Why are lobbyists for Israel providing official statistics on anti-Semitism?

pro-israel-demonstration-paris-france

A few years ago, a friend of mine involved in pro-Palestinian activism was summarily sacked – and arrested – for “aggravated racial harassment”. There was nothing to the charge, and it goes without saying that no mainstream newspaper covered the incident. The story did, however, reach Brighton anarchist newsletter Schnews.

CRAP ARREST OF THE WEEK

For Armchair Intifada …

One student office temp cum work-top warrior has got a little more than he bargained for when, obviously bored with the inanity of the usual desktop decorations of toys, xxxxx, Britney Spears / Peter Andre calendars (delete as applicable), he decided to go for something a little edgier to the mindset of big business. His insurance firm was less than impressed at the small cotton patch with a peace dove and “Free Palestine” on it, a leaflet saying CatterKiller about the use of military bulldozers and a postcard saying “Boycott Israeli Goods.”

He swiftly lost his job, his one-man mission to bring down the international finance system from within seemingly over.

But no, a month later he received a knock from the Thought Police who arrested him for “Aggravated Racial Harassment”, searched his house and confiscated literature relating to the Israel-Palestine conflict, then detained him for nine hours. He has now been bailed until October 20th.

Perhaps he’ll stick to “You don’t have to be crazy to work here … but it helps!” posters next time!

I mention this for a reason. Over the past few months, you may have seen reports that the number of anti-Semitic incidents (in some versions “anti-Semitic attacks”) have reached the highest level ever recorded. The claim appears prominently across the mainstream media, and commentators take it as a settled, agreed-upon basis for discussion. Jonathan Freedland cited it on Question Time last week, accusing Respect MP George Galloway of fuelling anti-Semitism. (As Jonathan Cook notes, Freedland actually mis-stated the report’s findings: it records not anti-Semitic violence, but anti-Semitic “incidents”. The Guardian misreports the findings in exactly the same way.)

The source of these statistics is the Community Security Trust, a little-known but highly influential and apparently well-regarded organisation. In 2011, David Cameron and Nick Clegg spoke at CST black-tie dinners. The Trust works closely with government departments including the Home Office, and some of its volunteers even patrol with the police. A few days ago – mere weeks after the explosion of #JeSuisCharlie posturing about “freedom of speech” – an “All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism” report cited CST evidence to advocate a clampdown on online expression.

The CST has a history of smearing critics of Israel as anti-Semitic. In a 2010 report, the Trust declared that anti-Zionism is “in effect antisemitic”. In 2011, during a dispute in which the Home Office relied on CST evidence, an immigration tribunal found the CST had

“failed to distinguish between anti-Semitism and criticism of the actions of the Israeli State and therefore gives an unbalanced perspective”.

In August last year, as Israel massacred defenceless Gazans, CST Communications Director Mark Gardner conflated boycotts of Israel and anti-Semitism. As he wrote in the Express:

“When the Jewish Film Festival is given a ‘ditch your Israeli Embassy link’ ultimatum by the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, it betrays how British Jews’ connections to Israel are the measure by which others judge them.

The same applies to the National Union of Students decision to boycott Israel, which promises no end of trouble and intimidation for Jewish students.”

The Jewish News quoted Gardner conflating anti-Semitism and resistance to Israeli aggression:

“Anti-Semitic incidents will subside along with the images on people’s television screens, but the long term damage to Jews of anti-Israel boycotts will persist.

“One consequence of this war will be a lot more boycotts, either through choice or intimidation. Just as Israel is being singled out for scrutiny and boycott, so many Jews are going to feel the same way.”

The CST has participated in pro-Israel campaigns, enjoys links to the Israeli government, and lacks accountability to the community it claims to represent.

In September 2011, a UK Border Agency case worker referred to the CST simply as “the Jewish community”. Yet the historian (and apologist for Israel) Geoffrey Alderman points out that the CST is neither representative of nor accountable to this community. As he wrote in the Jewish Chronicle:

“On its website, the CST boasts that it “represents the Jewish community on a wide range of Police, governmental and policy-making bodies dealing with security and antisemitism.”

“What right does it have to make such a claim? … the CST represents no one but itself and is mandated to espouse the views of none other than its own trustees. … the CST itself has no “representative” basis whatsoever. …

“Who makes policy at the CST? The short answer is: its trustees, who appoint themselves. Under a dispensation granted by the Charity Commission, the names of the trustees are hidden from public view. …

“Perhaps these individuals could explain to us how, given the constitution and structure of the CST, it can honestly claim to “represent” the Anglo-Jewish community in any meaningful sense.”

