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UK architects, planners and other construction industry professionals campaigning for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.


How the Israel lobby influences democratic discourse on Palestine


The Board, The Ministers, the Council and the Palestine Literature Festival

7 November 2011

It is rare to see direct action being taken by the UK Government and its Ministers on any issue from petitioners, yet after being ‘alerted’ by Jewish News and the Board of Deputies of British Jews’, almost instantaneously, Michael Gove the Education Secretary issued a stern warning to Islington and Haringey Councils to cancel a school writing competition as part of the Tottenham Palestine Literature Festival.  This was an exciting  festival of music, drama ,poetry and panel discussions on writing and the media which ran from 29 September to 1st October by Haringey Justice for Palestinians, a broad-based PSC affiliated organization of local community activists in north London,  “working to promote solidarity links with Palestinians and to call for justice for Palestinians.” The programme of events included the participation of eminent Palestinian and British cultural personalities like Ghada Karmi, Karl Sabbagh, Reem Kelani, Michael Rosen, Brian Keenan, and Anna Perera , performances of plays by Harold Pinter, and the Gaza Trauma Centre, and a re-showing and discussion of Michael Kosminsky’s epic masterpiece “The Promise’.

The eagerly anticipated school workshops were to take the subject of human rights within the context of children in Gaza, and the writing competition in Islington and Haringey (north London boroughs) was to be judged by Michael Rosen and Anna Perera, both loved by children, and experts in childrens’ education. The incomprehensible  and undemocratic  cancellation was a great disappointment to the children and the school heads concerned. . Rosen stated to Islington Tribune “It’s very disappointing and a rather strange way to behave by Islington Council. Instead of entering into a conversation with the organisers they have simply taken the word of someone and then taken this somewhat draconian step to advise people not to take part.” Jeremy Corbyn the local MP Mr Corbyn said he was very unhappy with the advice from Ms Schooling, the Head of Childrens’ Education in Islington. “She really should not have sent this letter out,” he added. “The Board of Deputies are hardly objective in this matter. Their record of denunciation of all things Palestinian is well known.” Reports from some schools who resisted this bullying said, ‘The children  were hugely stimulated by Anna Parera’s workshop and have not stopped talking about it ever since – and it’s over a week ago.’

What is true is that the Board of Deputies, aided by the Jewish press, has carried out a virulent and defamatory campaign to smear the PSC, which is the key solidarity organization based on human rights and international law, comparable with the Anti-Apartheid Movement , and whose patrons include eminent public figures.     Yet  Board President, Vivian Wineman, commented, “I can think of few organisations which would be less appropriate to run a workshop in a school than the PSC. Whilst many organisations work to foster dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, the PSC promote a negative discourse which is concerned with attacking the Jewish State and not encouraging peace and understanding. The conspiracy theories and hostile propaganda promoted by some of its members are particularly obnoxious. In this light I am delighted that the Secretary of State has taken such strong action.”

What caused Michael Gove, the Bertie Woosterish Education Minister, to jump to attention when the Board of Deputies ‘repeatedly voiced its concerns about the PSC, and some of the participants” in the Festival?  Gove’s love of Zionism achieved its acme in a fervent declaration at a charity dinner for the United Jewish Israel Appeal on 22 September 2011.  The Jewish Chronicle reported that he told an admiring audience "I was born, will live and die proud to be a Zionist.” Gove said he was pleased to see Jewish free schools open in Haringey and Mill Hill. "We have so many outstanding Jewish state schools. I ask myself not what can we do to bring Jewish schools more in line with other schools, but what can we do to other state schools to make sure they learn from the amazing achievement of our Jewish state schools.” The irony of this enthusiastic promotion of Jewish schools, which have Israel and Zionism entrenched in their education, must have escaped Gove whose warnings to the schools, issued by the Councils and their Education Departments threatening legal action, was to invoke the 1996 Education Act.

Sections 406 and 407 forbid the “promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school” and calls on the LEA, governing body and head teachers to take reasonable steps to ensure that  where political issues are brought to their attention during school and extra- curricular activities “they are offered a balanced presentation of opposing views”. In recent judgments of cases brought under these sections of the Education Act, the ruling was there is a difference between “promotion” of a partisan political view and “presentation” of such a view. While the statute forbids “political indoctrination”, teachers are allowed to present to their pupils, with proper tuition and debate, films and other materials which in themselves promote partisan political views. The judge also rejected that “equal air time “ to such views need to be given. The balanced approach does not involve equality. It means nothing more than “fair and dispassionate”.

Jewish schools in the UK teach courses in Israel advocacy (hasbara), and while the Board of Deputies often raises the issue of how Palestinians’ 98 schoolbooks teach the hatred of Israel (a highly exaggerated and false accusation), a recent book by Nurit Peled Elchanan, whose daughter was killed in a suicide bomb attack,  confirmed that “Israel's prevailing culture of racism, fundamentalism, support for war crimes, and apartheid against Palestinians is mainly a product of an educational system that indoctrinates Jewish-Israeli students with militant colonial values and extreme racism that turn them into "monsters" once in uniform.”

The same UJIA that Gove lauded in his after dinner speech, in an advertisement dated 23 September 2011 in the Jewish Chronicle’s advertising supplement, states: “Education lies at the heart of the UJIA ethos, branching out to organisations both within and outside the Jewish community. Through UJIA JAMS – Jewish Activities in Mainstream Schools – Jewish and Zionist education is brought to pupils in non-Jewish schools through sessions and assemblies..........Their calendar (2009/10) included 482 sessions in 18 schools across London, Essex and Hertfordshire.” This has escaped Michael Gove’s horizons, for the probability is there has been no balancing Palestinian viewpoint . In fact any attempts to present these in panels, films or discussions (with the exception of the Liberal Synagogue) in Jewish schools or Orthodox synagogues are generally met with a barrier of silence and hostility.

