Violence against Israeli speaker is not an isolated incident

At the University of Manchester anti-Israel demonstrators, reportedly from Action Palestine, surrounded and tried to attack deputy Israeli ambassador Talya Lador-Fresher after she’d given a political science lecture. She has the impression that they would have beaten her up if they could.  The event had been postponed previously due to security concerns. A spokesperson for the University of Manchester commented irrelevantly:

“The University is fundamentally committed to freedom of speech, exercised within the law. It follows that it should also allow peaceful and lawful protest to take place on its campus.”

Not reassuring – the protest was not peaceful but violent.

There are political players at the extremes of Israeli and Palestinian society, along with their supporters, who would like us to consider this attack representative of Palestine solidarity, but it isn’t. At most, it represents support for the minority within Palestinian society which hates and attacks Israelis, and works to drive them away. In their approach and mentality Action Palestine activists have more in common with the extreme right Israelis who left a pipe-bomb outside the home of anti-occupation activist Ze’ev Sternhell than they have with genuine pro-Palestinian campaigners. They insist that they stand for Palestinian rights, dignity and freedom, and yet deny rights, dignity and freedom to Israelis. The only serious thing about them is their attempt to import the Middle East conflict onto a British campus.

Too often anti-Israel campaigners find antisemitism appealing, though they would be the last to admit this. Action Palestine hosted Bongani Masuku back in December 2009, at the same time as the University and College Union. The South African Human Rights Commission found Bongani Masuku guilty of hate speech against Jews a few days afterwards. UCU and Action Palestine would or should have known about the charges against him. They would or should have known that anti-Israel campaigning is often expressed as animosity to Jews, who are treated as proxy Israelis.

But, like UCU nationally, my local UCU branch at Goldsmiths attributes antisemitism to “the actions of the Israeli state” rather than to the groups and individuals who enact it, and leaves Jews to deal with it on their own. Harry’s Place points out that Action for Palestine is holding a seminar next week with Amnesty International and Ben White, who considers antisemitism “understandable”.

So where are we? A British campaign for Palestinian rights seeks education from an antisemitic speaker and attacks an Israeli. A reputable human rights organisation is content to partner with it. A trade union invites the antisemitic speaker to present on an anti-racist platform. A higher education institution can’t distinguish between peaceful protest and physical attack.

And precisely what does all this have to do with a political solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians?

Palestinians are not free, and there is a need for a movement which supports and enables a negotiated political settlement and mutual understanding between ordinary citizens. Compare Action Palestine with 11 students at the Technische Universität Darmstadt. They run an annual Middle East Simulation event where 50 students from Israel, Palestine and Europe are assigned key roles, simulate the conflict and global responses, and discuss freely. Nobody gets beaten up and nobody is permitted to indulge their prejudices. They are currently inviting applications to attend.

Update: on Harry’s Place, Marco Schneebalg writes of ongoing efforts to reduce the tension on the University of Manchester campus over Israel and Palestine. He feels that the attacks on Talya Lador-Fresher were a marginal event which nevertheless undermined the Palestinian cause because of the way it was dealt with in the media. He is due a lot of credit for his bridge-building work (and it would be good to stop there). But. The good work he and others are doing doesn’t change the facts of the attacks, nor the way the University of Manchester, and Action Palestine, whom he deals with gently, handled them. Nor does it alter the fact that the vitriolic attacks are not six of one and half a dozen of the other. It is right to take physical attacks and hatred against people because of their nationality very seriously indeed. This doesn’t come across in Marco Schneebalg’s post, and this is perplexing. I wonder if this is a case of (I’m going to quote Sophie Buckland here because she puts it best, even though she’s referring to clashes about something else – and the post I link to is well-worth reading): “Where two ideologies clash there’s always someone who claims the middle ground for their own, however inconsistent and fractured it may be.”

Hate speech ruling against Bongani Masuku, guest of BRICUP and UCU

Background on Engage:

The British Commission for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) with the University and College Union (UCU), plan to host a speaker, Bongani Masuku, who has been under investigation by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) for a complaint of hate speech lodged by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) on March 26th 2009. The SAHRC recently ruled to uphold the complaint, finding that statements Bongani Masuku had made did amount to hate speech.

Copied to the SAJBD, here is the ruling of the South African Human Rights Commission.

From it:

“21. On the day in question Mr Masuku was speaking to students who included both Jewish Zionists and Palestinian supporters. There appeared to already have been noted tension between these two groups. Therefore by Mr Masuku making those remarks he surely intended to incite violence and hatred that was already potentially imminent amongst these two groups. COSATU members of Palestinian supporters present at this rally could easily have been incited to hate, and even attack their Jewish counterparts. This is exactly what Section 16(2) of the Constitution seeks to prevent.

22. Mr Masuku’s heated statements made amidst an already tense audience appeared to advocate hatred against Jews and all other supporters of Israel. This is inciting violence based on religion, an area which freedom of expression does not protect.

23. Mr Masuku in his response to the allegations put to him by the South African Human Rights Commission, states that he was heckled by what he refers to “as a particular section of the audience – most of whom seemed to be members of the South African Union of Jewish Students”. This statement leave little doubt that the references made by him referred to Jews.