The CST is a listed “member” – alongside the Israeli prime minister’s office – of the “Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism”, a branch of the Israeli Government. Anthony Lerman, who used to work with the CST and its predecessor groups, states that they “had close relations with the Mossad” – Israeli intelligence – “when I was working with them, and I’m sure that they still do.”

As investigative journalist Asa Winstanley points out, CST chair Gerald Ronson “claimed to have friends at the highest levels of the Israeli government”. According to a 2009 Jewish Chronicle interview:

“He received a phone call from the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and met Binyamin Netanyahu, at the time a minister in Shamir’s government, while on a day-release for a medical examination”.

The pro-Israel Fair Play Campaign Group, according to its co-founder the Jewish Leadership Council, provides an “early-warning system for pro-Israel organisations in the UK” and “brings these organisations together to discuss activity and responses”. One “notable” area of its work is “taking on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign”. A slide shown at one of its London meetings in July 2012 included the CST on the Fair Play Campaign Group’s Executive Committee, while official documents list the CST’s offices as the Group’s “secondary address”. This is a clear violation of the CST’s charitable remit – yet when challenged on this point, the Trust failed to respond.

In September 2011, the UK changed the law on “universal jurisdiction” so that visiting Israeli ministers could avoid arrest for war crimes. In the Jewish Chronicle, the pro-Israel Board of Deputies of British Jews acknowledged

“the efforts of the various communal groups, in particular the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), Board of Deputies, CST and Friends of Israel groups that have helped to ensure the safe passage of the bill”.

“CST” was quickly removed, “apparently after spokesman Mark Gardner intervened”, Winstanley reports.

Bearing all this in mind, how reliable are the CST’s statistics? Its “Antisemitic Incidents Report 2014” gives some indication. While pitched to suggest it distinguishes criticism of Israel from “antisemitism”, the conflation has by no means disappeared. The chapter “antisemitic or anti-Israel?”, for instance, states:

“Incidents equating Israel to Nazi Germany would normally be recorded as antisemitic”.

The report, then, enforces a double-standard in Israel’s favour: attack (say) Putin for behaving like Hitler at your leisure; accuse Binyamin Netanyahu of the same and you may appear among the CST’s “antisemitic incidents” – an index given huge publicity in mainstream media and even used by the police.

Given the CST’s (at best) questionable standards, what do its statistics actually show? In fact, the only category of incident at the highest recorded level (between 2004 and 2014, at any rate) is “Abusive Behaviour”. Every other category – including the more serious “Threats”, “Damage and Desecration”, “Assault” and “Extreme Violence”, as well as “Literature” – is at a level with recent precedent. Moreover,

“antisemitic reactions in the UK to the conflict in Israel and Gaza that occurred in July and August 2014 were the biggest contributing factor to the record total of incidents reported to CST”.

Since the CST offers no comprehensive public record of these incidents, we are obliged to take its claims on trust. But there appears little reason to do so – given evidence of its pro-Israeli agenda, links with Israel and biased methodology that records strident criticisms of Israel as anti-Semitism.

In arguing for a clampdown in online speech, the “All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism” displays the same kind of thinking. Its report includes two-and-a-half pages criticising public figures, often simply for attacking Israel and defending Palestinian rights. The MPs criticise:

“The presence of Hitlerian themes and imagery on Facebook comment chains for pro-Palestinian demonstrations, organised by groups such as Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.”

It stigmatises local authorities that criticise Israel for threatening community relations:

“We know that local authority action is almost never motivated by antisemitism but conclude that political gesturing gives out entirely the wrong messages. We call upon all local councils to do their utmost to bring people together during times of foreign conflict, particularly in the Middle East”.

And it attacks theatres that boycott Israel:

“cultural boycotts [of Israel], implemented in the way they were during the summer, were unacceptable. The boycott movement faces a challenge of how to put their tactics into effect while not slipping into antisemitism, unlawful discrimination or assaulting valued freedoms.”

By conflating anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel – a government perpetrating acts of extreme, indiscriminate and deliberate violence against civilians – the “All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism” and groups like the CST are in the vanguard of an effort to police and repress dissent. These efforts need to be resisted and exposed.

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