Confederation of Friends of Israel, Scotland, supports a racist system and has no place on a Stand Up To Racism march

ScottishJAZ banner

Scottish Jews Against Zionism (Scottish JAZ) unreservedly oppose the presence of the Confederation of Friends of Israel, Scotland (CoFIS) on the annual Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) demonstration on March 16th 2019. The Israeli state, in its founding principles, and now strengthened by the 2018 Nation State law, explicitly prioritises Jewish people within Israel, whilst committing human rights atrocities and massacres in the Palestinian territories that it occupies. CoFIS campaigns to normalise this racist regime and therefore neither their official presence, nor the Israeli flags they wave, belong on a march dedicated to opposing racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia.

A state that prioritises an ethnic group is inherently racist. Different rules for Jews and non-Jews are built into Israel’s foundations. Israeli racism has been extensively and rigorously documented by human rights activists in Palestine and Israel and by South African and Jewish legal scholars. Their conclusions are unequivocal.[1] Like other anti-racists we cannot allow supporters of prolonged colonial settlement to exploit Scotland’s anti-racism demonstration in order to normalise institutionalised state racism.

It is not antisemitic to criticise Israel and those campaigning on its behalf. We are one of more than 40 Jewish groups who oppose equating antisemitism with criticism of Israel.[2]  Zionism is Jewish ethnic nationalism. Not all Jews support Zionism, and not all Zionists are Jewish (as demonstrated by the membership of CoFIS, which is a predominantly Christian Zionist organisation[3]). Zionism seeks to hold itself above criticism by portraying its political nationalism as integral to Jewishness, so that opposition to Zionism becomes tantamount to antisemitism. This presumption that all Jews share the same political position is itself racist. Wrongly accusing people of antisemitism can also obscure genuinely antisemitic acts.

In trying to align itself with an anti-racist campaign, CoFIS is exploiting the pain and grief and anguish in the lived experience of Jews to justify inflicting the very same on Palestinians.

Last year CoFIS activists were allowed to march, and this meant that Palestinians, including a delegation of firefighters attending training in Glasgow with the Fire Brigades Union, felt unable to participate, as they would have been marching alongside the flag of the country that is oppressing them.[4] Rather than unifying progressive forces, by allowing CoFIS to march, SUTR are facilitating a group grounded in right-wing politics and rhetoric to push out migrants and genuinely anti-racist campaigners from the demonstration.

We are not seeking to ban individuals. We call for the exclusion from an anti-racist march of an organisation that promotes racist ideas, and that uses its acceptance by SUTR as validation of its position.

  1. We call upon the organisers of SUTR to respect international law, respect the findings of the United Nations, respect the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, and find the courage to resist political manipulation.
  2. Above all, we call upon SUTR to respect the lived experience of all people living under racist governments, in racist states, historically and in the present.
  3. We call upon SUTR to explicitly state that no racist organisations or flags are welcome on the SUTR march.

In the event that CoFIS, or its member organisations, attempt to join the demonstration, we support those who use non-violent civil disobedience to prevent their presence in the main body of the march.

Scottish Jews Against Zionism

7 February 2019

References

[1] Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, 2009, Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid?A re-assessment of Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law
http://www.hsrc.ac.za/en/research-data/view/4634

John Dugard, John Reynolds; ‘Apartheid, International Law, and the Occupied Palestinian Territory,’ European Journal of International Law, Volume 24, Issue 3, 1 August 2013, Pages 867–913, https://doi.org/10.1093/ejil/cht045

Falk, 2014, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, General Assembly of the UN http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/A-HRC-25-67.pdf

B’Tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), 2004, Forbidden Roads: The Discriminatory West Bank Road Regime
https://www.btselem.org/publications/summaries/200408_forbidden_roads

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, 2017, Apartheid,
https://icahd.org/category/apartheid/

[2] Jewish Voice for Peace, 2018, First-ever: 40+ Jewish Groups Worldwide Oppose Equating Antisemitism with Criticism of Israel

https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/first-ever-40-jewish-groups-worldwide-oppose-equating-antisemitism-with-criticism-of-israel/

