A presentation by Colin Chapman Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide Seminar 9 October, 2018
Let me begin with a one-sentence answer: it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible to separate religion and politics in the Middle East today; and the future is bleak unless we can find ways of separating religion and politics and allowing religion to support an international order that is based on the rule of law.
This presentation is very much a ‘big picture’ exercise, an attempt to put some of the pieces of the jig-saw puzzle together. As a Christian who is interested in the role of religion and the interaction of religion with politics, I’m trying to make sense of the history that is being played out before us in the Middle East at the present time.
I probably need to explain my credentials. I’m not a historian or a political scientist. I happen to have worked with a mission agency, the Church Mission Society (CMS), in the Middle East for 18 years and have been engaged in theological education of different kinds both there and in the UK, specialising in recent years in Islamic studies. Continue reading →
Ten years ago, in September 2008, an anonymous ‘Mordechai Maverick’ sent a defamatory message about me to everyone in our church Facebook group. The message drew attention to a new but anonymous blog called Seismic Shock (intended apparently to sound like my name), which described me as a “dangerous anti- Semite” and promised to publish articles to expose me. The anonymous author(s) then began to write articles about me on a weekly basis, sometimes daily. These were subsequently re-posted on other websites such as Rosh Pina Projectand Harry’s Place. In a one year period September 2008-to July 2009 well over one hundred articles about me were published on the Seismic Shockwebsite.
Surrey police took an interest and provided me and my family with additional security. On 29th November 2009, I received a report from West Yorkshire Police to advise that they had identified and visited an individual and asked him to desist writing defamatory material about me and remove from his website material of that nature. I was asked to contact them if I became aware of further articles by the same individual “causing you harassment”. Despite the fact that at the time I did not know the name of the author, he subsequently went public and then accused me of using the police to suppress free speech on the internet. Continue reading →
An interview with Roshan Muhammed Salih for Press TV on the weaponisation of antisemitism together with Jonathan Rosenhead, Emeritus Professor of Operational Research at the London School of Economics.
How are anti-Semitism accusations being misused by the Israeli lobby?
The Israel Lobby has an impossible task defending the illegal occupation and colonisation of Palestine. Many liken the policies of Israel to a form of apartheid. The denial of Palestinian human rights and breaches of international law are flagrant and systemic. One way to deflect attention and silence criticism, is by seeking international acceptance of a broader definition of antisemitism that conflates antisemitism with anti-Zionism.
Antisemitism is generally understood to be “hostility to, prejudice, or discrimination against Jews.” It is a form of racism and should be repudiated unequivocally. However, Zionists insist Israel is a Jewish state and therefore claim criticism of Israel is synonymous with criticism of Jews and therefore is a form of antisemitism.
Identifying Israel as a Jewish state is problematic not just for its two million Palestinian citizens but also the further three million living under military rule in the Palestinian territories.
Antony Lerman traces the historical development of the ‘new antisemitism’ and draws out how the new definition differs from traditional descriptions.
“In a word, classical anti-Semitism is the discrimination against, denial of, or assault upon the rights of Jews to live as equal members of whatever society they inhabit. The new anti-Semitism involves the discrimination against, denial of, or assault upon the right of the Jewish people to live as an equal member of the family of nations, with Israel as the targeted ‘collective Jew among the nations’.”
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition, recently accepted by the British government, reads:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The IHRA acknowledge “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” So what is wrong with equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism? Ben White cites several anti-Zionist Jewish campaigners:
“For Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a group with more than 200,000 online members and 60 chapters across the US, “equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism obscures the long history of Jewish anti-Zionism and diasporism.” According to the UK-based group Jews for Justice for Palestinians, fusing “Jewishness/Israel/Zionism” enables antisemitism to become “a weapon for imposing conformity on dissidents within the Jewish community.”
Chicago-based Rabbi Brant Rosen has described how “growing numbers of Jews” identify as anti-Zionists for “legitimate ideological reasons”, motivated “by values of equality and human rights for all human beings.” His words chime with those of a former President of Edinburgh University’s Jewish Society, who recently wrote of “the growing frustration felt by many millennial Jews about the default positioning that support for Israel receives amongst Jewish civil society organisations.”
