UK Labour Party student officials face backlash over free tour of Israel, settlements

Published by Electronic Intifada. Protected by copyright, republished with permission.

Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | London | 16 January 2012

A member of the UK’s National Union of Students Executive Council has denounced several youth and student officers from the opposition Labour Party for taking part in an all-expenses-paid tour of Israel and its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. The Labour students delegation met with Captain Barak Raz, an Israeli army spokesperson and other Israeli officials.

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS), a pro-Israel group, paid for the entire junket. The 4-9 January tour was led by Dan Sheldon, UJS campaigns officer. It included meetings with Tony Blair, the former UK prime minister who now works as a representative of the Middle East “Quartet” (the US, European Union, UN and Russia), and Mark Regev, chief spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Delegation member Joe Vinson told The Electronic Intifada that the group had “visited the [Israeli] settlements” in the West Bank as well as “various religious landmarks” on a “fact-finding mission to explore the conflict.” Of the settlements, Vinson said it was “not ideal that Israel is building on Palestinian territory.” All Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law, a position upheld by successive UK governments. Vinson is president of Cornwall College Students’ Union.

Vinson defended the tour, claiming it had given the Palestinian perspective as well as the Israeli. “We didn’t control the agenda,” it was set by the UJS, Vinson said. “Not for one minute do I think that the UJS tried to use it as a Zionist propaganda trip, they were very conscious to give the two sides of the argument throughout the whole trip.”

“Unbiased” propagadanda

Vinson said that Captain Raz “didn’t give us much opinion, it was very much an unbiased point of view that he gave us. It was mostly information about what they do to ensure that peace is consistent in the West Bank.” He added, “it was interesting, but didn’t really give us much to go on.” During the trip, Vinson wrote on his Twitter account that he had been “Really glad to meet” Captain Raz.

Asked if he thought it was problematic to visit settlements as part of an Israeli delegation, Vinson said, “I certainly see the issues that surround that and the international law” but that it was crucial “to get opinions from all sides of the argument.”

When pressed, Vinson said OneVoice Palestine was the only Palestinian group his delegation had met. OneVoice is an Israeli-Palestinian group founded by Israeli businessman Daniel Lubetzky. It has often been criticized by Palestinians for encouraging normalization between Israelis and Palestinians in violation of the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel.

A “Palestinian perspective” given by Israelis

Vinson admitted that “we didn’t meet with as many Palestinians as we did Israelis” but said that the guide for the tour “was always trying to put the Palestinian perspective across, we were always asking him questions about things from a Palestinian perspective.” According to other members of the delegation writing on Twitter, this guide who supposedly gave “the Palestinian perspective” was Jeremy Leigh of tour group Jewish Journeys. “Born in the UK and a graduate of the Reform Zionist youth movement, RSY-Netzer, [Leigh] has been living in Israel since 1992,” says the group’s website.

The Electronic Intifada asked Vinson what he thought qualified Leigh to give a “Palestinian perspective.” He replied: “the fact that he’s lived there for 20 plus years and I guess he acknowledges both sides of the argument.”

Also on the delegation were: Emma Meehan, the secretary of Scottish Young Labour and a vice-president of Edinburgh University’s Students’ Union; Ruth Brewer, of Liverpool Labour Students; Jess Leigh, the vice-chairperson of Labour Students; Sam Woodcock, co-chairperson of Manchester Labour Students; and Nick Pringle, northern coordinating officer of Labour Students. Labour is now Britain’s main opposition party, having been in government from 1997 to 2010.

Student activists denounce tour

James Haywood of the National Union of Students (NUS) Executive Council denounced the tour. Haywood said, “for elected officers to accept all-expenses-paid trips to Israel is scandalous, all the more so that it was arranged by an openly pro-Israel organization. I’m not surprised that these officers didn’t meet Palestinian refugees, students and activists — because they would have seen the truth of the racism and oppression they suffer from daily.”

Haywood, a Palestine solidarity activist and an elected student officer, is on the same NUS Society and Citizenship committee as Vinson.

Majdi Hafi, president of the Student Council for Birzeit University in the West Bank told Edinburgh student newspaper The Journal he was “very disappointed and shocked” to learn of the trip.

“As students at Birzeit University we were looking forward to working towards forming closer relations” with the Edinburgh Students’ Union, he wrote. But he said the trip’s “sole aim is to whitewash Israel’s crimes and the suffering of the Palestinians.”

He said the delegates had shown “a blatant disregard for the history of student activism for human rights at Edinburgh University,” and called upon “the other sabbatical officers, and the wider student body [to] distance themselves from this shameful trip and condemn Ms. Meehan for taking part.”

Liam O’Hare, president of Edinburgh Students for Justice in Palestine, told The Journal he was “horrified” that Meehan had chosen to join the trip, which he said was “designed to whitewash the continued ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people.” The trip “has brought the union into disrepute,” he said, promising to protest against it in all relevant forums.

Shallow understanding

Vinson said the tour was a fact-finding mission to encourage debate and improve understanding. If that was really its aim, it seems to have been pretty unsuccessful judging from what delegates have publicly discussed about their trip.

In one now-deleted Tweet, Ruth Brewer commented on the looks of Israelis: “I don’t understand why people boycott Israeli goods, the lads here are fine to dine.”

The Electronic Intifada asked Vinson how the trip facilitated discussion when they had met with only one Palestinian group, and he had mentioned not discussing the conflict with Captain Raz. He confusingly replied they they had asked Raz “why some Palestinian settlements were being pulled down in Israeli areas and vice versa.” When asked if he meant Israeli settlements, Vinson said “sorry, other way around.”

Brewer tweeted that they had spent the day in East Jerusalem and the Gush Etzion settlement, then “took a short cut through the West Bank” to Tel Aviv where she was “enjoying cocktails.” She later deleted this tweet and several others.

Other members of the delegation tweeted enthusiastically about their free trip to Israel, thanking the UJS for arranging it. The highlight for many seems to have been their meeting with Tony Blair. They came across as star struck after the official Twitter account of Blair’s office wrote to delegation members: “Thanks for coming along. Was good to meet you all here.”

