Tony Greenstein | 07 August 2019 | Post Views:

Tower Hamlets Council’s Decision to Refuse to Host the Big Ride for Palestine is both Cowardly & Shameful

The IHRA, the Pretext for this racism has nothing to do with opposing anti-Semitism and everything to do with Undermining Solidarity with Palestinians 

In what must count as one of the most shameful and racist decisions of a ‘Labour’ Council, Tower Hamlets refused last weekend to host the Big Ride for Palestine.

The reasons that Council officials gave were that raising money to fund sporting equipment for Palestinian children had “political connotations” and that the closing rally of this year’s bike ride could not go ahead in the borough “without problems”.

One wonders whether raising money for Israeli Jewish children would also have had political connotations. The stench of hypocrisy is overbearing. 

Officials told organisers there was a risk speakers might express views which contradicted the council’s policies on community cohesion and equality. Fancy that.  You would never guess that we live in a democracy.

This is what free speech under a New Labour Council is about. I guess we should be grateful. If this were Israel we could be locked up without trial – it’s called administrative detention.

What kind of Orwellian world do we live in when supporting children in the world’s largest open prison, Gaza, might be thought to promote inequality? How could this possibly affect ‘community cohesion’ – unless they are saying Jewish residents would be upset by supporting Palestinian children?

The real reason for banning The Big Ride was that supporting the event might breach the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism because of references on the Big Ride’s website to apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

In other words calling Israel what it is – an apartheid state and referring to ethnic cleansing is considered to be ‘anti-Semitic’. What this really means is that telling the truth is now anti-Jewish! The IHRA is effectively saying that Jews are racist, because if you are anti-racist you are anti-Jewish. 

There is no doubt that Israel is a racist and apartheid state. It is a state where the Chief Rabbi of Safed, a government employee, backed up by dozens of other rabbis, issued an edict forbidding Jews to rent homes to Arabs.

It is a state where hundreds of demonstrators come onto the streets in Afula to protest the sale of a house to an Arab. It is a state where hundreds of Jewish communities are legally entitled, under the 2011 Admissions Committee Law to bar Arabs from their communities.

It is a state where education is segregated and according to the 2006 Israeli Democracy Institute Survey, 62% of Israeliswanted the government to encourage local Arabs to leave the country and 75% of Jews didn’t approve of sharing apartments with Arabs.

It is a state where not one single Arab village or town has been created since 1948, whereas hundreds of Jewish communities have been created.

As for ethnic cleansing it is the official policy of the Israeli government, of whatever political hue, to increase the number of Israeli Jews and reduce the size of the Arab population. That is why no Palestinian refugees are allowed to return whereas any Jew is allowed to ‘return’ regardless of whether they have been there before.

It is a state where the Ministry of Education can ban a book, Borderlife, about a relationship between Jewish and Arab teenagers because it gives the wrong message.

Education officials explained that intimate relations between Jews and non Jews, and certainly the option of formalising them through marriage and having a family… is perceived by large segments of society as a threat to a separate identity

According to Dalia Fenig a senior education official:

“Young people of adolescent age tend to romanticizing and don’t, in many cases, have the systemic vision that includes considerations involving maintaining the identity of the people and the significance of assimilation.”

In other words teenagers might not yet have had time to assimilate the racist ideology behind a ‘Jewish’ state which says that mixed relationships between Jew and Arab are forbidden.

As for ethnic cleansing where would one start?  The demolition of 100 Palestinian homes in July in Sur Baher, Jerusalem might be a start.

Of course the IHRA doesn’t actually say that calling Israel an Apartheid state or a state that practices ethnic cleansing is anti-Semitic.  It doesn’t have to. It is vague enough so that officials will interpret it cautiously excluding anything controversial that might cause ‘problems’ later. That is how bureaucracies operate.

Seven of its eleven illustrations of ‘anti-Semitism’ relate to Israel. The preamble to the 11 illustrations states that:

Contemporary examples of antisemitism… could, taking into account the overall context, include…

But of course Council officials and politicians don’t do context. They apply the definition as if the examples are inflexible and straightforward.

The IHRA definition has been subject to excoriating criticism by a host of academics and legal scholars such as Geoffrey Robertson QC, who described it as ‘not fit for purpose’. Hugh Tomlinson QC described the IHRA as ‘chilling’ free speech and the Jewish former Court of Appeal Judge Sir Stephen Sedley was similarly critical. Even David Feldman, Director of the Zionist Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism described the IHRA as ‘bewilderingly imprecise’.Even the person who drafted it, Kenneth Stern attacked the misuse of the IHRA saying:

The definition was not drafted, and was never intended, as a tool to target or chill speech on a college campus.

No amount of reasoned argument or logic can withstand the unanimity of bourgeois support for Zionism.  The IHRA is a necessary defence of British foreign policy support for Israel. 

Last week even Dr Geoffrey Alderman, a maverick right-wing Zionist academic and former Jewish Chronicle columnist, slated the IHRA definition. Like Geoffrey Robertson he described the IHRA as not fit for purpose. The IHRA’s 11 examples ‘embed numerous internal contradictions.’

Yet despite all of this criticism the IHRA continues on its way because it is important to dress up support for the West’s armed guard dog in the Middle East in rosy and comfortable colours.

The actions of Tower Hamlets Council are of course outrageous. Tower Hamlets is a heavily Bengali and Muslim area. The idea that supporting the Palestinians is anti-Semitic is not likely to gain much support in the area and it should be used to remove this politically corrupt and racist New Labour council which owes its existence to theundemocratic removal of the previous independent left administration of Lofthur Rahman, by a combination of the High Court and Tory right-winger Eric Pickles.

But above all it is incumbent on the trade unions, which were responsible for the Labour Party adopting the IHRA to now recognise that their existing policies on supporting BDS and the Palestinians are incompatible with support for the IHRA.

My own branch Unite SE/6246 has sent an open letter to Len McLuskey calling for UNITE to reverse its support for the IHRA. Activists in UNISON and other trade unions should be doing the same. Our message should be simple – support the Palestinians or support Israeli Apartheid and Zionism.

On October 12th Palestine Solidarity Campaign will be holding a trade union conference. They have so far ensured that the IHRA is kept off the agenda as the Socialist Action leadership of PSC is anxious not to come into conflict with the trade union leaders. It provides an ideal opportunity for us to raise the issue nonetheless.

Our message must be that the IHRA must go.  It has nothing to do with fighting anti-Semitism and everything to do with supporting racism and apartheid in Israel.

Tony Greenstein

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Tony Greenstein

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