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MuzzleWatch: Signs the British weaponization of antisemitism is coming to the US

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McCarthyism is again, astride the land, like a destroying Saturn.  As of this writing, left labor in England has been decimated through the ginned up, explicitly false claims of antisemitism with no end to the aftershocks from this.

If you’ve been paying attention, there is a British Labour party “compliance unit for antisemitism” and it’s exactly as bad as it sounds. Based on the deeply flawed IHRA definition of antisemitism, this inquisitorial system actually is more akin to a Stalinist purge show trial than the already sufficiently odious McCarthy hearings.  This self-flagellating cleaning of the ranks has resulted in a wholesale purge of Labour members, most recently, 25 people expelled in a single day.

A high profile example is most telling, Jo Bird, an ascendant left candidate who has been suspended from the Labour List.  Jo Bird’s Jewish background is simply ignored here with the more salient issue being her strong left voice and criticism of the entire process.   Similar to what Milan Kundera describes in “The Joke” Bird is being accused of antisemitism for comments obviously taken out of context by those seeking to attack left Labour, particularly Jeremy Corbyn.  The constant echo chamber claims of rampant Labour antisemitism is a successful, (so far), weaponization and willful distortion of actual antisemitism. This is a planned attack by centrist Labour members, state actors such as Israel, and private actors.  Whether cynical or not, this misuse/distortion of antisemitism makes it more difficult to deal with actual antisemitism. White supremacists, neo Nazis and simple antisemites are thrown in with people who have spent decades fighting racism, sexism, union decline and frequently, criticism of Israeli settler colonial policies and actions.  In response to these truly alarming developments, Mondoweiss has reported on deeply felt and well-reasoned responses from Haim Bresheeth and Natalie Strecker, both who demanded that they be brought before the compliance unit.  Strecker gets directly to the crux of this issues:

I have spent many hours trying to work out the best way of responding, that recognized the genuine hurt of some Jewish members of the party I am a member of, but also addressed what had morphed into a clear attempt to shut down Palestinian solidarity and to designate anyone who calls out Israel for the apartheid regime it is as an anti-Semite and at a time when very real and very dangerous antisemitism is on the ascendency.

Often these people are, like Jo Bird, Jewish and  life-long left, anti-racist activists, which brings us to why I’m again discussing this here.  The one certain takeaway, that is also germane in the US, is that the weaponization of antisemitism is, unambiguously, an attempt to stifle legitimate and needed criticism of Israel.

Although, we are not yet at a point in the US where a commission has been established to render judgement on who is an antisemite, things are certainly developing in that direction.  What is definitely increasing are attempts to silence critiques and critics of Israel, particularly as regards BDS. As of this writing, 28 states have some kind of anti-BDS law, often including this entangled view that critique of Israel is synonymous with antisemitic speech.  Thus, England has the inquisitional “compliance unit” while the US has a hodgepodge of anti-BDS laws.

In this regard, Muzzlewatch waited a bit to see what was actually going on with an apparent censoring incident experienced by the reporter, and former RT analyst, Abby Martin.  As the details emerge, it’s readily apparent that this is yet another unfortunate censorship datapoint. Martin was contracted to give a talk in media literacy at Georgia Southern University this February 28th.  When the actual contract was sent to her, she was surprised to see language mandating that she could only receive compensation if she signed an oath to not advocate for BDS or criticize Israel, as stipulated in Georgia state law.  She refused, not a surprise given her work on Palestinian rights and rights abuses committed by the Israeli government. Two civil rights groups have signed on to defend Martin, in response to this obvious case of attempted censorship.  Indeed, Edward Mitchell of CAIR-Georgia described the law as “blatantly and hilariously unconstitutional.” And, as repeated SCOTUS decisions have found, “Boycotts are fundamentally a protected free speech rights,” and as Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, wrote, “SCOTUS …… recognized that political boycotts are protected political expression and no state has the right to tell people what they can or cannot say.”

In general, all of these anti-BDS laws fly in the face of established U.S. Supreme Court opinions and those passing these laws know this. In the short run, politicians supporting such attacks on free speech are more concerned about garnering support from “friends of Israel” or, at least not pissing off said friends. A climate of fear, trepidation, and suspicion is also an important “value added,” and any legal battle takes time and money. The larger context is that, for the most part, in the US, there is no political or economic incentive for any politician to not be as right wing on Israel as is humanly possible. Thus, we get not only national level politics being affected but states, and even at a more local level, as well. Indeed, there is far more possible political, personal, and economic consequences for being a US citizen who is critical of Israel than for a US citizen to be critical of the US.

