From The Gown:
The Palestinian Solidarity Society today disrupted a lecture by Solon Solomon, former member of the Israeli Parliament’s legal department, on Israel’s right to self-defence. Entering the lecture, members of the society heckled the lecturer forcing it to be brought to a close after seven minutes. Members of the panel had to be removed from the room by security in the interests of their own safety to calls of “Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio.” The PSS was apparently videoing the lecture without permission.
Read the rest of the article here.
Leading Israeli academic, peace activist and president of the New Israel Fund (NIF), Naomi Chazan, was in the UK earlier this month, talking to the Jewish community about her hopes and fears for Israel’s democracy. We’ve all heard the statement that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. It may not be perfect (where is?), but it is true. The citizens of Egypt, Jordan, Gaza, Syria, Iran and elsewhere would all benefit from a good dose of democracy – particularly women, Christians, gay men and women, journalists and political dissidents.
Speaking earlier this month to a capacity crowd at Moishe House, a post-denominational Jewish community in west London, Chazan outlined the challenges to Israel’s democracy and what her organisation is doing about it. These reached a peak earlier this year with a well-funded smear campaign against NIF by right-wing pressure group, Im Tirtzu, which attempted to vilify Chazan and NIF as enemies of the state.
“Is there a problem [with Israel’s democracy]? Absolutely yes. Is there a hope? Equally so,” she said.
For Chazan, democracy is fundamental to the existence and success of Israel as a Jewish state:
“Israel’s democracy is Israel’s soul. Without Israel’s democracy, there will be no Israel. That is because Israel’s raison d’etre, as embodied in its Declaration of Independence, will no longer exist. The source of Israel’s strength is its democracy.”
Chazan explained how the NIF has been “thrust to the centre” of guarding Israel’s democracy, a role which she sees as crucial to upholding the Zionist dream embodied by the state’s founding fathers: “Jews have the right to self-determination in two senses,” she said. “Collective self-determination, in terms of the right to create a state for the Jews; and individual self-determination, through creating a society which grants individual liberties and social justice to all of its citizens regardless of race, religion or gender.”
She also took a swipe at anti-Zionists and boycotters, many of whom she regularly meets in academic circles, who want to see Israel relegated to the dustbin of history:“I have nothing in common with people who tell me that I have no right to exist. We need to distinguish between the deniers and deligitimisers – and dissenters.”
At a time when Israel is more politically isolated and vilified than ever before and the Islamist extremists of Hamas and Hezbollah continue to stockpile weapons to use against Israeli civilians, the work of peace and civil rights movements like NIF is more vital than ever. Israelis who want to walk the path of moderation have never had it so tough. In Chazan’s words, they are “stuck between those who don’t want to hear it and those who don’t want them to exist.” If, like me, you feel confused and frustrated about how to respond to recent events in the Middle East, then supporting the New Israel Fund is a good place to start.
A piece by Adam Serwer in American Prospect dissociates the defence of Guantanamo detainees from terrorist sympathies:
“I do want to point out one flaw in the right-wing’s conspiracy theory charging that support for the rule of law is evidence of terrorist sympathies — a great deal of the lawyers who represent or have represented Guantanamo Bay detainees are Jewish. Not Jewish by birth, or culturally Jewish, but observant, even Zionist, Jews.”
Geoffrey Alderman’s case against the University and College Union proceeds in the light of UCU’s commitment to hold employers accountable to anti-discrimination law and – what follows from that – its responsibility to treat its own members equally.
Attributing a pestilence or catastrophe of the day to a social group is one of the most common forms of bigotry, and a point of overlap between antisemitism and Islamophobia. Blaming Jews for the financial crisis is one example. Another is the leaflets accusing Muslims of crimes against humanity which were circulated in Preston, Lancashire.
Viewing phenomena through a prism is prejudiced, and most of us are prejudiced. Prejudice is a precondition for making sense of the world; if you don’t have a prism then you experience the world as an undifferentiated barrage of happenings between which you’re unable to prioritise. But if that prism is religion, ethnicity or nationality (not to mention sex, sexual orientation, age, and other immutable aspects of identity) it is bigoted. If you’re also looking for a group on which to lay the blame, you are looking for a scapegoat. None of these ways of thinking are against the law. The incitement to hatred kicks in if you publicly castigate your scapegoat and attempt to persuade others to see things your way. At that stage you have stepped outside the law.
None of this is obvious or to be taken for granted, as the thought-out incomprehension on Stormfront about the islamophobic heroin leaflets shows.
WILLEM v. FRANCE
The European Court of Human Rights has today notified in writing its Chamber judgment1 in the case of Willem v. France (application no. 10883/05) concerning the conviction of the mayor of Seclin for calling for a boycott of Israeli products.
The Court held by 6 votes to 1 that there had been no violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights. (The judgment is available only in French.)
1. Principal facts
The applicant, Jean-Claude Fernand Willem, is a French national who was born in 1934 and lives in Seclin (France), a municipality of which he was mayor (for the Communist party) at the relevant time. On 3 October 2002, during a session of the town council and in the presence of journalists, Mr Willem announced that he intended to call on his services to boycott Israeli products in the municipality. He stated that he had taken that decision to protest against the anti-Palestinian policies of the Israeli Government. Representatives of the Jewish community in the département of Nord filed a complaint with the public prosecutor, who decided to prosecute the applicant for provoking discrimination on national, racial and religious grounds, under Articles 23 and 24 of the Press Act of 29 July 1881. Mr Willem was acquitted by the Lille Criminal Court but sentenced on appeal on 11 September 2003, and fined 1,000 euros (EUR). He lodged a cassation appeal but was unsuccessful.
2. Procedure and composition of the Court
The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 17 March 2005.
Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:
Peer Lorenzen (Denmark), President,
Jean-Paul Costa (France),
Karel Jungwiert (the Czech Republic),
Renate Jaeger (Germany),
Mark Villiger (Liechtenstein),
Isabelle Berro-Lefèvre (Monaco),
Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska (“the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”), judges,
and also Claudia Westerdiek, Section Registrar.
3. Summary of the judgment2
Mr Willem took the view that his call to boycott Israeli products was part of a political debate concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was without doubt a matter in the general interest. He complained that his conviction had thus constituted a violation of his right to freedom of expression within the meaning of Article 10 of the Convention.
The Court observed that the interference with the applicant’s freedom of expression had been provided for by law, being based on Articles 23 and 24 of the Press Act 1881, and that it pursued a legitimate aim, namely to protect the rights of Israeli producers. The Court reiterated that for interference with freedom of expression, especially that of an elected representative, to comply with the Convention, it had to be “necessary in a democratic society”. Like the French courts, the Court took the view that Mr Willem had not been convicted for his political opinions but for inciting the commission of a discriminatory, and therefore punishable, act. The Court further noted that, under French law, the applicant was not entitled to take the place of the governmental authorities by declaring an embargo on products from a foreign country, and moreover that the penalty imposed on him had been relatively moderate. The Court therefore found that the impugned interference had been proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued and that there had been no violation of Article 10.
Judge Jungwiert expressed a dissenting opinion, which is annexed to the judgment.