electronic intifada

UK universities reject Israel lobby’s anti-Semitism definition
Asa Winstanley, Electronic Intifada, Oct 27 2020

Only a minority of UK universities have adopted the misleading and politically motivated definition of anti-Semitism promoted by Israel and its lobby. Despite repeated British government threats, fewer than 22% of higher education establishments have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s “working definition” of anti-Semitism. The IHRA definition has been repeatedly condemned by free speech defenders, Palestinians, Jewish activists, Palestine solidarity, Black and Asian groups. But Conservative Party education minister Gavin Williamson wrote to universities demanding they “formally adopt” the definition on Oct 9. Williamson threatened to cut their government funding if they do not. He said he had asked civil servants to examine how to “impose a new regulatory condition” to suspend funding “for universities at which anti-Semitic incidents occur” that have not signed up to the definition. He threatened to act before Xmas “if I have not seen the overwhelming majority of institutions adopting the definition.”

Williamson’s letter disingenuously equates refusal to adopt the specific definition favored by the British government and Israel supporters as tantamount to condoning anti-Semitism. This ignores serious concerns over the IHRA definition’s already widespread misuse to stigmatize and censor speech critical of Israel’s policies against Palestinians. The government is now resorting to threats and coercion after failing to make its case. Jewish Voice for Labour responded:

Williamson’s letter is a chilling reminder of the speed with which the government is moving to impose totalitarian thought control. The IHRA definition is politically motivated and intellectually incoherent.

The majority of the IHRA definition’s examples of “anti-Semitism” focus on Israel. Some could even ban criticisms of Israel and its official ideology, Zionism. One of the examples of supposed anti-Semitism is: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.” This could be used to silence Palestinians from talking about their history, especially the Nakba, the systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Zionist armed militias in 1947-48 in order to create an Israeli state with a Jewish majority. It could also be used to target anyone advocating for a unitary, democratic non-sectarian state for all in historic Palestine, instead of a specifically “Jewish state” which gives superior rights to one group of people over another, as Israel is currently constituted.

Williamson’s letter is not the first time the Conservative government has threatened university funding over the refusal to adopt the definition. In January, communities minister Robert Jenrick made a similar threat, but nothing seems to have come of it. In Feb 2017, a previous education minister wrote to universities telling them that the government had adopted the definition a few months prior, but stopped short of demanding they adopt it too. That letter came amid a wave of repression targeting Palestine solidarity activities during Israeli Apartheid Week. The IHRA definition has repeatedly been used as a pretext to repress free speech on Palestine, especially in the Labour Party. The most recent example came last week in the US, where Pompeo threatened to use the definition to label Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam as “anti-Semitic” for their percieved support for the boycott of Israeli occupation. Human rights lawyer Jamil Dakwar called it “yet another dangerous attempt to weaponize anti-Semitism.” Jewish Voice for Peace Action’s Beth Miller said:

The IHRA definition isn’t about keeping Jewish people safe, It’s a tool for censorship. It manipulates concern about Jewish safety and twists it into a vehicle to ban and criminalize support for Palestinian rights.

Meanwhile, in the UK, Jewish anti-Zionist and Palestine solidarity activist Tony Greenstein wrote on his blog:

Williamson’s attempt to intimidate unversities into adopting the definition is like a mafia boss offering his clients ‘protection. One of the least remarked on aspects of the IHRA is how genuine anti-Semites have no quarrel with the IHRA. The IHRA is there to defend Israeli apartheid not Jews.

The low number of universities to have adopted the definition was revealed after freedom of information requests by a pro-Israel lobby group. The Union of Jewish Students wrote to all 133 higher education establishments in the UK and published its findings in September. Only 29 said they had adopted Israel’s bogus definition. Seven did not reply and 80 said they had no plans to adopt it. A further 17 said they planned to discuss or debate adopting it. The UJS said Jenrick’s intervention had come after the group engaged in “extensive lobbying.” The constitution of the UJS commits it to “inspiring Jewish students to make an enduring commitment” to Israel. In 2017 it was revealed by a former UJS presidential candidate in undercover footage shot by Al Jazeera that “the Israeli embassy in the UK gives money to the Union of Jewish Students.”

