Friday, 9 March 2012

BDS Still Desperate

While not as bad as highlighting a "victory" from 2003, the London BDS group is still desperate to find events to crow about. Their latest is the story that Veolia was fined £130,000 for breaches of security law that led to the death of a worker near Aylesbury.

I'm not going to comment on the logic or morality of using the death of a company employee in Britain as a political weapon against Israel, I'll just point out that the death was in 2004 and the fine handed down in 2010.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

BDS Antisemitism in Birmingham

Mark Gardner at The CST highlights a youtube video of BDS activity in Birmingham. The campaigners in it visit a number of Tesco shops placing stickers on Israeli products before piling them into trolleys and leaving them in the aisles or bagging areas with anti-Israel posters. Amongst the Israeli goods targeted were, in the words of one activist, "loads of kosher stuff."

I don't think BDS is inherently antisemitic. I think it is wrong and counter-productive and some of its proponents may be motivated by an antipathy towards the Jewish people. However, trying to get people not to buy Israeli oranges and encouraging Tesco not to stock Israeli peppers is not an inherently antisemitic campaign.

Nevertheless, targeting the Kosher section is antisemitic in effect. Because its effect is to encourage Tesco not to have a Kosher section which harms British Jews as Jews. Below are some pictures from the video showing the campaigners focussing on Kosher products.
Happy Passover? Not if these BDS Campaigners can help it.
Scouring the Kosher section for Israeli products

BDS campaigners don't want Tesco selling Kiddush wine to Jews
Or Sabbath Candles

Or Kosher soup

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

BDS Getting Desperate

You know things are bad for a campaign when it has to go back to past events. But how bad must it be when their latest victory is 9 years old?

London BDS posted the following tweet last night:


Follow the link and you'll see that the event referred to happened in 2003!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Yet Another Council Declares BDS Illegal

First there was Leeds City Council, then the North London Waste Authority now its the turn of Canterbury City Council. All three have explicitly and publicly told BDS campaigners that their attempt to have Veolia excluded from public contracts is illegal. In the most recent example, Larissa Laing, head of Canterbury's neighbourhood services said:
Canterbury must choose its waste collection contractor under procedures laid down by Europe and adopted by this country under the Public Contract Regulations 2006. We do not think that activities in the Middle East relate to what we are considering in this contract.
Will the BDS campaigners listen? No. As I've explained before, the BDS campaign chooses to focus on Veolia because it guarantees them things they can call victories. Whenever Veolia doesn't win a tender the campaign leaders can declare it a victory and everyone agrees and congratulates themselves. This is one of the reasons why Normal Finkelstein calls the campaign a cult.

So you can be sure that this latest inconvenience of a council pointing out that BDS is illegal - and thereby also showing that not a single "victory" is actually real - will be ignored.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Where to Draw the Line?

Obviously Israel must be able to decide who is allowed into the country of Israel and that means that there must be a hard border somewhere around it, with fences and crossing points etc. As I see it, there are four possible options for approximately where that line might be drawn:

1) Along the River Jordan
2) Along the Green Line but east of Jerusalem
3) Along the Green Line and through Jerusalem
4) Along the Green Line and west of Jerusalem

Which is the best? How do we judge?

I think that the following criteria must form the basis for any evaluation:

1) How successful would it be at ending the fighting?
2) Would it ensure that both sides have their legal rights?
3) How easy is it to practically implement?
4) How easy is it to politically implement?
5) Is it economically and socially beneficial to the individuals most affected?

With those criteria I think that option 2 fares best and here's why.

Placing the border along the Jordan River (1) is simple to implement practically and most beneficial to the individuals since it proves everyone in Israel and Palestine free movement. It may be possible to ensure that both sides have legal rights with some kind of federalised system. However, politically it is extremely difficult and most importantly it will not end the fighting.

A border running through Jerusalem (3) is bound to be difficult to implement and will be extremely bad for the economy of the city. It will end the fighting and should ensure national rights to both sides. Politically, though, there is no appetite for physically splitting the city in two. That goes for international opinion as well. Europeans who celebrate the collapse of the Berlin Wall aren't going to support the construction of a Jerusalem version.

Placing the border west of Jerusalem (4) would not end the fighting, it would only localise it to the city. Everyone inside the city would suffer from economic difficulties and there is no chance of political implementation. Sharing the city would lead to tensions that would probably eventually boil over into outright war between the sides.