24. The statement that “it will be hell” for any group of students, taken in its proper context is intimidatory and threatening. It is conveyed as a warning to the effect that should one support Israel, one would suffer harm. Harm for the purposes of Section 16(2), as confirmed in the Freedom Front decision is wider than mere physical harm.

25. In responding to the allegations relating to the emails sent by him, Mr Masuku fails to deal with the context in which he used the words “…whether Jew or whomsoever does so, must not just be encouraged but forced to leave…” These words in effect come across that unless South Africans agree with his views they should be forced to leave South Africa.

26. In view of the content of the speech made and emails sent by Mr Masuku it is clear that the expressions amount to the advocacy of hatred and thus would not fall under the protection of Section 16(1) of the Constitution.

27. The comments and statements made are of an extreme nature that advocate and imply that the Jewish and Israeli community are to be despised, scorned, ridiculed and thus subjecting them to ill-treatment on the basis of their religious affiliation. A prima facie case of hate speech is clearly established as the statements and comments by Mr. Masuku are offensive and unpalatable to society.


28. In light of the above, the Commission hereby finds that the statements made by Mr. Bongani Masuku amounts to hate speech.”

The University and College Union is willing to sacrifice its anti-racist credibility to welcome and host a person who unashamedly, as an anti-racist and without a trace of irony, demands that his country’s Jews be menaced. This is a perversion of the necessary and valid campaign for Palestinian rights and a perversion of anti-racism.

Update: Harry’s Place – Bongani Masuku’s claimed constitutional right to hate speech. South Africa’s Palestine Solidarity Committee alleges gullibility on the part of their country’s Human Rights Commission, accuse it of issuing “a pack of lies”, accuse South Africa’s organised Jewish community of “constant, frivolous, and false accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’”, and declare their intention to appeal against the ruling above.

BRICUP’s guest Bongani Masuku falls foul of Human Rights Commission

Alana Pugh

The South African Human Rights Commission found that Bongani Masuku’s statements amounted to hate speech.

This post is by Alana Pugh-Jones of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.

Bongani Masuku, International Relations Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), will be one of the speakers in the upcoming BRICUP seminar series entitled, ‘Israel, the Palestinians and Apartheid: The Case for Sanctions and Boycotts’.

BRICUP, a an organisation of UK based academics set up in response to the Palestinian Call for Academic Boycott and with the mission to ‘support Palestinian universities, staff and students’ and ‘to oppose the continued illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands’, is hosting numerous talks at universities across the UK. Speakers on the line up include amongst others the former South African Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils and Omar Barghouti of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

But it is the inclusion of Bongani Masuku in a public lecture series, run by a self described academically orientated organization, which is cause for concern.

Mr Masuku currently has a case of hate speech being reviewed against him at the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). The SA Jewish Board of Deputies laid a formal complaint with the SAHRC against Masuku in March, on the basis of “numerous inflammatory, threatening and insulting statements” he has made against the South African Jewish community. In a press statement, the Board accused Masuku of using “overtly threatening language” in reference to the mainstream Jewish community because of its support for the State of Israel.

Specifically, Masuku had openly and repeatedly stated that COSATU would target Jewish supporters of Israel and “make their lives hell” and urged that “every Zionist must be made to drink the bitter medicine they are feeding our brothers and sisters in Palestine”. He had explicitly demonised South African Jews who, unlike Ronnie Kasrils and others, had not “risen above the fascist parochial paranoia of Israel”, writing that such people could not be expected to be regarded as human beings by people like himself.

Masuku’s various statements were believed to constitute serious breaches of the Prohibition of Hate Speech as contained in the South African Constitution. Public pronouncements declaring that Jews who support Israel are not welcome in South Africa and should be forced to leave, as well as calling on COSATU’s members to target Jewish businesses and to confront Jews who support Israel wherever they might be even if this means doing something that in his own words, “may necessarily cause what is regarded as harm”, prompted the SA Jewish Board of Deputies to take action.

This week, the HRC released its finding, in which it unequivocally found that Masuku’s statements amounted to hate speech and recommended that the matter would best be resolved through litigation before the Equality Court to seek a public apology from him. Whatever the findings may be, inviting someone who openly and consistently promotes threatening action towards a community instead of employing factually based arguments to forward their cause, is a dangerous move which not only serves to undermine whatever merits may exist in the event but will only provide a platform for furthering hatred and tension around the Israel and Palestine debate.

Alana Pugh-Jones
Johannesburg, South Africa

Mira adds:

University and College Union boycotters and BRICUP members, including Mike Cushman, Hilary Rose, Steven Rose, John Chalcraft and Jonathan Rosenhead have ushered anti-Jewish racism into their movement. Their organisation’s uncritical hosting of Bongani Masuku shows that, for them, hatred of Israel is an acceptable substitute for powers of analysis. This is why BRICUP cannot be effective on behalf of Palestinians and why it’s reasonable to speculate that BRICUP’s main concern isn’t Palestinian emancipation, but hatred of Israel.

Update: see Ami’s guest post on Harry’s Place and background from Ben Cohen on Z-Word blog.

Update 2: According to the Facebook group page for Israel, the Palestinians and Apartheid, UCU is co-hosting the Leeds event.

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