Northern Ireland: Trade unionists make the case against BDS campaign

This report is from TULIP.

Last night, four trade union opponents of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign targetting Israel were given the opportunity to make their case before a standing-room only crowd in Belfast.

In an event organised by Northern Ireland Friends of Israel (NIFI), activists from unions in the UK and the Republic of Ireland spoke out against the “Israel is apartheid” slander and called for engagement rather than boycott.

The speakers included Terry McCorran (who chaired the meeting) — a Unison branch official in Northern Ireland; Lilach Head, a Unison activist from England; Chris Hudson, who spent 18 years working as a full time official for Irish trade unions; and Eric Lee from TULIP (a member of the National Union of Journalists in the UK).  McCorran chaired the meeting and all four speakers appeared in an individual capacity, not representing their unions.

Head spoke about the experience of being an Israeli-born trade unionist in Britain, of the exclusion of Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) from the Unison conference last year, and of the courage required to get up in front of thousands of conference delegates and make the case against boycotts.

McCorran spoke about examples of anti-Israel sentiment in Northern Ireland — but also about how many in the community identify closely with Israel.  He also reported on his participation in a TUFI delegation to Israel and the West Bank in November 2009.

Hudson, who has had years of experience not only as a trade union leader, but also a leading anti-apartheid campaigner, made a strong case that Israel can in no way be called an apartheid society.

Lee explained what the BDS campaign was all about, who supports it and who opposes it, why it is a bad idea — and what we can all do about it.  He made six concrete suggestions:

  1. If you support genuine peace between Israelis and Palestinians, support those organizations in Israel and Palestine that campaign for this – including Peace Now, One Voice, the Parent’s Circle and many others.
  2. Here in the UK, support those organizations that campaign against BDS – including TULIP, TUFI and NIFI.
  3. Challenge BDS supporters without fear – it is their argument to lose, and they are the ones who do not want debate.
  4. Practice zero-tolerance of anti-Semitism – just as we would not tolerate any other form of racism.
  5. Buy Israeli products.
  6. Visit Israel – see for yourself what “apartheid” looks like.

Over 200 copies of the TULIP founding statement were distributed at the event.

John Pilger & New Statesman: still an anti-kosher conspiracy?

Mark Gardner on the the CST blog.

The 11 February 2010 edition of the New Statesman, ‘Everything You Know About Islam Is Wrong’ was devoted to demanding clarity, precision and understanding in the way that the media and public discuss issues concerning Muslims, Islam, political Islamism and extreme Jihadist terrorism. Its editorial stated

Fear and ignorance are a toxic combination, and myths and misconceptions abound.

Any hopes, however, that the New Statesman would heed its own advice when it came to representations of Zionism appear to have been dashed with its publication of John Pilger’s latest rhetorical assault on Zionism, Israel and “Jews in western countries”.

When considering where fear, ignorance, myths and misconceptions can lead, the New Statesman and John Pilger need look no further than the current relatively high levels of antisemitic race hate attacks; and the manner in which in some extreme political circles, the word “Zionism” has increasingly become synonymous with a global conspiracy variously headquartered in Washington and / or Jerusalem, supported by co-conspirators in New York, London, Paris and other western power centres.

This global “Zionist” conspiracy is dedicated to the pursuit of oppression, war and profit, and is therefore set against the rest of humanity. The conspiracy is concealed, but reveals itself in its alleged control of finance, politics and media. The conspiracy is not exclusively staffed by Jews: but (real) Zionism is a Jewish construct and Jews are of course its likeliest adherents – and are therefore the ones who get it in the neck when people physically attack these dastardly Zionists. Jews have heard all of this before and have suffered from it all before. The themes of hidden Jewish conspiracy, wealth and power lie at the core of antisemitism and were codified within the notorious Tsarist forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”.

Where once the mythical antisemitic image of “the Jew” ran rampant, now we have the image of “the Zionist”. Arguments rage over whether or not this image of “the Zionist” is legitimate, mythologised, antisemitic, or whatever. The issue is made yet more complex by the fact that many dedicated anti-Zionists self-define as philosemitic: they are fighting Zionism because it is in the best interests of Jews that Zionism is defeated. (Never mind the details of this argument, such as what would have happened to European Jewry in the 1940s had they been able to flee to Israel.)

Regardless of the endless philosophising and the irrelevant ivory tower distinctions, at street level two things are very clear:

1. If Zionism is depicted in exclusively hateful terms, then all Zionists will be hated.

2. Large numbers of Jews self-define as Zionists. (In the REAL sense of the word.)

It follows, therefore, that when mainstream media, journalists and political activists write about Zionism and Jews, that they should do so with caution and precision. One of the worst failures to do so was the infamous 14 January 2002 edition of the New Statesman which depicted a golden Star of David piercing a supine Union Jack, with the headline “A kosher conspiracy?”. Beneath this headline, the cover read“John Pilger and Dennis Sewell on Britain’s pro-Israeli lobby”.

Grudgingly and belatedly, the New Statesman apologised for its cover: but neither this, nor its rightful concern for clarity of reporting in Muslim-related issues, has prevented the magazine from running numerous further articles by John Pilger in which he vociferously condemns Zionism. This most recent edition and article, however, keenly illustrate the choices that both Pilger and the publication need to make when it comes to defining just what they mean by Zionism: and what they mean by anti-Zionism. Get it wrong and they place themselves at the service of antisemites. Get it right and they do the rest of us favour.

The latest article is entitled “Listen to the heroes of Israel”, and the heroes in question are Rami and Nurit Elhanan. Pilger writes

Whenever I am asked about heroes, I say Rami and his wife, Nurit, without hesitation.