If the border runs east of Jerusalem (2) this would end the fighting, be simple to implement practically and be beneficial economically to all residents of the city. Both sides would have their national rights. Politically, it is difficult to implement.

In my view, of the four options only the second one is feasible. All the others present real physical problems whereas the second presents only the challenge of convincing people to accept it.

I'm sure many (maybe most?) readers will disagree and I urge you please to lay out your counter-arguments in the comments or by email.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

BDS Fails to Impress in Liverpool

A planning meeting in Liverpool was left distinctly unimpressed by BDS campaigners. Here's the report from local paper the Liverpool Daily Post:
At this week’s meeting, proposals for a new waste gas burning centre in Garston stirred up objections from the local branch of Friends of the Earth and Friends of Palestine, owing to company Veolia’s record running a controversial landfill in the Israeli-occupied territories of Palestine.
While the not-in- my-backyard brigade are often out in force at council planning meetings, the concerns emanating from within the kaftans of the objecting 50-somethings of Garston were seemingly a backyard too far for planning chair John Mackintosh, who in his own inimitable way tried to steer business back to more local issues.
At the point at which the lady objector warned that “what is happening in Israel could happen in Garston” (not, sadly for some, the building of a large wall around the district, but questionable waste disposal policies and their health risks), Big John felt compelled to remind her and the committee that “We’re talking about Garston here, not Gaza” – although his Everton drawl did make the two places sound indistinct, if only in name.
Development control manager Mark Loughran perhaps summed it up most succinctly when reminding the committee that “morality, ethics and human rights” were not really considerations for planners – without doubt a view that many of those present at the meeting to unsuccessfully oppose developments in their own backyards would ruefully concur with.
The planning application was approved and the official report [pdf] on the meeting makes absolutely no mention of anything remotely to do with BDS.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Another Council Declares BDS Illegal

The most important target of the BDS 'cult' is the French multi-national Veolia. Unfortunately for them, their demands that councils exclude the company from public contracts is completely illegal. Leeds City Council told local campaigners as much last year.

Now the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) has reiterated reality.
NLWA said it had received “letters and representations” on the issue, while it faced protests at its meeting last week. But the authority said: “The legal position is very clear and these are not issues that the NLWA can or will in any way take into account"
Will the BDS 'cult' listen this time?

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Jerusalem: The Main Obstacle to Peace

It is well understood that the only viable way to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians is to go back to the original plan and have two distinct countries. This is the stated position of world leaders and the UN. It has been accepted by both sides in the conflict.

Two major issues remain, though: refugees and Jerusalem. Palestinians want Israel to grant citizenship to the millions of Palestinians registered as refugees by the UNRWA and Israel flatly refuses. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be their capital and Israel flatly refuses. However, there is a crucial difference between these issues which makes one a major obstacle to peace and not the other. This is the question of consensus.

In the same way as the two-state solution has gained unassailable consensus in the international community, so too has the solution to the refugee issue. Everyone understands that Palestinians will not become Israeli citizens and must accept compensation instead. The refugee issue is not a major obstacle to peace since the solution is there and agreed upon. All that is required is for the Israelis to agree to a proper level of compensation and for Palestinians to accept the inevitable. Those are not trivial requirements but nevertheless the starting point is known.

When it comes to Jerusalem, however, thinking is confused and unclear. The consensus appears to be that East Jerusalem should serve as the capital of a future Palestine. But does that mean that the city is to be divided into two separate cities with a border snaking through it? Should the city be shared with free movement between its two parts? Should sovereignty be divided or held by one side with some form of autonomy granted to the other?

These important questions have not been addressed and no consensus exists. There is, therefore, no viable plan for peace that could be implemented. Instead there is hand-waving and wishful thinking. The so-called Road Map for Peace leaves the issue of Jerusalem as a matter for negotiation, offering not even a hint at what the city might look like once peace is concluded.

Until there is a consensus on what Jerusalem will look like once a Palestinian state has been created, there is not much prospect for peace. It is, of course, a very complicated issue which is probably why there is such reticence to discuss it. But if there is to be peace, then there must be an international consensus on this issue, just as there is with regards to the refugees.

Without it, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators will each state their claims and reject whatever the other proposes. With it, the sides enter negotiations with a firm peace plan on the table and their job is to tweak it until it is acceptable.

