitions procedure, which puts matters before Councillors to debate if enough residents support it. Just 200 signatures were needed, a number I surpassed easily. When the Zionists got wind of my intention, they declared that the twinning of Balfour’s home city with Gaza would be an existential attack on Israel’s existence; they set out to destroy my campaign by the usual means of attacking both the message and the messenger. Their favoured line was that to twin with Gaza was to support Hamas, a proscribed organisation. The so-called UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI), a group which exemplifies the worst of the legal profession and Zionist zeal, decided to mount what they like to think was a legal challenge.
Whilst Western colonialists used the Christian Bible to claim that God was on their side in their conquest of America, Australasia and Africa, the Zionists claim that God gave the “promised Land” — Palestine — to the Jewish people. However, not all Jews are Zionists, and not all Zionists are Jews. This is a colonialist ploy to impose a “bastion of Western civilisation” in the Muslim Arab world. Many of those who claim to be Jews in Israel have turned their back on Judaism. That’s because religious Jews who follow the Torah insist that the Holy Book declares that there can be no Jewish state created by human beings; that the Jews have to wait for God to end their exile. The Christian Bible does not say this- so Zionists therefore use the bible (alongside right-wing Evangelists) – to further their claim on the Holy Land. We surely have a duty to point out to Zionists, especially those who claim to be Jews, that they use Christian beliefs in pursuing a European colonial project to turn the Holy Land into a racist super state.
UKLFI wrote to Edinburgh Council and indicated that even discussing the twinning bid was likely to be illegal in that it showed “de facto” support for Hamas. They threatened the 17 members of the Council’s Policy Committee with up to 14 years in jail; the Home Secretary had, in November 2021, declared the Islamic resistance movement’s political wing — which had won a “free and fair” democratic election to govern Palestine — to be a terrorist organisation, even though it has never acted beyond the borders of historic Palestine or been any kind of threat to Britain. “It is a criminal offence to belong to or invite support for a proscribed group,” UKLFI pointed out to Edinburgh Council, which panicked and took the twinning proposal off the Policy Committee agenda, saying it needed to take legal advice.
It was clear to me that the Council’s Chief Executive was against twinning with Gaza, for he had persuaded the Council never to twin with any city ever again. What should I do? I handed myself in to the police, telling them that, according to UKLFI, I was supporting terrorism by seeking to get my home town twinned with Gaza, so they should arrest and charge me. The police told me that there was nothing illegal in twinning with Gaza.
In this I must confess that I was aided in my dealings with the Council by Michael Mansfield KC, who clarified that supporting Gaza would not be against the law. Edinburgh Council’s head of legal affairs was delighted to get a legal opinion free of charge from Mansfield, a human rights specialist, and accepted that Police Scotland were not bothered either. In August 2022, therefore, Edinburgh Council chose to shrug off the UKLFI threats and voted to get Edinburgh Partnership, a body that includes all the city’s civic bodies, to explore mutually beneficial projects with Gaza.
Various “Friends of Israel” wrote to the Committee. A Freedom of Information Act request revealed the 32 emails sent to the Council by Zionists who opposed my petition. The gist of their lies was that twinning with Gaza would be a gift to Hamas; that poor Palestinians are innocent pawns being exploited by evil Hamas terrorists; and that if only Hamas ceased fighting Israel, Gaza would flourish. The Council ignored this nonsense.
I was told by Councillors that there was little public support for Gaza, so I spent months collecting letters of support; every Councillor received between 12 and 60 letters, many of which I obtained by approaching Edinburgh’s 15,000 Muslims. I visited mosques after Friday prayers with a stall inviting them to sign a standard letter. This approach was so successful that even the Conservative group on the Council expressed minimal opposition to supporting Gaza during the Committee’s deliberations. Edinburgh’s Councillors realised that there was significant support in the city to help Palestine. The fact that Edinburgh has but 700 Jewish residents, many of whom show little support for the occupation state, also helped.