The Board’s view in complaining about the Festival workshops was that “Schools should be among the safest, most inclusive places in society where children are not exposed to imbalanced, inflammatory or extremist view. By inviting the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to address their children, schools were risking such views entering the classroom. The Board of Deputies felt compelled to raise our concerns at the highest level with the schools, local authorities and the Department for Education.”

To use the ;Board of Deputies classification of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign as providing 'imbalanced, inflammatory or extremist views' is an underhand and brazenly libelous tactic to smear any organisation that reveals the truth and expose of the myths propagated by the Zionist State. The use of the accusation of anti-Semitism (completely untrue in the case of the PSC) is a convenient tool to blank out any criticism of Israel.

What is most  disturbing is the seamless coincidence of  views regarding  solidarity with Israel between the Board of Deputies, the Conservative Friends of Israel to which 80% of that party’s MPs belong, including practically all senior ministers including the Prime Minister, and the Community Security Trust (CST). CST polices the security apparatus of the Jewish community , and monitors any evidence of anti-semitism in public discourse, in close collaboration with the Metropolitan Police forces. Of course with the EU Working Directive on Anti-Semitism, which is by no means a comprehensive legally enforceable directive whose formulation included well known pro-Israel neo-cons in the US, any criticism of Israel or Zionism has been identified as anti-Semitism, even though an impressive minority of Jews, including eminent Israeli academics and professionals, are among the severest critics of both. The BOD’s close relations with senior ministers in the government provides an even more toxic mix when it comes to allowing any public discussion or exposure of Israel's well documented crimes, much of the evidence researched and revealed by famous and highly credited Israeli historians and human rights organisations.

Two episodes indicate further how pressure from the Board and CST influenced government action on arresting critics of Israel or suppressing free speech on Israel’s breaches of international law. The arrest and wrongful imprisonment  of a prominent Palestinian leader Sheikh Raed Salah, on questionable grounds of anti-semitism and inferences of being linked to terrorists and not being ‘conducive to the public good’ was prompted by a CFI MP, Michael Freer in Parliament, after  which the Home Secretary Teresa May issued a warrant for his immediate arrest. This wrongful arrest turned out to be confirmed when a judge freed Sheikh Salah, who tried to take his case further against deportation and also for libelous statements being made about him in the press.

The main source of information for the arrests came from the CST, which was known by Customs and Excise to have  provided false and biased assessments of what constituted anti-semitism, now well documented in well -researched blogs.

Contrast this with the determined attempts to allow Israeli generals and high level politicians suspected of well documented war crimes being allowed to escape immediate arrest by altering universal jurisdiction procedures. This was achieved by pressure from Israel, and  the Board of Deputies and supported to the hilt by all political party leaders. 

The McCarthyite clamping down and attempted censorship of Palestine in the UK parallels the campaigns against universities in the States that raise the issue of Palestine in academia (Campus Watch) that cause professors to be sacked (Norman Finklestein). Manchester University’s Jewish Society (JSOC) has just (November 2011) caused the cancellation of a public lecture by Finklestein to be held at the University, “for safety reasons” ! Recently a Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland, cancelled  a scheduled exhibition of Children’s art from Gaza. There was a concerted effort by pro-Israel organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area to pressure the museum to reverse its decision to display Palestinian children’s art.

The most telling episode was when the Board of Deputies forced the removal from the DFID  website of  a video by Alan Duncan the Minister for Overseas Development ,

 who on visit to the West Bank, the Separation Wall, the prison-like checkpoints and the Jordan Valley , when visibly moved,  described these as illegal and as a land grab. The Board wrote to the Foreign Secretary about "Mr Duncan's apparent disregard for Israel's legitimate security concerns is of great concern." - soon the Foreign Office while confirming that Mr. Duncan was merely stating their policy on the West Bank, the settlements and the Wall, eventually said that Duncan’s views had been ‘misinterpreted’ and the video was removed. So even stating facts can be lethal when Palestine is concerned, and if they do not conform to Israeli narrative of victimhood.

Back to the Festival and the schools. Local Islington Councillor Catherine West, responding to outraged letters at the schools’ cancellation of the projects, said “Local authority letters asking schools to abide by the law and present a balance in the way this sensitive topic is taught appear prosaic but, in fact, are important, as there is sadly no consensus yet on this crucial but highly-contested subject.”

This sort of sincere ignorance is very damaging. This is not a matter of only allowing what is a broad  "consensus” on this crucial but highly-contested subject” to be used in educational material in schools. This was being done in the Festival workshops under the issue of 'human rights', and in a responsible way by highly regarded childrens' poets and writers, who are able to present and discuss important contemporary issue of the realities of Palestine. There are mountains of evidence to reveal Israel's horrendous and brutal ethnic cleansing occupation that has lasted for decades, but which the Zionist lobby is desperate to muffle by any means possible, by attempting to re-brand Israel as a bastion of democracy.

What must be investigated, possibly at a Public Inquiry, is the McCarthyite meddling by an unrepresentative bodies like the Board of Deputies, CST and BICOM in acting as guardians for Israel, stifling free speech and the real story on Palestine, causing the changes in UK laws, the wrongful arrests of anyone they brand as ‘terrorist linked, and why British Ministers and the Government, while stating their recognition of the illegality of the actions of the Israel State, then fall into line with censorship and the gagging of its own ministers, in total solidarity with Israel.

The growing consensus is that Israel is a rogue state which acts with total impunity, an occupying power against the occupied Palestinians and attempts to present it as an equal balance of two opposing groups, is to do a disservice to history and the Holocaust itself, whose lesson was 'never again' to any victimised people.


Abe Hayeem

Chair, APJP