The mapping information on various tweets from the meeting shows it took place in eastern Jerusalem (illegally occupied by Israel since 1967), near the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Blair is known to have his office in this area.

On the frontline of Zionism

Dan Sheldon of the UJS did not reply to an email asking for comment.

Asked about the UJS’ objectives, Vinson said: “I don’t think it’s fair to call them a pro-Israel group, I’d say they’re a pro-two-state-solution group.” He accepted the free trip because “I didn’t know much about the conflict before,” wanted to experience what it was like first hand, and “figured I’d probably never get the chance to go to Israel again, so it seemed like a good opportunity.” Of the clause in the UJS constitution that calls for “inspiring Jewish students to make an enduring commitment” to Israel, Vinson said he hadn’t been aware of it before he went.

At a recent conference, Sheldon said that UJS had “been at the center of the debate about how we should do Israel for many decades. Many consider us to be on the ‘frontline’ in the battle for Israel — our campuses have been playing out a shadow conflict for as long as anyone can remember.”

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who writes about Palestine.

Angry Arab talk: “The Case Against Israel”

As`ad AbuKhalil speaks on “The Case Against Israel”. Audio recorded at Goldsmiths, 17 January 2011. The opening night of his UK tour, hosted by Goldsmiths Palestine Campaign. Mostly about Palestine, but some Syria and other interesting discussion in the Q&A.

Click play above to listen, download the MP3 here, or download in other formats here.

Creative Commons license: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0

Europe’s Islamophobes and Israel: The Right Alliance

Published by Al-Akhbar English and protected by copyright under a Creative Commons license.

By: Asa Winstanley

Published Monday, January 2, 2012

London – While the European far-right once made the Jewish community their primary scapegoat, their more recent focus on Muslims has made them Israel’s latest bedfellows.

Islamophobia has been on the rise in recent years, with Muslim communities coming under increasing attack both rhetorically and physically. This political climate of Islamophobia has been dubbed “The Cold War on British Muslims” by a recent report.

These right-wing rabble-rousers are increasingly coming to view Israel as an embattled front-line state against what they consider the threat of Islamist expansion. For its part, Israel has made a conscious effort to appeal to such paranoid scenarios of inter-civilization conflict for decades. While in the past, Israel touted its anti-communist credentials and belligerent role against the “threat” of Arab nationalism as reasons for Western support, Islam is the current bête noire.

Far-right parties and groups across Europe are starting to talk warmly about Israel, even making contacts as high as the governmental level. While many are “new right” groups such as the English Defence League, some like France’s National Front and the British National Party have historical roots in neo-fascism and anti-semitism.

The far right’s newfound love for Israel has gone hand-in-hand with a related trend: the idea that there is a “new anti-semitism” primarily carried out by leftist and Muslim opponents of Israel. Antony Lerman, the founder and former director of the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, describes this thesis as “the radical notion that to warrant the charge of antisemitism, it is sufficient to hold any view ranging from criticism of the policies of the current Israeli government to denial that Israel has the right to exist as a state, without having to subscribe to any of those things which historians have traditionally regarded as making up an antisemitic view.”

While some Zionists have been pushing this concept for decades, it has gained increased prominence over the last 10 years. As Lerman has written, it has reached such an absurd point that French intellectual and Zionist Bernard Henri-Levy claimed in a 2008 book that the “antisemitism of the 21st century would be ‘progressive’ – meaning essentially left-wing hatred of Israel – or not exist at all.”

This is essentially an attempt to re-define anti-semitism from the phenomenon of bigoted or racist views against Jews, to any and all hostility towards Israel. Hatred of Jews as Jews, the belief that Jews are racially inferior or a belief in a world-wide Jewish conspiracy could all be forgiven, or at least overlooked, as long as ideological loyalty to Israel is maintained.

This is where the “new right” of Europe has fitted right in. They see alliances with Israel as natural in what they think is a battle against the “Islamization of Europe.”

Lerman traces the beginnings of this trend back to even before the 9/11 attacks. In the early 2000s Italian former neo-fascist party National Alliance (AN) led by Gianfranco Fini “reached out to the Italian Jewish community to apologize for the party’s ‘former’ antisemitism and to express support for Israel.”

Geert Wilders, whose anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV) is currently the third-largest party in the Netherlands, has visited Israel numerous times, including in 2008, the year his anti-Muslim film Fitna made international headlines. In 2010 he met with far-right Israeli foreign minister (and settler) Avigdor Lieberman and gave a speech in Tel Aviv in which he called for more Israeli colonization of the Palestinian West Bank. Speaking to Reuters, he explained the counter-jihad ideology that so many in Europe’s far right are now adapting: “Our culture is based on Christianity, Judaism and humanism and [the Israelis] are fighting our fight…If Jerusalem falls, Amsterdam and New York will be next.”

The day after Wilders spoke in Tel Aviv, a delegation of politicians from European anti-Islam parties toured West Bank colonies, reported settler news site Arutz Sheva. They included leaders from Germany, Austria and Belgium; “and yet these parties had by no means abandoned their antisemitic roots” according to Lerman.

In October 2009, BNP leader Nick Griffin made a controversial appearance on Question Time, the BBC’s flagship political talk show. He used the occasion to express enthusiastic support for Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip: “I have brought the British National Party from being, frankly, an antisemitic and racist organization into being the only political party which, in the clashes between Israel and Gaza, stood full square behind Israel’s right to deal with Hamas terrorists.”

The BNP won almost a million votes in 2009 elections to the European parliament, so Griffin cannot be dismissed as a totally unrepresentative quack. Nonetheless, he clearly is an extremist in mainstream political terms. But the leading British parties feed into BNP rhetoric on issues like immigration.

Also in 2009, David Cameron, leader of the UK’s Conservative party and the current prime minister, broke with the centre-right bloc in the EU parliament and allied his party with the new Euro-skeptic EP bloc. But its chairman Michal Kaminski was well known for his past anti-semitic views. Objections were raised in the Jewish community, but many Zionist leaders, editor of the Jewish Chronicle Stephen Pollard and the Israeli ambassador praised Kaminski because he expressed strong support for Israel.