[3] Haley, 2019, Who are Friends of Israel? http://www.sacc.org.uk/articles/2019/who-are-friends-israel

[4] Hilley, 2018, ‘Israel’s racist front groups must be resisted, not placated or wished away,’ Zen Politics, https://johnhilley.blogspot.com/2018/03/

 

In support of Pete Gregson who is charged with anti-Semitism for defying the IHRA definition examples

Pete gregson 

Pete Gregson was so concerned about the adoption of the IHRA definition examples by the Labour Party that he organised a mass flouting of these absurd and dangerous rules. His union, the GMB, is now attempting to expel him for anti-Semitism. The hearing was yesterday, and we wrote the statement below in support of his position. (You can read more about the case here.)

The GMB Union has suspended, and seeks to expel, Pete Gregson for anti-Semitism, according to the IHRA definition and accompanying examples adopted by the union. We believe that the IHRA definition examples are fundamentally misleading and should be abandoned. They have been deliberately written so as to equate Israel, the self-declared Jewish Homeland, with all Jews, in order that criticism of Israel (and particularly the nature of Israel as a Jewish state) becomes regarded as criticism of Jews and is deemed anti-Semitic and inadmissible.

Since the Talmud, Jews have looked forward to a future time of Messianic redemption and return to Zion. That traditional belief (now understood by different Jews in different ways) is not to be confused with the modern ideology of political Zionism.  Zionism, the creation and maintenance of a Jewish state in the historic land of Israel, is not intrinsic either to Jewish identity or to Jewish belief. It is a political position and has always been a subject of argument. Jews, as well as non-Jews, can recognise that a state that is defined by, and prioritises, an ethnicity or religion is an essentially racist endeavour. Rejection of Zionism is not rejection of Jews or Jewishness and is often made by Jews. To assume all Jews are Zionist –that Jews share a political opinion by virtue of their Jewishness – is itself anti-Semitic.

In adopting the IHRA definition with examples, the GMB is preventing its members from criticising the nature of the Israeli state, and so preventing them from exercising their right to freedom of speech. It is also adopting rules that are based on an anti-Semitic assumption that all Jews share a political position. The GMB’s adoption of the IHRA definition and examples thus contravenes the union’s own regulations:

The union’s stated purpose includes ‘We will aim to end exploitation, discrimination and injustice.’ (p2) This is not compatible with denying members freedom to speak up against the unjust and discriminatory nature of the Israeli state, nor with rules based on an anti-Semtic assumption. Denying members freedom of speech on Israel also runs counter to the unions aim ‘To promote the social, moral and intellectual interests of our members.’ (p8)

Confronting the definition examples, as Pete Gregson has done, isn’t anti-Semitic because these are fundamentally flawed. And although going against the IHRA definition examples adopted by the GMB would seem superficially to be going against GMB rules, those examples run counter to more fundamental union rules and also deny freedom of speech. It is our contention that these deliberately and dangerously misleading definition examples should not have been adopted by the GMB (nor by the Labour Party) and conscientious members have both a right and a duty to take a stand against them.

The picture shows Pete Gregson with a rabbi who had come to Glasgow to support him

 

Islamophobia and Israel in political context

18-12-16 SACC conference

Saturday’s joint conference by Scotland Against Criminalising Communities and the Islamic Human Rights Commission put political analysis at the centre of the discussion. Sarah Glynn spoke for ScottishJAZ – and her speech is reproduced below – but we would also like to share some important points made by other speakers.

Sai Englert, from SOAS, stressed that the reason the Israel lobby is able to be so effective is not a reflection of Jewish power, but because they are saying what states such as the US and UK want to hear. Israel is central to their foreign policy; and the emphasis on the horrors of the Holocaust allows them to ignore colonial and current racisms. They are happy to portray Jews as defenders of Western values, and to use them as a shield for their own racist policies at home and abroad. So, for example, they can shut down discussions on the grounds that they are ‘offensive to Jews’.

