The past few days have seen an almost unprecedented attack on high-profile supporters of Palestine resulting in a concerted effort to silence some of Israel’s most vocal critics once and for all. While this blatant attack on free speech has been rolled out it has also served to divert attention from a hard-hitting TV investigation exposing a campaign to undermine democracy and pro-Palestinian support in Britain’s Labour Party.
A damning three-part Al Jazeera TV documentary has based its findings on the content of the largest ever document leak in British political history. “The Labour Files: The Purge” has revealed how a small number of unelected officials plotted to bring Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s political juggernaut to a shuddering halt.
In a show of zero tolerance for free speech when it comes to criticising Israel and its Zionist friends, a number of pro-Palestinian voices, including academics, politicians and even Jews who refuse to kowtow to Tel Aviv, have been silenced through the Labour Party’s extreme censorship.
Astonishingly, instead of apologies or even resignations, the first episode of the documentary seems to have triggered a salvo of Zionist vitriol against even more critics of the apartheid state’s brutal military occupation of Palestine. Such vicious campaigns serve only to encourage the sort of draconian censorship and attacks on freedom of speech that we associate with dictatorships.
Elements of the mainstream media are complicit either through self-censorship — to date, not one major news organisation has referred to the astonishing five-year campaign to destroy Corbyn —or selective reporting of facts on the ground. Or both.
For instance, two concerts planned in Poland by Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters were cancelled over the weekend amid outrage at the outspoken musician’s open letter to Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska. Waters told her that “extreme nationalists” in Ukraine “have set your country on the path to this disastrous war.”
The media knows that “extreme nationalists” is code for the far-right hooligan networks and militias of the Azov Battalion, which emerged in the fighting in Mariupol back in 2014. Today, nobody refers to their pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic credentials, or mention that they are on Kyiv’s payroll as part of Ukraine’s National Guard.
Even the US government has described the Azov’s political party, the National Corps, as a “nationalist hate group” and banned any of its military aid to Ukraine from reaching the battalion. According to the FBI, Azov is training and radicalising US white supremacists who are among the estimated 17,000 foreign right-wing extremists who have been drawn to Ukraine in recent years.
Roger Waters was thus apparently silenced over his attempts to enlighten the world that maybe all is not what it seems in Ukraine. The last thing that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wants is a pro-Palestine rock star mouthing off in neighbouring Poland. Zelenskyy’s close allies in Tel Aviv have long yearned to silence Waters by turning him into a social pariah for daring to criticise the Zionist colonial-occupation of Palestine.
Hence, the moment that Waters stepped away from the official line about Ukraine, Krakow City Councillor Lukasz Wantuch and his colleagues drafted a resolution to declare Waters persona non grata in Poland. Currently on tour in the US, the singer-activist responded on Facebook by saying, “Hey Lukasz Wantuch, Leave them kids alone”, paraphrasing the lyrics of the classic Pink Floyd song “Another Brick in the Wall”. He accused Wantuch of “draconian” censorship.
While that drama was unfolding, under-fire Professor David Miller was told that his event with the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign tonight (Monday) has been cancelled on the advice of Police Scotland. According to a report in the Jewish Telegraph, the police were involved in the decision of the Renfield Centre in Glasgow to cancel a booking by SPSC where Miller was to have spoken on “Free Speech on Palestine — Stop the Witch-hunt”. The bitter irony will not have been lost on the academic who was hounded out of his job at Bristol University last year.
“The centre says it was told by the police that Professor Miller was part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel and they cancelled the meeting on safety grounds,” explained SPSC co-founder Mick Napier. “That is a contradiction in terms, because BDS is a nonviolent campaign called by Palestinian trades unions, churches, artists and academics against Israel’s human rights breaches. The Scottish government recognises the right of public bodies to adopt BDS policies, but it seems that Police Scotland has decided otherwise.”
The SPSC says on its website that the meeting will go ahead tonight either inside or outside the Bath Street premises, “ban or no ban”. Another meeting with Miller is scheduled for Tuesday night in Edinburgh, despite Zionist pressure for that to be cancelled as well.
“If Police Scotland are now openly pressuring venues to cancel our meetings we have no recourse but to seek public support to oppose this sinister development,” added Napier. “[Prime Minister Liz] Truss and her crew are threatening to criminalise the democratic rights of asylum seekers, trade unionists and local authorities as well as pro-Palestine advocacy.”
Meanwhile, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi has been suspended from Labour for speaking at an event organised by the left-wing group Resist, one of four organisations banned by Labour in July last year for downplaying what Labour Party officials described as “systemic anti-Semitism” within the party. Wimborne-Idrissi’s suspension means that she can no longer take her seat on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), the 40-person body that meets this week at the party’s annual conference in Liverpool, despite her being elected by grassroots members earlier this month.
