50 years since the 1967 war. 100 Years since Balfour. 70 years since partition. A launch of another anti-Israel campaign. And breathe. This week I have been busy, Friends of Al-Aqsa, suspect academia and Ben White. It is going to be a long year.
What was notable about the 3 events, was that they came from different spheres of the anti-Israel movement. The first from the Islamic community. The second from Marxists within Israeli Jewish society and the final, from inside a Christian church. Here is my report:
Tuesday 15 Nov. Queen Mary, University of London
A talk on the importance of the Al Aqsa Mosque by Ismail Patel, founder of the Friends of Al-Aqsa group. The hall only half full. In the past Patel has saluted Hamas for “standing up to Israel”, and has a long history of walking on or over the line. On Tuesday the Ismail Patel I witnessed was careful, guarded. He was clearly aware of the presence of supporters of Israel. There were no references to terrorism or Hamas at all. But terror related comments are only the headline act of the Friends of Al-Aqsa. Their underlying premise remains constant. The Mosque is under threat by right wing elements inside Israel and must be protected.
In this, Friends of Al Aqsa present the true face of the Palestinian cause. It is not humanitarian in nature, but rather anti-Jewish and easily incited through talk of religious threats. Patel’s talk did exactly this. He firstly created myths around the mosque, using a recently fabricated historical narrative that places Jerusalem and the mosque at the pinnacle of the Islamic ladder. Patel then launched into a carefully worded attack on Israeli intentions. Using selected quotes and badly distorted information to suggest the movement to destroy Al-Aqsa and build a Third Temple, is moving into the mainstream.
This narrative, along with Patel’s assertion that the Jews continually break the ‘status quo’ and deny Muslims access, is intended to bring about religious fueled anger and emotional engagement in those that listen. For this reason universities should be very careful about allowing this type of religious narrative into the student areas. The same call to arms took place in 1929 and led to massacres of Jewish communities. Just last year, the sudden spate of terror attacks were started by claims over the status of the Temple Mount. Since before 1920, such false calls have preceded many violent attacks against Jews.
Today, on the 18th November, as part of a campaign, Friends of Al -Aqsa are handing out leaflets on campus throughout the UK. They say it is about “educating people about masjid al-Aqsa and putting al-Aqsa on the global political agenda in order to protect and defend Masjid al-Aqsa from Israeli colonisation”. Or in direct language, Jews are going to destroy the mosque and Muslims need to protect it because it is central to Islam. Nothing about human rights at all then.
The Jews were at the event of course, the Nuterei Karta. After the event I managed to speak to them and I was educated about how Zionists control global media. Ever present at every anti-Israel action, this handful from an extreme sect are evidence of the desperate absurdity of the anti-Israel cause. I had wanted to ask a question during the Q&A, but was not chosen so after the event I also went to talk to Ismail Patel.
During the evening Patel had spoken about the importance of Muslim ownership and the required subordinate nature of Jewish people on Muslim holy sites (if they are ever allowed at all). FOA are major supporters of the boycott Israel movement. The central pillars of BDS are all about equality and human rights. At moments such as this the wide divide between the stated goals of the BDS movement and the realities of Muslim society and religious demands are highly exposed. I wanted to challenge him on the contradiction between pushing the supposed equality of BDS and demanding Jewish subordination.
The event at LSE was to be entirely different. I didn’t have tickets and the website confirmed the event was ‘sold out’. Not the first time I have needed to ‘blag’ a little. I was early enough to get a front row seat. Successfully gatecrashed.
Wednesday 16 Nov. London School of Economics (LSE)
A husband and wife double act at the LSE presenting their academic arguments about the ‘religionization’ of Israel. Professor Yoav Peled (Tel Aviv U) and artist / activist Horit Herman Peled. Yoav’s brother Miko Peled, himself an activist, has recently run into trouble in the United States for comments he made about Jews being “sleazy thieves”. Yoav’s sister Nurit Peled-Elhanan is another with a long history of pushing extreme positions. In what one assumes is a search for a perverse form of ‘justice’, she suggested that George Bush should have been killed in the Twin Towers terror attack.
What was clear from the outset is that these two speakers, who have chosen to focus on the increase of religious influence in Israeli society, do not like religious people very much. Yoav is an avowed communist, so perhaps it is not surprising. His wife Horit displayed her disgust that some of these religious people had entered her ‘artist world’ and wanted some consideration for their religious sensibilities (being excused from the nude model class). Within the first few minutes, Yoav took off his gloves and began with a non academic, non-truthful and vindictive attack:
“this of course raises the issue of when the time comes, will these officers obey their commanders or their rabbis. I think, in the not too distant future, the commanders will be rabbis.”