The English Defence League, an anti-Muslim street gang that contains many football hooligan elements, regularly waves Israeli flags during its demonstrations. Since it rose to prominence in 2009, it was open about its counter-jihadist orientation. EDL leader Tommy Robinson said that one of the main principles the group was founded on was “support for Israel’s right to defend itself…Israel is a shining star of democracy. If Israel falls, we all fall.”

In 2010 the EDL launched a so-called Jewish Division. Although this sub-group is thought to be numerically insignificant, it is emblematic of the EDL’s counter-jihadist, pro-Zionist ideology. There are also more recent reports that the EDL may be developing links with the Jewish Defense League, founded in America by Meir Kahane the extremist American rabbi who later settled in occupied Palestine and founded the Kach party (later banned under US terrorism legislation).

While visiting Berlin in July this year Israeli deputy minister Ayoob Kara met Patrik Brinkmann, who has ties with the German neo-Nazi party. Brinkman has reportedly visited Kara in Israel several times. In November, Israel’s new UN ambassador Ron Prosor was photographed smiling next to Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French National Front (laughably, he later claimed this was an accident).

And then there is the Islamophobic Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, who reportedly confessed to the murder of 77 people in a combined bombing and mass-shooting in July. Press reports noted that some of his young leftist victims had held Palestine solidarity workshops at their summer camp on Utøya island.

From what he’s written, it’s clear Breivik is a big fan of Israel. His rambling online book is full of flattering references to the state. For example: “let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists,” he wrote, “against all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists.” This is from page 1163 of his “compendium,” large chunks of which were reportedly copied from other Islamophobic sources.

These connections and affinities between Zionism and the far-right do not stop at Europe of course. In the US, right-wing fundamentalist Christianity is a far bigger political factor, and this current very much tends to side with Israel. It has even been argued that this Christian Zionism the greatest factor fueling political support for Israel in the United States. John Hagee of Christians United for Israel is openly anti-semitic, with his fundamentalist rantings about how Hitler was supposedly sent by God and so forth.

The extent to which this developing new alliance between Israel and the far-right is sustainable remains to be seen. From the Zionist point of view, it could be argued that Israel is strategically foolish to throw its lot in with European fascists. Making friends with Nick Griffin is hardly likely to win many of the “progressive friends of Israel” that seem to be so important to the Reut Institute these days.

On the other hand, it seems possible the far-right stands to gain from the ever-increasing signs of economic meltdown in Europe. Maybe elements in Israel have just scented that the Islamphobic far-right is just the way the tide is turning in Europe.

More likely, there is no single plan. Israel is a creature of the West after all. From that perspective, it’s no surprise that a European settler-colonial entity such as Israel would mimic, echo and amplify the worst of European racism.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist based in London who writes about Palestine.

Exposed: UK university student claiming bias works for project of Israel pressure group

Published by Electronic Intifada. Protected by copyright, republished with permission.

Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | London | 30 December 2011

A worker at an Israeli media pressure group used her low dissertation mark as a post-graduate student at University of Warwick to smear a professor involved in Palestine solidarity activism this month.

Smadar Bakovic claimed that Professor Nicola Pratt had unfairly graded her dissertation. She told a pro-Israel journalist that the same dissertation was passed with a distinction after being re-marked by a second professor. But the paper running the story failed to mention that Bakovic works for MediaCentral in Jerusalem, an agency affiliated with pro-Israel media pressure group HonestReporting.

The article appeared in The Jewish Chronicle (a pro-Israel paper), first published on their website on 22 December. It drew heavily on Bakovic as its source, but portrayed her merely as an Israeli student, without mentioning her MediaCentral affiliation. A university spokesperson told The Electronic Intifada that the article contained multiple inaccuracies, which he had alerted the paper to but they still ran their version (“Anti-Zionist professor’s low marks for Israeli – now a distinction,” 22 December 2011).

University spokesperson Peter Dunn said Bakovic’s claims were false. It is “not true that she made repeated requests for a supervisor change,” he said. She asked to change supervisors only once, and, despite that, said she was happy with Pratt’s supervision. It was only when she received her low mark that she asked the university to change.

Nicola Pratt is associate professor of international politics of the Middle East at the University of Warwick in the midlands of the UK. She is reportedly active in Palestine solidarity campaigns, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

“I did it for Israel”

The Electronic Intifada contacted Professor Pratt who referred us to Dunn. He said the Jewish Chronicle journalist had also told him Bakovic admitted to being happy with Pratt’s supervision. Dunn said Bakovic had to resubmit her dissertation to the second professor with “substantial changes” for the higher mark. Dunn said he had confirmed with her new supervisor that Bakovic’s claim this second version was only “tweaked” was untrue. In order to protect Bakovic’s privacy, Dunn could not name the second professor.

The Electronic Intifada wrote to Bakovic to ask her to reveal the name of the second professor in order to verify this, but she declined to respond. “I did it for Israel,” she told The Jewish Chronicle, referring to her year-long campaign to be allowed to redo her dissertation. The Jewish Chronicle claimed it had seen emails (presumably from Bakovic) showing the second dissertation contained “no major changes” from the one marked by Pratt.

Dunn said he had not been shown these emails, and the journalist was making an unjustified inference, probably based on an early stage in the process. Dunn said: “the first mark was also matched by an external examiner as well as Nicola. The university stands by both marks for both pieces of work and the complaints panel found Nicola’s supervision to be exemplary.” The Electronic Intifada asked Bakovic to prove the second version was not substantially different, but she failed to reply.

University’s disappointment

Bakovic is listed as the media services coordinator on the website of MediaCentral. Based in Jerusalem, the group says it is a “free or low-cost” fixer agency that immerses foreign journalists in Israeli perspectives.

The group is a project of HonestReporting, which once described itself on its website as “an organization dedicated to defending Israel against prejudice in the media” (“Our Mission”).

Its managing editor, Simon Plosker, is a reservist soldier in the Israeli army’s press office. He previously worked for the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) and NGO Monitor, another Israel lobby group (“Meet the editors”).