There is also the question of public opinion. People cannot be convinced to agree to a non-existent plan. But, if there is consensus on a specific deal, then people can work to change public opinion in favour of it.

This is why Jerusalem is now the biggest obstacle to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Monday, 20 February 2012

EDM Proves Illegality of BDS

A couple of weeks ago Jeremy Corbyn sponsored an Early Day Motion in the House Commons. It has so far attracted 13 signatures. The motion calls on the Government to:
facilitate and support effective EU legislation to ensure ... that economic operators aiding and abetting the building, maintenance or servicing of illegal Israeli settlements be excluded from public contracts in the EU.
This proves that the main thrust of the BDS campaign is illegal.

The BDS campaign primarily focuses on trying (and failing) to get Veolia excluded from public contracts and does so by citing current UK law:
Under the Public Contract Regulations (2006) a contracting authority may exclude an economic operator from bidding for a contract or may reject any such bid where it is found that the individual or organisation in question has “committed an act of grave misconduct in the course of his business or profession” (section 23(4)(e)).
The Public Contract Regulations are the UK's implementation of EU Directive 2004/18/EC. So if the EU already has legislation that allows for BDS why is there an EDM asking for it?

The reality is that BDS in public contracts is actually completely illegal. The "grave misconduct" clause that the BDS 'cult' relies on does not apply here. The preamble to the EU legislation states:
If national law contains provisions to this effect, non-compliance with environmental legislation or legislation on unlawful agreements in public contracts which has been the subject of a final judgment or a decision having equivalent effect may be considered an offence concerning the professional conduct of the economic operator concerned or grave misconduct.
Non-observance of national provisions implementing the Council Directives 2000/78/EC(15) and 76/207/EEC(16) concerning equal treatment of workers, which has been the subject of a final judgment or a decision having equivalent effect may be considered an offence concerning the professional conduct of the economic operator concerned or grave misconduct.
Thus it is clear that the clause only comes into effect when a final judgement has been made finding the tenderer guilty of breaking a law. This has not happened in the case of Veolia and there are therefore no legal grounds for excluding it.


This understanding was confirmed by Leeds City Council to local campaigners who refused to exclude Veolia and stated that the company had never been excluded from a contract because of BDS. The response was precisely what one might expect from what Norman Finkelstein labelled a cult - they simply ignored what they were told and insisted they were right and the council was wrong. Indeed, London BDS responded to Finkelsteins branding them a cult by dismissing him as a delusional Zionist.

Will the BDS Campaign now dismiss these MPs as Zionists too?

Sunday, 19 February 2012

BDS Double Failure in North London

The North London Waste Authority (NLWA) announced last week that Veolia had been short-listed for two lucrative contracts worth a combined £4.7 billion. The final decision won't be made until December.

BDS campaigners had tried hard to convince the Authority to exclude Veolia because of its involvement in the Jerusalem Light Rail which they hold to be illegal since it benefits Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem (ignoring the benefit to Palestinians living there). Excluding Veolia from the contract would almost certainly be illegal under European and UK law and clearly the Authority was not convinced by the BDS arguments.

What makes this a double failure (aside from the two contracts) is that the BDS campaigners have themselves given up on BDS. Rather than argue that the company should be excluded because of anything to do with Israel and the occupation, the BDS campaigners have focussed their efforts on other facets of the bid. A letter sent to a local paper a few days before the decision, reprinted on the London BDS website, called for Veolia to not be short-listed. But rather than focus on its involvement with the tram system, the letter argued that:
Only two of the bidders included practical solutions to the authority’s objective of combining heat usage in the project, known as CHP. On the other hand, Veolia’s solution is not and could not be CHP.
To confirm this, we researched information from other bodies, including the Infrastructure Planning Commission and the Environment Agency.
The issue of Israel was an afterthought:
Does it surprise anyone that Veolia, which has been accused of profiting from illegal Israeli settlements, shows such disregard for environmental objectives?
And in the comments on the London BDS website, reacting to their failure, one activist argued that:
Prior to the NLWA decisions on 10 Feb “Moody’s downgraded Veolia Environment’s senior unsecured ratings from A3 to Baa1″ [published on 8 February].
It is inconceivable the NLWA management informed the councillors Members of this significant development before the decisions on 10 Feb, as it failed to inform them that Veolia is not CHP and its grave misconduct in aiding and abetting war crimes.
It is most likely Veolia would have been deselected had the NLWA taken into account the true ratings of Veolia, but as with other evidence, the NLWA been withholding information from the elected Members as well giving inappropriate weightings.
When even the BDS campaigners won't put BDS at the centre of their campaign, you know they're losing and they know it.