But what about the claim that, since Zionism is simply Jewish self-determination, anti-Zionism is anti-Jewish bigotry? This is also misguided; put simply, “self-determination does not equate to statehood.” As legal scholar Michael Kearney has explained, self-determination is “less understood these days as a right to one’s own exclusive state, and more as a right to non-discrimination and to democratic participation in society.”
Israel’s supporters, however, are deliberately conflating terms such as ‘homeland’, ‘home’, ‘state’, and ‘self-determination’. The concept of a Jewish homeland is one thing; the creation and maintenance of a ‘Jewish state’, in Palestine, at the expense of its non-Jewish inhabitants, is another. The right to self-determination is never a right to colonisation, whoever is doing it.
Finally, to maintain that anti-Zionism is antisemitism is to deny the historical and contemporary reality of the Palestinians’ experience, and to dehumanise them as a people. For the Palestinians, Zionism has meant violent displacement, colonisation, and discrimination – are they ‘antisemitic’ for refusing to cheer their own dispossession? By extension, as orthodox Jewish studies and philosophy professor Charles H. Manekinput it recently, labelling Palestine solidarity activists as antisemitic is to imply that “the Palestinians have little justified claim to sympathy.”
Frances Webber of the Institute for Race Relations raises another concern.
“This conflation of anti-Israelism with anti-Semitism has a history … but what particularly concerns us here is the way that the definition of anti-Semitism is moving from deed to thought, from the objective to the subjective, from action to attitude.
The IRR has always maintained that it was important to distinguish between prejudices – the subjective – and the acting out of those prejudices – the objective – in discriminatory acts, physical attacks, government edicts etc. Penalising people for racist feelings or attitudes leads to thought-policing, whereas racist acts are measurable and therefore prosecutable before the law if needs be. And there are specific laws relating to incitement to race hatred, the committing of racially-motivated crimes, discrimination in provision of goods and services whether direct or indirect. But, recently, emanating in part from cultural/identity studies in academia, a kind of victimology, a subjectivism is creeping into policy. Anything that is said or might be said that upsets people, gives hurt, merely makes them uncomfortable, is becoming equated with outright discrimination and liable for a prohibitive ban.”
Webber emphasizes that causing office is not synonymous with racism.
“The conceptual flaw underlying Pickles’ definition is to equate racism with anything that gives offence. For while racism is offensive, not everything which gives offence is per se racist. Objections to cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist or paedophile are made not on grounds of their offensiveness – although they undoubtedly are – but on the grounds of the use of crude racist images to depict a religious minority as quintessentially evil. Although it might cause offence to some, it is no more inherently racist to attack Israel’s policies than it is to demand that ‘Rhodes must fall’ or to denounce US or British imperialism or these states’ complicity in torture. So Pickles’ definition not only appears to make an exception of Israel but also to close down on freedom of speech and of expression when it comes to defining what it is permissible to say about a particular country.”
What then is wrong with the new definition of antisemitism?
“Critics of the concept argue that it conflates anti-Zionism with antisemitism, defines legitimate criticism of Israel too narrowly and demonization too broadly, trivializes the meaning of antisemitism, and exploits antisemitism in order to silence political debate.”
Antony Lerman goes further, arguing that perversely, the new definition actually provokes antisemitism.
“The de-coupling of the understanding of antisemitism from traditional antisemitic tropes, which thereby made criticism of Israel in and of itself antisemitic, necessarily made the opposite – support for Israel – into a touchstone for expressing sympathy with Jews. This opened the door to the phenomenon of Jewish support for far right, anti-Islam, anti-immigrant parties keen to whitewash their pasts and sanitise their anti-Muslim prejudice by expressing support for Israel and seeing the country and its Jews as the front line against Islam’s ‘incursion into Europe’. It is not surprising, therefore, that acceptance of the ‘new antisemitism’ theory has contributed to the exacerbation of tensions between Muslims and Jews in the UK (and elsewhere in Europe). There is, however, mutual pre-existing misunderstanding and mistrust, while negative images of Jews unrelated to the Israel-Palestine conflict are common among some Muslims.”
