Recent Articles

Support for Palestinian voices on campus are now called ‘extremism’

by Ben White     June 1, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Over the last decade, Palestine solidarity activism on campus has grown in size and impact, perhaps exemplified by the wave of occupations in 2009 protesting the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip.

In response, there has been pushback, in the name of combating ‘hate speech’ and antisemitism, led by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS).

One of the main tools UJS has been using is a draft “working definition” of antisemitism produced in 2005 by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC, now the FRA). This has been adopted by the NUS and pushed on a number of individual campuses.
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Why do Israel’s cheerleaders in the UK ignore its racism?

by Ben White     April 6, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Imagine if the Department for Communities and Local Government partnered with an organisation that works for Christians to implement national housing and planning policies.

What if the junior coalition partner in the British government had campaigned for the election by challenging the national loyalty of ethnic minorities?
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Israel’s friends reach out to the liberal-left

by Ben White     February 23, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Over the last year, Tel Aviv-based think tank The Reut Institute has offered a lot of advice to supporters of Israel in the West on how to respond to “the erosion in Israel’s diplomatic status” (aka ‘delegitimization‘), including a focus “on engaging the hearts and minds of liberal progressive elites”.

A recent report looked specifically at London, saying “liberal and progressive left” voices are the ones “most effective” in shielding Israel. Reut urged Israel’s defenders to “substantively engage liberal and progressive circles” by “responding to their concerns and building personal relationships”.
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Three years on, Israel’s blockade is still illegal

by Ben White     June 16, 2010 at 11:05 am

Israel’s apologists in Britain, aware that they’re fighting a losing battle, haven’t got many options left when it comes to making excuses.

With renewed focus on the collective punishment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, they have opted for a familiar refrain: it’s all about self-defence.

Thus the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre (BICOM) claim that “the source of Israel’s policies on limiting access and trade to the Gaza Strip” is “the security threat” posed by Hamas. The Zionist Federation has described the blockade as “a mechanism that is used successfully by Israel to stop weapons being imported into Gaza”, while The Board of Deputies of British Jews has also sought to justify the blockade as being about security.

Except it’s not – and it’s illegal.
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Israel subverts human rights for a key critic

by Ben White     May 29, 2010 at 9:30 am

The Shin Bet security service will thwart the activity of any group or individual seeking to harm the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel, even if such activity is sanctioned by the law.
Letter sent by Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, on behalf of Shin Bet, 2007

On Thursday, prominent political activist Ameer Makhoul, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, was indicted with serious charges of espionage and ‘aiding an enemy’.

As General Director of NGO-network Ittijah, Makhoul’s arrest and detention is attracting international attention as concern mounts about the increasing crackdown on dissent in Israel.
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Did Sunday Times mislead over Muslim shoe-throwing case?

by Ben White     April 16, 2010 at 10:45 am

Last week a front-page story appeared in The Sunday Times, reporting that apparently the Metropolitan Police had “bowed to Islamic sensitivities and accepted that Muslims are entitled to throw shoes in ritual protest”.

The incredible claim being made was that police had specifically given the members of one faith group, Muslims, special permission to throw shoes as some kind of “concession”.

A little bit of digging however soon showed the article had some major problems.

First, the focus of The Sunday Times’ piece is one particular prosecution of an individual for violent disorder, following the protest that took place outside the Israeli embassy in January 2009:

Judge Denniss agreed that the act of shoe-throwing should not be considered in a charge of violent disorder against the student because it was “a symbolic” political gesture.

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service admitted this weekend that the police advice to the Downing Street protesters was a factor in the case at Isleworth crown court, west London.

But after I contacted the Crown Prosecution Service myself, I was sent this statement by CPS London Borough Crown Prosecutor Jeetinder Sarmotta:

There is no CPS policy that people who throw shoes, rather than other objects, during demonstrations will not be prosecuted. The CPS makes charging decisions based on the totality of the available evidence.

Mr Salim pleaded guilty to violent disorder by throwing a stick but not by throwing a shoe. We were aware that there was a question over whether or not the police had given demonstrators permission to throw shoes by way of a political statement, but the CPS accepted Mr Salim’s guilty plea on the basis that we could not be certain on viewing the CCTV footage whether the item thrown was a shoe or not.

By accepting the guilty plea we considered that the court would be able to impose a sentence that would reflect the criminality of Mr Salim during the demonstration.

The Times article also omits the issue of the CCTV footage. The CPS prosecutor refers to the shoe-throwing purely in the context of the act being “a political statement”. Nothing about ‘Muslims’ or ‘Islamic sensitivities’.