Time to Refocus

For a while now this blog has focussed on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. It is one of the main organisations working to spread lies and misinformation about Israel intending to give the impression that a liberal, democratic country of refugees which has been under existential threat since its inception is actually the world's most evil group of people responsible for unspeakable and inexcusable crimes that are unmatched by any other country.

Fortunately for those who desire peace the campaign is suffering on three fronts. Firstly the extent to which it is infested with antisemitism and Holocaust denial has been exposed. Local branches have been forced to expel some important members because of their extremism and the national campaign released a statement claiming that Holocaust denial has "no place in the movement". This claim was rather undermined when 20% of the members refused to expel a Holocaust denier who told the AGM that the Holocaust was a myth.

The second problem facing the PSC is that it is now trying to claim that it is committed to the two-state solution. Up until recently the campaign refused to take any stand on the issue therefore being able to hide the fact that most of its members want to see Israel wiped off the map. But it has come under pressure to clarify its position and when forced to do so can only take a stand in favour of two states or lose any chance of becoming mainstream. Its members aren't happy about that.

Finally, the PSC's main campaigning tool is the boycott campaign and BDS is failing. It has failed to convince many Israel-haters let alone the wider public. Its targeting of Veolia is a sham as its members must know but won't admit. In the most recent blow, Norman Finkelstein blasted the entire campaign as a "cult".

So its fair to say that, as things stand, the PSC is likely to have a bad year. As will BDS. It's therefore time to move on and focus on something else. The PSC is still a horrid organisation whose members will gladly ignore the inconvenient fact that the Syrian regime has murdered more Arabs in the last year suppressing demands for democracy and freedom, than Israel has killed this century trying to protect its civilians from terrorism. It will still attempt to convince the world that Israel is especially evil. It will still campaign to get local councillors to break the law by illegally excluding Veolia from contracts. It will still lie about its commitment to two states and it will continue to attract and harbour antisemites and Holocaust deniers. And I will, hopefully, still be exposing as much of this as I can.

However, the Campaign is weak and need not be feared. It cannot be ignored but it doesn't warrant taking centre stage. In particular, it doesn't deserve to be on the front foot making arguments that others have to refute. It has nothing to offer that can lead to peace. No vision for the future. Only division and destruction.

Its time to refocus on the main obstacle to peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Jerusalem.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

PSC Members Find Place for Racism and Holocaust Deniers

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) continues to have problems with antisemitism and Holocaust denial. At their recent AGM the delegates confirmed the expulsion of Francis Clark-Lowes, a former national chair and member of the Brighton branch, for Holocaust denial.
 
His problems started last April when he emailed the Brighton PSC mailing list declaring that he was
proud to call himself a ‘holocaust denier’
and then later that
I do not believe that millions of Jews and others were gassed in an industrial process of extermination
Those comments resulted in him being expelled by his local branch. Tony Greenstein claims that "not one voice was raised in his defence in Brighton PSC".  Tony then reported his comments to the Executive in May who expelled him from the national PSC as well. He appealed at the AGM but lost.

Unfortunately for the PSC, rather than show the organisation as being strongly against such overt antisemitism, the opposite is true. Problems started immediately when it emerged that 20% of the delegates refused to vote against Clark-Lowes, despite him calling the Holocaust a myth in his appeal speech.

A couple of days after the AGM, Francis Clark-Lowes posted a response to Mr Greenstein in which he contradicted Tony's claim of unanimity inside the Brighton branch. Francis wrote:
Greenstein states that ‘not one voice was raised in his defence in Brighton PSC.’ He must know this to be untrue. One voice was raised forcefully in defence of my right to free speech at the meeting where my expulsion was discussed, and several other branch members contacted me later to declare their support.
It now turns out that several members of the Brighton branch have started a reading group to "study" the antisemitic ideas of Gilad Atzmon, contained in his book The Wandering Who. Among those involved are Brenda Brown, a former chair of the branch, and Penny and Jim Porter. Every month, these members of the PSC will join the expelled Francis Clark-Lowes to discuss the antisemitic text.

