From the Night of Broken Glass to the Tree of Life


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.

Let cowards flinch and traitors sneer

Our response to Labour’s decision to adopt all the IHRA examples of ‘antisemtism’.

battle of george square

Labour will go on conceding ground to the right-wingers and Zionists but it will never be enough for them. Today’s cowardly decision throws Labour’s conscience to the wind, and Palestinians, socialists and Jews of conscience to the wolves. The IHRA examples will stifle discussion and stop freedom of speech, because that is what they were written to do. But we will go on fighting for what is right. Let cowards flinch and traitors sneer, WE’LL keep the ‘red’ flag flying here.

Below are background notes that we wrote for Richard Leonard:


We don’t imagine that there is anything here that you have not seen before, but it may be helpful that it is Jews who are saying it. Like any other ethnic group, Jews don’t all speak with one voice.

About ScottishJAZ

We are a newly established organisation for the growing number of people who identify as Jewish — ethnically, culturally, or religiously — and oppose Zionism. We work together to ensure that there is a specifically Jewish voice in the wider Scottish movement for Palestinian rights and against Zionism.  We are Jews who feel compelled to speak out, and to demonstrate that opposition to Zionism is not inherently anti-Semitic; and we believe we have a particular right to speak out when injustice and oppression are perpetrated in the name of all Jews.

We understand how historical circumstances persuaded the post-War generation that Jewish survival needed Zionism – the movement for the establishment and then the development and protection of a Jewish nation in the historic land of Israel. But we are painfully aware of the fundamental fallacies in the belief that this would in fact create a better or safer society. We believe that the concept of a ‘Jewish state’, or any state defined by ethnicity or religion, is inherently discriminatory and racist. And when that state is established in a land that is already inhabited by others, and can only be manifested through settler colonialism, this discrimination is magnified.

(More here)

Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism

Anti-Semitism can be defined simply as hostility to or prejudice against Jews. Zionism is a modern (19thcentury) nationalist movement that became the subject of intense argument among Jews, and that only gained dominance after the horror of the Holocaust. Not all Jews support Zionism, and not all Zionists are Jewish. Confusion has arisen because supporters of Zionism have purposefully portrayed its political nationalism as integral to Jewishness, so that opposition to Zionism becomes tantamount to anti-Semitism. We argue that this presumption that all Jews share the same political position is actually racist; and that wrongly accusing people of anti-Semitism both damages those accused, and obscures genuinely anti-Semitic acts.

Anti-Semitic incidents and memes

Although there are always examples of unthinking casual anti-Semitism, and we are very worried by the rise of the far-right, levels of anti-Semitism in the UK are generally low. We are concerned that the deliberate conflation of Zionism and Judaism by some Zionists can encourage people to blame all Jews for the actions of the Israeli government, and to pick on people who look visibly Jewish; however this attitude is rare among the more politically engaged, who are aware and critical of Zionist tactics, and can distinguish between a political movement and an ethnicity.

An area where people are less careful has been the sharing of memes. Our ability to judge the reliability of memes and stories is not good; and people who have found themselves frequently misled by mainstream sources can prove too ready to credit counter-narratives that argue against the mainstream. In many cases the sharing of memes and links with anti-Semitic connotations is an indication of lazy reading and thinking rather than anti-Semitism, and is easily treated with a spot of education. This is especially true of the meme that uses the Rothschilds as a synonym for bankers. (This meme caught out one of the Dundee Labour councillors, who took it down as soon as he was made aware of its import. We wrote a letter in his support to the Sunday Herald, though unfortunately it was not published.)

The debate around the IHRA definition examples

Several of the IHRA examples have been clearly written to make it impossible to criticise the concept of Zionism without being accused of anti-Semitism. We would be far from the only Jews to fall foul of them. They have been comprehensively scrutinised and condemned, and even the original writer is concerned about the use to which the definition is being put and its elevation to unquestionable truth. These examples are very obviously part of a deliberate Zionist attempt to blur the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and so make criticism of Zionism unacceptable.

Of course the definition can also be used as a tool with which to attack any political opponent who also shows support for the Palestinian cause and even mild criticism of Zionism. In Corbyn’s case it is being used by Zionists terrified of the prospect of a UK Prime Minister who has campaigned for Palestinian rights, and by right wingers within and outwith the Labour Party who don’t want to see a Prime Minister who is not afraid to talk about socialism. This is an era of political shocks and surprises, but the chutzpah of the Daily Mail accusing a veteran anti-racist of anti-Semitism takes some beating (even when they are quoting a former chief rabbi who wrote a speech for Mike Pence).

The importance of the current debate for the Palestinians

As intended, it has become increasingly difficult to say anything critical of Zionism or Zionists without being accused of anti-Semitism. This can lead to self-censoring by campaigners, and also serves as a diversion from what is actually happening in Israel/Palestine

The importance of the current debate for Jews

Jews, like any other ethnic group, cover a whole range of political views. The majority are probably supportive of Zionism though not of the actions of the current Israeli government. The combined efforts of hard-line Zionists and the right wing press have no doubt succeeded in making many of these people believe that a Corbyn government would be a threat to Jews. Their fear is genuine even though the arguments it is based on are not.

There is also a growing awareness of the politics behind what is happening and fear of the consequences. Many people do not want to see Jews automatically associated with a now openly racist Israel, or with a smear campaign against the left. They don’t support this, and they also realise that it creates a potentially dangerous place for Jews to be in.