Chris Holt, the defendant’s solicitor, told me of the wider context for the prosecutions of the Gaza protesters, particularly the fact that “a large number of demonstrators, with no criminal history and even after timely guilty pleas, have received custodial penalties of up to eighteen months”. (Newsnight report).

Targeting Muslims
But there is no mention in The Sunday Times article of these numerous custodial sentences handed down to other protesters. This is a point taken up by ‘The Gaza Demonstrators Support Campaign’, in a statement published on their website.

The group says that “rather than ‘bow[ing] to Islamic sensitivities’, the Metropolitan police have done precisely the opposite: targeting for arrest almost exclusively Muslim protesters from amongst the very diverse group who protested outside the Israeli Embassy last year”.

However, returning to the most startling aspect of The Sunday Times’ story, how did the newspaper come to claim that “Scotland Yard” has accepted “Muslims” can throw shoes as a form of protest? There is no doubting the emphasis of the piece. The headline talked of ‘Islamic protestors’, while the article was clear that the “concession” (a term used twice) was to “Muslims” and “Muslim demonstrators”.

Musab Younis, a member of the Gaza Demonstrators Support Campaign, says that “the article was not only misleading” but also “dishonest”: the article “states the demonstrations in London against Israel’s attack on Gaza were composed of ‘Muslim demonstrators’, when they were in fact made up of an extraordinarily diverse range of people”.

The demonstration on 3 January 2009, when organizers arranged beforehand with the police for a symbolic shoe-throwing outside Downing Street, was indeed coordinated by a variety of groups, including Stop the War, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and CND.

Younis added that with “no response” from the newspaper to their objections, “we have no choice but to file a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission in consultation with our solicitors”, while continuing to “urge The Sunday Times to amend the article”.

We probably haven’t heard the last of this story yet.

Smearing opponents as anti-semitic

by Ben White     July 17, 2009 at 3:32 pm

A favourite tactic of die-hard defenders of Israel is to smear critics of the country’s policies through guilt by association, lies, and decontextualised quotations.

I have come to know this latter strategy quite well. Based on short extracts, or even a single sentence, from two out of the 100 plus articles I’ve published, I have been accused of ‘understanding anti-semitism’ and ‘defending’ Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial.
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Israel and using “apartheid”

by Ben White     July 2, 2009 at 9:15 am

Talking about Israeli policies in terms of ‘apartheid’ is nothing new – you can find the claim going back at least 30 years. This kind of description for Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians became increasingly common through the 1980s and ’90s, until now, nine years since the Second Intifada began, ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ is held in dozens of cities worldwide and numerous trade unions, faith groups and politicians use the term routinely.

Nevertheless, to consciously use the ‘apartheid’ framework in critiquing Israeli policies past and present, with the presumed analogy with South African history, is still considered by some to be inappropriate or even completely unacceptable.
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What direction will Israel take now?

by Ben White     June 2, 2009 at 12:21 pm

Three pieces of legislation proposed recently by members of Israel’s Knesset have been making headlines: banning the commemoration of the Nakba; introducing a mandatory ‘loyalty oath’ to the Zionist state; and criminalising public declarations of opposition to Israel being a ‘Jewish state’.

None of these efforts may actually become law – the loyalty oath has already been voted down by the cabinet’s law committee. The Nakba bill though has now been tweaked, so that rather than straightforwardly outlawing any events, there will be economic sanctions for the local authorities and organisations involved.

The response in the Western media to the sight of of 47 MKs voting for prison sentences for anti-Zionists has often come in the form of a warning that Israel is in danger of turning into a racist state. Taking into account other authoritarian trends, this assessment sees Israel’s democracy as under threat by the far-right groupings within Netanyahu’s government.
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What about the Palestinian right to self-defence?

by Ben White     February 10, 2009 at 1:00 pm

Israel’s ‘right to self defence’ has been supported, recognised and repeated ad nauseam over the last few weeks. The incessant invoking of this ‘right’ is important for two reasons: one, because of how little thought normally goes into what it actually permits and prohibits; and two because of the notable absence of any backing of a Palestinian right to self defence.

At the very least, given the surface commitment to even-handedness by the likes of the Quartet, surely ‘both sides’ should have their right to self defence affirmed?

But of course, to suggest that the Palestinians have a right to self defence is problematic, because it threatens to show up the approach of the international community to Palestine/Israel for what it is: a duplicitous farce.
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