The children’s story of Chicken Little who thought the sky was falling in when a leaf fell on his head is pertinent. The danger is that by broadening or diluting the definition of antisemitism, people could easily become complacent and immune to genuine antisemitism and when it rears its ugly head not resist it. Brian Klug argues,
“When anti-Semitism is everywhere, it is nowhere. And when every anti-Zionist is an anti-Semite, we no longer know how to recognize the real thing—the concept of anti-Semitism loses its significance.”
Antony Lerman adds,
“Given the misery and murder that antisemitism has caused over the centuries,” … “one might expect pro-Israel groups to be more circumspect before using it indiscriminately as a political tool.” … “not everything that offends Jewish sensibilities is antisemitism”, and by labelling BDS as antisemitic, Israel advocates “are draining the word of any meaning.”
Ben White concludes,
“This politicised redefining of antisemitism should worry us all: it dehumanises Palestinians and delegitimises solidarity, imperils the fight against real antisemitism, and constitutes a much broader attackon our democracy and political freedoms.”
What is the agenda behind these accusations (against the Labour Party)?
In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party are repeatedly being accused of antisemitism. Zionists know that a Labour government under Corbyn will introduce major changes to British foreign policy. Jeremy Corbyn would recognise the state of Palestine on the 1967 borders, (like most of the rest of the world – 136 out of 193 countries in 2015), and likely introduce sanctions against Israel and punish international companies profiting from the occupation.
Ben White cites Richard Kuper, spokesperson of Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) as saying,
“there is clearly also a coordinated, willed and malign campaign to exaggerate the nature and extent of antisemitism as a stick to beat the Labour party”
Ben White observes,
“The Labour Party has more than 400 MPs and peers at Westminster, in addition to almost 7,000 local government officials and some 390,000 members. The antisemitism ‘crisis’ has involved half a dozen individuals, most of whom have either never held, or no longer hold elected office. Corbyn himself has repeatedly condemned antisemitism since becoming leader, while according to Party General Secretary Iain McNicol, everyone reported for antisemitism has been suspended or excluded.”
Ironically, a March 2018 You Gov survey found that Conservative supporters were more likely to hold racist views than Labour supporters and that evidence of antisemitism has declined in the Labour party since Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader.
How can pro-Palestinians counter these attacks?
Repudiate all forms of racism including antisemitism, unequivocally.
Repudiate the small minority of antisemites using the Palestinian cause for their own agenda.
Cooperate with Jewish organisations committed to both repudiating antisemitism and Zionism. Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JFJFP). The Israeli Committee Against House demolitions (ICAHD). Natura Karta. Women in Black.
Remain determined to hold Israel accountable to international law for its racist policies toward Palestinians.
Continue to draw parallels between Zionist settler colonialism with the way native Americans were treated in the USA, Blacks in South Africa, the Aborigines in Australia, etc.
Are these attacks a sign of the success of the pro-Palestine lobby?
Yes. The attempt to broaden the definition of antisemitism is paralleled by the attempt to criminalise the BDS movement. This is because non-violent, peaceful activism poses the greatest threat to the Zionist cause.
“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
This short article, its title and questions arose from an interview with Roshan Mohammed Salih and Jonathan Rosenhead for Press TV’s ‘The Sun Will Rise’.
Five Strategies used by the Israel Lobby to silence critics. Recorded for Press TV.
Get alongside your opponent and try and turn them, buy them, befriend them, bring them on-side. If that doesn’t work, move to level 2.
Don’t like what they are saying or writing? Then bombard them with emails, letters and phone calls. Put them on the defensive. Intimidate them with accusations of anti-semitism, holocaust denial, etc. If that doesn’t work, move to level 3. Continue reading →
With Basim Eljamal and Hazem Akkila at Alghad TV being interviewed about the Balfour Declaration, the influence of Christian Zionism and why, on the centenary, Britain should apologise for its broken promises. Cause for repentance not celebration.
