board of deputies of british jews
This is indeed a landmark decision, even if it was only “a low-level proceeding at an employment tribunal”.
The separation of Jewish identity from political support for the state of Israel is at the heart of the confusion between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. As has been said, only two types of persons insist that all Jews are the same – Nazis and Zionists. All Jews are not the same. They do not all share the same political perspectives. They do not all support the actions of the state of Israel. Indeed, an ever-increasing number of Jews around the world are becoming vocally opposed to the actions of the state that presumes to speak in their name!
British Jewry in turmoil after tribunal blasts pro-Israel activist for bringing harassment case
By Anshel Pfeffer
Ruling in case brought by mathematics lecturer was meant to be culmination of 11 years of pro-Israel activism, but ruling that ‘attachment to Israel… is not intrinsically a part of Jewishness’ has caused shock waves in the Jewish community.
LONDON − It was only one private citizen suing Britain’s largest academic union, but it seemed as if all the country’s Jewish establishment was standing behind him in court. It was only a low-level proceeding at an employment tribunal, not a high court adjudicating on matters of state, but the judgment seemed to be trying to say something profound about what it means to be Jewish − that love for the State of Israel is not an intrinsic trait among all Jews in Britain, or anywhere else for that matter.
Delivered two weeks ago on the eve of Passover, the ruling in the case of one Ronnie Fraser against the University and College Union soured the holiday mood for a number of influential British Jews, and it has been slowly causing shock waves in the community’s upper echelons.
The case was to have been the culmination of 11 years of pro-Israel activism by Fraser, a mathematics lecturer who had been fighting against what he saw as a virulently anti-Israel tide, with a distinct tinge of anti-Semitism, rising in the union to which he belongs.
Alongside him was Anthony Julius, one of the most prominent Jewish lawyers in Britain and a tireless opponent of anti-Semitism. Supporting the two were a cast of witnesses including Jewish and sympathetic non-Jewish activists, academics and politicians.
The lawsuit was backed both financially and in terms of considerable research resources by organizations linked to the central British Jewry leadership forums, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council.
The case against UCU was complex, including 10 separate complaints, but the gist was that the officers of the union representing more than 120,000 staff members at Britain’s universities and colleges had allegedly exhibited “institutional anti-Semitism” and caused its Jewish members to feel harassed in a way considered illegal according to Britain’s anti-racism legislation.
They had done so, the complainants claimed, through their relentless campaign over the years calling for a boycott of Israel in general and of Israeli academic institutions and trade unions in particular.
UCU has long been identified as one of the main bastions of anti-Israeli activism in the British mainstream. Both as a trade union and as an organization representing academics, it is a hub for supporters of boycotts targeting Israeli universities as well as Israel’s business and social sectors.
The case assembled by Fraser and Julius was impressive. It challenged, among other things, the way supporters of Israel were treated at union conferences, the way anti-Israel and anti-Semitic remarks on the UCU members’ private Internet forum were moderated, the union’s rejection of the European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia’s working definition of anti-Semitism (which includes disproportionate criticism of Israel), and an invitation extended to a known anti-Jewish trade unionist from South Africa to speak at a union conference.
UCU denied any anti-Semitism within its ranks, and responded that its officers had not conducted themselves in any way that could be construed as harassment of Jewish members.
But beyond the factual disputes in the case, the fundamental basis of the Fraser’s accusations was that Jews possess a strong feeling of affinity toward Israel that is an intrinsic part of their Jewish identity. Therefore, he claimed, when an organization to which they belong constantly attacks Israel in a manner they deem unfair, it constitutes a direct attack on their identity.
Among the long list of witnesses Fraser called were two non-Jewish members of parliament who testified about the manner in which UCU had rejected the EU definition of anti-Semitism, which they had championed.
The defendants also had their own Jewish supporters. Fifty Jewish UCU members signed an open letter praising their union and denying that there was any sort of institutional anti-Semitism within its ranks. Julius responded that it was simply a standard anti-Semitic ploy of dividing Jews into good-Jew/bad-Jew categories.
But the well-built and detailed case was shattered by the tribunal’s ruling. The panel, headed by Judge A.M. Snelson, accepted UCU’s version of all the events in question, and found that most of the claims were no longer valid in any case, due to a change in the laws.