“in popular culture, you cannot be a popular singer in Israel today if you do not say, if you don’t at least say, that you are becoming more religious – this is almost a precondition for being a popular singer”
“if we talk about food, in the nineties it was hard to find a kosher restaurant in Tel Aviv, or at least a good kosher restaurant. Now this was in the media very much in the last few days (note from editor: I searched but did not find it), non-kosher restaurants in Tel Aviv are either closing down or becoming Kosher. Very few are remaining non-kosher.” (additional note, almost every restaurant in Tel Aviv is open on Shabbat and is therefore non-kosher. Period.)
Personal dislike of religious people aside, the essence of their thesis is built on statistical comparisons between 1990’s Israel and Israel of today. It forms part of a post-factual world where one’s opinion becomes more important that the glaring holes that are apparent in the manner in which the separate elements have been brought together.
Primarily, this viewpoint is one-sided. The comparison with ‘secular Israel’ is missing. Which renders this work entirely dismissive of competing secular manifestations within Israeli society. A point directed towards the Peleds during the Q&A. He also presented a slide that suggested 84% of Jewish Israel gives itself towards some type of religious observance. When questioned on this specific slide and asked if he truly believed if this was a proper representation of Israeli society, Yoav replied ‘absolutely’. This is absurd because it disregards cultural influence. It is like using the exchange of Christmas gifts as a way of measuring ‘religious observance’ in the United Kingdom. What percentage of us exchange such gifts, how religious does it make the UK?
The underlying error however in reliance on these data sets, was that one simple piece of information was missing from the presentation. That Israel of the 1990’s received a secular boost like no other. A million Russian immigrants. It is now one generation on. These immigrants have had children and have been immersed in Israeli society for 25 years. The influx brought ‘white meat’ (pork) into Israeli markets and high street butchers. Unless you remove these people from the statistics, receive a similar infusion in Israel today, or somehow adjust for the impact they must have had, your entire methodology is too weak to withstand investigation.
During the Q&A I did ask the question on the Russian immigration. I also pointed out I was surprised he did not mention it. He deflected rather than deal with it directly. But upon return home I looked at the main source he had used for the contemporary data and the Russian immigration was noted within as *the major influence*. Not something that should be left out of a speech. From the IDI source:
” From 1991 to 1999 there was a certain decline in attachment to Jewish tradition and religion, apparently under the impact of the mass immigration from the former Soviet Union.”
Like the Islamic speaker at Queen Mary, and what I was about to hear from Ben White, Yoav Peled was presenting a case by selecting a conveniently chosen but ultimately dishonest narrative. His ideology was the driving force, and without an audience keen to pick up on an anti-Israel narrative, this thesis would get no further than the local garbage bin. My position does not mean Israel is not getting more religious, it only puts forward that this particular method of judging the religious impact in Israeli society is worthless.
It must be said, this hatred is not similar to the Islamic event at the university the night before. Nor is it part of the attack Ben White delivers. Yoav is a Marxist and his ideological opposition is an internal Israeli dispute. But it does have elements in common with the other two. A disregard for truth. A willingness to let ideology direct the evening. It is also true that most of the student audience remains unaware of the flaws in the presentation or the level of hatred that exists, in some parts of Israeli secular society towards the religious community. This means that this presentation is delivered out of context.
Thursday Nov 17 Ben White at the Rivercourt Methodist Church, Hammersmith
Ben White was speaking on Gaza at a meeting of the West London branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). Perhaps 50 attended. 15 came to challenge the narrative, so 35 turned out to hear one of the movements leading lights. Free admission, well advertised. Embarrassing numbers.
White is an experienced campaigner. He has been doing this type of event for many years. Ben’s strategy is simple and similar to Max Blumenthal’s; he drowns the audience in place names and statistics.
The talk was in four sections. One focusing on the Nakba, the second the blockade and the third element was to press home Israel’s ‘brutality’. The final element was to ensure he weaved the narrative together to advertise both the boycott movement and the reason for supporting it.
A pre-arranged question from Salim, the evenings host, successfully managed to introduce ‘mowing the lawn’, the ‘Hannibal Directive’ and the ‘Dahiya doctrine’ into a single question. Impressive stuff Salim – well done! (you can read about all three – here).
The audience at a PSC event is generally an older crowd. This type of event more of a moral boosting episode to the troops than an information gathering exercise. Perhaps they hope there will be one or two new members somewhere lurking in the shadows.
White’s narrative is poison. I have spoken to Ben several times. On occasions, he spoke to me thinking I was an anti-Israel activist. By now he recognises me instantly (I was sitting next to him at a coffee shop near the venue). White is an intelligent guy. In 1:1 discussion and when probed he can display a clear ability to critically analyse internal Israeli society. He showed glimpses of that last night when he spoke of societal fault lines in Israel.