The late Tony Judt described this book as ‘the best modern history of the Balfour Declaration,’ and Eugene Rogan of Oxford sees it as ‘the most original exposition of the Balfour Declaration to date.’ It deserves a wide circulation as we live through the centenary of the Balfour Declaration on 2 November, 2017. The author, Jonathan Schneer, is an American historian who specialises in modern British history and teaches at Georgia Tech’s School of History, Technology, and Society.
This is an attempt simply to summarise the contents of the book with a number of quotations. If it were a review, my only criticism of the book would be that, in concentrating so much on the politics behind the Declaration, there is no discussion of the religious beliefs of key players like Lord Balfour and David Lloyd George which made them so open to supporting Zionism.
The Balfour Declaration (BD) needs to be understood in the context of World War I
By the time the BD was issued on 2 November 1917, Britain and Germany had been at war for over three years. Millions had been slaughtered in the trenches and neither side seemed to be winning. The Battle of the Somme had been fought between 1 July and 1 November, 1916, and Passchendale between July and November, 1917. The British government was seeking for ways to turn the tide in the war. Some in the cabinet believed that all their energies should be concentrated on the western front on the continent (‘the westerners’), while others believed that new initiatives in the Middle East could break the deadlock and give Britain the advantage (‘the easterners’). After the fall of the Asquith government in December 1916, Lloyd George, an easterner, became Prime Minister.
This book seeks to explain how many of the problems of the Middle East in the last century can be traced back to the colonial ambitions of Britain and France and in particular to the ‘venomous rivalry’ between them in their struggle for mastery of the region. It was this rivalry which lay behind the Sykes-Picot agreement, the Balfour Declaration, the creation by Britain of the kingdoms in Iraq and Transjordan, Britain’s support for the independence of Syria and Lebanon, and French support for the Jewish underground which was working against the British in Palestine in 1948.
What follows is a summary of the main themes of the book, combined with quotations from key passages.
The Sykes-Picot agreement (May 1916) was an attempt by Britain and France to deal with their rival ambitions in the Middle East and to define spheres of influence in the region after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The ‘line in the sand’, which was literally drawn on the map by Mark Sykes (for Britain) and Francois Georges-Picot (for France), ran (in Sykes’ words) ‘from the “e” in Acre to the last “k” in Kirkuk’. Lebanon, Syria and northern Iraq (including Mosul) were allocated to France, while Transjordan and southern Iraq were allocated to Britain. Because Britain and France both wanted control of Palestine, it was finally agreed that it should come under international control.
‘The compromise, which neither power liked, was that the Holy Land should have an international administration.’ (2)
“Mounting tension: Israel’s Knesset debates proposal to enforce its sovereignty at Al-Aqsa Mosque – a move seen as ‘an extreme provocation to Muslims worldwide’” was the ominous headline in the Independent newspaper, 27th February 2014.
Ben Lynfield writes, “The Arab-Israeli conflict took on an increasingly religious hue when the Jordanian parliament voted unanimously to expel Israel’s ambassador in Amman after Israeli legislators held an unprecedented debate on Tuesday evening over a proposal to enforce Israeli sovereignty at one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites, currently administered by Jordan, and to allow Jewish prayer there. 500 metres by 300 metres, the Temple Mount, or Haram Al Sharif as it is called in Arabic, is probably the most disputed plot of land on earth. Hal Lindsey claims, ‘I believe the fate of the world will be determined by an ancient feud over 35 acres of land.’
Many Christians share the belief that the Islamic shrines must be destroyed and that a Jewish Temple must and will be rebuilt – very soon. But this won’t be a museum replica of the one king Solomon built or be just another attraction for pilgrims to the Holy Land. No, this Temple will be built for one purpose and one purpose only – for bloody animal sacrifices, and lots of them.
