by Ali Abunimah 30 September 2016 The Electronic Intifada
Israel is trying to stop the growing boycott movement with covert operations targeting activists around the world. Ryan Rodrick Beiler ActiveStills
A group of Israeli citizens is seeking information on their government’s covert activities against the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
Meanwhile, the Israeli embassy in London has warned in a leaked cable that some of Israel’s tactics against the BDS movement may violate UK law.
Attorney Eitay Mack and human rights activists Sahar Vardi, Ofer Neiman, Rachel Giora and Kobi Snitz have filed requests under Israel’s freedom of information law, to both the foreign ministry and the strategic affairs ministry.
They are asking the government to reveal its financial support to foreign organizations, individuals, journalists or bloggers assisting Israel in its battle against what it calls “delegitimization.”
The strategic affairs ministry, led by Likud minister Gilad Erdan, has taken the lead, gearing up to fight the nonviolent BDS movement as if it were a military challenge.
Armed with a $45 million budget for this year, the ministry is engaging in what a veteran Israeli analyst is calling “black ops.”
This may include defamation campaigns, harassment and threats to the lives of activists as well as infringing on and violating their privacy, according to the analyst.
“We want most of the [strategic affairs] ministry’s work to be classified,” its director general Sima Vaknin-Gil recently told the transparency committee of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.
Earlier this month, Erdan’s ministry and the Association of University Heads of Israel were linked to a “secret” effort to push for the cancellation of a course on Palestine at the University of California, Berkeley.
The course was suspended, but later reinstated after an outcry from students, faculty and defenders of academic freedom.
“The sweeping secrecy exercised by both ministries is inappropriate, especially in view of the Israeli government’s position regarding human rights organizations supported financially by foreign countries,” the Israeli citizens said in a press release.
Earlier this year Israel adopted a so-called transparency law forcing human rights groups to reveal foreign government funding. Critics say the law is meant to brand human rights groups as illegitimate and chill criticism of Israel’s record.
Under the freedom of information law, the Israeli ministries have 120 days to respond. If they reject the requests, the citizens seeking the information can file an appeal in court.
Using Jewish groups
The information request comes as a cable, leaked to the newspaper Haaretz, has cast more light on the covert efforts against BDS.
The cable from the Israeli embassy in London to the Israeli foreign ministry complains about the activities of Erdan’s strategic affairs ministry.
It accuses the ministry of “operating” British Jewish organizations behind the embassy’s back in a way that could put them in violation of UK law.
The context is a turf war between the two ministries over who should get more money and authority to lead the fight against BDS.
The foreign ministry has so far been on the losing end of that bureaucratic battle.
As Haaretz reports, the cable reveals that the embassy met with Erdan’s officials during his visit to London two weeks ago “to coordinate activities against the local boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”
The embassy officials emphasized that while they would coordinate with Erdan’s operation, only the foreign ministry would work directly with people or organizations overseas.
Haaretz says Erdan’s officials agreed “not to pose as the embassy.”
“Behind our backs”
But just days later, according to Haaretz, Asher Friedman, a senior strategic affairs ministry official, “asked a senior official in Britain’s Jewish community to use his connections to thwart an anti-Israel campaign by the Palestinians.”
“Attempts to act behind our back have happened before and will again, but ‘operating’ Jewish organizations directly from Jerusalem, with no coordination and no consultation, is liable to be dangerous,” the embassy cable said.
“Operating like this could encounter opposition from the organizations themselves, given their legal status; Britain isn’t the US,” the cable added.
It also warned that such behavior “could be considered political activity, or even activity on behalf of a foreign government on British soil,” Haaretz states.
The leak would seem to confirm that the Israeli government increasingly views Jewish organizations and communities abroad as mere extensions of its state propaganda apparatus.
This is unlikely to do much to tamp down criticism of Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians, but it does pose a danger to Jews who do not wish to be identified with a foreign government that is increasingly seen as a pariah.
Notably, as Haaretz reports, it was the British Jewish official himself who “immediately voiced his objections to the embassy, both orally and in writing, as well as to the heads of other British Jewish organizations.”
Jewish activists criticize Labour anti-Semitism training
by Asa Winstanley 28 September 2016 The Electronic Intifada
Jackie Walker (center right) at a meeting in June. (Momentum Brighton and Hove)
Updates, 29 September: Jackie Walker tells The Electronic Intifada that she has deactivated her Twitter account, due to a torrent of anti-black racism and denial and questioning of her Jewishness.
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust issued a statement conceding that UK Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates the Holocaust “and subsequent genocides” but not transatlantic slavery.
Anti-racism activist Jackie Walker, who is Jewish and Black, attended the Jewish Labour Movement training session along with other individuals active in the Palestine solidarity movement, including boycott activist Naomi Wimborne-Idrissiand London School of Economics professor Jonathan Rosenhead.
Rosenhead told The Electronic Intifada on Wednesday that the group, all of whom were Jewish, were “concerned to understand how the Jewish Labour Movement thought training on anti-Semitism should be carried out, but became aware of serious defects.”