David Jamieson, of Common Space, emphasised the role of the state and the ruling class in legitimising the racist and Islamophobic ideologies that are then taken up by the far right – and hence the need to confront state narratives. In stressing the importance of combating anti-Semitism and Islamophobia together, he observed how the Hungarian far-right talk about a ‘Jewish conspiracy’ to bring Muslims into the country.

Massoud Shadjareh, of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, noted how Zionist organisations are getting involved in interfaith groups and other umbrella organisations and shutting down discussion on Palestine. And his colleague, Arzu Merali, observed that a recent report by the Westminster All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims on defining Islamophobia legitimises the IHRA definition. (We have seen similar developments here in Scotland, with links between the Muslim Council of Scotland and the pro-Zionist Scottish Council of Jewish Communities facilitated by Labour’s Anas Sarwar.)

Here is Sarah’s speech:

I have been invited here as a member of Scottish Jews Against Zionism, so I shall start with a Jewish perspective.

100 years ago, Jews were attacked for their disproportionate presence among the Bolsheviks – and they were also attacked because of the prominence of some Jewish banking families. Today we watch in horror as some Israeli Jews seem unembarrassed to identify themselves as Nazis, and we learn with admiration of the work done by the Tree of Life community of Pittsburg, who drew on their own experience to welcome new refugees – actions that attracted the murderous attention of their far-right attacker.

Confusing? Well, not really. Jews, like any other ethnic group, have diverse political opinions.

The notoriously racist Daily Mail accuses lifelong anti-racist Corbyn of anti-Semitism; the Labour Party disciplines Jewish members for being anti-Semitic; and EDL thugs wave Israeli flags.

Have we gone through the Looking Glass? How can we understand what is happening?

The answer is, of course, that we have to look beyond ethnicity to the wider political picture – so I am glad that this session, by bringing together anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and the far right, allows me to do just that. It’s a huge area for ten minutes, but I’ll do my best.

Mainstream media and capitalist elites like to express their horror at the rise of the far right, but they refuse to recognise their own culpability for what is happening. Four decades of capitalism, unrestrained even by post-war social democracy, has created a brutally unequal society. People are looking for an alternative, but the left is disorganised and weak, and many people are tempted to look elsewhere – to the populist right. Despite their professed horror, the liberal establishment is much more comfortable with this than they would be with any increase in support for the left. In fact, establishment energies, from the BBC to MI5, are firmly focussed on suppressing any growth of left ideas or organisation.

Thatcher and Reagan and their friends combined political and economic battles against the left, like the defeat of the miners and the abolition of left-wing metropolitan councils, with a massive propaganda campaign to persuade people that unrestrained capitalism is the natural human condition, and ‘there is no alternative’. They succeeded so thoroughly, that formerly left-wing parties stopped arguing even for tempering the system through social democracy. Their new leaders only claimed they would manage it better – and they attacked the people within their own party who still argued for socialist ideas.

This attack on the left wasn’t limited to the West. The US and other Western powers have always been ready to help suppress left movements in other countries, even at the expense of aiding brutal dictatorships or facilitating the rise of other movements that oppose Western philosophy. It is easy to forget that the Middle East once included large numbers of socialists and communists. It is the suppression of this left current, in which the West has played a part, that has made room for the growth of Islamism. Of course there is a world of difference between Islamists who seek a reformist path towards their goal, and those who take up physical force, but in both cases their philosophy and politics are guided by their religious beliefs. In the UK, too, Muslims have increasingly identified themselves with their religion, rather than as ‘Asian’, say, or Pakistani, and become politically active through Islamic organisations.

Right-wing movements have always thrived on racism. What better way to persuade poor whites to buy into a system that exploits them, than to encourage them to feel superior to others who are exploited even more, and to blame those others for their problems? Anger against the ruling class is diverted, and a unified working-class resistance becomes more difficult.