Israelis mock, abuse family of hunger striker
Tamara Nassar, Electronic Intifada, Oct 26 2020

Mural honoring Maher al-Akhras in Nuseirat refugee camp, central Gaza, Oct 21.
Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA

Three months into Maher al-Akhras’ hunger strike, a UN human rights expert is demanding his immediate release. Al-Akhras remains gravely ill. He has been protesting his imprisonment without charge by Israel by refusing all food for more than 90 days.

A video circulated by local media this week showed Israelis harassing al-Akhras’ family inside the Kaplan Medical Center in central Israel and threatening to kill him:

The Israelis can be heard singing a Jewish nationalist song and shouting “We will defeat you.” Al-Akhras’ wife Taghrid told SAFA that their children and her husband’s mother were in the hall outside his room when they were “attacked” by settlers. Safa said Israelis also chanted that al-Akhras is a “terrorist” who deserves to be killed. Israeli security personnel reportedly watched and did nothing as al-Akhras’ family were abused in the halls of the hospital. On Friday, Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur in occupied Palestinian territory, said:

Mr Al-Akhras is now in very frail condition, having gone without food for 89 days. Recent visits by doctors to his hospital bed in Israel indicate that he is on the verge of suffering major organ failure, and some damage might be permanent. Administrative detention is an anathema in any democratic society that follows the rule of law. When the democratic state arrests and detains someone, it is required to charge the person, present its evidence in an open trial, allow for a full defence and try to persuade an impartial judiciary of its allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. Administrative detention, in contrast, allows a state to arrest and detain a person without charges, without a trial, without knowing the evidence against her or him, and without a fair judicial review. It is a penal system that is ripe for abuse and maltreatment. The Israeli security forces who arrested and detained Mr Al-Akhras have not provided any persuasive evidence in an open hearing to justify its allegations that he is a genuine security threat. I also call upon Israel to abolish its practice of administrative detention, release those detainees it presently holds, and strictly follow international law in the application of its security operations.

Israel accuses al-Akhras of being a member of Islamic Jihad, which al-Akhras denies. Israel considers virtually all Palestinian parties to be “terrorist” organizations, meaning that any politically active person could be targeted for arrest. Under administrative detention orders, Israel can hold individuals without charge or trial and detainees are not allowed to see any evidence against them. As of September, Israel was holding 350 Palestinians in administrative detention, including two elected MKs. Al-Akhras, a 49-year-old father of six, is from the occupied West Bank town of Silat al-Dahr, near Jenin. Israel has jailed him repeatedly and he has spent a total of five years in its prisons. Israeli forces arrested him again on Jul 27 and handed him a four-month administrative detention order which can be renewed indefinitely. Al-Akhras began refusing food immediately.

Israel has brought no charges against him and he has been given no trial, even in Israel’s military courts, where there is a nearly 100% conviction rate against Palestinians. His lawyer, Ahlam Haddad, repeatedly petitioned Israel’s highest court to release al-Akhras. The high court consistently rejected all petitions, insisting that al-Akhras remain imprisoned until the end of his administrative detention order on Nov 26, despite the court’s admission that he poses no threat whatsoever due to his medical condition. In the first statement since al-Akhras launched his hunger strike, the ICRC said it was “seriously concerned” over the “critical” health condition of al-Akhras. It added that it “neither supports nor advocates against a hunger strike,” as a humanitarian organization. But despite its self-declared “neutral” stance, the Red Cross placed the onus on the prisoner, his representatives and “the competent authorities” to “find a solution that will avoid any loss of life.”

Meanwhile, during a press conference last week, a reporter asked Pompeo to comment on al-Akhras’ strike. Said Arikat of the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds asked Pompeo:

He’s on his 87th day of a hunger strike. He’s about to die.

Pompeo refused to respond on al-Akhras’ case or administrative detention in general but asserted:

Israel has the right to defend itself and make the appropriate decisions it needs to make for its own security, and we’ll continue to defend that.