What is the case for rebuilding the Jewish Temple? Does the Bible predict such an event? If so, where and how it might be built? What does the New Testament say on the subject? What are the implications for Christians should the Jewish Temple be rebuilt? Continue reading →
The Israeli government and a variety of Zionist organisations have long been pouring huge resources into “hasbara,” meaning “advocacy” or “propaganda” in Hebrew. This involves both promoting a positive image of Israel and hounding and intimidating those they say are guilty of the “new anti-Semitism,” which amounts in practice to any criticism of Israeli policies and actions.
The bodies involved in this hasbara campaign range from the immensely powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to internet-based organisations such as Honest Reporting, BBC Watch and the Jewish Internet Defence Force, and poisonous personal blogs.
Christian churches, having by definition a special interest in the Holy Land and what is happening there, are increasingly coming under fire from such sources for noting and deploring Israel’s policies of oppression and dispossession, which affect Christians and Muslims alike.
Methodists in the US and the UK have for years been outspoken in their concern over the plight of the Palestinian people. The report Justice for Palestine and Israel, presented to the 2010 Methodist conference, was harshly criticised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Chief Rabbi and the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ).
I am very happy to announce that following meetings with conciliators appointed by the Bishop of Guildford, the complaint brought against me by the Board of Deputies of British Jews has been resolved on terms set out in the Conciliation Agreement.
Whilst pleased that this matter is now concluded, I am saddened that it has taken so long to reach this stage. Towards the end of 2011, concerns were raised about an article on my Facebook page which linked to a website named “the Ugly Truth.” In recognition of those concerns, I offered to meet leaders of the Jewish community but this offer was never taken up. Instead, in October 2012, Mr Arkush on behalf of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, made a formal complaint against me alleging “a clear and consistent pattern” of misconduct “unbecoming or inappropriate to the office a work of a clerk in Holy Orders”.
The Board of Deputies also took the unprecedented step of publishing it in full on their website. I refrained from publishing my formal Response until the complaint was resolved. I am therefore doing so today.
The complaint alleged that I had made anti-Semitic statements and had deliberately introduced my readers to anti-Semitic websites. I have always maintained that these allegations were untrue and am confident that I would have been vindicated had I been forced to contest them at a clergy disciplinary tribunal. That said, I am pleased that these issues have sensibly been resolved.
As many will be aware, I have long been an enthusiastic user of new media. The internet allows us to communicate with a mass audience at the press of a button, but with it comes the risk that we might publish our thoughts without adequately reflecting on our choice of words or how they might be interpreted. I will do all I can to guard against this risk in the future. Whilst the web is a rich source of reference, it also contains a great deal of material with which one would not wish to be associated. It is important that those using new media to conduct political debate ensure that they do not inadvertently associate them with such material. It is for this reason that I have undertaken to take greater care over links in the future. In addition, my blog now contains a disclaimer identical to that which appears on the Board of Deputies’ Fair Play website.
It is my sincere wish that disputes such as this will be avoided in the future. The conciliation agreement includes a number of principles that we agree those engaged in political debate should follow. They emphasize that free speech does not cease to be legitimate simply because it might cause offence to some, whilst at the same time affirming that care and sensitivity should be employed in the use of language. As someone who has been virulently attacked in the past for my political and theological views, I will do my best to abide by these principles, but my hope is that my critics will do so too.
I care passionately about the safety of the Jewish people and the right of Israel to exist within internationally agreed borders. I have always opposed racism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial as well as Islamophobia and the denial of the Palestinian right to self-determination and will continue to do so.
Jesus calls his followers to be peacemakers and to fulfil a ministry of reconciliation. The New Testament reinforces the mandate of the Jewish prophet Micah, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).
Revd Dr Stephen Sizer
Christ Church, Virginia Water
Jeremy Moodey of Embrace the Middle East writes “Stephen … has an outstanding legal bill of almost £4,000 as he has sought to respond to the BoD’s bullying. The defence fund is in my name, audited by Steve Leah. Please give what you can to support the right of free speech.”
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