Asked to comment on Bakovic’s membership of MediaCentral, Dunn said he knew nothing about her beyond the academic issues, and that the university’s concern was only to defend its academic reputation. It was unusual for the university to allow a student to redo her dissertation in this way and they had thought Bakovic would be grateful, and were disappointed to be depicted like this, he added.

The Electronic Intifada put Dunn’s claims to Bakovic via email, and asked whether or not she had informed The Jewish Chronicle she works for MediaCentral. She declined to reply.

Bakovic told The Jewish Chronicle that she monitored the university’s Palestine solidarity movement: “I knew Prof Pratt because whenever there was an anti-Israel event at the university I went along and she was often there,” she stated.

Professor Pratt was one of many academic signatories to a seminal letter in The Guardian during the 2008-09 Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, which asserted that “if we affirm the right to resist military aggression and colonial occupation, then we are obliged to take sides … against Israel, and with the people of Gaza and the West Bank” (“Growing outrage at the killing in Gaza,” 15 January 2009).

In the Reut Institute’s now-infamous 2010 report on how to counter the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, the influential think tank advised Israel to “sabotage” the movement of solidarity with Palestine.

One of the many examples it gave of possible counter-strategies was “Mobilizing and training civil society partners … for example students and faculty in academia” (“The Delegitimization Challenge: Creating a Political Firewall, March 2010, p. 71).

If this was another attempt to “sabotage” the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, it was an especially clumsy one.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who writes about Palestine.

“Educate through action”: poet Remi Kanazi on triumphant UK tour

Published by Electronic Intifada. Protected by copyright, republished with permission.

Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | London |26 December 2011

The first night of his UK tour is over. We are standing outside a jammed Kenyan bar, which for some reason doesn’t serve food. Palestinian-American performance poet Remi Kanazi just wants to find somewhere to eat after his opening show. But he’s too nice to break up the group, so we go inside — however, not before I grab my chance to grill him for his opinions on Palestine solidarity activism in the UK.

Let’s get the hard questions out of the way first: is he worried about pro-Israel hecklers? It seems not. In fact he relishes any chance to demolish their arguments. “I’m not the head of an institute,” Kanazi says. “There are a lot of things I can say as a poet … I don’t have to worry about, ‘am I going to get denied tenure?’ I can go on stage and say ‘Zionism is racism: this is why.’”

Kanazi’s politically-charged blend of spoken word poetry performance went on to win huge audiences in a major tour in towns and cities all around England in November. He performed works such as “This poem will not end apartheid,” “Coexistence” and “Revolution.” It was after his opening night in Notting Hill, London that we did this interview.

I asked how the tour, organized by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, first came about. Kanazi was here last year for the Poetry International festival at the South Bank Center where he was writer-in-residence and teacher-in-residence. That went over well, and he met a lot of students. He says someone in the UK reached out to his tour manager about doing a couple of shows here. After Kanazi agreed, he tweeted to say he’d be touring and it soon “developed into something much larger.”

Bringing spoken word to Britain

Spoken word poetry is not always as popular as hip-hop, or stand-up comedy, he says. The medium is new to many in the UK, whereas it is more established in North America, partly fueled by the Def Poetry Jam TV show. Kanazi has been touring for years in the US now, and so is familiar in pro-Palestine circles there. He wanted to make more links here because there are lots of groups active in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. Palestine Solidarity Campaign chapters or Palestine societies in universities organized his shows, aiming to connect him with the grassroots.

He is impressed by the level of activism in Britain and the way his gigs have been promoted. “There’s a complexity here that I think is really brilliant,” he tells The Electronic Intifada. The US is also moving forward: Kanazi points to how there are now 130 Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters. He says the US, too, is “starting to get our act together.”

Kanazi is enthusiastic about the empowering nature of the BDS movement, as well as the way it put the solidarity movement back into the leadership of Palestinians themselves. “BDS has been the coalescing factor, taking the lead from Palestinian civil society. Groups have come together around a unifying strategy,” he explains.

The younger sister of an activist who put on one show was reading The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe, and told Kanazi about how she got into Palestine activism. He joked that he had been completely inactive at her age: “You’re 16, shouldn’t you be watching [the popular film series] Twilight or reading Harry Potter or something?” Kanazi says it’s amazing to see how much the youth are doing for Palestine activism here.

He thinks there is something disarming about art which makes him more resistant to attacks by the pro-Israel crowd. Academics and other more established figures are more subject to blackmail than poets, he says, citing the treatment Richard Goldstone, the retired South African judge, received after publication of the eponymous report by the UN investigation he led into Israeli massacres in Gaza. Kanazi, on the other hand, says he burnt all his bridges in the beginning. “There are a lot of Arab organizations that I’ve criticized that don’t want to work with me.” But it seems that feeling is mutual.

What next for BDS?

I have another conservation with Kanazi when the tour ends. He is just about to hop on the London Underground to the airport when he picks up the phone. “The tour itself was amazing,” he says. It covered a wide area of England from London and Manchester to little towns like Dorchester and Southampton.

BDS and the cultural boycott of Israel were the main themes for the tour. They had “long Q&As for just about every show … it was nice because it was a great mix of people,” university students, people from Palestine Solidarity Campaign chapters, and different activists. “What I found most exciting is how developed people were in terms of talking about BDS,” he adds.

Kanazi says he appreciated hearing about how activists mobilized for two years against Ahava, an Israeli shop in London’s Covent Garden that stocked almost nothing but cosmetics from illegal West Bank settlements — now shut down thanks to the BDS campaign against it. “People seemed really open about cultural boycott. It was more about strategizing and how to organize — what the next steps were, rather than ‘what is BDS?’”

So the tour was a combination of art and activism, then?

“I define myself as an activist who uses art as a medium to get my message across … There comes a point where we can’t just entertain, we have to act beyond it,” he replies. The billions of dollars allocated by the US as aid to Israel provide a moral imperative to act, and not just talk, he says.

“After 63 years of continued ethnic cleansing of Palestine, it’s time to not only educate, but to educate through action, and that action is boycott, divestment and sanctions.”