The Elhanans helped found Parents Circle. This is a joint initiative by Israelis and Palestinians who have tragically lost loved ones in the lengthy conflict between their respective peoples. Parents Circle website states

Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF) is a grassroots organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis. The PCFF promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge.

Pilger’s article, however, is not about reconciliation. Rather, it is furiously anti-Israel and anti-Zionist: premised upon quotes from the Elhanans; and the dreadful stories of two child casualties of the conflict, Smadar Elhanan and Abir Aramin.

CST is not concerned with Pilger’s criticism of Israel, but the conclusion of his article goes far further than this. It ends with a blanket condemnation of Zionism; approvingly quotes Gilad Atzmon; and warns that the silence of Jews“renders them culpable”. He writes as follows

…proof of the murderous, racist toll of Zionism has been an epiphany for many people; justice for the Palestinians, wrote the expatriate Israeli musician Gilad Atzmon, is now ‘at the heart of the battle for a better world’.

However, his fellow Jews in western countries, such as Britain and Australia, whose influence is critical, are still mostly silent, still looking away, still accepting as Nurit said ‘the brainwashing and reality distortion’.

And yet the responsibility to speak out could not be clearer, and the lessons of history – family history for many – ensure that it renders them culpable should their silence persist. For inspiration, I recommend the moral courage of Rami and Nurit.

As explained here at Times Online Blog by Oliver Kamm and here at Z Word Blog by David Adler, Pilger’s depiction of Atzmon as merely an “expatriate Israeli musician”beggars belief. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of Atzmon’s writings will immediately appreciate the ludicrous and self-defeating irony of writing “fellow Jews” in relation to a man who has such an extreme and elaborate hatred of Zionism, along with an apparent rejection of his own Jewish identity and“Jewishness”.

Next, we have Atzmon’s actual assertion, so warmly quoted by Pilger, that “justice for Palestinians” is “now at the heart of the battle for a better world”. It is not uncommon for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be cited as emblematic of the global struggle between oppressed and oppressor, but it is another matter entirely for Pilger to go from this to laying the collective blame for the conflict at the feet of world Jewry: “fellow Jews in western countries…still mostly silent…renders them culpable should their silence persist”.

Jews have extensive and bloody experience of what happens to them when they are collectively blamed for preventing the birth of a better world. It is deeply troubling that a journalist and activist of Pilger’s reputation and knowledge seems impervious to such matters. Why the New Statesman should uncritically publish such material is another, but not unrelated matter. Ignorance? Excessive anti-Israel fury? Lack of concern for mainstream Jewish – potentially “Zionist” – worries? Probably an unthinking combination of all three.

Where, however, did Pilger find this particular quote from Atzmon? As mentioned above, it is not an uncommon claim, but a Google search of Atzmon and “now at the heart of the battle for a better world” suggests that it is taken from Atzmon’s article of 19 February 2010, entitled “The Tide Has Changed”. It includes the following paragraph – and even if this is not the actual source of Pilger’s quote, it gives a decent indication of Atzmon’s perspective on these matters. By wicked coincidence, the 2nd and 3rd sentences would have fitted gloriously with the infamous New Statesman ‘kosher conspiracy?’ front cover

The truth of the matter is tragic. The British political system is paralysed by the Israeli Lobby. Like in the USA, British national interests are sacrificed for the sake of dirty Zionist cash. If Britain wants to liberate itself from the Zionist grip and have any prospect of a future, it must move fast and clean the entire list of Zionist infiltrators from its political ranks, Government offices and strategic positions. I am not talking here about Jews. By no means do I mention ethnicity or race. I am talking here about a political and ideological affiliation. Considering Zionism is a murderous, racist, expansionist ideology, it is natural to stress that people who are affiliated with Israel and Zionism must be removed immediately from any political, government, military or strategic posts and so on.

Finally, the next time that Pilger and his publishers repeat their blanket condemnations and demonisations of Zionism, they should very seriously contemplate: do they mean Zionism as explained above by Atzmon – or do they mean Zionism as it is basically understood and felt by millions of Jews throughout the world. For Jews at least,  there is a vital distinction between the two positions: and if neither Pilger nor the New Statesman can grasp that fact, then things are even worse than many of us had feared.

To help them decide, they can contrast Atzmon’s above description with that of Pilger’s hero Rami Elhanan, explaining why he himself is a Zionist (despite his criticism of Israeli politics and actions). It is taken from the “I am a Zionist” section of his powerful and impassioned autobiographical article, “Turning Pain into Hope”

I am a Zionist

I am a Zionist in the sense that I deeply believe that the Jewish people, like any other people in the world, deserve their right to self-determination, in their ancient homeland. Now, that brings very big and problematic questions. What does it mean to be Jewish? What are the real Jewish values? What makes one a Jew? What does it mean having a Jewish State?

Being Jewish is part of me. I’m a Jew as my eyes are green. It’s a destiny and an identity which I cannot escape. It’s because of the my own history, my forefathers, my roots, and because of the fact that I fill deep emotional connection to this people that was murdered and persecuted and victimized throughout history. Never the less, I believe that this huge and successful revolution of the Jewish people in the form of its national liberation organization, the Zionist movement, was accompanied with some great mistakes. The idea of “a land without people for people without a land” was terribly wrong and totally blind. Even so, I think you can not correct one evil or a wrong by creating other evil and more wrong. Today after all the blood that was spilled and the heavy price that was paid by the two sides, all the mistakes, all the brutality by the two sides the only way out of this endless cycle of violence, is the “Two states” solution…