The PSC claims that
Any expression of racism or intolerance, or attempts to deny or minimise the Holocaust have no place in our movement. 
So long as its members are happy to join Holocaust deniers to study racist books, the PSC shouldn't expect reasonable people to take their words seriously.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Mainstreaming and Slimlining

The PSC's report on its AGM claims that, in 2012, the organisation will focus on mainstreaming itself. As I've written before it currently has virtually no impact on public opinion and when it does it is often negative. Ten years of BDS campaigning has not convinced more than a handful of people and aroused significant opposition.

Any attempt by the PSC to make itself mainstream will most likely result in it shedding active members. Last year Hugh Lanning was forced on at least two occasions to declare that the PSC supports the two state solution, despite Betty Hunter reassuring members that it doesn't. The more it tries to attract support from less extreme groups the more often it will have to make similar public declarations.

The problems of Holocaust denial and antisemitism among members hasn't gone away and is unlikely to do so. The PSC will find itself forced to move against more members in the future, expelling some and angering others. It will find it increasingly difficult to defend Hamas and other extreme Palestinian groups for whom antisemitism is an important part of their worldview. People will rightly ask how they can expel Holocaust deniers in Britain while supporting them abroad.

Virtually anything the PSC does to try and make itself mainstream will alienate its members. Eventually it might well become important but not before it becomes a reasonable voice in the debate at which point it will be listened to but have nothing to say.

If any example were needed of the PSC's inability to be both mainstream and a delegitimiser of Israel then we need look no further than the Olympics. The AGM report says that it will try to use the Olympics to "raise the issue of Palestine" (as if people are currently unaware of it). Apart from the fact that the Mayor's office has already made it clear that political activity will not be tolerated during the Olympics, there is something remarkable about the PSC's approach to the Olympics to date.

One of the main claims used by the PSC to attack Israel and justify its BDS campaign is that Israel is an apartheid state. Just as South Africa was the target of boycotts so Israel should be. Given that South Africa was banned from the Olympics for nearly 20 years, why has the PSC not called for Israel to be banned? The answer is that such a call would make it politically very difficult for the likes of Ken Livingstone and the Green Party to retain ties with the PSC.

So not only is the PSC irrelevant and the BDS campaign a failure, any attempt by the PSC to make itself more important will require them to end their delegitimisation and significantly water down their BDS campaign.

Monday, 30 January 2012

The Failure and Futility of BDS

As part of my very short series of reasons not to worry about the PSC I explain how the BDS campaign has been a failure and is now completely futile.

The BDS campaign in the UK is more than ten years old now. According to the UK Foreign Office, Israeli exports to the Britain have grown every year in that period except during the first couple of years when Israel's economy faltered and again in 2009 for similar reasons. In 2010 it was worth just under £1.5bn representing a little over 4% of Israel's exports.

The campaign certainly hasn't captured the imagination of the British public. The only times that I can recall it being discussed widely in the UK media was when the notion was being thoroughly lambasted from all quarters. It's true that some trade unions have called for or even demanded a boycott but it seems doubtful to me whether even those hundred or so delegates who voted for the motions actually intended to follow it. If the annual campaign against Israeli dates during Ramadan is anything to go by, the BDS supporters are struggling even to convince Muslims not to buy Israeli produce.

As the movement failed to work on the masses the PSC has changed tack, deciding to focus almost all of its energy on a completely futile campaign that is guaranteed to provide it with a never ending stream of "victories". This is the so-called Bin Veolia campaign.

The campaign aims to convince local authorities to exclude Veolia from public contracts. However, under European and UK law it would be completely illegal for any government body to exclude Veolia's bid for political reasons. The PSC likes to claim that companies can be excluded if they're guilty of "grave misconduct" and that that clause applies to any company operating in the West Bank. Unfortunately, the clause only comes into effect once a company has been convicted by a court or tribunal of breaking the law.

Leeds City Council told their local PSC branch as much, going further by pointing out that the company has never been excluded by any council. The branch refused to listen, claiming that Veolia had "lost billions of pounds worth of contracts" due to BDS.

And this is why the PSC loves the campaign so much - they're guaranteed victories. Most people would quickly realise that no company is ever going to win every tender process it enters. Its obvious, therefore, that Veolia will fail in numerous bids. But for the BDSers, every time it doesn't win they can claim credit.