In the UK today, the focus of right-wing hate is often Muslims. This is partly because minority groups have tended to identify themselves through their religion, and also a result of Western imperial interventions that have increasingly seen Western soldiers fighting against predominantly Muslim forces. In the 1990s, the American right-wing theorist, Samuel Huntingdon, wrote a dangerously simplistic book that divided the world into competing civilisations, with a particular focus on the ‘clash of civilizations’ between Islam and the West. It has often suited the extremists of both sides to refer to this ‘clash’ and try to make it a reality. (I should note here that hatred of Muslims, or Islamophobia, is quite different from arguing against Islamic or any religious beliefs, which can be done without being hateful towards the person holding those beliefs.)

And then there’s Israel. When Israel was created as a Jewish state, sventy years ago, there was a genuine belief among most Jews that this would provide an escape from centuries of persecution where all else had failed. It was a belief built on a fundamental misrepresentation of the nature of what Zionism really is – i.e. settler colonialism. Besides creating a new persecuted diaspora in the Palestinians, and being the catalyst of major political instability, Israel hasn’t even succeeded in its primary objective of making it safer to be Jewish.

Historically, Jews have fared much better under Muslim rulers than Christian ones (most notably in Spain); but the Jewish colonisation of land that was predominantly lived in by Muslims, and the Zionist creation of a state that prioritised Jews over these Muslims and other non-Jewish groups, brought an end to good relations. The predictable enmity between Muslims and Jews in Israel/Palestine has spread through the world.

The first Israeli governments claimed to be socialist, despite their massive blind spot when it came to their Arab population and the colonial nature of their state. Perhaps predictably, given the foundations on which Israel is built, Israeli governments have become increasingly right-wing, so that now they are firmly in the ‘Friends of Trump’ camp and even befriend the far-right anti-Semitic government in Hungary. Zionists have always had support among anti-Semites who believe that different national groups should live separately and that Jews should have their own land and move out of other countries. Of course many choose not to welcome this sort of support, but the general rise of the right has made it easier for people to openly share such views.

As Israel has become increasingly aggressive towards the Palestinians, so popular feeling against the Israeli government and against the concept of Zionism has spread. But, as the movement for BDS has grown, so, too, has Israel’s determination to stop it, and they have realised that an effective way of destroying their opponents is to accuse them of anti-Semitism. To do this, they equate Israel, the self-declared Jewish Homeland, with all Jews, so that criticism of Israel (and particularly the nature of Israel as a Jewish state) is regarded as criticism of Jews and so anti-Semitic. The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism (or rather its examples) follow this pattern of thinking, equating anti-Zionsim with anti-Semitism.

As we have said many times, we need to be able to argue (without being classed as anti-Semitic), not just against particular actions of particular Israeli governments, but against the creation of a specifically Jewish state. We need to be able to recognise the Zionist state publically as an intrinsically racist endeavour – as any state defined by ethnicity or religion would be. This isn’t saying that Jews must leave Israel or get driven into the sea. The problem is the nature of the state – and it is that that needs changed

Although the Jewish religion looks forward to Jews returning to Israel after the coming of the messiah, support for Zionism – the creation and maintenance of a Jewish state in the historic land of Israel – is not intrinsic to Jewishness. It has always been a subject of argument, especially in Eastern Europe. It was traditionally rejected by Jewish international socialists who argued Jews should fight for full acceptance in the place where they lived. And it was also rejected by some ultra-Orthodox Jews who believe the return to Jerusalem should wait for the Messiah. Rejection of Zionism is not rejection of Jews or Jewishness and is often made by Jews. To assume all Jews are Zionist is itself anti-Semitic.

The linking of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism has been taken up by the right wing (including the Blairites in the Labour Party), who are not concerned about anti-Semitism, but find this a useful tool with which to beat the pro-Palestine left, and especially Corbyn. For the right wing leaders of the Jewish establishment this is doubly welcome.

It is, of course, this use of trumped up charges of anti-Semitism to smear the left that has brought the Daily Mail onto the bandwagon. Both the Mail and the EDL are prepared to welcome Israel into the club of right-wing Islamophobes – though this doesn’t mean they are any less anti-Semitic.

