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.”
Is this Mahmoud Abbas’ attempt to rescue his credibility after years of submissive acquiescence to his Israeli and US overlords? However we understand it, Abbas’ demand – the the Israeli Prime Minister provide an outline of his vision for a two-state solution – was entirely reasonable, and Netanyahu’s refusal to comply exposed his government’s peace talk as entirely disingenuous.
Palestinian president slams Israel for not presenting negotiations’ vision
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday slammed Israel for refusing to present its vision regarding the borders of the future Palestinian state.
Abbas made his protest during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the West Bank city of Ramallah, a source told Xinhua.
“This doesn’t help prepare for new peace negotiations between the two sides,” Abbas said, adding that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “seems to be blocking the peace process and destroying the two-state solution through settlements.”
Abbas stressed that the negotiations should resume.
The source said Kerry’s efforts faced the first obstacle when Netanyahu refused to show his government vision for the process of the talks and halt settlement constructions in East Jerusalem.
Earlier in the day, a Palestinian official said the Palestinian leadership halted plans to join any UN organization to give time for Kerry’s mission.
“Kerry asked for two months appointed time to move forward the peace process before we go to the UN organizations, and we have agreed on this,” said Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister Riad Al- Maliki.
“If Kerry fails in this, we will not abide by our commitments and will start moving toward the international organizations and specialized agencies” for membership and to sign international treaties, Al-Maliki told Voice of Palestine radio.
This is a tragic situation, and we can appreciate the frustration all round. The people of Gaza are frustrated because they are desperately poor. The managers of the UN relief work are frustrated because they fear for the safety of their staff when the frustration of their clients boils over into violence. The authorities in Gaza are frustrated because they know their people badly need the assistance that the UN relief agency gives them.
Evidently what is required here for everybody concerned is a concrete political solution. Even so, this doesn’t make the short-term welfare needs any less serious.
Palestinian Tensions Simmer Ahead of Kerry Visit
GAZA — Islamist group Hamas on Friday urged a United Nations agency to resume its operations in the Gaza Strip, accusing the world body of over-reacting by shutting down after its headquarters was stormed by demonstrators.
The main U.N. humanitarian agency for Palestinians closed all its offices in Gaza on Thursday after protesters stormed its headquarters to demand it reverse a decision to cut an annual $40 handout to the poorest Gazans.
The dispute comes against a broader backdrop of growing Palestinian unrest in both Gaza and the occupied West Bank, with no end in sight to the decades-old Middle East conflict.
- April 6: Istanbul, Turkey for talks with senior officials
- April 7-9: Jerusalem and Ramallah for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders
- April 10-11: London for the G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting
- April 12: Seoul, South Korea
- April 13: Beijing, China
- April 14: Tokyo, Japan
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to return to Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy on Sunday, with meetings scheduled in both Ramallah and Jerusalem from April 7-9, just two weeks after President Barack Obama’s first visit to the region.
Like Obama before him, Kerry is not expected to bring any new initiative to revive peace talks, which broke down in 2010.
The past week saw violent clashes between youths and Israeli security forces in the West Bank, which raised fears that a new uprising, or Intifada, might be brewing. There were reports of sporadic confrontations on Friday, but not on the same scale as earlier in the week.
In another sign of the tensions, rockets were fired out of Gaza for three days running this week, while Israeli warplanes carried out their first strike on the territory since November.
The storming of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) compound in Gaza on Thursday was part of a dispute that has been brewing for weeks and was not tied to diplomatic events, but it laid bare the frustration brewing amongst Palestinians.
UNRWA provides assistance in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank to Palestinian refugees and their descendants — now put at some five million spread across myriad camps.
The agency has said it will not resume work in Gaza, including food distribution to 800,000 Palestinians — nearly half the enclave’s population — unless it receives assurances from Hamas over the safety of its staff.
“People are demonstrating because they’re frustrated and the situation in Gaza just seems to be getting worse,” said Robert Turner, the director of UNRWA operations in Gaza.
“We respect everyone’s right to peaceful protest, but what happened yesterday was unacceptable,” he told Reuters, saying initial reports suggested up to 200 demonstrators, some carrying iron rods, had forced their way into the UNRWA compound.
Hamas called the closure of UNRWA offices “unjustified.”
“When UNRWA’s administration called Palestinian security they arrived, restored calm and ended the state of chaos,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. “Therefore, we urge UNRWA to rethink its decision.”