I ask how his shows went down with English audiences compared to the US. “British people are much more reserved. The way you can tell that people like your performance is the length of clap. In the US they will be more expressive, there’ll be hollering and hooting.”

Kanazi has been telling activists to bring The Electonic Intifada’s executive director Ali Abunimah and BDS National Committee co-founder Omar Barghouti to speak on more occasions. He advises activist groups to stop organizing around speakers who attack the BDS movement, “give faulty analysis on one state/two state,” and attack the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Challenging the cult of celebrity

Kanazi says this is “ten-years-ago politics … One of the problems we have is this culture of celebrity, we build up a celebrity academic” — fine, they bring in audiences of 900 people, but what do those 900 actually take away? What kind of action are they inspired to take?

While Kanazi enjoyed connecting with people he met over the Internet, “I don’t want people putting their Facebook pictures of me and them together as their profile picture because it takes the onus of responsibility off of the activists” and puts it on “celebrities.” He told the student groups: you’re the movement: your de-shelving actions of Israeli produce in supermarkets, divestment campaigns, like Derail Veolia. “That’s what’s scaring the shit out of the Reut Institute [a Zionist group monitoring human rights activists] and the Netanyahu government,” he says, and that’s what’s fueling the Brand Israel campaign against Palestine solidarity.

He had been really hoping for Zionist hecklers on this tour, but unfortunately they didn’t turn up in the end. “With poetry, I get the mic for a whole hour.” He says that this silences people with bigoted or racist conceptions about Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims.

What’s in the pipeline for Kanazi? He has an expansive North American tour from winter through to spring 2012, and is taking part in Israel Apartheid Week, a campus-based series of activities every March, in the US and Canada. There are potential German and UK dates in the works next year as well. Activism and art can make good partners.

Asa Winstanley is a journalist based in London. His website is

Palestine is Still the Issue: PLO embrace of Hamas could signal paradigm shift

Published by Ceasefire Magazine. Protected by copyright, republished with permission.


Generally speaking, the inter-Palestinian “reconciliation talks” have become the new “peace process” – all process, no peace. But since the ongoing Egyptian revolution successfully dispatched ex-dictator Hosni Mubarak in February, there seems to have been a substantive shift. Egyptian revolutionaries also managed to sideline former military intelligence chief Omar Suleiman (remember him?) under whose auspices Hamas-Fateh talks previously took place, and whose strategy seemed to be to deliberately alienate Hamas. Indeed, negotiations were constantly sabotaged and, Considering the fact that Suleiman has been extremely close to US and Israeli spooks, this is no surprise (see various Wikileaks cables, including 08TELAVIV1984which sums it up nicely: “there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of Omar Soliman”).

But with Suleiman out of the way things have changed. Hamas-Fatah negotiations in Egypt seem to have picked up pace. Reports surfaced from Cairo Thursday that a deal had been struck between Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas could join the Palestine Liberation Organisation for the first time. There was also talk of elections in the West Bank and Gaza (presumably to the Palestinian Authority’s legislative body), with a promise to form a unity government by the end of January.

Why is this so significant? Well, for a start, Hamas has never been a member of the PLO, the umbrella body of the Palestinian national movement. Moreover, PA legislative council member Mustafa Barghouti was quoted by Ma’an news agency as confirming that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and his more secular Palestinian National Initiative faction had accepted “interim” PLO leadership positions.

Of course, there are many good reasons to be sceptical, to which I will be returning presently. But I’m in a ‘glass-half-full’ kind of mood, so first the good news. There is no doubt that the rift between Hamas and Fatah has caused great damage to the Palestinian national movement and to the Palestinian people in general. Factional clashes have claimed the lives of far too many Palestinians. If the factions can at least come to a sustainable entente, this could be mitigated. There are enough Palestinian prisoners in the dungeons of the Israeli enemy without the mutual political prisoners held by both the PA and Hamas. The rifts between Hamas and Fatah were deliberately engineered and widened by American empire, aided by its European and regional allies.

Despite that, far more fundamental problems remain. Palestinians require far more than an entente between their supposed political and military leaders. The Palestinian liberation movement requires a unified strategy that will embrace all the diverse strand of resistance, rejecting the false dichotomy between armed resistance and peaceful popular resistance. No doubt influenced by the wave of revolution in the Arab world this year, at the end of November Hamas signalled that it would now focus on popular resistance, while still retaining the right to legitimate armed resistance. This is precisely the stance of the African National Congress during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. A more inclusive PLO could help trigger a paradigm shift to more unified strategy against Israeli occupation and apartheid.

But we come back to those reasons for scepticism. Firstly, the idea that Hamas should join the PLO is not new. The Islamic Resistance Movement has shown willingness to join since at least 2005. This talk of “reconstructing” the PLO has also been ongoing for a long time – on and off since the PLO was sidelined by the formation of the PA in the early nineties. Secondly, both Fateh and Hamas are making these moves under popular duress.

Furthermore, direct comparisons with 2011’s popular Arab revolutions against dictatorial regimes are not possible, since there is no Palestinian state. Nevertheless, both Fatah and Hamas suffer from a democratic deficit. Hamas was the legitimately elected political majority to the PA’s parliament, but its term has expired. More fundamentally, many of its MPs were kidnapped by Israel, giving Hamas little incentive to continue its embrace of parliamentary politics, as Western governments claim to be seeking (in reality, they just want subservience). Although originally elected PA president, Abbas’s term expired in 2009. He has said he won’t run again for president, but who needs to run for president when no elections are allowed?

Thirdly, and more fundamentally, there is the issue of “security cooperation”. Under this malign, American-engineered pact, the armed militias of Mahmoud Abbas imprison and torture Israel’s political and military opponents, even clamping down on popular demonstrations. All the while, Abbas makes empty noises of support for popular resistance. But where are his actions? What is to stop him leading a peaceful demonstration of thousands against the Qalandia checkpoint, for example? After all, he’s had no problem “rallying” Fatah supporters for stupid political-sectarian agitation or attacking Al Jazeera offices (remember his childish response to the Palestine Papers?)