This is what the BDS campaign has become - lots of energy spent to achieve nothing except the continual victory claims. For example, last year the PSC claimed a victory after John Lewis stopped stocking Ahava products. Unfortunately, John Lewis then called the claim "false and misleading" and declared that the boycott campaign had had no effect on the sales of the products.

The national PSC must be aware that the campaign against Veolia winning public contracts can never achieve anything, so why do they spend so much effort on it? One possibility is that it's a very good way of appearing active, appearing to win and keeping the activists happy. Regardless, its good to note that if all the PSC can do is call for something that councils know to be illegal, then friends of Israel needn't get overly concerned.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

PSC's Impact on Public Opinion

Imagine that the PSC was a significant organisation, taken seriously and respected as an important voice in the pro-Palestinian camp. Would it be reasonable to assume that its opinion would be sought on the topic of the Arab-Israeli conflict? Might its senior members be invited to contribute to the debate? Would the media report some of its activities?

Judging by what I found when I looked, the PSC is virtually ignored by the mainstream press. Even the Guardian.

In the last 10 years the Guardian have published over 7,500 items on Palestine and 35,000 on Israel. During the same period it has printed a whopping 109 items mentioning the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Here's a closer look at them.

56 are letters, of which 2 just mention the PSC in passing and 3 are signed by someone who is a committee member of a local branch. 16 are letters with numerous signatures including some from the PSC. They can claim credit, though, for 7 letters whose signatories are either exclusively PSC or were almost certainly gathered by them. There are a further 28 letters signed by someone from the national PSC, virtually all of which are from Betty Hunter.

Of the 53 non-letters 26 are news articles and 14 are comment pieces. The rest are a mixture of local news reports (7), profiles (1), obituaries (1), diary entries (2) and running stories (2).

The news articles break down as follows. 6 mention the PSC in passing, 2 report in negative terms about an activity of the PSC, 1 in neutral terms, 1 is about their interruption of the proms and 2 are references to them inviting the anti-Semitic Raed Salah. In 14 other articles a quote is provided by the PSC, though 5 of these are quotes from Sarah Colborne about her being on the Mavi Marmara and in all likelihood would have been given without the PSC existing.

What is more interesting is the comments pieces. 5 of the 14 only mention it in passing. The other 9 are all hostile or negative towards the PSC. So far as I can tell, no member of the national PSC has been a contributor to CiF.

Perhaps the importance of the PSC to the UK's discourse is best summed up by the following two comments on the live coverage of the Mavi Marmara incident.
10.38am:
A source from the Free Gaza Movement has told the Guardian that 19 people are believed dead.
There were 27 Britons on board the ships, the contact says, including Sarah Colvin from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign

11.08am:
Ben Folley has emailed to point out that I've erred in my 10.38am post, naming a couple of Britons on board. Sarah Colvin should read Sarah Colborne – she is director of campaigns at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign
When the journalist for the definitely anti-Israel Guardian who is live blogging a major event doesn't even recognise the name of the Director of the PSC - perhaps its fair to suggest that they're not that important really.

Keeping Things in Perspective

One of the dangers of focussing on a single issue is that you can lose perspective. Since I've spent some time rather focussed on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign I think its good to take a little time to remind myself of how the world really looks. So here are three reasons why the PSC shouldn't make anyone quake in their boots. In the coming few days I'll elaborate on each one.

1) The PSC has little impact on public opinion and when it does, it is often detrimental to the anti-Israel campaign. (Read more)

2) The BDS campaign, which the PSC spends such effort on, is a failure and its main element is a sham. (Read more)

3) The PSC will become increasingly toothless and incapable of de-legitimising Israel. (Read more)

Bristol PSC and Gilad Atzmon

Last November, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign was forced to distance itself from Gilad Atzmon. Its director, Sarah Colborne, told the Jewish Chronicle:
PSC has made clear ... that we have no links with Gilad Atzmon, and that Palestine Solidarity Campaign does not work with him.
You can read more details on the background here, here and here.

This message, though, didn't appear to get through to the Bristol branch who organised a meeting with Atzmon for this afternoon. Then, last week, a comment appeared from a representative of Bristol PSC stating:
Gilad is well known for his outspoken criticism of Israel and Zionism which will be of interest to many people. However his book focuses primarily on Jewish identity and is not directly relevant to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. For this reason this event is now organised independently. 
I think it's fair to say that the statement is far from being a denunciation of his anti-Semitism. It doesn't enlighten us as to who is now organising the already organised event. The only people involved in the original arrangements were Bristol PSC, why did they not cancel the event?