I should add that I’m not claiming there is no anti-Semitism on the left, but there’s much less than on the right. What we do have, is too many people who are unable to recognise anti-Semitic myths (like Rothschild, and now Soros, conspiracy theories) when they meet them on the net. And people who reject establishment news sources like the BBC are not always equally critical of the BBC’s critics – though these have their own agendas, and many actually originate in the far right.

Although it is hard to see through all this noise, real anti-Semitism is on the rise, as are other forms of racism and Islamophobia. But we won’t end racism through legislation. In fact, history shows us that hate crime laws often work to the benefit of the abusers. And racists won’t change their tune in response to well-meaning lectures from the more enlightened. If we are serious about wanting an end to racism, we have to look at the wider picture and change the economic and political circumstances on which racism thrives. That means addressing the causes of inequality and oppression, both at home and internationally, through a strong left movement. Every gain won can also win people away from the far right.

 

 

From the Night of Broken Glass to the Tree of Life

Kristallnacht

Tonight is the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the ‘night of broken glass’, when Nazi-led gangs attacked Jewish people and property across Germany and Austria, leaving around ninety dead, thousands of people deported to concentration camps, and thousands of businesses and hundreds of synagogues destroyed. This was a presage of what was to come, but although many Jews were terrified of what the future would bring, safe countries, such as the UK and the USA made it clear that only a limited number of refugees would be accepted.

The parallels with today are only too obvious, as we see the forces of reaction on the rise, and desperate refugees turned back in defiance of international law. No ethnic group is immune from creating tyrannical structures, and this time, one of the new breed of right-wing authoritarian leaders heads a Zionist state. Others quote Christianity (such as Trump, Bolsonaro and Putin), or Islam (such as Erdoğan). For all of them, racism is a basic tool with which to gather support and deflect frustrations.

No one has ever been able to be complacent about racism, but not so long ago there was a general sense that, in the West at least, things were getting better – and few would have predicted that, almost eighty years after Kristallnacht, eleven Jews would be murdered in an anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh. This was made even more appalling and alarming by the realisation that this and other racist attacks have been encouraged and stoked by the atmosphere of racism fostered from above.

But there were important messages of hope that came out of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. The congregation was known for the help that they gave to refugees from other countries, whose plight they identified with that of their parents and grandparents; and among the many who demonstrated solidarity and support to the survivors of the massacre were Muslim groups, whose impressive fundraiser for the survivors is as valuable for its human as for its material support. We will only beat racism by taking on the forces that create it – but if anyone dares to suggest it is ‘just human nature’ they need to look at Pittsburgh, and to read this letter by one of the Jewish members of the medical team whose job that day included saving the gunman’s life.

A day of atonement

Yom Kippur Maurycy_Gottlieb_-_Jews_Praying_in_the_Synagogue_on_Yom_Kippur

Today is Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), the most important day in the Jewish calendar, when Jews traditionally ask God to forgive their sins of the previous year and to help them avoid sinning in the year to come. In synagogues across the world, fasting people will make the following confession as the first step towards repentance and, they hope, divine forgiveness. These aren’t individual confessions, but meant to be a comprehensive list of sins covering the whole of the community. As with any group, some people will approach this with sincerity and understanding, while for others it will only emphasise their hypocrisy.

‘We have trespassed, we have dealt treacherously, we have stolen, we have spoken slander, we have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, we have acted presumptuously, we have committed violence, we have framed falsehood, we have counselled evil, we have uttered lies, we have scorned, we have rebelled, we have blasphemed, we have revolted, we have acted perversely, we have transgressed, we have oppressed, we have been stiff-necked, we have acted wickedly, we have corrupted, we have done abominably, we have gone astray, and have caused others to err…’

Shanah Tovah

Shanah tovah

Tonight is the start of the Jewish New Year. We wish everyone a Shanah Tovah – a good year – and hope that this time of introspection will allow some of the Zionists and right-wing Jewish elite to begin to comprehend the damage they are doing to the Palestinians, to British democracy, to world peace, and to their fellow Jews.