The Friends of Israel and UKLFI decided to go on the offensive again this year, when they learnt of the “Muslim and Jew: Beyond Israel” tour which set out to visit fifteen British cities in April and May, calling for the peaceful dissolution of the occupation state. The main speakers were Palestinian author and broadcaster Dr Azzam Tamimi and Rabbi Dovid Weiss of Neturei Karta USA — Jews Against Zionism. They had worked together in the past and agree that Islam and Judaism are faiths that have never historically been at odds with each other. They are proud of the fact that for 1,500 years Muslims had lived amicably alongside Jews and had frequently given them shelter in the face of persecution by Christians. Both agree that Israel has no right to exist in its Zionist form: Orthodox Jews like Rabbi Weiss cite the Torah when making clear that without any Messiah who brings world peace, there can be no question of Jews ending their exile and moving en masse to the Holy Land. Both feel that Zionists have abused religion to serve colonial ends. By claiming that Jews are at risk of annihilation by Muslims if Israel is attacked, for example, the state of Israel get $4 billion of military aid from the US every year, which is used to suppress opposition and seize more Palestinian land. Thus is in apparent contravention of US aid regulations which “prohibit assistance to military forces that commit gross violations of human rights.” It is undeniable that the so-called Israel Defence Forces commit such violations almost daily.
The first attack on the tour came from the Jewish Chronicle, which published the lie in September 2022 that Rabbi Weiss had said that the Holocaust was exaggerated, something they knew that he had denied saying even as it went to print. The libel was made worse by the fact that the Rabbi’s own grandparents and other relatives were murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz. I complained to IPSO on his behalf, and on this occasion it agreed that the community newspaper had gone too far. In the middle of the tour, the Jewish Chronicle was forced to publish an apology.
UKLFI thought that it would scupper the tour by keeping Rabbi Weiss out of Britain. The group was riding high after getting the director of a Manchester art gallery fired for an exhibition which included pro-Palestine work and getting — believe it or not — Palestinian children’s art removed from a London hospital. It was keen to mount a fresh attack on freedom of opinion and expression.
In March, UKLFI called publicly upon the Home Secretary to exclude Rabbi Weiss from the country, claiming that “his entry into the UK would not be conducive to the public good”; that he was coming to create division; and that he would “stir up religious and racial hatred against British Jews and serve to promote extremism and encourage terrorism.” The same themes were expressed by Scottish Friends of Israel and doubtless other Zionist bodies which echoed the UKLFI call. In response, I organised a campaign that led to 200 people writing to the Home Secretary declaring that the Rabbi would reduce anti-Semitism in the UK as a very obviously practising Jew who holds a sympathetic view of the Palestinians. The letters explained that Rabbi Weiss was a peaceful, devoutly religious man who knew only too well the crime of anti-Semitism given the awful murder of his grandparents in Auschwitz. We pointed out that there were many Jewish people who share his religious views, and that his visit would bring Jews and Muslims together.
He duly entered the UK from New York on the day that our tour began, 24 April, with no problems whatsoever. The lawyer working on his behalf in London learnt that the Home Office had not even opened a file on him. Clearly, UKLFI had failed to convince anybody in the UK Government that Rabbi Weiss was a threat to peace.
The lawyers’ group and the Scottish Friends of Israel also set about trying to sabotage the tour by telling our venues to cancel the bookings. On 1 April, the Scottish Friends of Israel wrote to all 15 venues, beginning what would be a flurry of emails and phone calls from Zionists across the UK to each venue’s Board members and associates. I have no doubt that UK Lawyers for Israel (and probably the Israeli Embassy) were operating in tandem with Scottish Friends of Israel, as exactly the same arguments were used against the tour. Digging out the contact details of up to 100 trustees is no small task. Most venues were charities and the Friends of Israel and UKLFI knew this was a soft spot; they suggested that their charitable status was at risk if the events went ahead.
Politicians in whose constituencies events were due to take place were copied into the Zionists’ threats. Presumably it was hoped that public funding would be cut, or planning applications would be turned down. At least one of the venues pulled out fearing the latter. In Liverpool, the involvement of anti-radicalisation Prevent officials was invoked. The email sent by Scottish Friends of Israel contained the usual lies about the speakers.