More interestingly, it appears that nobody told Gilad that Bristol PSC was no longer organising the event. After an article written (published yesterday) by Atzmon, defending expelled Holocaust denier Francis Clark-Lowes, he makes the following comment (left today):
Interestingly enough I give a talk today at Bristol PSC. I will probably end up discussing those issues…
 It certainly seems like an odd situation. First the PSC claims that it has nothing to do with Atzmon and then one of its branches organises an event entitled "Tea with Gilad Atzmon". Then the branch apparently has a change of heart but doesn't cancel the event, instead telling everyone that it is being organised by someone else. Yet Atzmon still thinks he's talking to the PSC.

Would it be going too far to suggest that the organisers of the event are still Bristol PSC and the attendees are still going to be PSC supporters and members and the only thing that has changed is that the PSC has tried to pretend that it isn't organising it. 

Maybe someone from Bristol PSC can clear this up?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Holocaust Denial at the PSC AGM

Yesterday the Palestine Solidarity Campaign held its Annual General Meeting. One of the first things it had to deal with was the expulsion of former National Chair Francis Clark-Lowes. Last year he admitted being a Holocaust denier and, after some pressure, was expelled. Mr Clark-Lowes had a right to appeal at the AGM and you can read his speech here.

What was the reaction in a room full of people claiming to be anti-racist when they were told:
"Put simply, the idea that Gentiles have an anti-Semitic gene, the story of Jewish suffering, the ‘Holocaust’ myth, Zionism, Jewish chauvinism, and anti-racist rhetoric have combined into an ideology which, because it is virtually unsinkable in its own terms, is immensely powerful."
or that:
"Instead of  cowering in fear at the use Zionists might make of what we say, and desperately scouring every word uttered on this subject to root out supposed anti-Semitism, we should be challenging Jewish ideology."
The condemnation was less than inspiring. According to Tony Greenstein:
People literally gasped as they heard him describe the holocaust as a ‘myth’
But Jeremy Moodey says that everyone just listened politely (although the room cheered when they were told that the Occupy movement had taken over another site). When he finished speaking there was modest applause according to Paul Eisen who was apparently outside the room.

After the speech the AGM was asked to vote on whether this Holocaust denier should be expelled from the self-proclaimed anti-racist campaign. 1 in 5 of those present couldn't bring themselves to vote yes. The AGM went on to back a motion endorsing the following statement from the executive:
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign exists to build a mass solidarity movement on Palestine. It is founded on principles of justice, human rights, and opposition to all forms of racism. Any expression of racism or intolerance, or attempts to deny or minimise the Holocaust have no place in our movement. Such sentiments are abhorrent in their own right and can only detract from the building of a strong movement in support of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.
Words are cheap and in this case meaningless. When 20% of your organisation won't vote to expel a man who denied the Holocaust to their faces, you don't have much credibility claiming that such denial "has no place" in your movement.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Did the PSC Lie to Caroline Lucas MP?

In June last year Caroline Lucas MP released the following statement to the Jewish Chronicle:
It has been brought to my attention that the PSC logo appears to reflect 1917, pre-creation of Israel, borders and as such could be open to interpretation by some as implying non-recognition of Israel's right to exist. I am following this up with the director of the PSC since I am quite sure that PSC does indeed recognise Israel's right to exist, and it is unhelpful and damaging if any other impression is given.
I did not see any update to this so emailed Ms Lucas in October and was told that she had given a follow-up statement to the JC:
After raising the issue directly with PSC, I am satisfied with the assurances I have received that the organisation does indeed recognise Israel’s right to exist – as I had expected – and that it remains committed to a two state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
According to an article in the Morning Star also from June, the PSC was criticised at a TUC meeting for not supporting the two-state solution and Hugh Lanning (Chair of the PSC) responded.
He stressed the need for two states based on the 1967 borders - a demand recently backed by US President Barack Obama but consistently rejected by Israel.
However, in November Lauren Booth launched an attack on the PSC in which she quoted Sammi Ibrahem as saying:
I feel they (the PSC) have no right to represent the Palestinians’ he says, ‘Their policies are pro the ‘two state’ solution.
Obviously concerned by this, a member of the Bristol branch emailed the head office for clarification and received a reply from Betty Hunter, the President of the PSC. In her email she said:
We do not take a position on the 2 state/ one state solution as that decision must be for all Palestinians. 
One possibility is that there is a real split in the PSC between those who support Israel's right to exist and therefore support the two-state solution; and those who aren't fussed and think it's up to the Palestinians (not the Israelis) to decide whether Israel can continue to exist or not. If this is true then it would be difficult to claim that the organisation is committed to a two-state solution.