The Electronic Intifada observed the session, which was part of the official program at the Labour Party annual conference in Liverpool.
The group did not heckle or interrupt, but asked questions when invited by the speaker. But others in the room did heckle these Jewish critics of the Jewish Labour Movement.
Walker’s contribution was repeatedly interrupted, in one instance by mocking laughter.
Speaking to The Electronic Intifada by phone on Wednesday, Walker slammed the JLM for apparently leaking a video of the training to right-wing media, as part of an ongoing campaign to have her suspended from the Labour Party for her political views.
Jewish Labour Movement vice chair Mike Katz ran the session. At one point, he claimed that the “standard” definition of anti-Semitism was the “EUMC definition.”
Many in the room immediately objected.
In fact, the 2005 European Union Monitoring Center’s discussion paper on anti-Semitism, which Katz was clearly referring to, has always been controversial.
Critics of the EUMC paper have always said it was not suitable because it conflated anti-Semitism with criticism of Zionism, the ideology of the Israeli state.
It proposed that any claim that the foundation of Israel was a “racist endeavor” was tantamount to anti-Semitism.
Despite never being formally endorsed by the EU agency, the paper has long been promoted by pro-Israel groups, who pressure governments and institutions to adopt it officially.
In 2013, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a major pro-Israel lobby group, finally conceded that the EUMC definition had no official status and had been ditched by the Fundamental Rights Agency, the EUMC’s successor.
Speaking to The Electronic Intifada, Momentum’s Jackie Walker accused the JLM of a potential breach of UK data protection laws.
The Electronic Intifada observed JLM campaigns officer and Labour councillor Adam Langleben filming Walker during the training. The Daily Telegraph published a story on Wednesday attacking Walker, with the apparent intent of having her suspended from the party.
“A number of people made comments in a private training session run by the Jewish Labour Movement,” Walker said. “As we all know, training sessions are intended to be safe spaces where ideas and questions can be explored.”
But the leak and distortions in the media now meant that “anyone who goes to a Labour Party training space has to be careful what they say,” she added.
She accused the Jewish Labour Movement of running a “propaganda space,” where those who dissented from its views supporting Israel were not welcome.
In the training, Walker said: “in terms of Holocaust Day I would also like to say, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust Day was open to all peoples who have experienced holocaust?”
This statement, and an obviously mistyped tweet that Walker quickly corrected were seized upon as part of what looks like a renewed effort to expel her from the party.
“If they do I’ll fight it,” Walker said of a potential suspension or expulsion.
“In the session, a number of Jewish people, including me, asked for definitions of anti-Semitism,” Walker said. “This is a subject of much debate in the Jewish community.”
Walker pointed to a definition given by UK comedian David Schneider as one she endorsed.
“I would never play down the significance of the Shoah [Holocaust]. Working with many Jewish comrades, I continue to seek to bring greater awareness of other genocides, which are too often forgotten or minimized,” Walker said. “If offense has been caused, it is the last thing I would want to do and I apologize.”
LSE professor Jonathan Rosenhead told The Electronic Intifada that Walker, who spoke on panels at a Momentum event during the conference, was “a deeply serious person who impressed the entire audience with her commitment and indeed her balanced perspective which included the treatment of [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] members as well as Jewish members.”
The UK’s government-endorsed Holocaust Memorial Day Trust does recognize other genocides apart from the Nazi Holocaust, although all occurred after the Second World War, and there seems to be no mention of the slave trade.
It is estimated that 12.5 million people were transported out of Africa by transatlantic slave traders, of whom 10.7 million arrived in the American colonies alive.
Walker recently fought off an effort to expel her from the party over comments on Facebook in which she referred to the Atlantic slave trade as an “African holocaust.”
In May, she was cleared of anti-Semitism and the suspension of her Labour membership was lifted.
The Jewish Labour Movement has faced intense criticism from Jewish Labour Party activists over its pro-Israel positions. Its new full-time director worked as an Israeli embassy officer for the last year.
A speech by the the JLM’s Mike Katz was heckled by Jewish Palestine solidarity activists on Tuesday.
Well done to Jackie Walker and other Jewish activists for standing up to these attacks.
The "Jewish Labour Movement"- in reality a very small group- is completely incapable of separating itself from the interests of the apartheid state of Israel. Its principal spokesman, Jeremy Newmark, has distinguished himself as a proficient if unpersuasive propagandist and agitator on behalf of Israel. He was recently branded a liar by a tribunal ruling in a case falsely charging anti-Semitism (Fraser v University and College Union). And as pointed out in this article, the new director of the JLM was actually supplied by the Israeli embassy. In the light of these and other facts, why should the Labour Party continue to affiliate with such a group?
Incidentally, the vote within the Jewish Labour Movement in the recent race for Labour Party leader in Britain tallied 92% for Owen Smith, Corbyn's opponent. You wouldn't get that kind of lopsided percentage if you'd asked the Israeli cabinet.
And by the way, isn't it time to also dispose of these corporate-themed "training" sessions? We train animals, not people.