As usual with “Friends of Israel” groups, they accused pro-Palestine activists of racism, and yet such “friends” support a racist, apartheid state without question. They refused to acknowledge that the Rabbi was either a Rabbi or even a Jew- they simply referred to him as Mr Dovid Weiss. They described him as a regular visitor to Iran — three visits in his 66 years is hardly “regular” — and claimed that he had expressed an “anti-Semitic trope” when he said, “Zionism and Israel is the root cause of all the bloodshed and animosity between Jews and Muslims including Arabs… The only way to stop this bloodshed is to remove this sickness, this tumour, the thing that is causing bloodshed.”
By no known measure can this be described as anti-Semitic, especially coming from a learned Rabbi. It is a criticism of Zionism and a political entity — the Zionist state of Israel — not Jews. “Although he claims to speak for religious Jews,” the Friends of Israel continued regardless, “he is regarded by the overwhelming majority of Jews, religious or not, as a renegade who gives encouragement to their worst enemies.” This exposed the anomaly of non-religious Jews claiming that the God they don’t believe in (or don’t believe in enough to practise Judaism) gave them the land in Palestine.
The assumption is, of course, that the overwhelming majority of religious Jews support Israel, when that is clearly not the case. As Rabbi Weiss points out in his talks, a visit to the religious Jewish communities of Stamford Hill in London or Monsey and Williamsburg in New York, and even in Jerusalem, Israeli flags and symbols are noticeable by their absence. Genuinely religious Jews eschew Israel on the basis of the teachings of the Torah and Solomon’s writings (the “Song of Songs”) which forbid the creation of a man-made Jewish state.
UK Lawyers for Israel, meanwhile, wrote to venues declaring that our events were possibly illegal. This had some success. Some councillors were drawn into the fray, and venues cancelled in Coventry, Edinburgh, Manchester and — with just three days’ notice — London. One allegation against the tour was that it would “sow division among communities rather than foster tolerance and mutual respect”. I pointed out in my response to the London venue that what causes division is the sight of Israeli soldiers acting on behalf of the “Jewish State” beating Muslim worshippers at prayer in Al-Aqsa Mosque during the fasting month of Ramadan. What could be more divisive?
I was so disappointed by the cancellation by the London Borough of Camden’s first Muslim mayor, Nasim Ali OBE, that I wrote an open letter to him. “Your action will do nothing to reduce the tensions that already exist between Muslims and those secular Jews here who support Israel,” I pointed out. “You only strengthen the hand of the Zionists by silencing debate on alternatives.”
Nevertheless, our talks went ahead in all four cities. Alternative venues were found, and in Coventry we simply held the event in a local park.
Michael Mansfield suggested that we threaten an injunction against UKLFI for harassment. A Muslim lawyer in London issued a letter indicating this on our behalf, which we used to reassure the venues that there was nothing illegal in what we were doing.
The Zionists thus failed in their objective of getting our tour cancelled. In this sense alone, we beat the Zionists and their pernicious ideology. Moreover, the tour’s impact on social media has been incredible; well over half a million people, many of them Muslims, have now heard our message that Israel pursues a religious war against those it considers to be non-Jews, as it ethnically cleanses its way to becoming a state pursuing “a regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea“. This, as Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem declared in January 2021, “is apartheid.”
That Israel does this while barely hiding behind the facade of a two-state solution is a contradiction that our tour was intent on exposing. We declared that a single state where Jews, Muslims, Christians and people of no faith live and elect the government is the only way forward. And that is the one thing that the Zionist state of Israel fears the most.
Wider still and wider: The holocaust alliance’s solicited “anti-Semitism” as a reaction to insufficient supply of anti-Semitism
Israel cannot have it both ways. On the one hand, it and its mouthpieces around the world claim ad nauseum that anti-Semitism is rising globally, in an attempt to justify Israel’s raison d’être as a haven of last resort for world Jewry. According to the racist worldview of the Zionist…21st August 2013