Another, more worrying possibility, is that the PSC doesn't, in fact, take any stance on the issue as their President affirms. However, in order to gain support from trade union officials and Members of Parliament, they are willing to lie and tell them that they are fully committed to a two-state solution.

So did they lie to Caroline Lucas MP? Or is the PSC lying to its members?

Sunday, 1 January 2012

A (small) Thank you to anti-Israel Jews

If for every two Jews there are three opinions, it is hardly surprising that there is a distinct lack of unanimous support for any policy decision from any Israeliadministration. But, while most British Jews prefer to leave the public criticism to Israel’s many willing opponents, some feel the need to state their disagreements loudly and “as Jews”. Their apparent willingness to lend support to the complete delegitimisation of the Jewish state leaves the rest of us unsure how to respond and it is tempting to simply label them “self-hating Jews”. However, the truth is never so straightforward.
In many, perhaps most, cases the motivation to publicly denounce Israel is the desire to fight antisemitism. As the CST has observed, the number of antisemitic attacks in the UK is directly related to tensions and actions in the Middle East. Some believe that the support Israel receives from Britain’s mainstream Jewish organisations is a cause of antisemitism and the only way to fight that is to create Jewish anti-Israel organisations.

The founding declaration of Independent Jewish Voices, for example, places the fight against antisemitism at the heart of the organisation. Likewise, Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) state that they “extend support to Palestinians trapped in the spiral of violence and repression” because they “believe that such actions are important in countering antisemitism”.

Unfortunately, these campaigns are na├»ve and counter-productive. Racists are generally not entirely rational people. The egg-throwing thug is unlikely to weigh up the probability that the man walking home from synagogue might disapprove of settlements. Nor is the desecrater of cemeteries going to check first that his victims haven’t signed an anti-Israel letter to the Guardian.

More likely is the attitude shown in a comment allegedly left by a member of the Reading Palestine Solidarity Campaign on a website that “not all adherents to the Torah are enemies of humanity” because Neturei Karta are not. By opposing any and every action by Israel, the impression is given that anyone not joining the public denunciations is fully supportive of all these policies. Far from destroying the impression of Jewish support for Israeli actions, their opposition reinforces it. And all this is aside from the impact of delegitimisation on our fellow Jews in Israel.

Nevertheless, very few anti-Israel Jews are self-hating. We should recognise this and make sure to keep them within the big tent against antisemitism rather than making them pariahs. They may be opponents of Israel but they can be our allies in the struggle against antisemitism.

An example are the Jews of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). The PSC is a leading force in delegitimisation, using trade unions to advance its call to boycott all things related to Israel. Its public meetings are often attended by Labour MPs and it invited the banned Sheikh Raed Salah to speak at one such meeting to be held in the Houses of Parliament. Many believe the organisation is incapable of distinguishing between criticism of Israeli actions and antisemitism.

However, during 2011 there has been something of a mini-purge of the organisation with some previously important members forced to resign because of their antisemitism. Those effectively expelled include a former national chair, the chair of one branch, the secretary of another and the webmaster of a third. Behind all these resignations appear to be rank and file Jewish members with support from a Jewish member of the Executive Committee. While the PSC itself may be unable to work our what antisemitism looks like, its Jewish members certainly can.

We have enough enemies already that we shouldn’t be looking to create more.

So long as anti-Israel Jews retain their sensitivity to antisemitism we can be sure that they are neither self-hating nor hate us. They remain allies in our struggle against antisemitism and in some ways are capable of achieving results in it that the rest of us cannot. We should thank them for that. If we don’t make enemies of them, we may find that we have more friends than we thought. May 2012 be a year of reconciliation and greater unity in our small community. We will all be better off for it.

This piece was published in the Jewish Chronicle.