There is nothing else for it. For the PLO to genuinely earn back the mantle of the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” two things must happen. Firstly, the Palestinian National Council, moribund for 15 years, must hold immediate elections open to the entire Palestinian population. Second, the PA must be dismantled. It was meant to be temporary anyway. Almost 20 years later, it is clear to everyone that it is a failed experiment. Scratch that – it has been extremely successful in achieving its real goal: co-opting the Palestinian political leadership into running Israel’s occupation by proxy.

Frankly, I am still very sceptical about this latest reported stage of the unity deal. But there is nonetheless a ray of light in all this. The Guardian reported Thursday that “Washington has indicated it will cut millions of dollars in funding to the Palestinian security infrastructure if the current leadership unifies with Hamas”. Given the track-record of the malign influence of American money, this can only be good thing. We live in hope.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” has been published by Pluto Press. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears monthly. His website is

EI exclusive: UK charity with Mossad links secretly denounced anti-Zionist Jews to government

Published by Electronic Intifada, protected by copyright. Republished by permission.

Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | London | 21 December 2011

An influential UK charity denounced Jewish critics of Israel in secret reports to the government earlier this year, The Electronic Intifada has learned.

The Community Security Trust (CST) is known for its work recording anti-Semitic attacks and for security patrols at Jewish communal events.

But evidence uncovered by The Electronic Intifada suggests the CST works behind the scenes with an assertively pro-Israel agenda not stated in its charitable remit. There are also serious questions over the CST’s links to the government of Israel and, allegedly, to its intelligence services.

The Electronic Intifada contacted the CST and inquired about these points, but representatives of the organization declined to comment.

In a report sent to government department the Home Office, the CST denounced several “anti-Zionist British Jewish individuals and groups” as “extreme groups,” claiming they were “unrepresentative of the vast majority of British Jews.”

Dating from August, the report was primarily an attempt to help the government in its court case to deport Palestinian political activist Raed Salah. The report expressed concern that certain Jews had “voiced support for Salah,” recommending that the “extent of their credibility to speak on these issues should be considered.”

The CST denounced as “extreme” well-known Palestine solidarity activist Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and the anti-Zionist Orthodox Jewish group Neturei Karta. The report highlights that Wimborne-Idrissi is secretary of Jews For Boycotting Israeli Goods.

Use of the term “extreme groups” is significant. It’s a phrase the CST usually reserves for violent far-right groups such as the British National Party, the National Front and Combat 18; or for Islamic political groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir.

The CST sent a second document to the Home Office at the same time titled “Neturei Karta & Raed Salah” as part of a larger dossier. This four-page report suggests the group is guilty of everything from Holocaust denial to “defending” a 2008 terrorist attack against Jews in Mumbai.

Both texts formed part of the Home Office’s defense against Salah’s attempt to resist deportation. In September, a civil servant testified in court that the CST had been its “principal source.”

The full text of both secret CST reports can be read in the blog post accompanying this article.

“Pure lies”

The Electronic Intifada sent copies of the reports to the activists attacked in the documents and asked for comments.

Rabbi Yacov Weisz of Neturei Karta UK replied that the report was “pure lies” and “absolute nonsense.” He said it was no surprise to find the CST trying to marginalize his organization. Weisz said the CST was a provocative organization not wanted by many in his own Orthodox community in Stamford Hill, London, since it “plays into political Zionism.” He said there is a problem with racism in the UK, but it could be directed at Muslims just as much as Jews.

Wimborne-Idrissi said the CST does not like the fact that Jewish critics of Israel are becoming more numerous and vocal.

“Our existence shows that organizations like the Board of Deputies [of British Jews], the Zionist Federation and CST cannot legitimately claim to represent all Jews,” she told The Electronic Intifada. “We give the lie to their insistence that defending Israel is central to Jewish identity and that to defend Palestinian interests against it is synonymous with anti-Semitism.”

In a statement, IJAN said the CST was “known to many as the Zionist police… We would ask who but racists would call opposing all forms of racism ‘extreme’? It is the CST that is ‘unrepresentative’ — most of the world does not support Israeli apartheid, including a substantial and rapidly-increasing number of Jewish people.”

Lauded by government

As demonstrated in The Electronic Intifada’s coverage of the Raed Salah case, the CST has strong links with government departments — especially the Home Office and Department for Communities and Local Government. In some areas CST volunteers jointly patrol with the police.

It has also been lauded by politicians at the highest levels of government. Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have both given speeches at black tie CST dinners this year.

Founded as a charity in 1994, the CST had several notable predecessors. The Group Relations Educational Trust (GRET) was founded by Gerald Ronson in 1978. Now CST chairman, Ronson wrote in his memoir Leading from the Front that he hoped GRET would “operate as a sort of umbrella organization” for the 62 Group and other militant anti-fascist groups.

The 62 Group was a street-fighting Jewish activist group formed to combat the rise of neo-Nazis in the 1960s. It reportedly specialized in infiltration and intelligence gathering.

Ronson wanted to distance GRET from such militant direct action approaches. He wrote that although he was the chief fundraiser for the 62 Group and “I was once a foot soldier out there fighting on the front lines,” he increasingly came to think that “being hooligans to fight hooligans wasn’t the smartest way.”

The CST’s immediate predecessor was the Community Security Organization — part of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In 1994, it broke away from the Board and established itself as a new charity — the Community Security Trust.

Trained by Mossad?

Antony Lerman, founder and former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR), told The Electronic Intifada that CST volunteers had in the past received self-defense training from Mossad, Israel’s overseas spy agency.

Mossad is perhaps most well known for its assassinations of Palestinian intellectuals, activists and fighters around the world. It is thought that the Mossad was behind the 1972 Beirut car bomb that murdered writer and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine activist Ghassan Kanafani. In 1986, Mossad agents kidnapped Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician turned whistleblower. More recently, it was thought to be behind the murder of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, in which the killers used forged passports as part of their operation.

But Mossad also claims to protect Jews, says Lerman. “On one level you can understand why” CST trained with the Mossad, he said. “One of the things the Mossad believes that it should be responsible for is Jewish security all around the world.”