The importance of the current debate for UK politics

More and more people are realising that this debate is a very deliberate campaign to undermine the Labour left and any prospect of a more socialist government in the UK, and to divert attention from Tory failures and Labour policy alternatives. Some people will always think that there’s no fire without smoke, however others can’t but be affected by the increasing absurdity of the claims being made. Our concern is that every concession made to the smearers can give them unwarranted credence and actually make them stronger. If Labour backs down over the IHRA examples, the complainers will feel justified and the complaints will only get stronger. That will have dangerous consequences for Palestinians, for Jews, and for the prospects for socialism.

Speak up for Palestinian rights and you can expect your name to be dragged through the mud – especially if you are Jewish

JVP letter

It has been brought to our notice that there has been an attempt to smear all the Jewish groups that signed the Jewish Voice for Peace letter opposing the equation of antisemitism with criticism of Israel. This smear consists of a collection of personal attacks based on selective harvesting of internet posts and links, including posts made with the purpose of showing what nasty things were being said. We can refute every criticism made about our group in this document, but do not want to give this smear publicity.

The writer admits to attempting to gain information through subterfuge, and reproduces an email he sent pretending to be a masters student doing research into Jewish anti-Zionism at Edinburgh. He claims that no-one responded to his request for help. We actually emailed back yesterday morning – but perhaps he was too anxious to get his ‘report’ out just before the Labour NEC meeting, so as to cause maximum damage with no chance for those smeared to respond.

A Jewish Anti-Zionist voice on Scotland’s streets


Last Saturday our banner had its first outing when some of us joined the protest organised by Edinburgh Action for Palestine outside the King’s Theatre. The theatre was putting on the L-E-V dance company, whose performances around the world have been sponsored by the Israeli state.  Every year at the Edinburgh Festival protestors ensure that such cultural ambassadors cannot whitewash over the realities of Israel’s aggressive apartheid regime.

But history doesn’t wait for people to make banners and write formal statements of beliefs, and even before we had got this group properly set up we were on the streets protesting Israel’s latest attacks on Gaza.

Here is Jolanta speaking in Edinburgh at the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Nakba in May.

And here is Sarah speaking at the emergency demo in Glasgow a few days later. Sarah also spoke in Dundee the day before. Sarah’s speech is reproduced below:

And Jolanta again at a July demo against the SDL in Glasgow:

18-07-21 Anti SDL demo glasgow

Speech to the emergency demo for Gaza:

I am speaking on behalf of our newly set up organisation of Scottish Jews against Zionism.

No-one with a heart that beats and eyes to see can fail to be moved by the catastrophe that is playing out in Gaza. And despite the careful whitewashing in so much of the mainstream media, this catastrophe is planned and deliberate and is being carried out by a government and an army that claims to represent the Jewish people – my people. That is why it is important that the many Jews who are horrified at what is happening can stand up and say loudly and clearly this is not done in our name.

As some of you may know, I am just back from a week in Rojava, the autonomous predominantly Kurdish area in Northern Syria where they are establishing a bottom up democracy based on the ideas of Abdullah Öcalan. Öcalan used to fight for a Kurdish state, but he came to realise the dangers that this posed – that when an oppressed minority becomes the rulers of their own state, then they can become the new oppressors. As Israel exemplifies, no group is intrinsically immune from exploiting power to turn against others.

The catastrophe in Gaza today is the continuation and amplification of the catastrophe that accompanied the foundation of the Israeli state, 70 years ago this week. The Arabic word for catastrophe is nakba. The Palestinians who were driven from their ancestral villages to make room for a specifically Jewish state have been commemorating that original Nakba for 7 decades, but never has the situation been as desperate as it is today. Never has the Israeli government been so blatantly unapologetically racist and violent. Never has such a large part of Israeli society been so blinded by racial hate. Never has the description of Israel/Palestine as an apartheid state been more apt. And never has the wider political world been less ready to say ‘no’ to Israeli aggression. Because these developments in Israel have not happened in a vacuum. They are part of a world political shift towards the right.

When folk call on the ‘international community’ to do something, they turn towards politicians and diplomats. These people may wring their hands, even pass a few condemning motions, but they are part of the system that has allowed all this to happen. Real support will only come from the real international community – the people who are standing up in streets and squares across the world in solidarity with the Palestinian people and in opposition to the wider politics that puts greed and power and arms deals before people’s lives.

We can stand here and protest because our ancestors fought for that basic freedom. When the Palestinians stand up to protest against their incarceration in a modern ghetto, they are mowed down by Israeli bullets. And despite the scores of deaths, the thousands of casualties, the indifference of world leaders, the Palestinians have shown a bravery and determination that is truly inspiring.

Understanding and support for the Palestinians has been growing – especially here in Scotland, and especially through the important movement for boycotting Israeli goods and divesting from companies that work with the Israeli government. These actions are hitting Israel’s carefully manufactured image, and Israel is fighting back. They are fighting back by trying to portray anyone who criticises Israel, and particularly anyone who argues against Zionism, as anti-Semitic. Zionism is a political movement for the creation and maintenance of a specifically Jewish state. We believe it is vital that we resist any system that prioritises any one religion or ethnicity. That resistance is not anti-Semitic. What is anti-Semitic is to assume that all Jews are Zionists

Zionism has also been a catastrophe for Jews. It has – to use a biblical phrase – hardened people’s hearts. What happened to the precept of Rabbi Hillel from the first century BC: ‘That which is hateful to you, do not unto another’? What happened to the Talmudic principle that the preservation of human life takes precedence over all other commandments? Should we forget the recognition of shared oppression that encouraged so many Jews to take a prominent place in the progressive left movements of the 20th century?

Those of us who can see what is happening need to speak out and say, for the sake of everyone who lives in that land – Palestinians and Jews and Druze and Armenians and people who don’t identify with any ‘group’- and for the sake of the whole of humanity: Palestine will be free from the river to the sea!