German foundation cancels anti-Palestinian seminar
Adri Nieuwhof, Electronic Intifada, Oct 26 2020

Pro-Palestinian activism in Germany is under attack to the extent that even the word ‘Palestine’ is deemed problematic.
Photo: Paul Zinken/DPA

The German Konrad Adenauer foundation has cancelled the seminar, “Palestine, History and Problems of a Concept,” just a day after it was announced. The cancellation comes after protests were raised over an invitation that suggested that the seminar would discuss the “anti-Semitic associations” of the term “Palestine.” Among those who called for the cancellation of the event were the foundation’s own Ramallah branch as well as its sometime local partner organization, the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, whose director Salem Barahmeh said his organization was “outraged and disturbed at an upcoming event conflating our existence and identity with anti-Semitism. This is dangerous, racist and erasure.” In response, the Adenauer foundation claimed it had been a misunderstanding caused by an invitation that had been “worded in a misleading manner.” Plenty of people begged to differ, however, suggesting there is little “misleading” about declaring “Palestine” a “problematic” term: rather that seems a straightforward attack on the identity of the Palestinian people.

The furore comes at a time when discussion over Palestine takes place in a toxic climate in Germany. After the German parliament adopted an anti-BDS resolution in May last year, attempts to suppress Israel critics and supporters of Palestinian rights have increased. The parliamentary resolution is based on the widely criticized IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which conflates criticism of Israel’s anti-Palestinian policies and Zionist state ideology with anti-Jewish bigotry. The Konrad Adenauer invitation, for instance, referred to a criminal complaint filed by Frankfurt’s mayor, city treasurer and Hessian anti-Semitism commissioner, Uwe Becker, in which he derided pro-Palestinian protesters for shouting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Such language, he said, is “part of the vocabulary of anti-Semites and Israel-haters.” Becker is not the only anti-Semitism commissioner who seems to have a problem with Palestinians. Berlin’s anti-Semitism chief Samuel Salzborn gets positively panicky when he hears the word Palestine. Salzborn tweeted last October:

When you’re sitting in the train and the people next to you start talking about ‘Palestine’ without any apparent reason, it means it is time to either get off the train, put on your headphones, or scream at them.

He followed up with the hashtag “anti-Semitism.” The Konrad Adenauer Foundation claims to promote “freedom and liberty, peace and justice” in its civic education programs at home and abroad. But branding the word Palestine as “problematic,” and with it the Palestinian people, suggests the foundation has been unable to resist the choir of German anti-Palestinian voices prevalent today. The Konrad Adenauer debacle took place at the same time as a group of Jewish students at the Weissensee Academy of Art Berlin caused a controversy of their own. The group of Israelis, members of a large community of Israelis who have emigrated to Berlin to start a new life over the past decades, had organized a ”School for Unlearning Zionism,” to start this month. The “school’s” October program features Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, sociologist Ran Greenstein, film director Mohammed Alatar, chair of Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East, Iris Hefets, and journalist and economic researcher Shir Hever. The Israeli embassy in Berlin immediately accused the art school of “stoking anti-Semitism against the Jewish state.” The embassy used the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism to accuse the art school of denying “the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.”

The Israeli embassy further claimed that the Unlearning Zionism project is organized by activists affiliated with the BDS movement. The German anti-BDS resolution urges German institutions and public authorities to deny funding and facilities to civil society groups that support the BDS movement. Sometimes merely the “suspicion of proximity to BDS” is enough to prohibit the use of urban spaces for an event, reported the Tageszeitung. That, according to loyal Israel supporter and former Green lawmaker Volker Beck, was the case with the “School for Unlearning Zionism” project. Beck informed the ministry of education and research, and the art school withdrew the funding of the project and closed down the webpage. But a week later the school revoked its decision and put the website back online. Yossi Bartal, an Israeli left-wing activist who lives in Berlin, denounced the intervention as a “group of white Germans preventing a group of Jewish Israelis from critically reflecting on their own history, as if the power to define our own history were German property.” Yehudit Yinhar, art student and co-organizer of the project, is determined to proceed with the program. The lectures can be watched online.

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