The Electronic Intifada had a wide-ranging conversation about the CST with Lerman. JPR ran the first project to monitor anti-Semitism in a human rights fashion, he added. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, Lerman had “very close relations” with GRET and, later, the CST.

In the early 1990s “the Israeli government was trying to exert control over the monitoring of anti-Semitism through diaspora communities around the world,” he recalled. Lerman and the CST both resisted this, preferring to remain independent. They were “quite angry with the way the Israelis were handling this kind of thing.”

The Israelis’ list of anti-Semitic incidents “was appalling stuff,” he added. “I wouldn’t say at that time they were so much into exaggerating the problem, but they just had no real feel for what anti-Semitism really was. They would take any kind of incident, anything that involved Jews often would sometimes go down as an anti-Semitic incident when it hadn’t [really been one] and often they would miss anti-Semitic incidents as well.”

The Israel Government Monitoring Forum on Anti-Semitism at that time operated through representatives at embassies throughout the world, and “they were mostly Mossad representatives,” said Lerman.

“During that time the CST … felt they needed to keep good relations with the Board, with the Israelis, with the Israel embassy … [but] they were broadly supportive of our position throughout the 1990s,” he recalled. “During that time my experience with them as a whole was rather good.”

This didn’t last. “My relations with them began to deteriorate at the end of the ’90s and from 2000 onwards,” he said. “I from the beginning was never in agreement with this idea of the ‘new anti-Semitism.’” But the CST was “very much behind that kind of line.”

Lerman is a noted critic of this “new anti-Semitism” line. Writing earlier this year, he described it as “the notion that Israel has become the Jew among the nations and that therefore extreme criticism and anti-Zionism are a new version of the anti-Semitism that existed prior to the establishment of the state.”

He added, “The entrenchment of the concept of the ‘new anti-Semitism’ [has] so extended the range of expressions of what can be regarded as anti-Semitic that the word anti-Semitism has come close to losing all meaning” (“The farcical attack on the UCU for voting against use of the EUMC ‘working definition’ of anti-Semitism,” Antony Lerman’s blog, 2 June 2011).

Conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism

Lerman’s is far from the only Jewish voice critical of the the CST. Tony Greenstein is a Palestine solidarity and anti-racist activist who has blogged extensively on the CST. He has frank criticisms of their methods. “The CST has a long record of barring anti-Zionist Jews from meetings and harassing them,” he wrote on his blog in January 2009 (“Community Security Thugs Bar Jewish Opponents of Gaza War from Liberal Judaism Meeting”).

While leftist critics such as Greenstein allege the CST exaggerates or inflates its anti-Semitism figures, Lerman disagrees. “They’re not making up the numbers, it’s what they do with the information [that’s more problematic],” Lerman said. “It’s the role that they play behind the scenes with government, it’s the connections with the Israelis — whether it’s lobbying on their behalf or not, they’ve got very close relations.”

Lerman still gives the CST credit for the rigor it uses when deciding which incidents to record as anti-Semitic and which to reject. He said that it does not record incidents as anti-Semitic unless it is absolutely sure. But the “new anti-Semitism” logic means they will be predisposed to see an anti-Israel statement as being anti-Semitic, he added.

What its critics tend to agree on is that the CST conflates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Its latest report describes anti-Zionism as “in effect anti-Semitic” (Antisemitic Discourse in Britain in 2010, 8 December 2011 [PDF]).

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi said the CST “try to undermine our credibility by noting that we are small in number. They cannot acknowledge that growing numbers of Jews are breaking with the unquestioning loyalty to Israel that has been the norm in past decades.” Wimborne-Idrissi was barred from a 2009 “liberal Judaism” meeting by CST guards.

Greenstein has accused the CST of thuggish behavior against Jewish critics of Israel, and has written that CST security volunteers guard pro-Israel demonstrations and events. “Its stewards looked benignly on as the EDL [English Defense League] joined a demonstration outside the Israeli embassy in August 2010 to celebrate the murder of nine unarmed activists aboard the Mavi Marmara,” Greenstein wrote on his blog (“Community Support Trust supplies false information to deport Sheikh Raed Salah,” 3 October 2011).

Lack of transparency

Although the CST claims to represent the Jewish community, it has asked for a special dispensation from the Charity Commission so that the names of its trustees are not publicly accessible (most charities in the UK have the names of their trustees listed on the Charity Commission’s website). A spokesperson from the Charity Commission said such dispensations were only given in “very exceptional” cases, such as for women’s shelters where the trustees were thought to be “in personal danger.”

However, in May 2003 the CST established a private company called Support Trustee limited. The Memorandum of Association filed at Companies House in Cardiff says Support Trustee limited acts as “trustee, custodian trustee, nominee or director of or for the charity Community Security Trust.”

According to documents filed at Companies House, the current directors of Support Trustee Limited are: Keith Black of the United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA), Lloyd Dorfman (chairman of the Travelex currency exchange group), banker and UJIA trustee Jeremy Isaacs, solicitor Brook Land, property investor Gary Landesberg, former chairman of the British division of Jewish educational group ORT Mark Mishon, CST chairman Gerald Ronson and accountant Jeremy Trent. Its secretary is CST Chief Executive Richard Benson.

A multi-million pound operation

CST chairman Gerald Ronson is a property magnate and the multi-millionaire owner of the Heron Group. Accounts on the Charity Commission website show that Ronson’s charitable trust has donated almost £500,000 ($780,000) to the CST since 2007. In the early 1990s, he was sentenced to a year in prison for his role in the “Guinness affair.” This was a share price inflation scam The Daily Telegraph has described as the best-known British stock market scandal of the 1980s (“Famous stock market scandals,” undated).

In a 2009 interview with The Jewish Chronicle, Ronson claimed to have friends at the highest levels of the Israeli government: “He received a phone call from the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and met [current Prime Minister] Binyamin Netanyahu, at the time a minister in Shamir’s government, while on a day-release for a medical examination,” the article states (“Interview: Gerald Ronson,” 4 June 2009).