The good news is that there is starting to be a concerted response to such legislation and anti-free speech attacks with the above groups as well as Palestine Legal and the ACLU mounting legal cases. In future columns I will discuss details of the legal theories supporting the anti-BDS claims, the tactics behind this as well as the legal speciousness and willful historical ignorance of such claims.

See here for the MuzzleWatch archive. Have tips or feedback? Let us know — [email protected].

Rob Lipton

Rob Lipton is a long time member of Jewish Voice for Peace, wrote for JVP's Muzzlewatch, was an ISM participant, and was the LA director of FAIR during the first Gulf War. He is Poet Laureate of Richmond, CA and a spatial epidemiologist.

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4 Responses

  1. Bumblebye on February 26, 2020, 7:28 pm

    How feeble the accusations made can be, and how one Jewish Labour Party member fought back the threat of suspension:

  2. just on February 26, 2020, 7:35 pm

    Thanks for this, Rob.

    Here’s some heartening news:

    “Activists block Israel lobby censorship effort in New Zealand

    Activists in New Zealand are celebrating victory after they blocked an effort to censor speech supportive of Palestinian rights.

    The city council in the capital Wellington was due this week to consider adopting the International Holocaust Rememberance Alliance’s misleading definition of anti-Semitism.

    But the motion was withdrawn after a campaign by supporters of Palestinian rights.

    The so-called IHRA definition is being promoted worldwide by Israel and its lobby, and this measure was proposed by the Wellington Jewish Council and supported by the New Zealand Jewish Council.

    But the Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa, a national coalition, urged the mayor and city council to abandon the measure.

    “It would be far better for Wellington City to pass a comprehensive anti-racism resolution rather than have a divided vote on the proposed ‘anti-semitism’ resolution,” the group stated….

    … BDS is not anti-Semitic
    Duncan Webb, a member of parliament for Christchurch, also wrote to Wellington city councilors warning that adopting the IHRA definition would harm free speech.

    He urged a broader resolution against bigotry that would “extend to all religions including Islamophobia.”

    Webb noted that many activists advocate BDS – boycotts, divestment and sanctions – in response to Israel’s illegal colonization of Palestinian land and other breaches of international law.

    However, Webb said, advocates of the IHRA definition “assert that this position is anti-Semitic.”

    “I strongly disagree with the assertion that BDS is anti-Semitic,” Webb, a member of the ruling Labour Party, added.

    He noted that the UN recently issued “a list of businesses that are supporting the illegal West Bank settlements, and that the International Criminal Court has recently launched an inquiry into possible war crimes by Israel in Palestine.”

    Silencing New Zealanders
    Israel has previously tried to censor New Zealanders from afar.

    In 2018, a group linked to Israel’s spying and assassination agency Mossad brought a lawsuit against two New Zealand activists to punish them for advocating a boycott of Israel. …

    … The now withdrawn Wellington council measure was however the first time any local government body in New Zealand was asked to pass such a resolution – a sign that Israel and its lobby intend to tamp down criticism wherever they can.

    Supporters of the resolution may have hoped that it would pass unnoticed and set a precedent that could then be quickly replicated in cities across New Zealand.

    However the quick mobilization by activists to educate officials about the problems and controversies surrounding the flawed IHRA definition stymied any such plans.

    New Zealanders have shown once again that although their country has a small population, its solidarity with Palestinians has an outsize impact.”

    more @

  3. Ronald Johnson on February 27, 2020, 9:10 am

    I hope that I am not here repeating myself on Mondoweiss. – about the concept of the “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”, which is a lawsuit brought to drain the resources of a defendant: lawsuits that are frivolous, or alleging exaggerated harm. The Defendant can win, but only at exorbitant cost. A couple of dozen states have laws against “SLAPP”.

    The anti-BDS statutes are an upstream example of burdening public participation by enacting unconstitutional statutes that will stand until struck down, but at exorbitant cost. Anti-BDS is a ploy that may go on for years.

    Recall Charles Dickens’ novel, “Bleak House”, where an inheritance dispute in the Chancery Court (Probate) went on for decades until the entire resources of the estate were drained away in lawyer’s fees and court costs. Dickens’ day job was as a court reporter – he would know. Are the Anti-BDS statutes perverting Justice?

  4. Misterioso on February 27, 2020, 3:19 pm

    Short video from Canada:

    “4 Reasons Why You Should Oppose the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism” Feb. 24/20
    Independent Jewish Voices, Canada

    Learn more at

    “Currently, there is a push at many levels of government in several countries to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. The IHRA definition is flawed and dangerous, because it conflates antisemitism with legitimate criticism of Israel.

    “Fighting antisemitism is a must. But the IHRA is the wrong approach.”

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