Which makes the narrative he presents even more problematic. He isn’t ‘informing’ or ‘educating’ and he has to know it. As he weaves his picture through carefully selected facts and deliberately side-stepped minefields, Ben White is proselytizing.
White always uses the worst-case statistic available to describe any event. He also omits any element of the ‘other side’. He twists any conflicting position around as if he is arguing in a university debating competition. It isn’t about what is real or not, only about how ingenious and innovative he can be, in building an alternative argument.
An example here would be on his talk of human shields. He wanted to suggest Hamas did not use human shields, so made a convoluted and childish point over whether civilians have been moved into danger or the danger has been moved to the civilians.
In reality. Hamas seeks to deter attacks on its own operatives and profits through strikes that result in high civilian casualties. Using human shields is a win-win for them. It is to insult the intelligence of everyone listening to defend the actions of Hamas during the 2014 conflict. Vile.
Hamas was defended more than once:
“Israel and Israeli supporters constantly point to the existence of Hamas and its nature as an organisation as a way of justifying certain policies. .. public enemy number one has changed (from Fatah to Hamas) identity over time and of course Hamas itself only emerged twenty years or so ago. If twenty years into an Israeli military occupation and 40 years after the ethnic cleansing of the Nakba, of course to position them as somewhere near or at the root of the problem would be really ridiculous.”
That argument of course can be turned around. The blockade, Gaza, the settlements, the occupation, placing these “somewhere near or at the root of the problem would be really ridiculous too”. Even the events of 1948 occurred 19 years after Arabs were brutally murdering Jewish communities in Hebron and Tzfat. My piece on 100 years of Arabs murdering Jews with a knife would be a good place to understand this issue better.
But he sidestepped here. When the two sides were talking in the 1990’s, Hamas policy was to brutally derail the talks. The impact on Israel was devastating. Strategies do change and if Fatah did conclude that negotiation and settlement were better paths to follow and Hamas remained on the other side of rational thought, then Hamas are central to the problem.
Hamas are also religious in nature. The blockade on Gaza was a direct result of the actions of Hamas. As he had ample opportunity, White’s refusal to draw a distinction between Fatah and Hamas was unsettling. White gives Israel no options, because his narrative is not balanced enough to provide even a small window for the truth to climb through. In the story of Ben White there is no conflict. Things always ‘just happen’ to the Palestinians. Over twenty thousands Jews have died in this conflict. These are not worthy of a single mention.
The Q&A did not go to plan. There were not enough of the anti-Israel side asking questions. As is always the problem there is not enough knowledge in the room. A man stood up. I have seen him twice at previous events ask a question on the use of white phosphorous . He did so again here. That must be his ‘thing’. They all have their ‘things’.
After a while the host became visibly unsettled, he didn’t want to keep taking questions from the Zionist camp, and it became more difficult not to ask them. So, he called an ending to proceedings at 20:30. The event had been due to go on until 21:00. This action annoyed those who wanted to challenge White’s narrative and the evening fell apart into disarray.
Watching white is always impressive because he is a circus performer. But he has no integrity. He is not interested in the truth. Nor is he searching for an end to the conflict. Ben White pushes a propaganda narrative that perpetuates conflict. Shameful.
These events are the products of an industry of hate. There is no other explanation for the situation. The constant supply, the never-ending funding. A tiny sliver of land, several thousand miles away. A beacon of freedom in a region threatened by ever lengthening shadows of Islamic hatred. Millions have died within the borders of Israel’s neighbours. And yet the feeding frenzy on Israel’s soul continues.
Those turning up at these events, do not care for human rights. They do not want to know about the real people that are suffering in the world. They are blind to the ongoing slaughter in Syria. Not interested in Genocide against Christian communities. They just need to suckle at the venom. They want to hear about the devil state in the Middle East. To hear Israel demonised. To have their hunger fed by the industry of hate.
The disease has already taken over the party of opposition. The Student union is led by people with no place in their lives for Jews who are proud of their heritage. There are protests on campus when a gay, left leaning Israeli activist comes to talk. Students wear rugby shirts with a map on their sleeve that has obliterated Israel. Jews are spoken of in the House of Lords as having ‘caused the holocaust’. In the other chamber, there is talk of Jewish money controlling the government. Both right and left are weaponisng Jews to use as pawns in their own political battles.
You cannot continually pump this poison into the atmosphere of the UK and not expect the local air to become infected. Jews are visibly not as welcome, nor as safe in the UK as they were ten years ago. Remember, this is not an account of several interactions over months. It is a tale of the experience of one Jewish man and what he encountered in London in just 3 days. Three days in hell.
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