Turner said UNRWA faced a $68 million shortfall in 2013 and took the decision to cut the $40 annual handout to 106,000 Gaza refugees to save some $5.5 million. To soften the blow, the agency was offering job schemes to help the poorest families.
News that food centers had been shut down shocked Gaza.
“If UNRWA closes down the food distribution centers, it would lead to a disaster,” said Fathi Al-Seidi, 30, who lives in a refugee camp. He added that locals were dependent on the UNRWA aid and cash from Western-backed authorities in the West Bank.
“Without this, life will be equal to zero,” he said.
U.N. officials said UNRWA appeared to be bearing the brunt of disillusionment in Gaza that followed a short-lived spurt of optimism last November when a ceasefire deal between Hamas and Israel raised hopes of an easing of restrictions on the enclave.
Israel, supported by Egypt, imposes a partial trade blockade on Gaza, saying it is needed to prevent arms reaching Hamas, which does not recognize Israel and has not renounced violence.
Since the November truce, which ended eight days of fighting, the restrictions have barely changed while Egypt has launched a crackdown on illegal smuggling tunnels into Gaza.
Underscoring Hamas’s difficulties, the group’s leader Khaled Meshaal said on Thursday it faced a “financial problem,” suggesting Arab allies were not providing sufficient aid.
This brilliant and brief documentary well reflects the irrepressible strength and creativity of the Palestinian people.
Regardless of what politicians say, people will dream and express their hopes, frustrations and fears one way or another. Graffiti art has always been a voice that cries out from the base of the community. In the West Bank that base runs broad and deep.
If you can’t view this video, click here
More wisdom from brother Uri, but it gives us little ground for hope.
April 6, 2013
In Their Shoes
OBAMA IN ISRAEL: Every word right. Every gesture genuine. Every detail in its place. Perfect.
Obama in Palestine: Every word wrong. Every gesture inappropriate. Every single detail misplaced. Perfect.
IT STARTED from the first moment. The President of the United States came to Ramallah. He visited the Mukata’a, the “compound” which serves as the office of the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.
One cannot enter the Mukata’a without noticing the grave of Yasser Arafat, just a few paces from the entrance.
It is quite impossible to ignore this landmark while passing it. However, Obama succeeded in doing just that.
It was like spitting in the face of the entire Palestinian people. Imagine a foreign dignitary coming to France and not laying a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Or coming to Israel and not visiting Yad Vashem. It is more than insulting. It is stupid.
Yasser Arafat is for the Palestinians what Gorge Washington is for Americans, Mahatma Gandhi for Indians, David Ben-Gurion for Israelis. The Father of the Nation. Even his domestic opponents on the left and on the right revere his memory. He is the supreme symbol of the modern Palestinian national movement. His picture hangs in every Palestinian office and school.
So why not honor him? Why not lay a wreath on his grave, as foreign leaders have done before?
Because Arafat has been demonized and vilified in Israel like no other human being since Hitler. And still is.
Obama was simply afraid of the Israeli reaction. After his huge success in Israel, he feared that such a gesture would undo the effect of his address to the Israeli people.
THIS CONSIDERATION guided Obama throughout his short visit to the West Bank. His feet were in Palestine, his head was in Israel.
He walked in Palestine. He talked to Palestine. But his thoughts were about the Israelis.
Even when he said good things, his tone was wrong. He just could not hit the right note. Somehow he missed the cue.
Why? Because of a complete lack of empathy.
Empathy is something hard to define. I am spoiled in this respect, because I had the good fortune to live for many years near a person who had it in abundance. Rachel, my wife, hit the right tone with everyone, high or low, local or foreign, the old and the very young.
Obama did so in Israel. It was really amazing. He must have studied us thoroughly. He knew our strengths and our weaknesses, our paranoias and our idiosyncrasies, our historical memories and dreams about the future.
And no wonder. He is surrounded by Zionist Jews. They are his closest advisors, his friends and his experts on the Middle East. Even from mere contact with them, he obviously absorbed much of our sensitivities.
As far as I know, there is not a single Arab, not to mention Palestinian, in the White House and its surroundings.
I assume that he does receive occasional briefings about Arab affairs from the State Department. But such dry memoranda are not the stuff empathy is made of. The more so as clever diplomats must have learned by now not to write anything that may offend Israelis.
So how could the poor man have possibly picked up empathy towards the Palestinians?