Greenstein described the CST as “a well-paid gravy train.” Accounts available on the Charity Commission’s website show the CST spent £5.3 million ($8.3 million) in the year ending December 2010 — £2.1 million ($3.3 million) of this was on salaries and wages. It is thought to employ 64 staff, some full-time on security issues.

Last year the government announced £2 million ($3.1 million) in new funding for security at Jewish faith schools. The CST’s Chief Executive Richard Benson wrote in The Jewish Chronicle that this came in response to five years of CST lobbying (“Let’s recognize our friends,” 22 December 2010). Antony Lerman said the schools are likely to give the CST an advisory role in how the money is spent.

The CST and “infiltration”

In April and June, historian Geoffrey Alderman wrote two pieces for The Jewish Chronicle taking the CST to task for being unaccountable to the community. “What right does a completely private body that happens to call itself the CST have to involve itself in the safety and well-being of British Jews?”

Alderman is a Zionist and hostile to the Palestinian people and their supporters. In May of this year, he wrote a column saying nothing had caused him “greater pleasure in recent weeks than news of the death of the Italian so-called ‘peace activist’ Vittorio Arrigoni,” the International Solidarity Movement volunteer murdered in Gaza (“This was no ‘peace activist,’” The Jewish Chronicle, 13 May 2011).

In one of his columns, Alderman made reference to a more “murky dimension” of the CST’s work — possible “infiltration” of “extremist organizations” (“Our unrepresentative security,” The Jewish Chronicle, 18 April 2011).

What does Lerman think of that accusation? “I certainly wouldn’t rule it out,” he replied. “What I am absolutely certain about is that they’ve got connections with people who have [infiltrated]. So whether that’s through Searchlight or others, I’ve no idea”

Searchlight is an anti-fascist organization and magazine which has long been criticized by anti-fascist activists on the left for allegedly strong links to intelligence services and law enforcement entities. Its central figure, Gerry Gable, was involved in the 62 Group with Ronson.

In 1980 The New Statesman magazine published the “Gable Memo,” a secret memorandum to Gable’s then bosses at London Weekend Television. In the 1977 memo, Gable makes various accusations against a journalist, Phil Kelly, and infamously concluded: “I have now given the names I have acquired to be checked out by British/French security services … I may try somebody in the Israeli Foreign Office.”

Gable’s accusations against Kelly included that he “acted as a cheerleader on several Arab demonstrations in London” and “he could have blown the cover of a man who had infiltrated the Palestinians and some left groups” (“The Gable Memo,” Lobster, December 1992).

When the Raed Salah case came to the attention of the British government, it called on the CST for information. As reported in detail by The Electronic Intifada, government departments asked the CST to send information on Salah that they could use to ban him from entering the UK.

As Salah prepared to go to the High Court hearing that would ultimately release him on bail, the CST posted two Jerusalem court indictments against Salah on its blog. Both related to old incidents (one from 2007). And both were dated 23 June — the exact date that Home Secretary Theresa May said she banned Salah (“Sheikh Raed Salah: The Indictments,” 6 July 2011).

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the Mossad,” said Lerman. “They had close relations with the Mossad when I was working with them, and I’m sure that they still do.”

A freedom of information request to the UK Border Agency sent by The Electronic Intifada in July was finally answered this month. A request for a copy of the original banning order signed by May was denied on data protection grounds.

Israeli government links

The Israel Government Monitoring Forum on Anti-Semitism with which Lerman was at odds in the early 1990s now has a successor body called the Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism. The forum’s website lists the CST as one of the “members of the forum” along with the Anti-Defamation League and the Israeli prime minister’s office.

Lerman said that CST volunteers “go along at their own expense to guard Jewish sites and meetings and things of that kind. Well they get training, and I believe that the training has been done in the past by people from the Mossad, who come over and give them training in self-defense and that sort of thing.”

How likely is it that the CST lobbies politically for Israel behind the scenes?

In September, the law on universal jurisdiction was changed, making it easier for Israeli ministers and generals charged with war crimes to visit the UK. The Jewish Chronicle published an article quoting the Board of Deputies as acknowledging “the efforts of the various communal groups, in particular the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), Board of Deputies, CST and Friends of Israel groups that have helped to ensure the safe passage of the bill.”

But “CST” was soon removed from the online version of the article, apparently after spokesman Mark Gardner intervened (see The Electronic Intifada’s correspondent Ben White’s screen capture).

Though Lerman’s relations with the CST have deteriorated, he thinks it unlikely that the CST would lobby for Israel in any way that would contravene its charitable status. “It would have undermined the role that they are trying to play on the issue of anti-Semitism,” he said. “Having said that, the very fact that they support the ‘new anti-Semitism’ kind of arguments … [means] they are doing the work of the Israel government, because it … is a very strong Israel government line.”

CST declines to comment

For its part, the CST has previously denied acting on behalf of Israel. Of its role in having Salah banned from the UK, the CST stated: “We did not do this on behalf of Israel or in pursuit of Israel’s policy objectives.” It said its only concern is anti-Semitism.

The Electronic Intifada wrote to the CST and asked the following questions: Why did the CST denounce Wimborne-Idrissi, Jews For Boycotting Israeli Goods and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network as “extreme”? Why did the CST do so privately not publicly? In light of Alderman’s “infiltration” comments, can you give assurances you are not involved with the infiltration or subversion of pro-Palestinian activist groups? In light of the allegation that the CST has received Mossad training, what is the current nature of the CST’s relations to the Israeli intelligence services? Did Israeli authorities help the CST with its case against Raed Salah?

The Electronic Intifada enclosed the part of the Salah report that denounced anti-Zionist Jews.

Despite having been given several days notice in advance of publication, the CST did not respond to multiple requests for comment. A phone call to the CST office three days after the original email request produced “no comment.”

Nevertheless, the CST will need to respond to these serious charges eventually. In court in September, UK Border Agency case worker Jonathan Rosenorn-Lanng referred to the CST as “the Jewish community” — yet it is clear the group does not represent the entire community. The British government should ask itself how appropriate it is to maintain such strong links to an organization so politically compromised.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who writes about Palestine. His website is