Beyond that, it fundamentally disagreed with the central claim underpinning the complaints. The tribunal wrote in its judgment that “a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel or any similar sentiment cannot amount to a protected characteristic. It is not intrinsically a part of Jewishness.”
And while many Jews would agree with that ruling, the tribunal did not stop there. At the end of its 45-page ruling, it launched into an extraordinarily hostile invective against the very nature of the case brought before it. Though the panel was generally sympathetic to Fraser himself, it stated that as an activist “he must accept his fair share of minor injuries. … A political activist accepts the risk of being offended or hurt on occasions.”
With regard to his lawyer, Julius, the ruling scathingly referred to the case’s “magnificent prose” and its “gargantuan scale.” And it blasted the two members of parliament, whom it described as “glib,” as well as the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, Jeremy Newmark, who took the stand as a witness.
In fact, Newmark’s testimony about his attempt to enter a UCU conference was “rejected as untrue.” His claim that he was being stereotyped as a “pushy Jew” was called “preposterous.” And his characterization of the UCU as “no longer a fit arena for free speech” was found by the tribunal to be “not only extraordinarily arrogant but also disturbing.”
UCU, meanwhile, received only very mild admonishments from the tribunal for inviting a known anti-Semite to a conference, and for referring a case in which a pro-Israel union member complained about online censorship to a pro-Palestinian activist. The tribunal otherwise found the union had acted in an honorable manner.
The claimants, on the other hand, were criticized for having filed the suit at all, which the tribunal described as an “impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means.” Underlying the case, it said, was “worrying disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression.”
A more damning indictment of Fraser and his supporters’ motives could not have been written, and UCU was quick to celebrate its total exoneration.
General secretary Sally Hunt said in a statement that she was “delighted that the tribunal has made such a clear and overwhelming judgment in UCU’s favor” and that it “upholds our and others’ right to freedom of expression.”
She made sure to add that the union will “remain opposed to discrimination of any kind, including anti-Semitism.”
Within the Jewish community meanwhile, as Passover ended and the implications of the ruling sunk in, the finger-pointing began.
In Friday’s Jewish Chronicle, prominent Jewish lawyers lined up to say it should have been clear from the start that the case wasn’t legally strong enough to have been brought, and that the ruling should have been foreseen.
“To be honest, we weren’t extremely confident,” said one executive in a central Jewish organization, “and we would have preferred to go to court with a different case. But when Fraser and Julius decided they were going to do it, we had no choice but to give them all the support. It would have been a scandal had the Jewish community not supported them.”
Julius declined to comment.
A spokesman for Fair Play, a body set up by the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council to fight anti-Israel boycotts, said that “When Ronnie and his legal team decided to bring their case against UCU, we felt that it deserved whatever support we were able to provide. Years of campaigning inside UCU had convinced us and many union members that the union was incapable of fairly tackling complaints of anti-Semitism by itself.”
Regarding the judge’s accusations against Newmark, the Jewish Leadership Council said that his “evidence was backed up by a leading non-Jewish trade unionist who witnessed the incident.”
And so it was left to Fraser, who had championed the case for so long, to respond to his critics. He called them “armchair critics [who have] no idea what it’s like to be out there,” and added, “They were silent when I was fighting and I don’t have to justify myself to them.”
Fraser said he will probably not appeal the judgment to a higher court, so as not to risk making it a legal precedent. But he called upon the leadership of British Jewry to establish “a definition of anti-Semitism that includes belief in Zionism and an attachment to Israel which should amount to a protected right of Jews. It’s what we have been praying for for 2,000 years.”
Here’s something as encouraging as it is unexpected – the Church of England has shown both courage and initiative by supporting a Private Members Motion on Israel/Palestine that gives a clear message to the Israeli government that the church does not accept the Palestinian Occupation!
Who would have thought that Old Aunty would take the lead where our US sisters and brothers so recently failed! Congratulations, sisters and brothers of England!
Church of England backs Palestine motion in spite of strong Israel lobby pressure
Submitted by Ben White on Mon, 07/09/2012 – 20:26
Original link: electronicintifada.net…
Today the Church of England General Synod — the church’s legislative body — overwhelmingly voted in favor of a Private Members Motion (PMM) on Palestine/Israel, in spite of pressure from pro-Israel organizations before and during the gathering.