THE CONFLICT between Israel and Palestine has very solid factual causes. But it has also been rightly described as a “clash between traumas”: the Holocaust trauma of the Jews and the Naqba trauma of the Palestinians (without suggesting equivalence between the two calamities.)
Many years ago in New York I met a very good friend of mine. He was an Arab citizen of Israel, a young poet who had left Israel and joined the PLO. He invited me to meet some Palestinians at his home in a suburb of New York. His family name, by the way, was the same as Obama’s middle name.
When I entered the apartment, it was crammed full with Palestinians – Palestinians of all stripes, from Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, the refugee camps and the Diaspora. We had a very emotional debate, full of heated arguments and counter-arguments. When we left I asked Rachel what, to her mind, was the most outstanding common sentiment of all these people. “The sense of injustice!” she replied without hesitation.
That was exactly what I felt. “If Israel could just apologize for what we have done to the Palestinian people, a huge obstacle would have been removed from the road to peace,” I answered her.
It would have been a good beginning for Obama in Ramallah if he had addressed this point. It was not the Palestinians who killed six million Jews. It was the European countries and – yes – the USA which callously closed their doors to the Jews, who were desperately trying to escape the lot awaiting them. And it was the Muslim world which welcomed hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing from Catholic Spain and the inquisition some 500 years ago.
OUR CONFLICT is tragic, more than most. One of its tragedies is that neither side can be entirely blamed. There is not one narrative, but two. Each side is convinced of the absolute justice of its cause. Each side nurses its overwhelming sense of victimhood. Though there can be no symmetry between settlers and natives, occupier and occupied, in this respect they are the same.
The trouble with Obama is that he has completely, entirely, totally embraced one narrative, while being almost completely oblivious to the other. Every word he uttered in Israel gave testimony to his deeply-rooted Zionist convictions. Not just the words he said, but the tone, the body language, all bore the marks of honesty. Evidently, he had internalized the Zionist version of every single detail of the conflict.
Nothing like this was in evidence in Ramallah. Some dry formulas, yes. Some honest efforts to break the ice, indeed. But nothing that touched the hearts of the Palestinians.
He told his Israeli audience to “put yourselves in the shoes of the Palestinians”. But did he do so himself? Can he imagine what it means to wait every night for the brutal banging on the door? To be woken by the noise of bulldozers approaching, wondering whether they are coming to destroy your home? To see a settlement growing on your land and waiting for the settlers to come and carry out a pogrom in your village? Being unable to move on your roads? To see your father humiliated at the road blocks? To throw stones at armed soldiers and brave tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and sometimes live ammunition?
Can he even imagine having a brother, a cousin, a loved one in prison for many, many years because of his patriotic actions or beliefs, after facing the arbitrariness of a military “court”, or even without a “trial” at all?
This week, a prisoner called Maisara Abu-Hamdiyeh died in prison, and the West Bank exploded in rage. Israeli journalists ridiculed the protest, stating that the man died from a fatal disease, so Israel could not be blamed.
Did any of them imagine for a moment what it means for a human being to suffer from cancer, with the disease slowly spreading through his body, deprived of adequate treatment, cut off from family and friends, seeing death approaching? What if it had been their father?
THE OCCUPATION is not an abstract matter. It is a daily reality for two and a half million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – not to mention the restrictions on Gaza.
It does not concern only the individuals practically denied all human rights. It primarily concerns the Palestinians as a nation.
We Israelis, perhaps more than anyone else, should know that belonging to one’s nation, in one’s own state, under one’s own flag, is a basic right of every human being. In the present epoch, it is an essential element of human dignity. No people will settle for less.
The Israeli government insists that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the “Nation-State of the Jewish People”. It adamantly refuses to recognize Palestine as the “Nation-State of the Palestinian People”. What is Obama’s position on that?
FOLLOWING THE visit, Secretary of State John Kerry is now working hard to “prepare the ground” for a “resumption” of the “peace talks” between Israel and the PLO. Many quotation marks for something so flimsy.
Diplomats can string together hollow phrases to conjure up the illusion of progress. That is one of their main talents. But after a historic conflict lasting some 130 years, no progress towards peace between the two peoples can be real, if there is no equal respect for their national history, rights, feelings and aspirations.
As long as the US leadership cannot bring itself to that point, the chance of its contributing to peace in this tormented country is close to nil.
read more from Uri Avnery on the Gush Shalom website