Is it a coincidence that she also appeared in the first episode of the Al Jazeera documentary? It’s obvious that the Labour Party’s pro-Israel officials wasted no time in working out a way to suspend her, and not for the first time. It also happened after she backed claims about the “weaponisation” of anti-Semitism allegations within Labour at a meeting of the Chingford and Woodford Green local party, of which she was vice-chair. That suspension was lifted shortly afterwards, but she was given a formal warning.
What many people don’t realise, though, is that Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi is a leading Jewish activist who has fought fascism and anti-Semitism all her life, but Zionists within Labour can’t tolerate her criticism of Israel. So this particular Jewish voice has been silenced yet again.
Over in America, an extraordinary attempt to silence Democrat politician Rashida Tlaib may yet backfire after some Zionist groups claimed that the Palestinian American called for Israel’s destruction. Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called her an anti-Semite and misinterpreted her words in a tweet, while the right-wing lobby group the Democratic Majority for Israel whipped up support against Tlaib. What she actually said was, “You cannot claim to hold progressive values yet back Israel’s apartheid government.” Her many critics, though, have used a favourite Zionist trick of distorting her words.
Tlaib clearly hit a nerve, and anyone calling Israel an apartheid state incurs the wrath of Tel Aviv and its allies. The apartheid label attracted unwanted attention in the title of former US President Jimmy Carter’s 2007 book, although the PLO pointed out in 1985 that “Zionism is apartheid”. Moreover, leading human rights groups have since come to the same conclusion, including B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. All of this undermines the claim that Israel has progressive values. That could be why most of her fellow Democrats who attacked Tlaib self-censored themselves by avoiding any mention of the A-word in order to ignore the uncomfortable truth that Palestinians are forced to live in an apartheid state which treats them as lesser beings.
Israel and its supporters want to ban the use of the word apartheid; anyone who uses it faces being accused of anti-Semitism. Beth Miller of Jewish Voice for Peace Action put it succinctly when she said of Tlaib: “The only Palestinian American member of Congress can’t open her mouth without a coordinated campaign of slander and attacks with the intent of smearing her, twisting her words, and obscuring the undeniable reality that Israel is committing the crime of brutal apartheid over Palestinians.”
If Tlaib’s critics can’t silence her, or have her expelled from her own party, then they simply make up what she is supposed to have said. For example, Greenblatt tweeted: “In one sentence, @RepRashida simultaneously tells American Jews that they need to pass an anti-Zionist litmus test to participate in progressive spaces even as she doubles down on her #antisemitism by slandering Israel as an apartheid state.” The truth is that Tlaib did not mention “an anti-Zionist litmus test” in her speech. Greenblatt simply made that up along with his suggestion that Tlaib was singling out American Jews.
“In one sentence,” wrote Scott Roth in response, “@JGreenblattADL conflates American Jews with Zionists, itself an anti-Semitic canard, while simultaneously defaming @RashidaTlaib as anti-Semitic for stating what’s demonstrably provable.”
Of course, this is nothing new for Tlaib, who was attacked last year merely for quoting from a human rights report which described Israel as an apartheid state. Political colleague Ted Deutch jumped to his feet automatically in the House of Representatives to condemn her for “anti-Semitism”, claiming that she “had besmirched our ally” and called for the destruction of Israel.
Tlaib was once quoted as saying: “I am tired of people functioning from a place of fear rather than doing what’s right because of the bullying by pro-Israel lobbyists. This is apartheid, plain and simple.”
She’s right, but it is not just brave politicians who are being attacked in a leading democracy for exercising their democratic right to call out injustice when they see it. Activists of all faiths and none who dare to criticise the settler-colonial state faces being targeted, blacklisted and smeared. Western democracy is being destroyed in order to protect Israel.
That is the context within which the five-year campaign to wipe out Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters should be viewed. Likewise, the ongoing witch hunt against Professor Miller and the disgraceful ostracisation of Jews who stand up for the legitimate rights of the people of occupied Palestine. As the situation in Scotland today suggests, even the police are getting in on the act. Such abuse of the law and misuse of police powers to curb freedom of speech has to stop.
If Israel and its supporters have to damage their own democracy in an effort to shut down criticism of the apartheid state, what does that say about the regime they are so desperately trying to prop up? What hold does Israel have over the West? Whatever it is, the price to pay surely cannot and should not be the erosion of our democratic rights.
The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign is showing us the way in this respect. We mustn’t throw in the towel and cancel that next pro-Palestine meeting on campus, in civil society or anywhere else. Far from it. The Palestinians have had to face much worse for seventy years and counting, and continue to endure a brutal apartheid regime and military occupation. The least we can do is stand up to the pro-Israel lobby and expose the fact that it defends a cruel, apartheid state which no self-respecting democrat should support.
Disclaimer: Western democracy is being destroyed to protect Israel by Yvonne Ridley - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view