In an embarrassing defeat for the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), both of whom had lobbied hard for Synod to reject the motion, members also rejected an amendment by the Bishop of Manchester which would have omitted support for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).
A huge majority
During the afternoon debate, speaker after speaker backed the PMM, and praised the work of EAPPI. When it came to the vote, which was done according to ‘house’, bishops voted 21 to 3 in favour (with 14 abstentions), clergy 89 to 21 (44 abstentions), and laity 91 to 30 (35 abstentions). In total, the unaltered motion received 201 votes, while only 54 members voted against.
The short motion commits Synod to support: the work of EAPPI (including making “use of the experience of returning participants”), aid agencies working with Palestinians, “Israelis and Palestinians in all organisations working for justice and peace in the area” (citing Parents Circle – Family Forum specifically), and “organisations that work to ensure” the “continuing presence [of Christian Palestinians] in the Holy Land”.
The proposal, authored by Dr. John Dinnen of Hereford Diocese, had received backing from groups like Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). Despite that, BoD and the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argued that the church risked harming “interfaith relations” by supporting the motion.
The displeasure of Israel’s supporters was focused on the singling out of EAPPI, an initiative of the World Council of Churches that over the last decade has sent more than 1,000 volunteers to Palestine/Israel. The motion also backed bereaved relatives group The Parents Circle-Family Forum, “aid agencies”, Israeli and Palestinian “organizations working for justice and peace”, and bodies assisting Palestinian Christians.
Pro-Israel groups insinuations of anti-Semitism fall flat
Initially misleading their own supporters, the BoD sent a letter to Synod members, along with a leaflet attacking EAPPI. While in the letter the BoD said it “naturally commends those who want to protect the rights of the Palestinians living in the West Bank”, Chief Executive Jon Benjamin told The Times that to focus on “the perceived iniquities of the Israelis” also, “by implication”, points the finger at “Jews abroad.”
Aside from the Chief Rabbi’s intervention, there was an unsubstantiated insinuation of antisemitism by the Council of Christians and Jews, and weak attempts at guilt by association from JLC CEO Jeremy Newmark. Canon Andrew White released a rather bizarre statement – reprising his contribution to the 2006 divestment controversy – in which he claimed “Synod is being asked to adopt a one sided ‘NAKBA’ [sic] narrative against Israel while our fellow Christians are dying in Iraq, Sudan, Egypt and Syria”.
Those efforts were aided by sympathizers in the media, specifically The Times’ Ruth Gledhill, and the Church of England Newspaper. In a piece last week, Gledhill described the Chief Rabbi’s intervention as “highly unusual”; in fact, it is a repeat of (unsuccessful) efforts in 2010 to persuade the Methodists not to back a boycott of settlement products.
In an article in the Church of England Newspaper, Florida-based journalist George Conger, did not even get motion-proposer John Dinnen’s name correct, and contrary to Conger’s claim, Dinnen says he was not approached for comment. During the 2006 divestment controversy, Conger was praised by a pro-Israel campaigner as a helpful point of contact.
Both Gledhill and Conger cited NGO Monitor as an authority on the activities of EAPPI, an organisation which routinely attacks Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights groups, including through the use of misleading translations and disingenuous allegations of antisemitism.
Indeed, even during the debate itself, as well as after the vote, leaders of the BoD and JLC resorted to making pathetic claims of antisemitism on Twitter.
Defending the indefensible
Israel’s apologists claimed to be speaking in the name of the Jewish community – for example, BoD Vice President Jonathan Arkush said he was attending Synod as a means of the “Jewish community expressing its views.” Yet many do not share the BoD’s “views” on Israeli policies.
It is less surprising that the BoD is attacking the proposed motion when one recalls that the body repeatedly intervenes to protect Israel on a number of issues: whether lobbying the government to change universal jurisdiction legislation, opposing schools’ participation in a Palestinian literary festival, or pressuring the Co-Op supermarket chain to reverse a decision to boycott companies complicit in breaches of international law.
This time around, the pressure on Synod members failed to thwart the adoption of the motion. This took place just after the Methodist Conference, where delegates overwhelmingly backed a Christian Aid call for a government ban on West Bank settlement products. Supporting international law and human rights is becoming less ‘controversial’, and Israel’s defenders are finding it increasingly tough to defend the indefensible.